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To Avoid Food-borne Illness, Wash Your Vegetables and Fruits

Blog_07162014_5767011_sIt’s midsummer in Minnesota, and despite the weather roller-coaster we’ve been riding, seasonal fruits and vegetables are ripe for the picking. Those of us with gardens are seeing tomatoes plump up and cucumbers and zucchini ripen overnight. Grocery store shoppers are enjoying fresher, more local produce, too. Before you sink your teeth into your favorite summertime fruit or veggie, take a moment to consider your safety. Whether you’re pulling your snack out of the ground or plucking it from a store shelf, all produce has been exposed to soil and water that may carry contaminants. If you’re buying from a store, your produce has been handled by many people and transported by truck or rail to your shopping cart. Hundreds of food products have been recalled by the FDA since the beginning of the year, including many fresh produce foods. The harmful bacteria salmonella and listeria monocytogenes are the primary offenders. How Do You Avoid Illness? Wash, Wash, Wash! To avoid getting sick from your favorite fruits and veggies, you need to get out the soap and water. Here are some tips for washing your produce.

  • Only wash produce when you’re ready to eat or cook it. Washing it before you store it may actually increase bacterial growth.
  • Wash your hands with warm soap and water before you wash your produce. You do not want to transfer germs on your hands to your food.
  • Clean your tools, including knives, cutting boards, and countertops, to avoid germ transfer.
  • Wash away bacteria. But bleach and dish detergents are no-no’s because produce can absorb the chemicals. I recommend washing your fruits and veggies with an organic, plant-based rinse.
  • Rub or soak vegetables to wash away bacteria. Firm fruits such as melons can be scrubbed with a brush.
  • Dry produce with a paper towel or clean cloth. This can also remove bacteria.
  • Trim outermost leaves of cabbage or head lettuce.

Produce-Specific Tips Some fruits and vegetables require extra care. Use these tips to make sure you’re washing your produce properly.

  • Soft fruits such as peaches and plums: Wash under running water and dry.
  • Firm produce such as apples and cucumbers: Wash well to remove any waxy preservative. Peeling is also an option.
  • Leafy greens:Discard outer leaves and soak the individual remaining leaves in water before rinsing them under the tap. Some people use vinegar on greens, but that will change the veggie’s taste and texture.
  • Grapes, cherries, and berries:Don’t wash these fruits until you eat or use them. Before you store them, get rid of any moldy or spoiled fruit. Wash under running water when ready to eat.

Summer is the time when many of us relish the tasty juiciness of fresh produce. Washing your fruits and vegetables will ensure that you’re safe while doing so. To learn more about keeping produce safe and healthy, contact me!

Here’s to breathing easy and living life to the fullest!

Gene Wood, Life’s Pure Balance

Is Your Body Scrub to Blame?

Blog Image_06202014_7540860_sPlastic Microparticles Plague the Great Lakes — Is Your Body Scrub to Blame?

There have been many media reports recently on the presence of tiny plastic particles in the world’s oceans. Now, researchers are finding the microparticles in the waters of the Great Lakes, too. They place blame on the prevalence of tiny plastic balls in personal care products. Is your body scrub to blame?

The Problem with Microbeads

Many personal care companies boast about the exfoliating power of tiny beads in their gels, scrubs, and even toothpastes. However, once the plastic beads scrub down your skin and get washed down the drain, they tend to stick around.

A petroleum product, the plastic does not degrade in water. Their small size—most are less than two tenths of an inch in diameter—allows them to slip through every treatment stage at municipal water treatment plants. They are released into rivers, lakes, and streams. Eventually, the particles make their way to the Great Lakes and into the stomachs of fish, who mistake the beads for food.

The concentration of plastic microparticles in the Great Lakes is now greater than that in the ocean, where plastics account for 80 to 90 percent of all pollution. Dr. Sherri A. Mason of the State University of New York in Fredonia has collected and analyzed at least 100 samples of Great Lake water. Her research suggests that the lakes contain 1.1 million pieces of microplastics in each square mile of water. All the Great Lakes contain microparticles, but Lake Erie and Lake Ontario contain the most.

