Canning: Effectively Preserving Your Harvest

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If you’ve seen our post on freezing veggies but aren’t satisfied with that temporary preservation method, canning may be for you. For beginners, freezing is the best way to start. It does not require much time, thinking or equipment. This article is for those ready to make the next step. A word to the wise, please do some research before going into this project blindly. There are tools available that will make everything much easier. Try this website for detailed information and video tutorials for getting started. It has much more specific info tailored to your specific needs, much more detailed than I can be here. Kits like the one below are a good place to start.

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Canning your vegetables has a big advantage over freezing. Items can be stored for longer periods of time, about a year if done right, and are not susceptible to loss if the freezer suddenly loses power. Major win. Canning is not something to take lightly however.

Here’s the disclaimer: Canning is great, but also holds possible dangers if not done correctly. The purpose of canning is to expel all bacteria living on the food through either extreme heat or extreme pressure. Failure to reach these extremes before sealing can lead to bacterial growth, making the food unsafe. The worst case scenario is contamination with botulism, a potentially toxic bacterial overgrowth. This bacteria lives harmlessly on most fresh foods, but thrives and produces toxins in an air-free environment, in this case, a sealed can. The bottom line is, you need to be careful, follow directions and use this method at your own risk. Now that I’ve scared you, let’s continue (if you dare, haha!).

Two canning methods

Extreme Heat: High-acid foods only (tomatoes and anything pickled). This method is the easier of the two, but not many foods qualify. I have used this method with pickled vegetables only, as of yet. I plan to do tomato sauce later this season, but will probably pressure can it just to be safe. The idea is simple. Stuff your jars with vegetables, leaving about 1/2 inch space at the top. Add whatever combination of spices you want to the jars. For a pint jar, leave it to about 2 tablespoons total of whatever spices you pick. In a stockpot, boil 2 cups white vinegar, 2 cups cider vinegar, 4 cups of water and 5 tablespoons of salt (good for about 8 pint jars). Once boiling, pour water to top of each jar, leaving about 1/2 inch head space. Seal the jars and begin your water bath.

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Jars of cukes, beans and squash with their pickling spices ready to go. Any combo will do, this batch is dill seed, peppercorn and minced garlic.

Use a trusty source to find out how long you should process your pickled goods. Don’t start the timer until the water comes to a rolling boil. Once the time is up, remove the jars as soon as possible to avoid squishy, over-cooked veggies. A grabber, like the one seen below, works very well. They’re inexpensive and definitely worth the investment.

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Once out of hot water, let your jars sit undisturbed on the counter to cool for about 12 hours. Within about an hour, you will hear the “pop” of the center of the jar lid being sucked into the can. This is how you know you got the seal. I sat in the living room for a well-deserved break, counting the sound of my six jars sealing. Very satisfying.

From here, it’s a waiting game. You could save all of your jars for the dead of winter, but I prefer to open one or two to find out how the spice combo worked out. I wait about a week for the veggies to marinate in the spices, then I test them. A jar of pickles lasts about an hour in my house. All that’s left is an empty jar ready for round two.

Extreme Pressure: For low-acid foods (pretty much all of them). Clostridium Botulinim, the bacteria responsible for botulism, is able to grow on low-acid foods. It produces spores that contain their toxin, and are resilient to high heat. The only way to kill the spores is by using extreme pressure. Unfortunately, this is harder to achieve, and most veggies fall into this category. This method will require the use of a pressure cooker.

To be honest, I was a little nervous to start this project. I had never used a pressure cooker before, so even getting started was a little daunting. My first tip is to thoroughly read the instructions for using your pressure cooker. My second tip would be to trial-run the cooker, and get comfortable with adjusting the pressure (adding or removing heat) before trying it with jars inside. That’s really the hardest part. Once you have the system down, it’s really not that hard.  Also, find a reliable source to get your cook times from. This website  has copies of the USDA guidelines for home canning. This is probably all you will need. Remember, it’s always better to over process than under process.

