Food Blog

produce 300.pngSpring is on its way and now is the time to plan what produce you may want to plant in your garden. In order to get the most out of your garden space, it’s important to plan what to put in the ground, and also plan how to preserve the bountiful harvest.  Careful planning and careful attention throughout the growing season can provide your family with delicious home grown fruits and vegetables throughout the year.

Two resources can help with your planning. The first is the Alabama Extension publication “The Alabama Vegetable Gardner”. It gives vegetable yields per 100 feet of land – an essential planning tool for the home food producer.  For example, 100 feet of tomatoes should yield 100 pounds of tomatoes. The publication also contains information about planting, soil fertility, weed control, disease control, and insect control.

Based on what is planted, plans can be made to preserve the produce. To can the tomatoes in the above example, the 100 pounds of tomatoes will make about 35 quarts of whole canned tomatoes. A yield chart, canning recipes, and freezing instructions can be found in the Alabama Extension Home Food Preservation book.  More recipes and resources can be found online at the National Center for Home Food Preservation ( hosted by the University of Georgia.
Want to plant more and provide your local community with fresh fruits and vegetables?  Think about selling some of your excess at a Farmers Market.  It’s a great way to earn a little extra money this summer and help build our local food system.  Farmers markets are located throughout the state.  Check out the Alabama Farmers Market Association website to find one near you (
For more gardening and food preservation information, go to or call your local county Extension office.


Whether you are an Auburn or Alabama fan, Saturdays in are known for football and grilling.  Finger foods are perfect for keeping football party guests happy game after game.  They are portable, easy to handle, and offer guests the option to try a wide variety of foods.  The possibilities are endless – meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables of all types imaginable can be engineered to be grill friendly. Here are a few ideas that will help make your football party a touchdown (even if your team loses).
·       Roll pieces of sausage in thin bacon, use a toothpick to hold it together, sprinkle with brown sugar.  Grill on low heat until the sausage and bacon are fully cooked.
·       Slice jalapeños long ways, remove the seeds, fill with a mixture of cream and cheddar cheeses.  Top with a dash of Cajun seasoning for a special twist. Grill until the cheese is melted and slightly brown on top. This time of year jalapeños can be super-hot. Try par boiling them before stuffing to reduce the heat.
·       Slice peppers, mushrooms, okra, tomatoes, squash, and anything else in your vegetable garden.  Marinate for a few minutes in your favorite mixture (Italian dressing works great). Grill until light brown.
·       Wild game is another grilling favorite.  Try using small strips of venison cubed steak to wrap a slice of jalapeño and chunk of cream cheese.  Then wrap the venison in bacon.  Put a toothpick through the middle to hold everything together.  Grill until the venison and bacon are fully cooked.  Dove breasts are also very tasty prepared this way.
·       Sliced pineapple, peaches, and strawberries can be put directly on the grill for a unique finger food.  This sweet treat will be sure to be a hit.
·       For the kids, try something simple like pieces of hot dog on a toothpick.
·       For desert, s’mores are excellent to grill.  Just put a little chocolate and marshmallow between 2 graham crackers and the warm until melted.
Food items such as these are great to cook a few at a time throughout the game.  You can impress guests by passing them around on a plate and surprising guests with new items every so often.  The great thing about all of these ideas is that the prep can be done a day ahead of time so that your cook isn’t stuck in the kitchen all day.  Still, be sure to position the grill so that the cook can see the game!

code date.JPG

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that about 133 billion pounds of food is

wasted annually. This loss has an estimated $161.6 billion in retail value.  That’s $523 worth of food per person per year!  
Unfortunately, in the US there is no uniform system used for food dating.  Some of the dates you might see include:

 A "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. For best quality, you should buy the product before this date.

  • A "Best if Used By (or Before)" date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A "Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

 These dates cannot be relied upon as an indicator of food safety because there are too many variations in transportation and storage conditions. If foods are mishandled, foodborne bacteria can grow and cause foodborne illness — before or after the date on the package. For example, if hot dogs are taken to a picnic and left out several hours, they will not be safe to use later, even if the date hasn't expired.

