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Food Safety at the holidays

Published December 2, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – The holidays mean a time to enjoy celebrations and all sorts of delicious food that comes with this time of year. In all the excitement and business of cooking, eating, and sharing time with friends and family, Caitlin Huth, a University of Illinois Extension educator and registered dietitian has five steps to help prevent food-related illnesses this season.

Wash hands.  Huth says, “Start here. This is your number one way to reduce your risk of getting sick from food.”  With soap and water, rub your palms together, between the fingers, under nails, on the backs of hands, and all around for 20 seconds before rinsing off the soap and germs.

Thaw safely.  From saved frozen cookie dough to whole turkeys and hams, no frozen foods should be thawed on your counters at room temperature. “The safest way to thaw is in the refrigerator,” Huth says. However, you can also start thawing foods in the microwave, but they need to be cooked the rest of the way after that. “Some foods, such as small steaks,” Huth notes, “can be cooked from frozen, but not something as large as a frozen turkey.”

Begin the countdown. Some holiday gathering hosts may leave appetizers, dips, cheese plates, and other foods on a table, counter, or buffet line for anyone to eat. It may be the same for the main course – ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, pie, etc.  Because many of these foods need refrigeration for safety, Huth explains that these foods can be at room temperature for up to 2 hours, and then they need to be put back into the fridge or tossed out. “Bacteria and other organisms are growing while you eat, talk, and spend time together.”

Cool those leftovers. Any leftover foods need to go into cold storage after 2 hours of being at room temperature, or tossed out. Huth adds that foods that remain really hot need to be cooled quickly. Divide hot foods, like sweet potato casserole, into small containers and put into your refrigerator immediately after you are done eating. “Remember, your fridge needs space between foods so cold air can move around. Do not pile containers of hot foods on top of each other or pack your fridge full,” she says.

Use up leftovers.  There are two points here, Huth notes. First, use all leftover foods within 3 to 4 days, and then toss them out or freeze them for longer storage. Second, reheat all leftovers to 165 degrees F. “If you do not have a food thermometer, consider investing in one. Otherwise, look for soups and liquids to be boiling and for casseroles and other dishes to be very hot, not just warm,” Huth says.  

“Food safety is important all times of the year, so keep your awareness of these tips and others from Eat and stay well this season,” Huth adds.

News Source:

Caitlin Huth, 217-877-6042

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Added fat in pig diets may affect digestibility of nutrients

Published November 30, 2016


  • Supplementing pig diets with either saturated or unsaturated fat increases the digestibility of calcium, phosphorus, and sulfur in the diets.
  • Adding supplemental fat does not decrease the digestibility of any minerals.
  • Fat quality may affect the digestibility of minerals.

URBANA, Ill. – Added fat increases the energy content of swine diets, but it may also affect the digestibility of nutrients. Dr. Hans H. Stein, professor of animal sciences at Illinois, and a team of researchers have studied the effects of fat sources with different concentrations of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids on mineral digestibility.

"In pigs, addition of soybean oil to the diets has been shown not to reduce calcium digestibility. However, some studies in pigs and humans have observed the formation of indigestible calcium-fat complexes," says Stein. "These studies used fats that were more saturated than soybean oil."

Therefore, Stein and his team set out to determine the effect of the relative concentrations of saturated (SFA), monounsaturated (MUFA), and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) on the apparent total tract digestibility (ATTD) of minerals in diets fed to pigs.

Five sources of supplemental fat were tested. Soybean oil and corn oil contained about 15 percent SFA, 26 percent MUFA, and 57 percent PUFA. Palm oil and beef tallow contained about 46 percent SFA, 42 percent MUFA, and 6 percent PUFA. The final fat source, choice white grease, contained 39 percent SFA, 43 percent MUFA, and 13 percent PUFA.

The apparent total tract digestibility of calcium, phosphorus, and sulfur was increased in pigs fed diets containing soybean oil, corn oil, palm oil, or tallow compared with pigs fed diets containing no added fat or choice white grease. Added fat did not affect the ATTD of potassium, manganese, sodium, or zinc, although there was a tendency for magnesium digestibility to be greater in pigs fed diets containing soybean oil or corn oil, compared with pigs fed diets containing tallow or choice white grease.

"The implication of this experiment is that producers can include added fat, whether saturated or unsaturated, in diets for pigs without creating a reduction in digestibility of calcium or other minerals," says Stein. "However, in the case of choice white grease, there was some indication that it had been oxidized, and oxidation may reduce mineral digestibility."

Stein says this observation warrants further investigation.

Funding for this research was provided by AB Vista Feed Ingredients, Marlborough, UK.