Fixing the Microplastic Problem
The public has taken notice of the high microplastic rates in the Great Lakes and pressured companies to make changes to their products. Large corporations such as Johnson & Johnson and Proctor and Gamble have pledged to phase out use of the beads in their products. Some states have proposed laws to ban the sale of products containing microbeads. Just this month, a federal ban was proposed.

Some companies are already using natural alternatives to the plastic beads. Ground nut shells are common choices for alternative scrubbers, as is oat kernel flour. Because they are natural and plant-based, these products degrade in water and pose no threat to the health of our Great Lakes.
Plastic microparticles pose a health threat to the animals of the Great Lakes and pollute our water. The next time you’re in the market for a scrub, gel, or toothpaste, check to see if the product uses plastic beads or a natural alternative. To learn more, contact me!

Here’s to breathing easy and living life to the fullest!

Gene Wood, Life’s Pure Balance

Slather on Sunscreen to Avoid UV Ray Health Conditions

Blog_05202014_5130038sIt’s finally here—the warm sunshine of spring and summer! Minnesotans are trading their winter hats for baseball caps and mittens for gardening gloves. Before skipping outside to enjoy some sunshine, though, be sure to slather on some sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays.

What Are UV Rays?

The sun constantly emits ultraviolet, or UV, rays, some of which penetrate Earth’s atmosphere and reach Earth’s surface. They are strongest at midday during the spring and summer due to the sun’s angle. Latitude and altitude also affect the strength of UV rays. The closer to the equator we are, the stronger the rays are, and the higher we are, the stronger the rays because there is less atmosphere to absorb them.

Cloud cover can reduce—though not eliminate—how many UV rays reach the Earth’s surface. Some surfaces, such as pavement, water, and sand, can reflect UV rays, even into shady areas.

UV Rays and Your Health
Some UV ray exposure is beneficial to us. Sunshine helps us generate vitamin D, an essential nutrient. Too much sun exposure, however, can cause a variety of health conditions. UV rays can lead to skin cancer, cataracts, premature skin aging, and a suppressed immune system.
Fortunately, you can avoid too much sun and UV ray exposure with a few simple steps. Use a sunscreen lotion with a SPF of 30 and cover your skin to block out the sun’s rays. Instead of sun tanning, sit in the shade. Avoid tanning beds, too.

Sunscreen No-Nos
Sunscreen can be a helpful tool in avoiding UV ray-related health conditions. However, not all sunscreens are created equal. Here are a few things to avoid when choosing your family’s next bottle:
• spray sunscreens, because of incomplete coverage and risk to health if inhaled
• high SPF factors, since they give a false sense of security because they do not block UVA rays, only UVB ones, and may lead people to spend more time in the sun
• oxybenzone, because it may act as an estrogen if it is absorbed by the skin and enters the bloodstream
• retinyl palmitate, or vitamin A, since it can accelerate the development of tumors and lesions if used on skin exposed to sun

The next time you spend some time in the sun, make sure your sunscreen will adequately protect your skin. Contact me to learn more about UV rays, sunscreens, and your health.

Here’s to breathing easy and living life to the fullest!

Gene Wood, Life’s Pure Balance

Ozone Pollution and Your Health

Ozone pollution and your health blog picIf you’re like me, you’ve heard conflicting things about ozone. Some scientists are concerned that the hole in the atmospheric layer of ozone will harm us, while others warn against the hazards of having too much ozone in the air closer to the Earth’s surface. Both groups of scientists are right: While high-altitude ozone provides benefits to us on Earth’s surface, ground-level ozone is harmful to our health. 

Atmospheric versus Ground-Level Ozone

Six to 30 miles above us in the atmosphere, there’s a layer of protective ozone. This “good” ozone shields us from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. It also helps regulate the temperature of the Earth it is habitable.

Though beneficial miles above the Earth, ozone becomes harmful when it exists closer to the ground. Ground-level ozone damages vegetation, including the crops humans rely on for sustenance, and causes a number of health effects in humans. The main ingredient in smog, ground-level ozone is one of the air pollutants measured in the EPA’s air quality index.