Egg cartons with the USDA grade shield on them must display the "pack date" (the day that the eggs were washed, graded, and placed in the carton). Many eggs reach stores only a few days after the hen lays them. When a "sell-by" date appears on a carton bearing the USDA grade shield, the code date may not exceed 45 days from the date of pack. Always purchase eggs before the "Sell-By" or "EXP" date on the carton. For best quality, use eggs within 3 to 5 weeks of the date you purchase them. The "sell-by" date will usually expire during that length of time, but the eggs are perfectly safe to use.
Infant formula is the exception to the rule.  Federal regulations require a "use-by" date on the product label of infant formula under FDA inspection. If consumed by that date, the formula must contain not less than the quantity of each nutrient as described on the label. Also, if stored too long, liquid formula can separate and clog the nipple.
Because of the confusion over code dates, use by dates, and expiration dates, some food manufacturers use a closed dating system, such as a Julian date.  A Julian date usually indicates the day of processing using is a 3 digit number corresponding to the day of the year.  Most consumers are unaware that this 3 digit number corresponds to a date and are thus pay it no attention on the package.
Since product dates aren't a guide for safe use of a product, how long can the consumer store the food and still use it at top quality? Follow these tips:

·       Purchase the product before the date expires.

·       If perishable, take the food home immediately after purchase and refrigerate it promptly. Freeze it if you can't use it within the recommended timeframe.

·       Once a perishable product is frozen, it doesn't matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
·       Follow handling recommendations on product.

·       Consult the Alabama Cooperative Extension System publication “Better-Safe-Than-Sorry Food Storage Chart” for a detailed list of food storage times.

For more information, contact your Regional Extension Agent for Food Safety, Kristin Woods, at (251) 753-1164 or or your county office.


Classes in Northwestern Alabama: Contact Susan Hill at 205-489-5376

August 12, 2014 Morning Class 10AM to 12:00 PM and an Evening Class 5:00PM to 7:00 PM            Franklin County Extension Office; Franklin County Courthouse Room 1; Russellville AL 35653
August 13, 2014
11:00 AM to 1:00PM; Colbert County Extension Office; Tuscumbia, AL 35674
August 27, 2014
10:00 AM to 12:00PM; Marion County Extension Office ; Hamilton, AL 35570
September 9, 2014
Morning Class 10:00AM to 12:00; Evening Class 5:00 to 7:00PM      Fayette County Extension Office; Fayette/Lamar County; Fayette AL                           
September 25, 2014
10:00 AM to 12:00PM; Lawrence County Extension Office; 13075 ALA-157, Suite 6; Moulton, AL 35650

October 2, 2014 6:00PM to 7:30PM;Lawrence County Extension Office; 13075 ALA-157, Suite 6; Moulton, AL 35650

Classes in Northeastern Alabama: Contact Christiana Mendoza at 256-547-7936.

July 25, 2014 10-12 am Etowah County Extension Office, 3200A W. Meighan Blvd, Gadsden, AL

Classes in Central Western Counties: Contact Kristin Woods at 251-753-1164

 August 1, 2014 6:00 to 8:00 pm Alabama Fish Farming Center In Greensboro, AL

August 19, 2014 6:00 to 8:00 pm Marengo County Extension Office in Linden, AL                         
September 18
, 2014 6:30 to 8:30 pm Tuscaloosa County Extension Office, Tuscaloosa, AL 

Classes in Central Counties: Contact Janice Hall at 334-361-7273

July 23, 2014 9:00 am to 11:00 am  Wilcox County Health Department;  Camden, AL                           
August 12, 2014
8:30 am to 10:30 am  Alagasco Building Hwy 80W;  Selma, AL                                    
August 26, 2014 8:00 am to 10 am Chilton County Extension Office; Clanton, AL

Classes in Central Eastern Counties: Contact Patti West at 334-750-1251

August 21, 2014 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm; Calhoun County Extension Office; 1702 Noble St., Anniston, AL

Classes in Central Eastern Counties: Contact Janet Johnson at 334-703-2237

August 1, 2014, 10 am – 12 noon, Montgomery County Extension Office, Montgomery, AL

August 7, 2014 from 10 am – 12 noon EST:  Russell County Extension Office, Phenix City, AL

August 15, 2014 from 10 am – 12 noon CST:  Lee County Extension Office, Opelika, AL

August 20, 2014 from 10 am – 12 noon CST:  Elmore County Extension Office, Wetumpkia, AL


Classes in Southeastern Alabama: Contact Bridgette Brannon at 334-714-1248                                      

August 5, 2014 1-3 pm Geneva County Farm Center, 2765 East State Hwy 52, Hartford, AL 
August 21, 2014 1
-3 pm Dale County Extension Office, 202 South Hwy 123, Ozark, AL 36361
September 3, 2014
 1-3 pm Henry County Extension Office, 101 North Doswell Street, Abbeville, AL 36310.

Classes in Southwestern Alabama: Contact Amelia McGrew at 251-574-8445

August 6, 2014, 6-8 pm; Mobile County Extension Office, Mobile AL

August 13, 2014, 1 to 3 pm, Gulf Coast Research and Extension Office, Fairhope, AL

August 21, 2014, 10 to noon, Escambia County Extension Office, Brewton, AL


If you do not see a class in your county,

call your local Extension Office and ask them to schedule one!

fm low res.jpgLocally grown and produced food is becoming more and more popular across Alabama. Farmers markets have provided small food producers and home processors greater economic opportunity. Because of the costs of meeting food regulations, in many cases the markets have provided the only venue available to a small producer. They provide an outlet for products and assistance with infrastructure and advertising. In the last 10 years, the number of farmers markets nationwide has more than doubled.  The demand has led many processors to wish to expand operations by starting a business out of their home, a cottage food business.  According to a recent survey conducted by ATKearney, 30% of shoppers will switch stores to find more local food products.  In an attempt to capture some of the locavore market, even the mega retailer, Wal-Mart, has plans to increase local produce offerings to 9% by the year 2015.  While some may be disappointed that the new Alabama law does not allow for the sale of more items, or more sales venues, setting standards that preserve public health while allowing for economic prosperity is a difficult task for our legislators and public health officials.  Alabama’s Cottage Food Law (SB 159) opens the door for small food business expansion without compromising public health.


Before the passage of the SB 159, non-hazardous foods could only be sold at state sanctioned farmers markets, as well as, special events such as charitable, religious, civic, or a not-for-profit organization's food sale.  SB 159 goes into effect June 1 and allows for the sale of non-hazardous foods from a person’s home.  Some of the items that may be sold include:


·        Baked goods, such as cakes and pies that do not need refrigeration.  This includes wedding cakes and character cakes for birthdays and holidays. 
·        Canned jam and jelly.  With fancy packaging, these make fabulous gifts.
·        Dried herb mixes.  This is a great thing to also have for sale at a farmers market that sells meat.
·        Candy.  Easy to make, store, and great for holidays.
The law stipulates that only non-hazardous foods may be sold out of the home, so no meat, fish, low acid, or acidified foods.  The law also does not allow internet sales.  A small business owner wishing to operate under this new rule must take a food safety course, such as the two hour Cottage Food Law Food Safety Training offered by Extension, and register with the county Department of Public Health. There is no fee for registration.
For more information about operating under the new law, contact Regional Extension Agent, Kristin Woods, at (251) 753-1164 or or your county Extension office.
If you would like to read the bill for yourself, the specifics can be found at


The Alabama Farmer’s Market program provides a way for farmers to provide locally grown produce, baked goods, flowers, and other agricultural products to the public.  The program helps assure the consumer a high quality product at a reasonable price and a fair profit for the producer.  There are a million good reasons to shop Alabama Farmer’s Markets.  Here are the top 4 that we came up with:

