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Food-safety during the summer season

July 3rd, 2015
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Many are getting together for potlucks with family, friends and co-workers this holiday weekend. It is also a time for a potential increase in food-borne illnesses as a result of improper food handling, according to Peter Oshiro, environmental health program manager in the Hawaii Department of Health's Sanitation Branch.

Peter Oshiro, DOH

Peter Oshiro, DOH

"As consumers, we're all concerned about eating at restaurants with proper food-handling procedures. The Department of Health holds restaurants to high standards and they are motivated to correct any violations and make any improvements to retain customers," said Oshiro, who oversees the restaurant placard program that was launched in Hawaii six months ago. "However, many people do not realize that many food-borne illnesses are not from restaurants, but from the home."

Oshiro said his group holds public facilities accountable for food safety, but in the home, it is the individual's own responsibility to adhere to safe-handling practices. Whether you're hosting a buffet party or bringing a dish to a potluck, here are 10 holiday food safety tips to have safe holiday celebrations and prevent giving friends and family a case of food poisoning.

Food left out for long periods of time leaves the door open for uninvited guests - bacteria that cause foodborne illness. This makes foods at potlucks and buffets especially vulnerable.

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1. Shop and Store Food Properly

Safe food handling starts when you're buying the ingredients. Shop for your groceries last and do not leave perishable foods in your vehicle. Bring a cooler with ice or ice substitute to store your milk and other perishables, if you have a long drive home, or if you have other stops to make. Make sure all perishables are placed in your refrigerator or freezer as soon as you get home.

2. Wash Your Hands / Make Sure the Cook is Healthy

Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling any food. Be sure to wash your hands after handling any raw meats or poultry because they may be contaminated with harmful bacteria. Do not prepare food if you are not feeling well -- especially if you have experienced any vomiting or diarrhea in the last 72 hours. You do not want to share your illness with friends and family. Ill food handlers are one of the major causes of food illnesses.

3. Prevent Cross-Contamination

Make sure that both you and the grocery store bag all raw meats and poultry separate from each other, and all other foods to prevent blood and other raw meat juices from contaminating any other foods. Arrange or plate ready-to-eat foods, like salads, poke, and, baked goods first. Poultry should be prepared separately if possible from other raw meats. Thoroughly wash and clean all surfaces between poultry and raw meat preparation so you don't cross contaminate ready to eat foods or other food items during their preparation.

You should also keep your kitchen, dishes and utensils clean.  Always serve food on clean plates, trays, or platters - never re-use containers or plates that were previously used to hold or prepare raw poultry or meats.  Bacteria that may have been present in raw meat blood and juices can cross-contaminate the food to be served.  Prepare ready to eat foods or foods that do not require cooking on separate cutting boards from the ones you use for raw meats and poultry.

4. Cook Meats and Poultry Thoroughly - Use a Cooking Thermometer

If you are cooking foods before your party, cook foods thoroughly to safe temperatures. When taking temperatures, make sure that the tip of the probe is in the center of the thickest portion of meat. Cook beef, veal, lamb, pork, fish and other seafood to at least 145°F.  Roast whole poultry to 165°F, and ground turkey and all other poultry to 165°F.  Hamburger, meat loafs, and other should be cooked to 155°F. Using a cooking thermometer not only ensures safe temperatures; it also prevents overcooking your meats, so you can always have that perfectly done, moist cut of poultry or meat.

5. Proper Food Cooling and Heating

Cook no more food than your kitchen's refrigerator/freezer and oven can handle.  Most home refrigerators cannot safely cool large quantities of food. Keep cooking in advance to a minimum. If you must cook large quantities in advance, place food in large re-sealable bags, squeeze out the air and bury completely in ice to chill a few hours prior to placing in your refrigerator or freezer. Reheat chilled foods rapidly to 165°F for serving. Keep the rest of the food hot in the oven (set at 200-250°F), or cold in the refrigerator until serving time.