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Quick tip: turn down heat when about 2lb under desired pressure. It will continue to rise to desired pressure. It’s better to be a little over than any bit under.

My results the first time left a bit to be desired. Actually, I got a terrible batch of summer squash that I threw out. Cost of trial and error. My biggest mistake was not following directions. So….follow the directions! The cans came out completely sealed, in fact, it was really hard to break the seal to try them. I put them in full to the top with water, they came out, each jar was about 1/4 empty. They also didn’t taste very good. It had an off flavor that I can’t quite explain. Something went wrong, not sure what. The good news is, the green beans came out great, and I have plenty more squash to experiment with. I found this problem-solving page on the Ball website. My problems essentially boil down to my lack of patience by the end of my long canning day!

Canning, whether water bath or pressure cooker, is quite a process. It takes time, patience and a lot of new toys to start this project. The results, however, are very rewarding. Avoid wasting that abundance of garden veggies and preserve them in whichever fashion you have the time and will to do. Whatever method, you will likely be proud of your results!

 

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Dill pickles, dilly beans, beans in water, pickled zucchini. All delicious.

Got questions? Ask them here or on Facebook and I will do my best to answer them. I’m just a beginner as well, but we can learn together!  -Jackie S.

 

 

 

 

Freezing Veggies: Simple How-To Guide

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Written by: Jackie Stevenson, BS, DTR

We’ve reached a point in the growing season where there are just too many veggies to eat. Personally, I have about ten zucchini and summer squash sitting on my counter right now, plus a shopping bag full of string beans and pea pods in the fridge. Not to mention the kale and lettuce is still going strong. With more on the way, there is just no feasible way to eat all of that before it goes bad. What’s a girl to do?

  1. Pawn them off on friends and neighbors.
  2. Preserve them.1468627918998

You will soon exhaust your loved ones with excess veggies, leaving only one option. Preserve what you have. I purposely grow lots of veggies in order to preserve them for use in the off-season. It’s nice to have some reminder of summer in the dead of winter. It’s also a bonus to save some money on overpriced produce that’s been carted in from clear across the country.

The two best ways to preserve your harvest is to either freeze or can what you have. Freezing is a much simpler, time-effective solution, and will be the focus of this article. Follow up with us in the coming weeks for info on canning.

What vegetables are good to freeze?

String beans, Zucchini, Summer squash, Pea Pods, Eggplant, Kale, Spinach, Chard

How to freeze…

  1. Wash and cut your veggies into bite-size pieces.
  2. Set a pot next to stove with cold water and ice cubes.
  3. Bring another pot of water to a boil on the stove.
  4. Drop small batches of cut veggies into the water for 30-60 seconds. Leafy greens, like kale and spinach will need a max of 30 seconds, they just need to wilt. Heavier items like squash can go 30-60 seconds depending on how large the p20160715_220222ieces are cut. The goal is only to lock in freshness, not to cook. Pieces should still be crisp when pulled out.
  5. Pull out with slotted spoon and drop into ice water to stop the cooking process.
  6. Drain well,  then spread out onto cookie sheet. It’s ok if the pieces touch, don’t layer on top of each other. Cover with plastic wrap or foil.
  7. Store in freezer overnight.
  8. Once frozen, use spatula to scrape frozen veggies off of tray, store in freezer bags.
  9. Freeze immediately to avoid re-thaw!!

***Shortcut: Skip the cookie tray if you’re pressed for time. Freeze veggies in single serve bags to be used all at once. Keep in mind that veggies will freeze into a solid block, and will not be able to be split apart.

Problems with this method

There are two limitations to the freezing method. One, the bags are likely to get freezer burnt if stored for too long in the freezer. They will probably still keep for 3-6 months. A possible solution would be to use an airtight sealer (I have not tried). The second limitation is power. Having worked for a generator company in the past, I have a realistic appreciation for electricity. Unfortunately, if the power goes out for an extended period of time and your freezer is not backed up, you are likely to lose some of your harvest.

