Fit to eat: Fruits & Vegetables— Do You Wash Them or Not?

December 1, 2014  
Filed under Food, Places I’ve Played

Stuart-Offer---Headshot-CMYK

By Dr. Stuart Offer

My wife Leslie and I are traveling around the U.S. in our motorhome. Recently, we spent a wonderful day at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Wash. The market was enormous with indoor and outside displays of every imaginable food. There were numerous fruit and vegetable stalls selling their produce, some of which was in the form of cut fruit sold in cups and fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. My first impression was “Wow, what a beautiful and healthy display of foods.” However, knowing what I know I also had the thought, “Does the public know of the dirty little secret about fresh produce that could make you sick or even kill you, and yes even from organically grown produce?”

The dirty secret — much of this produce can be contaminated.

So, should you wash your produce? The short answer is an absolute yes. Let’s face it nobody likes to get a mouthful of sand and grit when eating a salad, however there are many more reasons to wash your produce than this. Many of us may just carry on the traditions that our families did from the past, washing or not washing. For those who never wash, here is some information that may make you reconsider.

There are three reasons to wash your produce: contamination from soil; microbes; and pesticides. As I said, no one likes biting into a gritty salad, and the problems connected with microbe-contaminated produce have been well publicized. Pesticides are designed to be toxic and their effects on people are well understood, so it’s best to avoid them when you can.

Federal health officials estimate that nearly 48 million people are sickened by food contaminated with harmful germs each year, and some of the causes might surprise you. Although most people know animal products must be handled carefully to prevent illness, many don’t realize that produce can also be the culprit in outbreaks of foodborne illness. In recent years, the United States has had several large outbreaks of illness caused by contaminated fruits and vegetables including spinach, tomatoes and lettuce.

Fresh produce can become contaminated in many ways. During the growing phase, fruits and veggies may be contaminated by animals, harmful substances in the soil or water or poor hygiene among workers. After produce is harvested, it passes through many hands, increasing the contamination risk. Contamination can even occur after the produce has been purchased, during food preparation or through inadequate storage.

The FDA has some very good guidelines and recommendations when it comes to produce. Here is what they recommend: 

Buying Tips

Purchase produce that is not bruised or damaged.

When selecting fresh-cut produce such as half a watermelon or bagged salad greens, choose items that are refrigerated or surrounded by ice.

Bag fresh fruits and vegetables separately from meat, poultry and seafood products.

Storage Tips

Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below.

Refrigerate all produce that is purchased pre-cut or peeled.

Preparation Tips

Begin with clean hands. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.

Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce that looks rotten should be discarded. The bruised and damaged areas are where bacteria thrive. 

All produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. The more water the better here. 

Many precut, bagged produce items like lettuce are pre-washed. If the package indicates that the contents have been pre-washed, you can use the produce without further washing.

Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first. For instance, if your melon has bacteria on the outside of it and you do not wash it, then cutting into the melon will introduce the germs into the flesh of the fruit. 

Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended. The effectiveness of detergents and commercial products have not been proven and can leave residue on the produce. Yuck, who wants detergent on their strawberries?

Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. 

Drying produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel may further reduce bacteria that may be present.

Also, keep in mind that packaged fruit and vegetable juices are required to be pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. Farm stand and cider mills that sell fresh juice by the glass are not required to be pasteurized or have a warning label. Also, make sure that fresh cut fruit, such as melon, is stored under 40 degrees or packed on ice. The FDA has recommended the young, elderly or people with weakened immune systems avoid any unpasteurized juices or cut fruit that has not been stored properly. 

One final piece of advice ­ be diverse. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. This is not only nutritionally beneficial but may help limit exposure to any one type of pesticide residue.

Grace and the Baron

September 13, 2013  
Filed under Places I’ve Played

By Bill Skiff

“America has lost it’s love affair with cars,” according to a recent New York Times article. I don’t believe it for one minute. Ever since we traded our horses for cars, the love affair has continued. Horses took us where we wanted to go. We enjoyed grooming them and took pride in how they looked. We groom our cars today, make sure they are full of fuel, and take them for rides into the sunset. Yes, I have always loved my cars.

When I was 10 years old, I learned to drive by standing on the running board of my Dad’s 1939 Ford truck. My legs were too short to reach the clutch, but I could still steer it around the meadow as we picked up hay. Dad started the truck, put it in gear, pulled out the throttle, then jumped up on the load while I drove.

The first time I drove legally was in our 1948 family Ford. I was 16 and my license had just arrived in the mail. As I sat in the kitchen fondling it, Dad said,” Bill, I am all out of cigarettes, would you mind going to the village to get me a new pack?”

Are you kidding?! I was out the door and on the road in nothing flat. As I was cruising along, thinking how great it was to be finally liberated, I entered the narrow bridge going into Jeffersonville. Right in the middle of the bridge, I met a Vermont Transit bus. When we passed, it was only by inches. That was when I realized driving was fun, but it was also serious business.

I learned other disadvantages to driving. It was much more fun sitting in the back seat with my girlfriend while Dad drove us home from a dance than in was driving her home myself. I guess today we would call it multitasking. While having one hand on the wheel and one around her shoulders, I still had to operate the clutch and shift gears. Staying on my side of the road took skill. Thank the Lord for my necker’s nob.

I never had a car until I was married. My wife came with a 1949 Plymouth. It was powder blue and drove like a dream. It was the first car I ever half-owned.

The first car we chose together was a 1958 VW Bug. One summer, we drove it from Stowe to Mexico City. I fixed it up so we could sleep in it. Yes, it was tight quarters, but who cared — we were newlyweds. It did not have a gas gauge, so I filled its 10-gallon tank every 300 miles. I once got 41 miles a gallon.

When our four children came along, we bought a VW bus. We could cruise down the road with every one of them lying down sleeping in the back. It made many long trips shorter.

A few year ago, I finally bought my toy — a 1995 Chrysler LeBaron convertible, fire engine red with a white top. I groom it every chance I get, keep it full of fuel and love driving it into the sunset.

A couple of weeks ago, my 16-year-old granddaughter Grace sent me a text: “Papa, I am taking driver education now; I also just passed my driver’s permit. When I come up next week to visit, do you think we could take the Baron out for a drive?”

When she arrived, I had it parked out front with a sign that read, “Grace, I have been waiting for you.”

When the weather finally cleared, we put the top down and took it out for Grace’s inaugural drive. I told her it had been a long time since I had ridden in a convertible with a beautiful blond. She smiled.

As we drove along, she had her hands at the standard driver’s ed position of 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. I said, “Grace, if you won’t tell your mother, I will show you how to really enjoy driving a convertible—place your right hand on top of the wheel. Now, put your left elbow on the top of the door and your left hand, grasp the side of the windshield support. She did remarking, “This is cool!” We agree it’s not as safe, but it is way more cool.

Bill Skiff and his granddaughter Grace enjoy a ‘cool’ drive in Skiff’s LeBaron. (Courtesy photo)

When we arrived back home, she parked it so she could see it from our porch. Later, as I was sitting on the porch with my youngest grandson, he looked at the Baron with a long sad face and said, “Papa did you give the Baron to Grace?”

I replied that I had not given it to anyone. When he looked back at me, he was wearing a big grin when he said, “Yet!” Hope springs eternal.

In my family at least, America’s love affair with cars is far from over.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.


A Garden Hackle Hike

September 9, 2013  
Filed under Places I’ve Played

By Bill Skiff

My dad taught me how to trout fish. He was not a fly fisherman. In fact, the only thing he knew about fly fishing was that a Garden Hackle was the best fly.

Every Lamoille County kid knew that a Garden Hackle was a fancy term for a worm. They were easily found and dirt cheap. They came in various sizes and lengths. Dad’s favorites came from under a few rotten boards by the manure sink.

When we first started fishing, I would carry the worms in an old tomato soup can with some dirt and grass on top. I left the top on so the Hackles wouldn’t fly out. Later on, Dad bought me a container with a belt holder so I could carry them on the front of my belt, making them ready for easy access.

Dad and I loved the small brooks that wound their way down the Vermont mountains. It was exciting to come upon a series of clear pools formed by water falling over the rocks and ridges. We had a gentleman’s agreement as to how to fish those pools. When we arrived at a series of pools, Dad let me fish the first one. He would then start at the pool above. When I finished at my pool, I would move to the one above Dad. This way each of us had the opportunity to be the first one at a new pool. I did notice that Dad seemed to always arrange it so I came to the best pools first.

I enjoyed Dad’s fishing technique. There was no playing with the trout or gracefully bringing them in to lift them out with your finger hooked through their gills. Dad taught the “hook ‘em, throw them out on the bank and jump on them.” It worked great. Many times as I was throwing a trout up onto the bank, it would come unhooked and fall to the ground. That’s when the jump on them part was real useful. It prevented them from falling back into the brook.

Our favorite brook was up in Pleasant Valley. We drove along Upper Pleasant Valley Road until we saw a cow path. We then walked our way up the path until we reached the bottom of Mount Mansfield. After walking in the woods for a distance, a brook would appear. There was no better sight than to see that brook in the early morning sunshine with the diamonds of light falling over its crystal clear water.

They say you can never go home, but recently I wondered if you can go to your brook. I wanted my grandson to experience the joy I felt so many years ago. I decided to see if he and I could find that brook again. After a few false starts on Upper Pleasant Valley Road, I spotted what I felt was the right turn toward the mountain. Instead of a cow path, we found a dirt road with houses on both sides. Then the trail became a sugar road with plastic pipes running alongside. Finally, we walked into the woods and shortly we arrived at that wonderful old brook. It seemed smaller than I remember but just as beautiful and pure.

After explaining Dad’s gentleman’s agreement for fishing mountain pools, off we went. The fish were as small as I remembered them and the experience was just as rewarding. After frying our catch and adding some pancakes and fried potatoes, we completed our Hackle Hike.

Now another Vermont boy knows where there is a mountain brook where he can find peace, solitude and some small brookies when he needs them.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. He now lives in Williston. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.

Hey Old Timer

August 9, 2013  
Filed under Places I’ve Played

By Bill Skiff

Sometimes things happen that touch your heart:

My wife and I were leaving the Fire House Restaurant in Barre. We came out, arm in arm, stopping before crossing the street. As we stood there waiting, an old pickup carrying two young men came along and stopped. The driver, seeing us waiting to cross, waved us ahead. When we reached the other side of the truck, the passenger rolled down his window and yelled, “Hey old timer, I hope I still love my old lady the way you do when I’m as old as you!”

We began to laugh and couldn’t stop. So much for our self-perceived youth. We looked at each other and knew why we were laughing. It was so true and so funny at the same time. When we reached our car, we saw a truck driver standing beside his truck laughing as hard as we were.

I realized the young man was right. I first saw Ruth working on the second floor of the Springfield College administration building. She was the assistant to the director of guidance: I was enrolled in the guidance department’s Master’s degree program.

Now, here we were, 58 years later, crossing the street in Barre. How had we stuck together all these years? I am certain the young man had no idea how our love had lasted—but he knew it was important enough that when his time came he wanted to feel the same way. I am not sure exactly how it happened either, but I am sure glad it did.

It is not easy to look over the years and figure out what makes love stay. There are so many events—some good, some not so good—that make up a lasting relationship. Sometimes I think it may be just good luck or just not wanting to give up. Or maybe you find a life rhythm with another person that just feels good, comfortable and rewarding.

I know that as the years go by things change. Some get better, some stay the same while others seem to go away. How that mix develops makes a difference. Sometimes you recognize the changes and sometimes you cannot. The trick to a lasting relationship, it seems to me, is figuring out what is important to your relationship—and making necessary adjustments as changes occur.

I am not sure anyone gets it all right all the time, but when you come close, it really is exceptional. That young man was right: I do love my old lady and I am thankful she still loves this old man.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.

A Curtain of Memories

June 13, 2013  
Filed under Places I’ve Played

By Bill Skiff

When I recall growing up on my dad’s farm in Cambridge, I recognize some of my youthful experiences as rites of passage, like smoking corn silk behind the barn (bad idea), kissing a girl behind the sugar house (good idea), driving Dad’s car for the first time with my new license in my wallet (exhilarating idea).

One rite of passage was life changing: the curtain of memories.

The curtain hung in the Jeffersonville Town Hall. At the front of the stage, this huge magnificent curtain was rolled up and down for every play and minstrel show- and countless movies over a span of decades.

My rite of passage occurred in 1950 during my senior year, when our class produced the school’s traditional senior play. After the last performance, each senior was allowed to sign his or her name on the back of the curtain. The play was near the end of the school year and I remember thinking as I wrote my name, “this is it: I am out of high school, I will be leaving home in the fall and will soon be involved in a new life.” It was an ending and at the same time a beginning. I felt emancipated—scary idea.

Over the years, I sometimes wondered what had happened to the old curtain. Recently, I found out.

I located the curtain in the Cambridge Elementary School’s gymnasium. With the help of John, the maintenance man, we saw it hanging above the stage at the end of the gym. John unrolled it and there it hung, just as I had remembered it.