6. Maintaining Foods at Proper Temperatures

Foods that have been cooked to the proper temperatures should be held at 135°F or warmer by using the oven, chaffing dishes, slow cookers or warming trays. Cold foods should be held at 41°F or below. Keep foods cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice, otherwise use small serving trays and replace every two hours.

7. Thoroughly Wash Fruits and Vegetables

Always thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables prior to preparation and serving. Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.

8. The Two-Hour Rule

Foods left out for long periods at potlucks and buffets are especially vulnerable to uninvited guests - bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Perishable foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Keep track of how long foods have been sitting out on the table and immediately refrigerate or discard anything that was left out for more than two hours.

9. Storing Leftovers

After the meal is over, put away all leftovers promptly, remembering the two-hour rule. All meats should be cut off the bone and placed in re-sealable bags and buried in ice to chill quickly. If ice is not available, place in shallow containers (less than 2" deep) to chill and store in the refrigerator. This same quick-chill method should be used for all other perishable foods that need cooling. If ice is not available, use shallow containers to refrigerate or freeze promptly. Don't forget to refrigerate the noodles and rice, too!

10. Preparing Leftovers

Use leftover meats, turkey, stuffing and other perishable cooked foods within three to four days. If you do not plan to use these foods in this time frame, consider dividing them up and freezing them for later use. Always reheat all foods rapidly to 165°F prior to eating.

New book on `opae`ula and its natural habitat hopes to inspire conservation

July 1st, 2015
By



A newly released book, “Hawaiian Anchialine Pools: Windows to a Hidden World,” describes how Hawai`i is blessed with a multitude of natural resources.  “Even in some seemingly barren areas along the shoreline, there exists a unique aquatic ecosystem underfoot.”

The book’s authors, one current and two former aquatic biologists in the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) introduce readers to anchialine pools; dark, subterranean, water-filled caverns and crevices inhabited by rare shrimp and other unusual aquatic animals.

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Annette Tagawa, a current DAR aquatic biologist, explains, “Anchialine pools occur worldwide, but the largest concentration of them can be found here in Hawai`i. They happen in a variety of forms, including ancient limestone sinkholes on the Ewa Plain on Oahu, a massive bomb crater on the Kaho`olawe shoreline, gold and emerald green pools at `Ahihi-Kina`u on Maui and the Kona coastline dotted with more than 600 of the State’s 700 anchialine pools on Hawai`i Island.”

Co-Author Annette Tagawa

Co-Author Annette Tagawa

The book chronicles the formation, biology and threats to anchialine pools in Hawai`i. These pools have no surface connection to the ocean, with all connections underground via cracks or crevices in limestone or lava. The focus of the book is on aquatic animals.

Author Thomas Iwai, a retired DAR aquatic biologist comments, “We included a complete chapter we call Eight Shrimp and a Crab. Readers can learn about the tiny, one-half-inch long shrimp (`opae`ula)  found nowhere else in the world. We detail the distribution, lifestyle and interesting facts about these shrimp, other shrimp species, and a crab only found in anchialine pools in the `Ahihi-Kina`u Natural Area Reserve.”

Tagawa and me

Tagawa and me

As a hobby breeder of `opae`ula, I was fascinated by the book and happy to read it. I might have about 1,000 shrimp now in two tanks. It's taken me about five years to get them to breed and stabilize their populations.

What I found most interesting was a section discussing the genetic differences between shrimp populations on different islands, likely due to the geographic isolation. Quoting an Auburn University study, the book says there are a total of eight variances*: three distinct lineages on Hawaii Island, two on Maui, and three on Oahu. (*If you consider a 5% mitochindrial DNA difference enough to qualify as a new lineage.)

Tagawa says it's also the most fascinating information for her and her co-authors, too. "How did these animals get to the Hawaiian Islands? The distribution of some of these species are a real mystery as to how the same species can occur here and somewhere else as far away as the Sinai Peninsula with none of the same species found between here and there. A lot more research needs to be done on the biology and life history of each of the anchialine pool species to solve the mystery in answering some of these questions," she states.