Canning your harvest instead can solve both of these problems. This method is more tedious and time-consuming, but you will get shelf-stable jars full of veggies that will not freezer-burn or go bad without power. Keep an eye on the blog in the next couple of weeks for help with canning.

Happy Harvesting!

Zucchini Recipe Round Up

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Written by Jacqui Campbell MS, RD, CDN

If you garden and have planted any zucchini plants you’re likely starting to get a harvest of at least one or two zucchini.  If you’re like any of us at Bordeaux Nutrition you’ve already got zucchini coming out of your ears. Since zucchini tends to be abundant and last throughout much of the summer we’ve put together some recipes (all paleo approved or easily adapted) to help you from getting bored.

First zucchini from Jacqui and Jackie’s gardens (with a side of baby bump and spinach)

Simply grill, saute, or roast/bake – My go-to is to slice zucchini thinly lengthwise or into coins, toss with olive oil and herbs (or oil based salad dressing) and grill or saute in a pan.  You can also roast in the oven at 450° for about 15 minutes, flipping half way. one-pot-spicy-thai-zoodles_thumb

“Zoodles” – a simple and quick substitute for spaghetti/noodles in any dish.  You can use a spiralizer for spaghetti-like noodles or a simple vegetable peeler or mandolin for long, flat noodles for lasagna.

Fritters/latkes – Zucchini can be shredded and made into fritters very similar to potato latkes. Just be sure to drain the shredded zucchini well or they will come out soggy.  Paleo Zucchini Fritters recipe.

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Taco Zucchini Boats from 5 Dollar Dinners

Zucchini Boats – Slice zucchini in half length wise and hollow out the inside.  Fill with ground/shredded meat, spices and other veggies. Bake for about 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees or until the boat is soft enough to cut through.

 

 

Zucchini Meatballs to go with your zoodles.  This recipe adds zucchini to traditional meatballs, while this recipe from Skinny Taste is for vegetarian “meatballs” made with mainly zucchini. Make them paleo by swapping out parm and breadcrumbs for almond flour or gluten free bread crumbs.

One Pot Meals

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Flourless Chocolate Zucchini Muffins from Running with Spoons

Sweet Treats (all Paleo!)

No matter how you slice it (haha!), there are tons of ways to utilize zucchini from your garden or CSA. If you’re really sick of it, try freezing it. Cut into bite-size chunks, blanch in boiling water before freezing to lock in the freshness. Store in single-serve bags. You can freeze the chunks on a cookie tray to keep them from sticking together. Once frozen, scrape them off with a spatula and store in a freezer bag. Do this quickly so they don’t thaw. With this method, you can store a large batch in a 1-gallon freezer bag, but makes it easier to pour out a small portion out at a time.

Happy gardening!

CT Garden Season In Full Swing

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The weather is heating up and the plants are loving it! Take a look at how the garden is doing.

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Jackie’s garden in Colchester-complete with watch kitty. Pic taken a few weeks ago, plants have now doubled in size!

Plenty of kale, lettuce, swiss chard and spinach have already been harvested, about 8 gallon-size containers full. These cool-weather plants will soon go to seed, just in time for the zucchini and summer squash to hit their peak.

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Last week, pulled out an 8-quart pot worth of greens, plus two early zucchini. They made a great pile of ‘zoodles’ paired with tomato and sausage sauce.

The peas are still hanging in there, despite the heat. Peas are normally started in late March after St. Patrick’s Day, but these babies didn’t get planted until early May. Hopefully the weather stays cool enough for them to produce. They’re just flowering now.

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Tip: Plant pea seeds along a fence line so they have somewhere to climb. Don’t be like me and install a fence after they’re already 6 inches tall. It was a struggle. I like this one’s moustache face.

Garden care takes dedication and hard work, including harvesting time. Especially with your greens, make sure to take the time to wash and pack your pickings as soon as you’re done. Wash away dirt (and bugs) off leaves, dry well and store in the fridge. Don’t let your hard work go to waste.