1)      Tasty food.  Locally grown food tastes better.  Local produce is picked at its peak and travels only a few miles to get to the market.  Fresh fruits and vegetables always taste better than those traveling thousands of miles to get to you.
2)      Nutritious food.  The shorter time from harvest to market means that fruits and vegetable will still be loaded with nutrients when they reach your dinner table. 
3)      Support local families.  Wholesale prices for fruits and vegetables sold to large markets are generally very low.  By cutting out the middleman, farmers receive retail price for their produce which helps ensure that they can stay in business.
4)      Build community. When you buy produce directly from the farmer, you maintain a connection with where your food comes from.  You can ask the farmer what variety it is, how it was raised, if commercial pesticides were used.  Local farm families are proud of what they produce and will usually have some great recipes to share with your family.
Wherever you see an Alabama Farmer’s Market, stop in to see what might be good for dinner, get good and nutritious food, support local families, and build communities ties.  For more information on food safety or storing fresh fruits and vegetables, contact your local County Extension office.  To find a Farmer’s Market in your area go to


ice cream Homemade ice cream is a fabulous summertime treat, but beware that some ice cream recipes contain a potentially deadly ingredient – raw eggs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 2200 illness were reported from Salmonella in eggs in 2009 and 2010. Salmonella can be transmitted from the hen to the egg yolk before the shell forms. For this reason, you should not use raw, unpasteurized eggs in recipes that will not be cooked, like homemade ice cream.

What can you do?

  • Use an eggless recipe. It's easy. The eggs add richness, but many eggless recipes taste just as good!
  • Use pasteurized shell eggs or pasteurized egg substitutes in place of raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs can be found in the dairy case near the regular eggs. Although pasteurized eggs may cost a few cents more, the pasteurization process destroys the Salmonella bacteria. Even when using pasteurized products, the FDA and the USDA advise consumers to start with a cooked base for optimal safety, especially if serving people at high risk for foodborne illness.
  • Use a recipe that contains a cooked custard base. The custard base must reach 160º F measured with a food thermometer, in order to kill the Salmonella. This is also the point that at which the mixture will coat a metal spoon. After cooking, chill the custard thoroughly before making ice cream. The American Egg Board has a basic vanilla recipe to get you started

In addition to handling eggs safely, here are some general rules to help keep homemade ice cream safe from bacteria and viruses that can cause illness.

  • Wash your hands. Bacteria won't grow in the freezer, but both bacteria and viruses can be carried on frozen foods like ice cream. Make sure your hands, utensils, and equipment are clean before you start cooking.
  • Use pasteurized milk and cream when making homemade ice cream.
  • Chill ingredients prior to use. Keeping milk, eggs, fruits, and other ingredients in the refrigerator or on ice until just prior to use will help prevent bacterial growth and will help maintain their quality.

​​Because pregnancy affects the immune system, pregnant women and their unborn babies are more susceptible to the bacteria, viruses, and parasites that cause foodborne illnesses. Even if you don't feel sick, some microorganisms like Listeria and Toxoplasma can infect your baby and cause serious health problems. Your baby is also sensitive to toxins from the food that you eat, such as mercury in certain kinds of fish.

Pregnant woman eating These are the foods you should avoid as soon as you know you are pregnant:

SOFT cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, including Brie, Feta, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco, and queso fresco may contain E. coli or Listeria. Listeria is a bacterium which grows at refrigeration temperatures and can cause miscarriages.

Homemade RAW cookie dough and cake batter may contain Salmonella because of the eggs in the recipes.

Raw or undercooked fish (sushi) may contain parasites or bacteria. Certain kinds of fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish (golden or white snapper) contain high levels of mercury.

Unpasteurized juice or cider (including fresh squeezed) may contain E. coli. Unpasteurized milk may contain bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella. Drink pasteurized milk only.

Salads containing potentially hazardous foods (foods which have to be temperature and time controlled for safety) are often made and sold in delis. These are the salads such as ham salad, chicken salad, macaroni salad and seafood salads. They may contain Listeria, and remember, it can grow at cold temperatures all the way down to 32°F.

