Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving, Stuffing and Food Safety!

There's more than one way to cook a turkey. Though, I guess it really depends on who you ask.

Most people will probably tell you there's only one way to cook a turkey. And even then, people will disagree on what that one way is.

You can bake it. You can fry it. You can smoke it. You can grill it. You can roast it. You can stuff it before you bake it. You can stuff it after it's cooked. You could not stuff it at all and serve the stuffing separate. you can go the vegetarian route and do any of the above to a Tofurkey.

It's a heated debate. And hopefully it's always heated to 165F, right in the center.

This Thanksgiving (and always, really), be sure you're using proper food safety in your kitchen to keep your holiday safe! Follow these simple tips for stuffing your turkey this (and every) year!

- Internal probe thermometers are best! The "pop" on a turkey can be a really great way to alert you when it's time to check your bird, but for the best results be sure to use an internal thermometer. This will allow you to check the temperature at the center of your bird. If you choose to stuff your turkey, make sure the center of the stuffing AND the center of your bird are both at 165F. Probe thermometers will generally run about 5-10$ and can be purchased at any kitchen store, Publix or IKEA.
- Don't remove the stuffing before it is fully cooked! Undercooked stuffing can become a hotspot for contamination, even if your bird as already reached 165F.
- Use proper thawing techniques for your bird. Best technique is to thaw in the refrigerator, generally allow about 4 hours per pound for this technique. If you have a 16lb bird, it will take about 64 hours to thaw completely.
- If you are running short on time, you can also submerge your turkey in enough cold water to cover your turkey completely. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the turkey properly chilled. This method will take about 30 minutes per pound.
- NEVER fry a frozen turkey! Be sure your turkey is COMPLETELY thawed before frying. Frozen turkeys hold a lot of water and as it fries, this water can rapidly heat and turn to water vapor. As the water vapor escapes, it can cause oil to spatter, with potentially injurious results.

What about the leftovers?
- Refrigerate after 2 hours to prevent the spread of food-borne illness.
- Cover leftovers with wrap or seal in air-tight containers to make sure everyone plays nice in the fridge.
-  Sunday is the absolute deadline! Leftovers can be kept (below 40F, properly sealed) for up to three days. For Thanksgiving, that means cleaning out the refrigerator before you head back to work Monday morning.

Happy Thanksgiving!

- Les, MS RD LD

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

In the News: Trans Fats

It's probably easiest to start at the beginning: What's a trans fat and where does it come from?

Trans fats are a type of solid fat (think butter or lard -- AKA saturated fat). They are found naturally in the food supply, namely meat and milk, in very small amounts. This is not the type that has the FDA concerned enough to remove the GRAS label (more on this later) from trans fats.

The type that concerns most people is what results from partially hydrogenated oils. What's the difference? Chemically, not much. But in terms of supply, hydrogenated oils are much more abundant than the minimal amount that can be found naturally.

Trans fats aren't a new concept by any means. The hydrogenation process was discovered in the early 1900s, and it was used as a way to turn a liquid fat (vegetable oil, which is cheap) into a solid fat (which has a longer shelf-life and is easier to store and transport) by blasting oil with hydrogen. So now we have a fat that is easy to store, easy to transport, lasts a long time AND is cheap. When they were first introduced, it was widely held that these types of fats were less damaging to the body than saturated fats, and even than natural trans fats.

We now have more information which tells us that trans fats are harmful to the body (particularly the vascular systems, think cholesterol and arteries). This isn't good news, especially since prior to about 2000, they were very prevalent in the food supply. Coupled with this is the recognition that saturated fats (and fats in general) aren't really the super-villains they are made out to be. Maintaining cell integrity, coating neurons and boosting immunity are only some of the things fats do for us!

So, what is the FDA really doing here? Ultimately, this is a matter of labeling and classification. GRAS, or "generally recognized as safe" is a label for manufactured food products and additives that indicates to the public that items are safe, so long as they are used the way the manufacturer intended. In the case of trans fats, this means that they are safe to eat. Or did, until last week.

This is a fight that's been happening for awhile, and all across the globe. In 1994, CSPI (the Center for Science in the Public Interest) called for the labeling of added trans fats in food products (this happened in 2003, and took effect by 2006). In 2003, Denmark passed legislation that essentially banned their use. In the US, various states and municipalities (including NYC, California and Washington State) have passed different types of legislation banning or regulating their use in restaurants.

What's next? Well, as it happens, the use of trans fats in food is down -- by over 50% -- since 2000. Additionally, other retailers, including Wal Mart, McDonalds, Burger King and KFC have all either elimintated trans fats or have current timelines in place for the removal from their products. In the next sixty days, the FDA will be accepting comments about this initiative before handing down a final decision. If the GRAS label is indeed removed, a deadline will be established to remove additive trans fats from processed foods.

To view the FDA press release: http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm373939.htm

- Les, MS RD LD

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dietitian's Lunchbox - Lunch with Les

Since we've spent the last several weeks sneaking around the office and peeking in everyone's lunchbox, I suppose it's only fair I share my lunch with you, too.

My favorite lunch is borrowed from Mellow Mushroom's hoagie menu -- the Tempeh Hoagie. Served up with fresh fruit and a cup of yogurt this balanced meal keeps me going through the afternoon! The best part? This sandwich is delicious hot or cold, and my husband loves it too!

It starts with sauteed tempeh, onions and green peppers marinated with Teriyaki sauce and piled high into a hoagie roll with feta cheese, pesto, lettuce, tomato and sprouts. For a hot sandwich, it can be toasted for just a few minutes, or it's delicious right out of the fridge.

This delicious and wholesome meal keeps me going straight through the afternoon. No "3 o'clock feeling" in this office!

-- Les, MS RD LD