All posts by Lisa Strickland

‘Ghost Pepper,’ ‘Umami,’ and More Food Words Added to the Dictionary

In 2018, Merriam-Webster added 850 words and definitions to the dictionary, including the relatable “dumpster fire” and “embiggen”—with some food words in the mix too, like harissa, kombucha, poke, and aquafaba (chickpea water used in vegan dishes and cocktails, in case you were wondering). This year, the overarching haul of new words topped 640, and among them, the dictionary flagged 17 food-related terms for us. There’s the beloved Puerto Rican dish mofongo; a non-meat definition of steak (which can refer to cauliflower steaks, mushroom steaks, etc.); and double-dip, which is pretty self-explanatory.

In order to make the cut, a word must demonstrate that it’s an established member of the English language, according to Emily Brewster, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster. There are three criteria that need to be satisfied: frequent use, widespread use, and meaningful use. As for who decides? While you might imagine a formal committee, the staff of lexicographers (an author or editor of a dictionary, according to Merriam-Webster) is in charge. It may seem baffling that common terms such as chai latte and go-cup weren’t already included—they’re certainly regulars at coffee shops—but Brewster provided insight.

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From Trash to Treasure

Peoria County farmer Paul Rosenbohm can thank his neighbor Mrs. Phillips, a long-neglected neighboring farm and an overabundance of dairy cow manure for his successful compost business.

Nearly 30 years ago, Rosenbohm and his brother needed more land to spread the waste from their cows. When the farm adjacent to theirs came up for auction, Rosenbohm bought it primarily for a manure repository.

Believing all his neighbors had air conditioning, Rosenbohm spread a particularly aromatic load of manure on his new fields on the first warm day of summer. The next morning, Rosenbohm’s phone rang.

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How Ketchup Made Food Safer

If bacteria in ketchup didn’t sicken you, the preservatives might—until this wealthy food manufacturer cleaned up the condiment.

Ketchup—that cheerful red sauce sold in handy glass bottles—first came on the American market in the 19th century. But its ingredients were shockingly different than they are today.

Food advocates complained that the sauce was frequently made from tomato scraps thickened with ground pumpkin rinds, apple pomace (the skin, pulp, seeds, and stems left after the fruit was pressed for juice), or cornstarch, and dyed a deceptive red. One French cookbook author described the ketchup sold in markets as “filthy, decomposed and putrid.”

By the late 19th century, it would become less putrid, as manufacturers added chemical preservatives to slow decomposition in the bottle. But the real change—the invention of modern ketchup—occurred in the 20th century, and it’s a story of both politics and personality. It begins with an unlikely alliance between one of the country’s richest food manufacturers, Henry J. Heinz, and an underpaid federal chemist. The two men bonded over a mutual belief that unsafe and untrustworthy food was a growing national problem.

This story appears in the February 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine. Read the rest of the story –

Oysters on the Half Shell are Saving an Eroding Harbor

Across New York City, more than 70 restaurants are tossing their oyster shells not into the trash or composting pile, but into the city’s eroded harbor. It’s all part of Billion Oyster Project’s restaurant shell-collection program.

The journey from trash to treasure begins after an oyster half shell is turned upside down and left on an icy tray. Once discarded, it joins hundreds of thousands of other half shells collected in blue bins and picked up (free of charge) from restaurants five days a week by Billion Oyster Project’s partner, The Lobster Place, a seafood supplier. The shells are trucked over to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood and once a month are brought en masse to Governors Island in the heart of the New York Harbor, just yards away from both Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. There, rolling shell hills sparkle in the sun while “curing” out in the elements for one year, a process that rids them of contaminants.

The shells then get a final cleaning and are moved to Billion Oyster Project’s hatchery at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island that offers technical and vocational training in the marine sciences. In an aquaculture classroom’s hatchery, student-grown oysters produce larvae in an artificially induced springtime environment. In one to two weeks, each larvae grows a “foot” — a little limb covered in a kind of natural glue — and then is moved to a tank full of the “cured” restaurant shells, which serve as anchors for all of those sticky feet. This phase is critical: If larvae can’t find a place to attach, they die. One reclaimed shell can house 10 to 20 new live oysters, depending on shell size.

