Safe food, safe time this holiday season



It’s that time of year again! Family and friends get together to enjoy food outside during picnics and cook outs. These events are a great way to spend quality time while enjoying the outdoors and nature. It’s important to have fun, but keeping your food safe by storing and handling it properly is critical while going on a picnic or cook out.

Foods from a refrigerator need to be kept cold, so storing these products in a cooler filled with ice should be prepared prior to going out in the summer heat. Also, organizing what is in the cooler should be considered so that everything stays cold and safe from growth of bacteria. We want to keep our friends and family safe while eating good food!

In addition, cleaning everyone’s hands is a must before handling food products. Germs can be harmful if ingested and can cause illness. If there is no clean running water available, gather a jug and some soap. Moist antibacterial towels can also be used to clean the hands before eating.

This summer, enjoy each other’s company while soaking up the sun. Now is a great time for a picnic!

For more information about picnic safety, refer to the link:

Have fun this summer!


Who wants watermelon?


Whenever I was growing up, watermelons were a favorite summer time fruit in our household. On a hot day, the taste of a cool slice of watermelon (with a pinch of salt) was not only refreshing, but also helped us stay hydrated. My mom, who is a lover of watermelons herself, very rarely purchased the fruit because neighbors and family friends always shared their crops with us. One summer, we decided to grow our own watermelons. We were very excited to use seeds that had been saved from the previous year. While we had good intentions, needless to say, our attempt failed miserably. It was at this point that we decided to stick with eating watermelons instead of growing them. Perhaps our gardening skills needed some work.

Here are a couple of facts about watermelons:

  • Watermelons, while very tasty are also very nutritious. They are low in fat and calories and high in potassium.
  • They are mostly water (about 92 percent), but have lots of nutrients. Each juicy bite has significant levels of vitamins A, B6 and C, lots of lycopene, antioxidants and amino acids.
  • Watermelons also have many health benefits including: lowering the risk of heart disease, reducing inflammation, aiding in digestion, keeping skin and hair moisturized.
  • For more fun facts, check here: 

Choosing the right watermelon can be a little tricky. You should look for one that is heavy for its size with a rind that is relatively smooth; neither overly shiny nor overly dull; without any cuts or bruises on its surface which might have occurred during transportation. Once at home, place the fruit in a cool, well-ventilated place. The cut sections should be kept inside the refrigerator.

After choosing the right watermelon, let’s prepare it for serving. First, you should wash the whole melon in cold running water or clean it with a wet cloth to remove surface dirt or any other residue. Then, it’s ready to serve. The watermelon can be cubed, scooped into balls or just eaten the old-fashioned way — sliced and right off of the rind.
Fresh watermelon should be eaten as it is, without any additions/seasonings to experience its delicious, natural sweet taste. Here are some serving tips:

  • Cubes or sections of the melon are a great addition to fruit salad. Top its wedges with cold chocolate cream and relish!
  • Jam, sorbet, fruit cocktail, and juice are some nutritious and delicious recipes you can make with melons.
  • The seeds are roasted and eaten as a snack in some Asian countries.
  • Its rind is used and eaten as a vegetable in some South American countries.

Try this easy recipe! It’s unique, but one that I believe you will enjoy. Also, try your hand at growing watermelon with this short, how-to: .


Festive Fish Taco

Makes 4 servings

Serving Size: 2 tacos

This recipe is a 3-step recipe. First, make the salsa. Second, make the coleslaw. And third, cook the fish and assemble the tacos. The salsa and slaw can be made the day before to allow flavors to blend.

SALSA – Ingredients

1 mango, finely chopped

¼ cup green bell pepper, finely chopped

¼ cup cucumber, finely chopped

½ cup red onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped

1 ½ teaspoons chili powder

1 tablespoon lime juice


  1. Mix all ingredients together

  2. Set aside

SLAW MIX – Ingredients

2 cups cabbage, finely shredded

¼ cup fat-free Ranch dressing

1 teaspoon chili powder


  1. Mix all ingredients together

  2. Set aside

TACOS – Ingredients


Slaw mix

4 tilapia filets (or other white fish)

Non-stick cook spray

Black pepper, to taste

Paprika, to taste

8 (6-inch) soft corn tortillas

1 cup cheese, grated


  1. Preheat broiler in oven. Adjust top rack to rest approximately 6 inches from broiler.

  2. Line pan with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

  3. Place filets on prepared pan and sprinkle with pepper and paprika to taste.

  4. Broil filets until cooked, about 6 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

  5. Meanwhile, wrap tortillas in damp paper towels and heat in microwave for 30 seconds.

  6. Divide each filet in half. Place half of cooked filet in each tortilla.

  7. Top with slaw mix and salsa.

By Jmao13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jmao13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Nutritional Information per Serving

260 Calories, Total Fat, 4.5g, Saturated Fat 1g, Protein 24g, Total Carbohydrate 29g, Dietary Fiber 2g, Sodium 110mg.

Tip: Pico de gallo can be used in place of salsa.


Hit the beach, keep it safe

My favorite beach is Emerald Isle. I love having a picnic lunch while I am there. Here are some of the ways I keep my family safe:

1. My lunch usually isn’t anything fancy. It usually consists of finger foods such as cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon or carrots. I always include wraps such as tuna salad or egg salad, nothing that will melt, and I always carry partially frozen bottles of water with me.

2. I don’t want any ants, horse flies, sea gulls, bees and certainly no food poisoning to ruin flip-flops-177916_1280 (1)my perfect day. So I always try to plan ahead when I am going to the beach, so that I don’t forget any essential items that I might need for a safe picnic such as a cooler with ice, clean utensils, storage bags or containers for leftovers, paper towels, table cloth and trash bags. Table cloths are much easier to wash than blankets.

3. I use disposable wet wipes or hand sanitizer to clean my hands before I touch food because running water is not available. I always plan some games for the children to play after they finish eating.

4. I don’t leave foods out in the sun. I position the cooler behind my beach chair in the shade. I serve the food quickly from the cooler and return it fast.

For more tips to keep your family safe, check here: .

Writing this blog makes me want to pack my cooler now and head to the beach! See you there!


Don’t Dread the Road Trip

A long time ago, I used to dread long road trips especially when my children were much younger. However, after years of experience and many miles later, I now love road trips and look forward to our next one.


If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that I need to plan ahead especially when it comes to eating during our travel. Although it may seem easier to buy food from a convenience store or a drive-thru along the trip, it can get expensive. Not to mention, most of those foods are high in fat, sodium, and calories. Instead, I like to bring our own snacks because it’s healthier and saves us money and time.

I prefer to pack foods that don’t require refrigeration. However, when I do pack perishable items, I store them in a cooler with lots of ice packs or frozen water bottles (this is great in the summertime). Keeping food safe is a vital part of planning a road trip…after all, we’re on a journey to have fun and make memories with the kids and not end up at the Urgent Care.

Foods that need to be chilled include:

  • Deli meat or lunchmeat
  • Anything made with egg, tuna, chicken, ham, seafood (or other animal protein)
  • Cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products
  • Cut up fruit and vegetables
  • Homemade fruit and vegetable dips

Foods that can be left out include:

  • Bread
  • Peanut butter sandwiches (I cut them up to make it easier to eat)
  • Whole fruit (Juicier fruits, like mango, oranges, kiwi, watermelon and others can get messy)
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts and seeds (I like to make my own trail mix)
  • Crackers and other dry packaged snacks (I avoid anything that melts like chocolate)

If your kids are like mine, they can devour an entire bag of anything if given the chance. This is why I divide the snacks into single servings and store them in sandwich bags. Each child now has his own treat that is easily accessible and just the right amount. I also tend to pack water rather than sugar sweetened drinks. Not only is it healthy and refreshing but if it spills, it won’t stain!

And finally, I always pack moist hand wipes (lots of it), paper towels, trash bags, barf bags (for the times you least expect it), and disinfectant spray (trust me, you’ll need it).

Road trips are supposed to be fun and memorable when planned well. Save money and time by packing your own healthy snacks. And reduce your risk of foodborne illness by handling and keeping your food safe. Read here to learn more.


Tips for Container Gardening

Many varieties of vegetables can be grown in container gardens. Vegetables that grow well in containers are those with a confined habit of growth, such as salad greens, spinach, eggplant, Swiss chard, beets, radish, carrots, peppers, bush beans, tomatoes, bush varieties of summer squash and cucumbers, green onions, and many herbs.

Containers: There are many possible containers that can be used to start your garden. From plastic, wood or clay, containers should be large enough to support plants when fully grown. This chart provides a sample lists vegetables, minimum container for growth and sample varieties. Space requirements for vegetables can also be found on the seed packet.

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Raise Beds/Square Foot Gardening: This is a form of container gardening in which the soil is formed in three-to-four-foot-wide beds, which can be of any length or shape. It requires less work, less weeding, & less watering. The chart below provides a graphic example of plant spacing.

Plant Spacing Chart: All New Square Foot Gardening, Mel Bartholomew

Plant Spacing Chart: All New Square Foot Gardening, Mel Bartholomew

Gardening can also save you money. Here are a few examples of how much you save growing your own vegetables.

  • Four tomato plants = $15. The average yield for a row of about four plants is 60 pounds.   The going retail price per pound for tomatoes is $1.77, while yours only cost about 25 cents.
  • You’ll save even more with bell peppers. With a $12 investment in six plants, you can reap up to 120 pounds of peppers. That lowers the price per pound from $2.37 in stores to 10 cents.
  • Easy-to-grow broccoli also costs less than a third of the retail price per pound, at around 50 cents rather than $1.37.

Source: Iowa State University and Bureau of Labor Statistics

Gardening tips to get you started:

  1. Choose a sunlit area to place the plants & decide which plants you want to grow.
  2. Choose a good planter. Vegetables with shallow roots – such as lettuce, radishes and herbs – can grow in as little as 8 in. of soil depth. Larger plants, such as tomatoes, bush beans and squash, need deeper and larger pots.
  3. Fertilize and Water Your Vegetable Container Garden. Proper watering is essential for a successful container garden, since soil dries out faster in pots than in the ground. Be sure to check for moisture each day.

 Harvesting: Harvesting container vegetables is the same as garden vegetables. You will know they are ready by visual inspection, or sampling the produce.


Travella Free serves as an Extension associate and coordinator of the Discover Agriculture Program at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University Farm.  In this position, she is responsible for the development and delivery of science-based programs for kindergarten-through-12th-grade students.