Food Safety and the Fall Garden

English: Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) with vari...

Many of us know how to put a plant in the ground and give it some basic TLC to get it growing. But how do we make sure that the gardens we plant yield safe food that will not unintentionally make us sick? And what can we do to make sure children working with us are safe? The North Carolina organization, Advocates for Health in Action have a new web-based resource to address those issues. While it is primarily designed for people starting community gardens, I found plenty of tips for my own home garden!

Here is the link to the booklet.

Are you planting a fall garden? Ours will go in this weekend and we are planting kale, Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage and maybe some broccoli. Here in North Carolina, I can plant these greens and have fresh greens all winter long! As long as you don’t pull up the plant roots, you can cut the greens you need and the plant will continue to produce all winter. It was an incredibly successful yield for us!

What are you planting in your fall garden? Happy (and safe) fall gardening!

Tutorial Tuesday #5–What Does That Label Mean?

Tutorial Tuesday #5–What Does That Label Mean?

Many, many years ago, I had breakfast at a diner in upstate New York that was cute and kitschy and seemed like the place you could get a mean plate of hash or scrambled eggs and sausage. On the menu, I noticed that they served “fresh squeezed” orange juice. It was on the menu just like that, quotes and all. I had just moved from Florida, where fresh orange juice was never in quotes, so I did not understand this. I asked the waitress, does this mean the juice is really fresh or does it mean that it is not fresh? She did not have a great deal of patience, but I hate orange juice from a can, so I kept asking her questions. After a round of this, she gave up and brought me the can (ta da!) so I could see that on the label, it said “fresh squeezed”. For reals.

Food labels. There are so many of them, but only a few have actual meaning. Even at the farmer’s markets, farmers are more savvy about giving us information about their products. But what should we look for and what labels are just marketing? Here in our Tuesday tutorial is a synopsis of food labels you should look for and what they mean!

Labels to Look For

sustainable seafood

Certified Sustainable Seafood

This logo and certification is given by the Marine Stewardship Council and guarantees that the fish in question was caught using sustainable harvesting protocol and that the entire chain of custody of that fish was sustainable (click HERE to see the protocol). Becoming an MSC certified fishery is a voluntary process and only applies to wild-caught fish, not farm-raised fish.


Animal Welfare Approved

Animal Welfare Approved audits, certifies and supports independent family farmers raising their animals according to the highest animal welfare standards, outdoors on pasture or range. Factory farms cannot apply to be AWA certified. The AWA seal ensures that all animals are treated humanely from birth to slaughter and that the animal did not receive antibiotics unless they were sick. This is considered the gold standard for animal welfare labels.

Certified Humane_

Certified Humane Raised and Handled

This is a slightly less rigorous standard developed by animal scientists and veterinarians and applies to more than just family farms. Like the AWA certification, this covers animals birth to slaughter and guarantees that animals did not receive antibiotics unless they were sick. To see more information, click HERE.


USDA Certified Organic

This seal, given by the United States Department of Agriculture, guarantees that at least 95% of the ingredients in a given food product are certified organic. This means that those organic items are produced without synthetic fertilizers, most synthetic pesticides or GMOs (genetically engineered crops). Meat that has this label comes from animals that did not receive antibiotics, growth hormones or genetically modified feed. This cannot be used for seafood.


American Grassfed

The American Grassfed label applies to beef, bison, goat, lamb and sheep. This label, given by the American Grassfed Association, requires that farmers met the following criteria: Animals are fed only grass and forage from weaning until harvest; Animals are raised on pasture without confinement to feedlots; Animals are never treated with antibiotics or growth hormones; All animals are born and raised on American family farms. For more information, click HERE.

Labels That May Be Ok

Some other labels that are not guaranteed, but may be at your farmer’s market are those below. This becomes a trust issue as you cannot verify that the statements are true, but here is what they should mean:

Pesticide-free–crops may have been grown conventionally or include GMOs, but were grown without synthetic pesticides.

Grown with organic protocol–Crops may be grown using organic methods, but the farm itself is not certified organic.

Raised Without Antibiotics, USDA Process Verified–this means that an animal received no antibiotics during its lifetime. This ONLY means something if the “USDA Process Verified” is included. This means that the USDA confirms that this is true.

Labels to Ignore

Free-range–This label for poultry products means absolutely nothing. A supplier can claim this as long as they provide 5 minutes of fresh air per day, even if the animal is still contained in a small cage in a building.

Antibiotic Free–This is not a recognized label with criteria and verification.

Fresh (animals)–The label of “fresh” in animal products is meaningless. Chicken can be labelled “fresh” as long as the temperature of the bird never goes below 26 degrees farenheit. That is below freezing! Fresh when used for vegetables actually meets certain protocol.

Heart Healthy–There is no standard for claiming something is “heart healthy”.

Natural–There is no standard or criteria for any food product being labelled “natural”.

The Not-So-Sweet Side of Honey

kişisel resim Ελληνικά: κηρήθρα

Think you are avoiding high fructose corn syrup and toxins by sweetening your whole food recipes with natural honey? You may be surprised to find that what you are eating is actually NOT pure honey, but ultra filtered, diluted honey mixed with high fructose corn syrup and other additives. Not only that, your “honey” may include carcinogens and heavy metals. Yes, even if it says “honey” on the label.


The FDA requires that any substance labeled as “honey” include bee pollen. That is the only way to ensure that the honey is pure and that it came from an identifiable source. The problem is, the FDA doesn’t test any substance labeled “honey” to make sure it actually includes pollen. Well that just makes sense, right?

So companies outside the U.S. have been taking honey, ultra-filtering it (removing most of its healthy benefits), adding all kinds of filler junk and selling it to U.S. grocery chains in those cute little bear bottles as honey. This is especially concerning for pregnant women and small children, as it takes less toxic materials to impact small, growing bodies.

In 2011, Food Safety News tested more than 70 brands of honey for pollen. This is what they found:

•76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.

•100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.

•77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.

•100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.

•Bryant found that every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.

And if you have to buy at major grocery chains, the analysis found that your odds are somewhat better of getting honey that wasn’t ultra-filtered if you buy brands labeled as organic. Out of seven samples tested, five (71 percent) were heavy with pollen. All of the organic honey was produced in Brazil, according to the labels.

So what is a honey-loving family to do? Here are some steps you can take to make sure that the honey you buy is actual honey and not Chinese high fructose corn syrup:

  1. Purchase your honey from a local farmer or at a local farmer’s market.
  2. Ask farmers about how they process their honey. You should buy raw or minimally processed honey if possible.
  3. Purchase your honey from a health food store (Whole Foods or Trader Joes, for example)
  4. If you purchase at the grocery store, buy honey labeled as organic.
  5. Avoid purchasing honey from a drug store or major discount store.

For more information and a list of products that were tested and did not contain pollen, click HERE.

Fixing Our Food Problem

Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman (Photo credit: rebuildingdemocracy)

Mark Bittman has a terrific editorial out in the New York Times regarding a resolution for 2013 to begin fixing our food problem. The article is well-written, short and a bit inspiring. I thought I would share it with you as I find him to be one of our Sole-ful People!

You can find the entire article HERE (if the links are working–if not, I’m posting the full link below).

The more we learn about our food system, the more important it is for all of us to expect something better.

An association between tobacco and cancer was discovered more 200 years ago. The surgeon general’s report that identified smoking as a public health issue appeared in 1964. The food movement has not yet reached its 1964; there’s isn’t even a general acknowledgment of a problem in need of fixing.

Clearly, we have a long way to go, but every journey begins with a single step and the perseverance to keep moving forward!

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