The paper, "Effects of tallow, choice white grease, palm oil, corn oil, or soybean oil on apparent total tract digestibility of minerals in diets fed to growing pigs," was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Animal Science. It was co-authored by Laura Merriman and Carl Parsons of the University of Illinois, and Carrie Walk of AB Vista. The full text can be found online at

Dicamba and soybean: What to expect in 2017

Published November 30, 2016
soybean plant

URBANA, Ill. – One barrier to weed control on soybean farms has just been lifted. In early November, the Environmental Protection Agency approved a label allowing use of the herbicide dicamba in dicamba-resistant soybean, although only one commercial product received that label. Many Illinois farmers anticipate this technology will provide a much-needed method to control weeds that are resistant to multiple herbicides, as well as other difficult-to-control species.

“Without question, there are instances and scenarios in which dicamba will improve control of certain weed species, but dicamba will not bring back the ‘good ol’ days’ of POST-only weed control programs in soybean. Current expectations of what this technology can accomplish tend to be a bit more optimistic than what the technology actually will be able to deliver,” says University of Illinois weed scientist Aaron Hager.

Hager expects the technology will work well in a handful of scenarios. For example, dicamba should be effective for glyphosate-resistant horseweed (i.e., marestail) that does not respond to the traditional burndown tankmix of glyphosate and 2,4-D.

“The new dicamba label allows up to 1 lb dicamba acid-equivalent to be applied prior to planting dicamba-resistant soybean. This can provide better and more consistent control of glyphosate-resistant horseweed compared with 0.5 lb acid-equivalent 2,4-D,” Hager says.

It is important to note that although the new label allows soybean to be planted immediately after dicamba application, Hager advises farmers to wait a few days following application before injuring the weeds with the planting operation.

Hager also predicts that dicamba will provide good control of tall and ivy-leaf morning glory, as well as common and giant ragweed. “Dicamba certainly can provide better control of herbicide-resistant ragweeds than can glyphosate or ALS inhibitors,” he says.

For farmers battling waterhemp, the solution may not be as simple. Most university weed control guides list dicamba as good or very good on waterhemp, but not excellent.

“Dicamba can improve control of pigweed species, but it will never be as effective as glyphosate once was,” Hager notes. “Illinois farmers have made great strides toward utilizing more diverse herbicide programs for waterhemp control than they were using a decade ago. We suggest that dicamba should be used in a way that does not reduce this diversity. It is imperative to maintain a diverse weed management approach to prolong the effective utility of dicamba.”

Illinois waterhemp populations have evolved resistance to herbicides from six site-of-action groups. According to Hager, resistance to dicamba is not a question of “if”, but “when.”

Hager points out some of the restrictions that come with the new dicamba label. “The current label contains several mandates related to the actual spray application procedure that are somewhat unique,” he says. “For instance, there are limitations on boom height, sprayer speed, and nozzle type that applicators must follow.”

One of the most significant limitations is the inability to tankmix dicamba with other herbicides. There is an avenue by which other herbicides can be approved for application with dicamba, but if the current label remains unchanged during the 2017 growing season, applicators will be required to apply dicamba alone.

“In other words, farmers will make a separate application of dicamba and another application of other needed herbicides,” Hager says.

Additional concerns about the new product relate to yield potential of dicamba-resistant soybean and the possibility of particle drift and volatilization. For more information on these issues, please visit The Bulletin.

More information will be shared about dicamba use in dicamba-resistant soybean as the product is rolled out. Hager suggests that dicamba will provide a solution to unique weed management challenges, but notes that not all weed management challenges can be met with dicamba. 

“Other herbicide-resistant crop technologies, such as Liberty Link and Enlist, also can provide solutions and remain viable options for soybean producers. Proper stewardship of all technologies is essential to prolong their effective utilization,” Hager says.

News Source:

Aaron Hager, 217-333-4424

Orchids make elegant houseplants

Published November 30, 2016

URBANA, Ill. – Most of us have limited experience with orchids, and may feel intimidated by their reputation as finicky plants. However, orchids are an amazingly diverse plant family, growing in deserts, mountains, marshes, northern woods, and Illinois forests, and should be given a chance, according to a University of Illinois Extension educator.

Not all orchids enjoy the temperature and humidity commonly found in homes; therefore, some may require special lighting and humidity control for indoor growing. “An orchid obsession is easily cultivated by many enthusiasts,” Sandra Mason says. “However, if you are looking for an easy-to-grow and elegant houseplant, moth orchids are a great option.

Phalaenopsis or moth orchids possess dark, shiny green leaves adorned with showy flowers of pink, white, or yellow. Imagine a flock of fluttering moths dancing on an arching high wire,” Mason says. “Moth orchids are native to Asian jungles. In the U.S., we find them in stores fluttering next to the apples and lettuce or lumber and nails. Intensely and unnaturally blue- colored moth orchids also greet us at entryways to many stores. However, don’t get too attached to the blue color,” Mason warns. “These flowers have been dyed, and any future flowers will be white.”

According to Mason, moth orchids are not only easy to grow but also one of the easiest to encourage to re-bloom. 'Sussex pearl,' femme fatale,' or 'southern ruby' are just some of the 12,000 hybrid "phals" available. The flowers will last an amazing two to five months. “I had one flowering in my office for so long, visitors thought it was a wax replica,” Mason says.

