The Kitchen Think: With Limited Government Food Inspections, You Need A New Game Plan


Here’s the good news: PulseNet, a government-run network of public health labs that spots and reports on food borne illness outbreaks, is up and running again, albeit with a skeleton staff, as the shutdown continues.

Now the bad news: More than 300 people in 18 states have been sickened by a salmonella outbreak tied to a California chicken facility… and many of those cases appear resistant to antibiotics.

So here’s some info about what’s going on with food safety inspections during the shutdown (and how you can protect your family).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service is continuing inspections at meat and poultry production facilities with full-time inspectors.

The Food and Drug Administration is the agency actually responsible for the safety of most of the country’s food industry (80%!), including (and especially) imported seafood, produce and food products. The bulk of the FDA inspectors are currently furloughed.

If you buy locally sourced fish, or domestic wild-caught or domestic farmed fish, you’re probably in good shape.

Eighty-percent of the seafood we eat is imported. Without anyone doing the inspections, how do we know what kind of shape that shrimp was in before they froze it in Vietnam?

Farmers’ Markets are still up and running around the country, so stock up on as much fresh fruit and vegetables as possible. Freeze what you can. You may also want to reconsider that whole canning idea you pooh-poohed in June.

As it gets later in the season, a lot of the supermarket produce, like berries and lettuce, will be brought in from Mexico, Chile and Central America. If the shutdown continues, FDA inspectors won’t be there to make sure the baby spinach is E. Coli-free.

Troubling, confusing and very scary. So… what’s YOUR game plan?


Extra Helpings: Veggie Grilling Temps and Times


This is the weekend!

There’s so much summer produce in the markets you’ve just got to get out, buy some and throw it on the grill. Here’s a handy-dandy grilling chart for guidance.

Remember! Grilling time has a lot to do with how you cut the produce, the type of grill you’re using… and the temperature of the grill.

Watch your veggies carefully so they don’t burn. A little charring goes a long, long way.

What’s your favorite vegetable to grill?

Gadget Tree: Soft Skin Peeler


Ever tried to peel a peach with a regular vegetable peeler?

Soft Peeler Collage

Disaster. Half the peach disappears. Same with tomatoes.

That’s why this little gadget is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen, especially at this time of year when farmers’ market tables are heavy with gorgeously fresh fruits and vegetables.

A Soft Skin Peeler is made exclusively for removing (you guessed it…) the soft skin of delicate fruits and vegetables, without removing all the delicious goodness below the skin.

I use Kuhn Rikon’s Piranha Peeler because the super sharp serrated blades can easily maneuver around the swooping curves of an eggplant.

If you’re still blanching your peaches and tomatoes to remove the skin or using a regular peeler on a tomato, you’ll find this little gadget very appealing.

Sorry…I just had to write that…

Gadget Tree: Herbs+ (An App for the Herb Curious… or Challenged!)


This is what you need to get more creative with (and take the fear out of buying) all those gorgeous fresh and fragrant herbs you’re seeing in the market.

Herbs+All HerbsHerbs+ is a field guide to almost every kind of basic herb you use for cooking.

Chamomile Herbs+A great photo with each herb helps illustrate exactly what the herb looks like. The Culinary Ideas tab gives info about how an herb tastes, how it’s usually used and how you can use it in a dish (ever thought of using sorrel with strawberries?).

There are also tips on the herb’s medicinal use— did you know that chives help prevent premature aging? (I’m loading my basket with chives this weekend at the farmers market!)

The gardening tips are especially useful, if you’ve got the terroir for such an endeavor. You’re not going to be able to grow cloves in Chicago, but rosemary will thrive… and most likely even survive the winter.

If want a deeper dive, there’s a link to Wikipedia to give you even more info about the herb. The App also a handy tab for taking notes.

Like I said in the beginning, this is a very basic guide… it won’t have some of the more exotic herb cousins (for example, Thai basil or Mexican oregano). But it’s an easy way to learn about herbs and push past your reticence to try a new strange smelling little green bushy thing.

And besides… this App is 100% guaranteed to spice up your phone. Just had to say it.


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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: