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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Filtering by Category: food safety

Changing Eating Habits

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There has been a lot of talk recently about how to change the unhealthy eating habits and food choices that many Americans make. First Lady Michelle Obama is challenging schools around the United States to adopt new standards for the quality of food served, participation in meal programs, physical activity and nutrition education. Another popular news story is New York’s move to ban soda and sugary drinks from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Federal food stamp program. Proponents of the soda ban often claim that the existing SNAP ban on alcohol and tobacco could naturally extend to a ban on harmful foods as well, such as soda and sugary drinks. However, unlike soda and sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco are already heavily taxed and vendors need specific licenses to distribute them. Proponents also stress that soda hurts not only the drinker with negative long-term health effects, but the tax payer with more tax dollars going towards public health insurance costs.

Although SNAP benefits are currently largely unrestricted, The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits are restricted heavily. A brochure with of the allowed foods for WIC can be found here. It is important to point out that there are a few differences in the two programs. The federal government markets WIC benefits as a diet supplement while SNAP benefits are allotted to provide for individual’s entire diets. Also, SNAP is an entitlement program while WIC is funded through a Federal grant program. However, it is interesting that one Federal food assistance program restricts choices heavily while one hardly restricts choice at all.

Many people fear that banning soda and other sugary drinks as SNAP eligible foods is an unsuccessful tactic in promoting healthy eating habits. For example, families that receive SNAP benefits often do not worry about purchasing nutritious groceries, but about stretching their food dollars to get as many calories as possible. Also, soda is typically a cheap alternative to other, healthier beverages (besides water). Banning certain, unhealthy foods under SNAP benefits may confuse recipients and the recipients may not even have access to “approved” healthy foods. Luckily, alternatives to an outright ban do exist. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program is a good example of a different approach to getting Americans to make healthier food choices. Education programs like Cooking MattersTM help change purchasing and eating habits too.

The New York Times Opinion section had a really amazing article in it last week. The article talked about redesigning the lunch line so that children naturally made healthier lunch choices. The article is interactive and users can view all of the changes by hovering the mouse over orange spots in the diagram. Check it out here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/10/21/opinion/20101021_Oplunch.html

E. coli: The importance of food safety

jhartrick

As a result of eating a grilled hamburger, Stephanie Smith was struck by E. coli, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Photo credit: New York Times Did you read the recent New York Times article "Woman's Shattered Life Shows Ground Beef Inspection Flaws"?  A young woman named Stephanie Smith who worked as a children's dance instructor fell ill to a severe form of food borne illness caused by E coli. Where did the illness come from? The Times wrote:

Ms. Smith, 22, was found to have a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, which Minnesota officials traced to the hamburger that her mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007.

“I ask myself every day, ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why from a hamburger?’ ”Ms. Smith said. In the simplest terms, she ran out of luck in a food-safety game of chance whose rules and risks are not widely known.

What is E coli?

According to the CDC, E. coli "are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses. Still other kinds of E. coli are used as markers for water contamination—so you might hear about E. coli being found in drinking water, which are not themselves harmful, but indicate the water is contaminated."

Protecting yourself

Smith's tragic story emphasizes why it's not only important to be conscious of where your food comes from but also to remember the basics of kitchen safety to avoid contamination.

Here are some more things to be mindful of from the article:

  • The Times reported the pathogen that struck Smith was so powerful that her illness could have started “with just a few cells left on a counter. ‘In a warm kitchen, E. coli cells will double every 45 minutes,’ said Dr. Mansour Samadpour, a microbiologist who runs IEH Laboratories in Seattle, one of the meat industry’s largest testing firms.”
  • The Times did a test with some help from the labs and found that E. coli remained on the cutting board even after being washed with soap. Large amounts of bacteria were picked up by a towel.
  • Speaking of cutting boards, the article mentioned people should use bleach to sterilize cutting boards.

Through our cooking-based nutrition classes, Operation Frontline Detroit teaches participants the basics of kitchen safety and keeping food safe (i.e. cooking to proper temperature). One of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs is proper hand washing.