Raw shellfish, such as oysters and clams may contain Vibrio bacteria. Cook shellfish to 145° F.

Raw or undercooked sprouts, such as alfalfa, clover, mung bean, and radish sprouts may contain E. coli or Salmonella. Cook sprouts thoroughly.

Be careful with these foods:

Hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, fermented or dry sausage, and other deli-style meat and poultry may contain Listeria. Heat thoroughly before eating.

Eggs and pasteurized egg products which are undercooked may contain Salmonella. Cook eggs until yolks are firm.

Homemade Ice Cream or Eggnog may contain uncooked eggs, which may contain Salmonella. Make eggnog and ice cream with a pasteurized egg product or buy pasteurized eggnog.

Fish may contain parasites or bacteria. Cook fish to 145° F as measured with a food thermometer.

Undercooked beef, veal, lamb, and pork (including ground meat) may contain E. coli. Cook beef, veal, and lamb steaks and roasts to 145° F. Cook pork and ground meats to 160° F.

Unpasteurized meat spreads or refrigerated pates or meat spreads may contain Listeria. Eat canned versions, which are safe.

Undercooked poultry (including ground poultry) and stuffing (dressing) made with poultry products such as stock and giblets may contain bacteria such as Campylobacter or Salmonella. Cook poultry and/or interior of stuffing to 165° F.

Refrigerated versions of smoked seafood are not safe, unless they have been cooked to 165° F. Eat canned versions, which are safe, or cook to 165° F.

There is NO amount of alcohol that is known to be safe for a developing fetus. Caffeine acts as a diuretic and depletes calcium and so it is advisable to avoid caffeine during pregnancy.

With the USDA's most recent push for us to consume more produce (www.Choose My we are encouraged to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, to shoot for a goal of covering one half of our plates with fruits and vegetables, and then eating them up of course.

fresh vegetables But with increased intake of produce, especially raw produce, it is inevitable that there will be accompanying increases in foodborne illness incidents caused by harmful bacteria that are naturally present on agricultural products.

Consumers must follow safe handling guidelines for produce at home ( but first, at the market consumers need to become more vigilant about the conditions and surroundings of the produce they purchase.

The Buy Fresh and Local movement is a good one. We are supporting local growers of produce while reaping the benefits of consuming produce that has been recently harvested at closer to the peak of ripeness and has not been exposed to extended travel conditions and the accompanying increased likelihood of contamination. But consumers should not be naive. Any produce, organically or conventionally grown, can be contaminated if it is not handled properly while in the field, during harvest and packaging, or on the way from the farm to market.

Growers or processors are responsible for preventing bacteria in the soil or water from contaminating fresh fruits or vegetables where they're grown or processed. Consumers should ask some common sense questions of the seller/grower (likely the same person in local markets).

Be proactive and ask:

  • About irrigation water. What is the source and is it tested periodically? Is it applied drip style or overhead spray? Drip is preferable.
  • About use of manure. There are proper procedures for composting and a minimum waiting period between application and harvest, depending on whether the produce grows touching the ground or not.
  • Do they teach safe food handling and hygiene to field and packaging workers?
  • Do they exclude or restrict sick workers?
  • Do they refrigerate during storage and transport?
  • Do they provide hand washing and bathrooms facilities, readily available to employees?
  • Do they clean and sanitize containers and vehicles used for storage and transport?
  • Do they label growing plots and containers for traceability in case of a foodborne illness outbreak?

Look around while at the sellers stand.

  • Are tables and containers clean? Ask if they're washed and sanitized between uses.
  • Are there animals around the area?
  • If produce is sold out of a vehicle, what's the appearance?
  • Are containers of food on the floor?
  • Are baskets lined with cloth that can be washed or disposable paper liners?
  • Are samples held under refrigeration at less than 41°F?

Whether at a local farmer's market or a supermarket, be choosey.

1 - 10Next