Unlike other common houseplants, moth orchids don’t live in soil. They are epiphytes, so-called air plants. As Asian jungle natives, they cling with long thick roots to rocks and trees. Their moisture is gathered from rain, dew, and humidity and their nutrients from decaying leaves and other debris that accumulates among their roots. “This likely does not describe your living room,” Mason says, “but the conditions are fairly easy to reproduce by paying attention to light levels and watering practices, and using an orchid planting mix.”

Mason offers a few simple steps for growing moth orchids as elegant houseplants.

1) Orchids require bright light (but no direct sun) to bloom, such as an east or shaded west or south window. Too much light will burn the foliage and too little light will result in little growth or no blooms. Orchids taken outdoors in the summer should be placed in the shade of a tree or patio and should be moved indoors before the temperature drops below 50 degrees F. Moth orchids can also be grown under fluorescent lights.

2) Generally, orchids bloom when night temperatures are cooler than day temperatures. Moth orchids prefer 70 to 80 degrees F during the day and 65 to 70 degrees F at night.        

3) Orchids appreciate high humidity between 40 and 85 percent; however, moth orchids are more forgiving than many orchids of the dry air in our winter homes. To raise the humidity, use humidifiers or fill a tray with pebbles, saturate the pebbles with water, and place the pot on the pebbles.

4) Orchids need thorough watering and regular fertilization during their growing season. Think “weakly weekly.” In other words, dilute a weak (low) rate of orchid fertilizer in water every week.

6) Don’t overwater. Some orchid labels recommend watering with ice cubes. This recommendation works well with gardeners that routinely overwater plants. However, ice-cold water is not the typical way a jungle plant would get water. Room temperature water is a more desirable practice.

7) The potting mix should provide good air penetration and fast water drainage. Commercially prepared orchid mixes are best, consisting of a combination of shredded fir bark, charcoal, and perlite.

“Moth orchids can provide years of elegant enjoyment, once we understand their basic needs,” Mason says.

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Bioenergy grass can withstand freezing temperatures

Published November 29, 2016
cordgrass patch
  • Prairie cordgrass, a native perennial grass used for biomass energy, is tolerant to salt, flooding, and freezing stress.
  • A new study demonstrates the gene expression patterns responsible for freezing tolerance in prairie cordgrass.
  • Once the genes responsible for freezing tolerance are identified in prairie cordgrass, they may be applied to other crops in the future.

URBANA, Ill. – March 2012 was unusually warm. Biomass crops around the Midwest were well established and thriving. But when a late frost came in mid-April, all of that changed.

“When I went out in the morning, I was just shocked,” says University of Illinois agronomist D.K. Lee. “All the grasses were covered in frost. By noon, Miscanthus and switchgrass had turned black. The only plant that was untouched was prairie cordgrass.”

Lee already knew that prairie cordgrass, Spartina pectinata, was especially tolerant of flooding and salt stress, but this discovery confirmed his suspicion that cordgrass was tolerant of freezing, too. Being tolerant of environmental stress factors is important for biomass crops, because they are often grown on so-called marginal land where conditions are far from perfect. With its tolerance of several major stress factors, cordgrass has the potential to be grown in more places than other perennial energy crops.

The next step for Lee and his research group was to identify the molecular changes that keep cordgrass perky in cold weather.

“Unlike salt and flooding stress, freezing usually happens abruptly. The plant has to react quickly. To find out what was happening at the molecular level, we grew cordgrass in a growth chamber at 25 degrees Celsius and then abruptly moved them into another growth chamber set to -5 degrees.

“We looked at gene expression within five minutes after exposure to freezing temperatures. We found some unique genes being activated right away and then different ones turning on 30 minutes later,” Lee says.

The team suspects that the initial genetic response protects the cells from freezing. Typically, ice crystals form in the spaces outside the cell when a plant is exposed to freezing temperatures. Once these “seed crystals” form, they grow quickly and burst the living cells. To avoid this, cordgrass may quickly pump ions outside the cell, keeping ice crystals from forming or growing. The secondary reactions that occur after 30 minutes may have to do with repairing damaged cells, allowing the plant to recover more quickly.

Lee says the findings just scratch the surface; much more needs to be done to fully understand the genetic mechanisms that allow cordgrass to avoid tissue damage during freezing temperatures. Once the system is fully understood in cordgrass, the hope is that it can be applied to other crops.

“Corn farmers are always looking to plant earlier in the spring,” Lee says. “They think if they plant early, they could see a yield benefit. Currently, crop insurance won’t cover corn if farmers plant before a certain date, because there’s a big risk of frost. If we understand more about freezing tolerance, we could eventually apply it to annual crops and potentially expand the production area for crops such as corn.”

The article, “Transcriptome analysis of Spartina pectinata in response to freezing stress,” is published in PLOS One. Lee’s co-authors are from U of I and Seoul National University.