Co-author Mike Yamamoto, also a retired DAR aquatic biologists adds, “Anchialine pools were impacted almost as soon as the first Polynesians settled in our islands more than 1,000 years ago. Low salinity pools were used as sources of drinking water, or for bathing. High salinity pools were used to hold or culture fish."

"None of these uses had long-lasting impacts on anticline pools. Today, however, the threats posted to these ecosystems by loss or degredation of habitat; introduction and spread of exotic species; and over harvesting of `opae`ula for the ornamental pet trade can be irreversible," he concludes. The book goes into enlightening- but depressing- detail on the big challenges anchilaline ponds face.

The protection of areas like `Ahihi-Kina‘u in 1973 and the addition of the Kalaeloa Unit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge in 2001 helped protect fragile anchialine pools. At Kalaeloa, twelve sinkholes were excavated and restored. Today these anchialine pools host healthy populations of `opae`ula and other native creatures.

"Anchialine pools can be both natural and man-made. Our islands have been so developed that we may never restore a lot of the anchialine pools to their once pristine condition, but we can restore some of them to where at least they are healthy enough to sustain the aquatic life like the 'opae 'ula. Other than the natural decline or senescence of the anchialine pools, we're fortunate that the best examples of anchialine pools are preserved on Hawaii Island in the Manuka Natural Area Reserve where all of the rarer shrimp species are found, and on Maui where the most gorgeous anchialine pools are found in the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve which also house some of the rarer species and along with the only anchialine crab ever described. On Oahu, the best complex of anchialine pools are found in the Kalaeloa area which were restored and are protected in the Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. The National Parks on Hawaii Island also provide some refuge for the anchialine pools on their properties," continues Tagawa.

"As for the rest of the anchialine pools, the ones with alien species in them such as the tilapia or topminnows would be the hardest to restore because of the heavy restrictions on the use of rotenone which is a piscicide or fish poison that would kill the fish but not the invertebrates. Before its restricted use, scientists on the Big Island of Hawaii used rotenone and successfully eradicated the alien fish in the anchialine pools, restoring them to good health for the `opae `ula. There is some work being done today on looking at some native plants that Hawaiians used to immobilize fish for capture."

The authors neither espouse or discourage people from cultivating `opae`ula as pets, and does give recommendations on how to set up your tank, should you find yourself wanting to keep them. I thoroughly enjoy mine, not least because they take absolutely no work to maintain save a monthly water top-off to my tanks.

Tagawa admits she has one tank at home "and a few jars here in the office. Sometimes we make a few jars as a donation for Aloha United Way and Hawaii Foodbank to raise funds."

"Overharvesting for the pet trade is a concern and the next step that DAR will be working on is a management plan for the anchialine animals and their ecosystem. We highly encourage businesses to culture the `opae `ula like you've been doing, to supply the pet industry with its supplies," she recommends.

If someone gives you `opae`ula as a pet and you don’t want it, biologists advise you to not release it back into an anchialine pool, as that may generate misleading data for scientists who monitor the pools and analyze the DNA of different populations of `opae`ula.

The 100-page-long book Hawaiian Anchialine Pools: Windows to a Hidden World is available at Borders and Native Books and Beautiful Things or at http://www.mutualpublishing.com/shop/index.php?l=product_detail&p=649.

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Officially Eight

June 29th, 2015
By



"I'm not technically eight yet," Olivia informed us in the days after her birthday.

"What makes it official?" we queried.

"A party." We had set a party for a week after her actual birthday, due to timing and scheduling issues.

"Not really," I corrected. "If I was only as old as the number of parties I've had, I'd be 25."

"So you've only lacked four birthday parties?" charmed Claus. Oooooh, GOOD ONE, Husband. He got points for that.

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On a sunny Sunday, we held Olivia's eighth birthday party at A Cup of Tea in Kailua. I tried it once before and it got rave reviews from the little girls I took, including a direct request from Olivia to have her party there.

Request accommodated, and it was a hit with everyone. It was perfect for me, too. It was the easiest party I've ever hosted.

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All I did was show up with a cake that I made her (and candles) and parasols for party favors, and the restaurant did the rest.

