Monthly Archives: December 2016

Holidays and Gift Giving: What you can’t see in the kitchen can hurt you


The year may be coming to the end, but the celebrations and food are not. During the holidays, food can be handled in a variety of ways when it comes to preparing, storing and delivering. The more times that food is handled, the more risks it can provide for foodborne illnesses. Foodborne illnesses come from food that is treated unsafely, which can lead to an upset stomach abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting diarrhea, fever or dehydration. Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 48 million cases of confirmed foodborne illnesses occur.  However, following simple tips and precautions can decrease the risks of obtaining them:

  1. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and ready-to-eat items like vegetables or bread
  2. Prepare uncooked recipes before recipes requiring raw meat to reduce cross contamination. Store them out of the way while preparing meat dishes to ensure they don’t become contaminated after preparation.
  3. Hot foods should remain above 140˚F and cold items should remain below 40˚F. Discard perishable foods if left out for 2 hours of more in the danger zone (40˚F- 140˚F).
  4. Use a food thermometer to check internal temperatures of dishes to ensure it is safe to eat.
    1. Fresh beef, pork, veal, and lamb should be cooked to 145 ˚F with a three-minute rest time
    2. Fish should be cooked to 145 ˚F
    3. Ground beef, veal and lamb should be cooked to 160 ˚F
    4. Egg dishes should be cooked to 160 ˚F
    5. All poultry should be cooked to 165 ˚F

During the holidays, it seems like food is handled in more ways than usual. For instance, mailing food as a gift such as fruit, cheese, cured meats, etc, is a popular choice because it is convenient, yet meaningful. However, there are many protocols that must be followed to ensure mail order food safety. These protocols can be found on the USDA website: (

Another trend during the holidays is inviting family/friends to a holiday buffet party. This is a festive time that allows giving and sharing of homemade recipes. However, this is also an invitation for bacteria getting into food that is left out for long periods of time.  This can be avoided by using specific shallow containers, following the two-hour rule, cooking food thoroughly, etc. To learn more about safe holiday buffets, read more on the USDA website, (

The holidays may be the time of giving, but NOT the time of giving foodborne illnesses. Treat your food with care to bring safe food to your table. To learn more about food safety, read more on the USDA website. (

Submitted by Steph Grasso, VT Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise

Tips for Tasty Holiday Ingredient Substitutions

hokiebird-cookingThe holidays are upon us, which means everything from added sugar to added portion sizes. During the holidays, it seems nearly impossible to avoid these temptations when high fattening foods may overflow the table at family gatherings; sugary treats are available at holiday parties or the extra large portion sizes may be plentiful at holiday feasts. How do you stick to healthy eating during the holiday season? Try substitution. Substituting high fat or sugary ingredients for more nutrient dense ingredients can allow you to still consume traditional holiday meals in a healthier manner.

Substituting ingredients allows you to continue your traditional holiday recipes, but with more nutrients and less calories, sugar and fat. When it comes to baking, you can substitute butter with mashed avocado to replace the bad fats with healthy fats that can help reduce your cholesterol. Another substitution for with white flour is to use half white and half whole-wheat flour.  This adds more fiber, antioxidants and protein. For more smart substitutions for your holiday meals, check out the American Heart Association’s “Holiday Healthy Eating Guide,” click here.

When substituting for healthier ingredients, you can follow this three-step model to adapt recipes:

  1. Look for the “problem” ingredients that make the recipe high in sodium, fat or sugar.
  2. Find low fat or low sugar substitutions to replace these ingredients. You can reduce the amount of the ingredient or completely eliminate the ingredient completely.
  3. Change your method of preparation. Ex: Try boiling instead of deep fat frying.

For a great research-based resource and handout for additional tips on ingredient substitutions, visit the University of Kentucky Extension’s website, click here.

It can be tricky determining the correct equivalent amount when substituting ingredients. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of shortening and you want to use applesauce and pureed prunes to decrease the sugar and fat content, how do you know how much to use?  Check out Iowa State Extension’s useful chart that determines substitution equivalents for a certain amount of ingredients–click here.

Cooking healthier is no reason to give up on your holiday cooking. Just a simple switch of ingredients can allow your recipes to be both delicious AND healthier.

Submitted by Steph Grasso, VT Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise