Illinois 4-H to update food preservation exhibit rules and project resources

December 22, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - Much has changed since 4-H started teaching youth important life skills over 100 years ago, especially in terms of food preservation. The science has evolved, leading to changes in recommendations from the USDA, University of Illinois Extension, and the National Center for Home Food Preservation, said Leia Kedem, a U of I Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

“Proper procedures must be followed when canning and dehydrating foods to prevent the growth of deadly botulism bacteria. Temperature, time, acidity, and other factors must be incorporated into recipes to help protect consumers from life-threatening foodborne illness,” Kedem noted.

Although the reasons are varied, unsafe preservation methods are still used, and old family recipes make their way to the judges’ table during fair season, she said.

Kedem judges food preservation projects at the county and state level. “I’ve seen many 4-H’ers bring in projects made from their grandma’s recipe or an outdated cookbook. It’s been hard to not be able to award blue ribbons in those cases, but it’s part of our mission to promote proper food safety. We want to see recipes from research-based sources because they’ve been rigorously tested for quality and safety,” she said.

The educator says that when she looked closely at the food preservation project manuals and exhibit requirements, she found them lacking. “The project manuals weren’t very user-friendly, and the exhibit guidelines were not clear in some places. I felt that we weren’t exactly setting 4-H’ers up for success,” she added.

Kedem asked Madonna Weese, a 4-H Extension specialist, and fellow nutrition and wellness educators Jenna Smith and Mary Liz Wright to form a work group and address this issue.

As they say, timing is everything, Kedem said. “Just this past July, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, Clemson Cooperative Extension unveiled Put It Up!, a new curriculum specifically targeted toward youth.

Weese said that when the U of I specialists reviewed the curriculum, they agreed that it would be a good fit for Illinois 4-H.

The curriculum contains a leader’s guide and a series of six lessons that make it easy to teach food preservation skills. Each lesson covers a different food preservation method and is divided into beginning and advanced activities, making it adaptable to ages ranging from middle school to slightly older youth.

Weese obtained the rights from curriculum authors to adopt Put It Up! as a project manual for Illinois 4-H. Meanwhile, Kedem, Smith, and Wright worked to revise exhibit guidelines and judging sheets.

“The exhibit rules are much clearer now as to what types of recipes can be used,” Smith said.

Wright agreed, saying, “It will be much easier for 4-H members to understand what the judges are looking for. We’re really looking forward to seeing some great preservation projects at the fairs in 2015.”

To acquaint 4-H members, volunteers, and staff with the new project resources, a free webinar will be presented on the Put It Up! curriculum and the new food preservation exhibit requirements for 2015.  

Kedem, Smith, and Wright will introduce the new project resources and explain the exhibit requirements. They will also discuss how to prepare 4-H’ers for success with food preservation projects from start to finish, from choosing a recipe, to following food safety guidelines, to preparing exhibits, and meeting with the judges.

The webinar will be offered on two occasions: Wednesday, Jan. 14, at 1 p.m. and Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m.

To register for the Jan. 14 webinar, go to https://web.extension.illinois.edu/registration/?RegistrationID=11420.

To register for the Jan. 27 webinar, go to https://web.extension.illinois.edu/registration/?RegistrationID=11421.

Call-in information will be provided when you register for either of the seminars.

Put It Up! resource materials are available for download on the State 4-H website. Go to http://web.extension.illinois.edu/state4h/. Click on Members and then 4-H Projects. Scroll down and click on Food and Nutrition/Food Preservation. Click on each topic to download the files.

The webinar will also be recorded for later access.

For more information, contact the Illinois State 4-H office at 217-333-0910.

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