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“Hangry” is now in the Webster’s Dictionary

Anyone who has ever felt so hungry to the point of getting angry can finally associate that feeling with an official word: hangry.

Although the term is just being recognized officially, it has long been part of a common vernacular and dates as far back as the 1950s, according to Oxford English Dictionary.

“It is only in the 21st century that the word hangry, a blend of hungry and angry used colloquially to mean ‘bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger,’ has entered common use,” Katherine Connor Martin, Oxford University Press’ head of U.S. Dictionaries, said in a press release.

Funny phrases using the word hangry have been seen on memes, social media, merchandise, apps and even ad campaigns in recent years.

The candy brand Snickers’ slogan “You’re not you when you’re hungry” captures the essence of what it means to be hangry and the company even created an entire ad campaign last year around the idea.

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46 Mouthwatering Facts about Pizza

If you live in the United States, it’s statistically likely you’ll eat around 6000 slices of pizza over the course of your life. But how much do you actually know about that delicious combo of dough, cheese, and sauce? Where did pizza come from? What makes a great slice?

Whether you’re a fan of thin crust, deep dish, or the New York slice, here are 46 facts that’ll tell you everything you need to know about pizza—all in honor of National Cheese Pizza Day.

1. The word “pizza” dates back over a thousand years—it was first mentioned in a Latin text written in southern Italy in 997 CE….

15. In the late ‘60s, the U.S. Army’s 113th Military Intelligence Unit spied on reporters and politicians using fake pizza deliveries. …

34. There are four primary kinds of mozzarella used to make pizza. One is mozzarella di bufala (made from the milk of water buffalo in Italy, and used on Neapolitan-style pizzas). Another is fior di latte (similar to mozzarella di bufala, but made from cow’s milk). The other two are burrata (a fresh Italian cheese known for its creamy filling), and “pizza cheese” (the less perishable whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella used by the majority of American pizzerias).

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Farmers Market Food Safety Tips

The end of May means it’s nearly time for America’s favorite food lovers’ tradition: visiting your local farmers market. In addition to all the invigorating colors, exquisite aromas, strong flavors, and spirit of community, the farmers market is also an opportunity to develop one-on-one relationships with the people who produce your food! Their passion for food can be quite inspiring.

Stop Foodborne Illness,(, a national public health organization whose mission is preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens wants to remind you that no matter where you get your food – by supporting friendly local farmers or by shopping your neighborhood supermarket – food safety is always important.

Food that is fresh is a delicious treat! Organic and sustainable farming doesn’t use pesticides, chemicals, hormones and other additives, but it isn’t necessarily safer when it comes to foodborne illness – because everything is still grown in the dirt, and handled by humans. Pathogens such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella are found naturally in soil, as well as manure. Which basically means, everything needs to be washed.


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The Illinois Farmers Market Food Safety Guide can be downloaded in PDF format here.

Want to share this information? Download Quick Facts: At the Farmers Market.

Ever wonder about your milk jug?

Ever wonder about your milk jug or the foil on your yogurt cup?

Single-service containers and closures have been used in the dairy industry for many years.  There are standards established by the FDA to ensure the production of sanitary containers and closures for milk and milk products.

The standards set down specific requirements for the plants that fabricate the containers. This includes blow molders for your plastic milk gallon and the paper and laminators for milk cartons. It also includes plants that produce the caps for that jug and the foil you pull off the yogurt cup or the creamer in the restaurant.

The standards cover everything about the plant and the manufacturing lines. They include requirements regarding the floors, walls and ceilings. There are standards for ventilation and the water supplies.  They also cover personnel practices and handwashing facilities.  These are just a few.  After a plant has been inspected and meets all of the requirements, the plant is certified and can produce caps and containers for the dairy industry. They are also inspected quarterly.

There are bacterial standards for the final containers and closures.  The plants are required to test several samples of the final product at least 4 out of every 6 months.  The testing of the final product must be done by a laboratory that has also been inspected and certified by the FDA. The lab is then approved to perform the testing on the caps and jugs.