When the Town Hall became the post office and town clerk’s office, the curtain was taken down and stored for many years. It was painted by Charles Huiesp in Troy, N.Y. sometime in the mid-1800s. Restoration was completed by Chris Hansel of Curtains Without Boarders. Chris repaired the tears and restored the water-based paints to their original vibrant colors. It was exciting to once again view that` beautiful sailing vessel as it makes its way over the waves and away from the castle on the shore.

Then I wondered, could my signature still be on the back? As I searched for my name, wonderful memories returned. There appeared the names of my teenage friends: Phila, Melba, Barbara, Dick and Rodney. And then I saw it: “BILL SKIFF ‘50.” I had written it with Claudia’s red lipstick—the same lipstick that used to mysteriously appear on my shirt collars, much to my mothers dismay.

I saw the names of my brother Bob, ‘60, and sister Carol, ‘62. It would have been nice if some of those names could have spoken to me. I would like to have heard their voices again. In a way, they did speak to me – as I saw their names, I remembered the great times we had together.

As I searched more carefully, I found other names and dates written in fading pencil—Kenneth Potter, class of 1920 and Eric Trash, class of 1918. One name was so faded I could not read it, but under it was written, “Brigham Academy Minstrel Show 1917.”

How many times has the old curtain been rolled up for an opening night? How many people have enjoyed a play in its presence? For its many viewers, I wish it well and thank it for its many years of service—and the fond memories it leaves behind.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.


There’s a Sap Sucker Born Every Minute

May 15, 2013  
Filed under Places I’ve Played

By Bill Skiff

P.T. Barnum had it right when he said there’s one born every minute.

Now, I don’t mean the ones that hang around on the bottom of the Lamoille River or the ones who didn’t believe that Lance Armstrong was doping. Or even those that still don’t believe the first ingredient in some peanut butter is sugar.

I mean the ones who believe that thick sweet syrup comes from a tree ready to eat. Or the ones that believe that sap comes from a tree and makes syrup—but they are not sure what kind of a tree it comes from or where these trees grow. One of this latter type came into my office during sugaring one year—and I saw her coming.

I have been known to consider a practical joke once in a while. That spring I pulled off my best effort ever.

It started by my cutting down a maple sapling four inches in diameter and 10 feet tall, with branches going every which way. I strapped it to the top of my car and headed for my office at Mount Mansfield Union High School, where I was a guidance counselor.

I arrived early and cut the tree so I could wedge the trunk against the tile floor and the top against the ceiling tile. Next, I trimmed the branches so they spread out on both sides of the trunk, and left one near the top so it hung over the top of the office door. It looked quite natural standing there.

I then drilled a hole through the tree—and on through the wall into my office at the same height.

I attached a metal spout to one end of a small rubber tube and hammered the spout into the tree. The other end of the tube I invisibly threaded through the tree and through the wall into my office. Next I ran the remaining tube up the office wall and hung it on a nail.

I dangled a water-filled quart bottle from the ceiling and attached it to the tube. Our chemistry teacher provided me with a metal clamp; this enabled me to control the flow through the tube. None of this background apparatus was easily visible looking at the tree.

Next I hung a metal bucket on the spout embedded in the tree. Now I was ready.

Before any students arrived, I adjusted the clamp so it allowed a small amount of water to run down through the wall, through the tree and out the spout. Drip, drip, drip it began. Ping, ping, ping it sounded as it hit the bottom of the metal bucket.

As students began filtering into the office they were amazed to see sap running in the guidance office. They pointed out that it wasn’t running very well. I told them to come back at noon when the sun was out and it would be running better. At 11:45 I loosened the clamp to allow more water to enter the tube—the sap ran faster. They laughed and went out to tell their friends. Soon, kids were stopping by the office just to see how the sap was running each day.

Then it happened. One morning we had a visitor from a college admission office. She was so excited to see the way sap ran from a tree and wanted to learn more about the sugaring process. I explained the process—as only a Vermonter could. As she left to visit classes, I encouraged her to come back at noon when the sap would really be running. She did—and so my lesson continued.

At the end of the day when she came back to my office she stood in front of the tree looking at it with questions in her eyes. Finally, she realized the tree was just sitting on the floor. When total realization set in, her thoughts teetered between embarrassment and revenge.

We later became friends but, even now, when we get together, she takes me to task over the time I gave her my “sugaring lesson.”

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at vtcowcal@yahoo.com.