Ground-level ozone is created when chemical reactions between volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides occur in sunlight. Nitrogen oxides and VOCs are found in the exhaust from vehicles on the road, industrial emissions, and chemical solvents.

Health Effects of Ground-Level Ozone

Ground-level ozone has a number of negative health effects for humans. All of them affect the respiratory system. Ground-level ozone can make breathing difficult, even for healthy people. It can cause irritation in the lining of your lungs and even reduce their ability to function.

Exposure to ground-level ozone can cause congestion, coughing, irritation of the throat, and chest pain. People with conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis experience more severe symptoms when they are exposed to ground-level ozone.

Often, when there are elevated levels of ground-level ozone, you’ll hear on the news that children should avoid playing outside. That’s because children are especially sensitive to the health effects of ground-level ozone due to their developing respiratory systems.

Preventing Ground-Level Ozone Health Effects

The easiest way to avoid the negative health effects of ground-level ozone is to avoid spending time outside on days when ozone levels are high. To reduce VOC and nitrogen oxide emissions, limit how much time your car sits idling and conserve energy when cooling and heating your home. During home-improvement projects, use low-VOC paints and dispose of them properly.

Don’t let ground-level ozone affect your health. Contact me to learn more about ozone pollution and how leading a chemical-free lifestyle can help.

Hoping you’re breathing easy and living life to the fullest,

Gene Wood, Life’s Pure Balance

Toxic Cleaning Products Making You Sick?

Kindergarten teacher and children looking at globe in libraryRead about a 1st grade classroom going green!

What do many teachers and parents of elementary aged children complain about during the first few weeks of school in the fall? Often, after being healthy all summer, teachers and young kids catch the first colds of the school year. Mrs. C. was a first grade teacher at an elementary school in East-Central Wisconsin; in the fall of 2011, she commenced her final school year before retiring. Within a few months, she would convert her classroom over to green cleaning products. The results were amazing. I have attempted to capture her story in her own words as much as possible.

According to Mrs. C., “I started the conversion process strictly for personal reasons. I frequently have migraines, and the smell in the classroom would often seem to be a trigger. On many occasions, I would have nasal drip and feel as if I had a cold after being in my classroom for a while. In addition, my students would tell me that they had headaches and were feeling nauseated, or that the room just smelled bad. After considering the source of the bad smell, I made a decision. I banned the janitorial staff from bringing in any of the normal cleaning products that were being used throughout the rest of the school.

“I brought from home three cleaning products: an item called Sol U Mel (A multipurpose cleaner known for its deodorizing and cleaning power), Sol U Guard Botanical (a natural disinfectant) and Renew hand wash (A moisturizing hand wash that is not antibacterial). I used the Sol U Mel for cleaning any and all surfaces including the classroom sink. Also, we sprayed the natural-based disinfectant, Sol U Guard Botanical, on every single surface that was touched by the kids’ hands or mouths. This included door and sink handles, the pencil sharpener, the water fountain, the computer board and headphones, as well as the whisper phones. Last but not least, each time children left the classroom they washed their hands with the Renew hand wash upon reentering.” Before Mrs. C. brought in the natural cleaning products, it was pretty typical that each classroom teacher would have six to seven kids missing in any given day.

“By Christmas time the results were astonishing! My classroom had a zero truancy rate, which is when a child misses three days in a row. In addition, three-quarters of the students had not missed a single day; and on most days or weeks, I might have had only one child missing from school. Also–incredibly–I had not experienced a single migraine while at school. Better yet, the results continued throughout the year, making my last year teaching at this school a wonderful experience.”

Not only did these natural-based, green products improve the health of the entire class (and the teacher!), but they also were beneficial to the surfaces. It was common practice to use chlorine wipes continually to clean the tabletops in the classroom. Due to the harsh chemicals in the wipes, the laminate on the tables needed to be refinished every year. At the end of this year, however, Mrs. C’s tabletops were as good as new and could be used for another year.

Are you experiencing chemical sensitivity? Would you like to make your home, school or office a safer environment?

Want to know more?    I’d like to help you get started.

Hoping you’re breathing easy and living life to the fullest,

Gene Wood, Life’s Pure Balance