Similar standards exist for bottled water containers.

Would you like to see how a milk jug is made?

Video link

Brain Freeze – Can there be any good that can come of that?

I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream.  How about when that spoonful of ice cream or big draw of a shake through the straw ends with the feeling of a knife stabbing the brain.

Brain freeze.  Aka cranial cramp, ice cream headache or cold rush.  It is a recognized medical condition referred to as cold-stimulus headache. Want to impress your friends?  The medical term is spenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.

One theory is, when the roof of the mouth comes into contact with something very cold for more than a few seconds, a nerve reaction appears to cause blood vessels to constrict and then rapidly dilate. The pain moves from the palate to the brain and can be intense until the roof of the mouth is warm again. It is a referred pain because the brain perceives the pain in the forehead or temples instead of the mouth. This is similar to the referred pain of a heart attack. The pain is felt in the arm or jaw instead of the heart.

There are ways to avoid an ice cream headache.  The most obvious way to prevent one is to eat slower. Use a spoon instead of a straw. If you use a straw, use a smaller one or aim it toward the front or side of your mouth, not directly onto your palate.

That’s all good, but what if you already have one? How do you make it stop?  Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth. The heat and pressure may be enough. Pressing your thumb against the palate may also help. Have a sip of warm or even room temperature water. That will stabilize the temperature.  Cold-induced headaches seldom last more than 30 seconds, but on rare occasions, they have lasted up to 10-15 minutes.

Humans may not be alone in experiencing brain freezes. There are videos all over showing what appears as a reaction to a brain freeze headache in pets while eating ice cream.

What good can come of this?

Researchers are using cold-stimulus headaches to study migraines. Previous studies on migraines have limitations because researchers and participants can’t wait around the testing facilities for a migraine to appear. There have also been antidotal reports of people who, while experiencing a migraine, will purposely induce a brain freeze to diminish and shorten the migraine headache itself.

Recent studies have studied headaches in the lab by purposefully inducing brain freeze headaches. This allows researchers to study the headaches from start to finish. In one study, participants sipped ice water through a straw pressed against their upper palate to bring in the brain freeze. Scientists monitored the participants throughout the procedure with a Doppler. [A Doppler ultrasound is a noninvasive test that can be used to estimate the blood flow through your blood vessels by bouncing high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) off circulating red blood cells. It can estimate how fast blood flows by measuring the rate of change in its pitch (frequency).]

With that, they found that pain started when the artery dilated.  They speculate that due to the closed structure of the brain, the rapid dilation and influx of blood increases pressure and causes pain. It is possible similar changes in blood flow may be responsible for migraine pain. They are looking at treatment methods that control the blood flow for treating migraine headaches.

That is not a study I would volunteer for.

Explore Travel Health with the CDC Yellow Book

CDC Health Information for International Travel (commonly called the Yellow Book) is published every two years as a reference for health professionals providing care to international travelers and is a useful resource for anyone interested in staying healthy abroad. The fully revised and updated CDC Yellow Book 2018 codifies the U.S. government’s most current travel health guidelines, including pre-travel vaccine recommendations, destination-specific health advice, and easy-to-reference maps, tables, and charts.

The CDC’s 2018 edition of it’sHealth Information for International Travel” guide is now available and accessible for free online.  CDC Yellow Book – table of contents

The 2018 Yellow Book includes important travel medicine updates:

  • The latest information about emerging infectious disease threats such as Zika, Ebola, and MERS
  • New cholera vaccine recommendations
  • Updated guidance on the use of antibiotics in the treatment of travelers’ diarrhea
  • Special considerations for unique types of travel, such as wilderness expeditions, work-related travel, and study abroad
  • Destination-specific recommendations for popular itineraries, including new sections for travelers to Cuba and Burma

The revised edition contains sections for “Self Treatable Conditions”, Pre and Post Travel Evaluations, Transportation Issues, Traveling with Children, and Traveling with Special Needs.

The latest hard cover edition is currently available for sale from Oxford University Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The CDC’s 2018 edition of it’sHealth Information for International Travel” guide is now available and accessible for free online here.