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Published June 11, 2010, 12:00 AM

Find balance in ‘super clean’ and ‘clean enough’

As I worked in our backyard flowerbed, I was engaging in battle with weeds and some perennials that had grown out of control. I grabbed a handful of vegetation and braced myself in a tug of war with the pesky plants.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

As I worked in our backyard flowerbed, I was engaging in battle with weeds and some perennials that had grown out of control. I grabbed a handful of vegetation and braced myself in a tug of war with the pesky plants.

When the long roots finally gave up the fight, I flew backward with a large clump of weeds. I got a face full of dirt in the process. I mopped the dirt off my face the best I could and wandered to the front of our house to take a break.

My teenage son and his friend were in the front yard moving stones out of a flowerbed in preparation for a landscaping face-lift. With music from my high school days playing in the background and lots of joking, they were having fun despite the tedious task.

The boys were fairly dirty by the time they moved a few wheelbarrow loads of rocks and dirt. I think they maximized the amount of dirt they got on themselves.

As I recall, I spent a lot of time making mud pies as a child. I’d snack on carrots, radishes and raspberries from our garden, often without the benefit of rinsing under cool, running water. I’d just rub the dirt off on my clothes.

OK, I wasn’t a food safety specialist back then.

Many kids today spend much of their time indoors playing video games and watching TV. Some kids probably wouldn’t even know the recipe for making a good mud pie.

We live in a fairly sanitized world with all sorts of antibacterial products available to consumers. In fact, some medical researchers have questioned whether we might be a little too clean. Antibacterial products are linked by some researchers to the development of “superbugs” resistant to antibiotics. The products kill the normal bacteria in our environment, which allows the mutated bacteria a chance to survive.

About 20 years ago, the British Medical Journal published an article by D.P. Strachen discussing a “hygiene hypothesis.” According to the theory, exposure to bacteria and viruses early in life may strengthen your immune system and make you less likely to develop asthma and allergies in childhood and into adulthood.

Strachen noted a link between the increase in allergies and the increased use of antibiotics, among other things.

According to other researchers, children who spend their early years in day care may be less likely to develop asthma later in life. Kids with more siblings and pets in their households also tend to have a stronger immune system because they are exposed to more germs.

On the other hand, exposure to bacteria and viruses can make us very sick, so we need to take some precautions. We somehow need to strike a balance between “super clean” and “clean enough.” This is where common sense needs to enter the picture.

Enjoy digging in the dirt and harvesting some garden-fresh produce this summer.

Since food can be a vehicle that transfers bacteria and viruses to people, some kitchen food safety advice will not go away anytime soon.

- Be sure to wash your hands frequently when preparing food, especially after handling raw meat. Just use regular soap. Anti-bacterial soap is not more effective and could pose issues in the long run.

- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables with cool, running water, even the ones with skins you don’t plan to eat.

- Be sure to wash your cutting boards, knives and other utensils with hot, soapy water after use, followed by a hot-water rinse. Many food safety experts recommend using a mild bleach solution

(1 Tbsp. chlorine bleach per gallon of water) to sanitize cutting boards. Let them soak a couple of minutes in the solution and then air-dry.

- Cook meat to a safe internal temperature, but don’t overcook meat to the point of quality loss. Use a food thermometer to avoid overcooking as well as undercooking.

Here’s a tasty recipe from the National Pork Board. It’s featured in our new Extension publication “Now Serving: Lean Pork,” available at www.ag.ndsu.edu (see “Latest Publications” on the right).


Honey Pork Tenderloin Kabobs

2 Tbsp. cider vinegar

½ cup honey

½ cup mustard

1 tsp. dried tarragon

3 to 4 sweet potatoes, cut into 24 1-inch cubes

1½-pound pork tenderloin, cut into 24 1-inch cubes

4 medium ripe peaches, unpeeled, pitted and quartered

4 green peppers, each cut into eight 2-inch pieces

8 yellow onions, each cut into four 2-inch pieces

Olive oil for grilling

Soak wood kabob skewers in water prior to adding meat and veggies to prevent burning the sticks on the grill. Mix first four ingredients in a bowl; stir well and set glaze aside. Steam or boil sweet potatoes until crisp-tender. Thread three sweet potato cubes, three pork cubes, two peach quarters, four green pepper pieces and four onion pieces alternately onto each of eight 10-inch skewers. Brush kabobs with honey-glaze mixture. Lightly oil grill. Grill over medium-hot coals five minutes on each side or until thoroughly cooked, basting occasionally with glaze.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 400 calories, 62 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 3 g of fat, 7 g of fiber and 460 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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