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Cool air conditioning was a bonus. I would definitely recommend this!

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Previous parties have been at the pool or my yard (lasting hours in the summer humidity) and while they've been fun, I've always been pooped after.

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I think a tea party works really well for this age. I'm not sure younger girls would have done as well sitting politely for 90 minutes in a restaurant.

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They ripped through the finger sandwiches, nibbled at the scones, and ravaged the dessert tray with mini-cupcakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and vanilla ice cream. They were kind of full by the time we sang the birthday song and cut my cake.

Because I like to bake, I have made Olivia's birthday cake every year, and this year I involved her in the process. She loves color, so I let her choose the colors to dye the cake batter, mix it, and decide what order to pour it in the pan.

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When that was done, I also let her design the color and method of frosting the cupcake-shaped cake. (Striped bag? Swirled colors? Star or round tip? Pipe the frosting in a swirl, little rosettes, or stars? Etc.) She loved her cake.

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She enjoyed picking the colors, deciding which order to put it in the bag, mixing the dye, helping pipe the frosting, and applying the decorations and sprinkles. I enjoyed watching her do this.

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Olivia said she had a great time at her birthday party, and I love to hear that. Now I can rest for another 11 months until the next party!

Half & half

June 26th, 2015
By



I cook and I bake, and I'm decent at both. I wanted to make a coconut creme pie with whipped cream frosting (from scratch), so I went to the store and looked for whipping creme as part of the ingredients.

Toasted Coconut Cream Pie with Lime Whipped Cream. Recipe: Flour, by Joanne Chang.

Toasted Coconut Cream Pie with Lime Whipped Cream. Recipe: Flour, by Joanne Chang.

The grocery store was out of whipping creme so I bought Half & Half, thinking I could make a substitution work. I know baking is a precise art, but I was also tired and lazy to drive to another store.

I had never made this recipe, so I didn't consider the whipping creme was for actually whipping into frosting. I made the custard and it turned out delicious.

When it was time for the frosting, I - still on auto-pilot- poured my Half & Half into the bowl and set it to whip. Nothing happened.

Claus, who once wanted to be a chef and likes the culinary arts even more than I do, researched it online and pronounced, "It might be because the dairy is at room temperature. Let's chill it."

I had to get somewhere so I said, "I need to take a shower. Can you take over?" He's a kitchen god so I know my stuff's in good hands with my husband.

I love a hot shower. Love it, love it, love it. There ain't nothing a hot shower can't fix, I believe, including an addled brain.

Suddenly, when I got out of the shower, I realized: It's because it's Half & Half! D'oh!

I ran to the kitchen laughing. I could hear the Kitchen Aid whirring the entire time. "Honey! It's Half & Half!"

He looked at me pseudo-disdainfully. I saw a big bowl of ice which he'd just used to chill the dairy, and saw the blender, which had been working overtime for 15 minutes to try to whip something that would never whip.

"Um, hey. Did you realize Half & Half is half milk, half whipping creme?" I joked. He rolled his eyes.

I used the failed frosting for the rest of the week in my coffee, and later that day he drove us to the store to get actual whipping creme - that he insisted on finishing himself.

The pie, by the way, was wonderful. Team effort.

Hey, did you know Half & Half won't whip up not matter how hard you try?

Olivia's birthday

June 24th, 2015
By



Eight is a magical number. I can't believe eight years ago I gave birth to a daughter who I'm more in love with now, than I was then.

What a gift.

Olivia is a marvelous little human. I took the day off to be with her.

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We opened presents in the morning and she was thrilled with all her gifts. She's so polite and thankful.

I took her to a movie and spent as much time looking at her, as I did the film. It delights me to see her happy.

Then we went to the grocery so I could make dinner - reminds me of fun housewife times! - and I let her throw all kinds of things in the cart... because it's her birthday!

I made her favorite dinner and then we played with her gifts. She was such a perfect girl. When she's good, she's very good.

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It was a perfect day. I'm not sure if it was a better day for her, or me!