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A pile of wet kale waiting for someone to dry and pack (suddenly, husband has disappeared to the garage…).  I like to take it off the stems to pack more per container, plus makes quick work of meal prep later.

The season is young, people, it’s not too late to start some plants. You can even cheat by buying a few already grown. Tomatoes and summer squashes will soon be in their prime, get them started now. There is nothing like the taste of pesticide and chemical-free produce fresh from the garden. Not into gardening? Support your local farmers markets and CSA programs.

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Jacqui’s organic “calf share” from Oxen Hill Farm in Suffield, CT including radishes, kale, sugar snap peas, bibb lettuce, and garlic scapes.

Much more to come as the season continues…

 

 

Happy Eat Your Veggies Day!

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Written by Jackie “Lynn” Stevenson BS, DTR

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Good day! Today is National Eat Your Veggies Day, a day for nutrition professionals to rejoice!

The point of this national day is to bring attention to the dietary need for vegetables. As I’m sure you’ve heard, veggies are a great source of a variety of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, all of which are a requirement for optimal health.

The USDA’s dietary guidelines recommend getting at least 5 servings of vegetables per day. One serving equals 1 cup of raw vegetables, or 1/2 cup cooked vegetables.

One thing to ask before wildly consuming your veggies today…

“Is this vegetable considered a vegetable or a starch?”

Starchy vegetables including potato, sweet potato, corn, peas, butternut squash, spaghet830c3b5ebbd7752842f66af84498697eti squash and the like should really be considered a carbohydrate.  Although we would rather see you getting your carbohydrates from these starchy roots and tubers, they need to be consumed in moderation, just like any other starch (pasta, breads, rice). Keep these starches to about 1/2 cup at a time. The professionals at Bordeaux Nutrition can help you determine how many servings of these starches is appropriate for your diet.

Non-starchy vegetables should be eaten abundantly, and, we suggest, even more than the USDA recommends. Try to get 2-3 servings with lunch and dinner, and add to breakfast and snacks when able. With farmers markets starting up for the season, getting your servings in should be a breeze! Here are some easy ideas to get your fill…

spiralizedzucchiniwithquicktomatosauce-550x825Bulk up your current go-to meals by adding an extra side of veggies, or throwing them right in the recipe. Tomato sauces or casseroles are my favorite places to add extra greens, especially spinach and kale. They tend to cook down and disappear into the recipe. Create more substance and flavor in your sauces by adding chopped mushrooms, onions, zucchini or yellow squash, green peppers, eggplant or broccoli. Don’t like the bulk? Blend them before adding to the mix. If you’re really dedicated, try spiralizing zucchini in place of spaghetti noodles.

Add to fruit smoothies: Fruit smoothies are great, but they could be even better if you throw in some veggies. Start slow if that sounds gross to you. Spinach will turn the mix green, but doesn’t significantly change the flavor. webres_lamb_03

Summer wraps and burgers: Try switching out the traditional hamburger bun for a grilled portabello mushroom or grilled eggplant. Replace your burger bun or tortilla wrap with lettuce.

Snacks: Pack celery and carrot sticks to dip in hummus or other dip. Make ‘ants on a log‘ for kids. Chop tomatoes and cucumbers and marinate in Italian dressing.

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In season right now: Leafy greens including lettuce, spinach, swiss chard and kale. These cool season veggies are peaking now. These veggies can easily be incorporated in salads. Add some fresh seasonal strawberry for a splash of color and flavor. See recipe here!  Kale and spinach are also great to add to tomato sauces, or simply sauteed in some olive oil.

Nutrition for Mental Health

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mentalhealth-headgraphic-250px_1Mental health is a tough subject, plain and simple. There are multiple opinions on the matter of causes and of treatment, ranging from high-dose medications to psychotherapy and everywhere in between. Unfortunately, mainstream medical doesn’t put much emphasis on nutrition for mental health, whether it be for general wellness or more complex cases like autism and schizophrenia.

I like this article’s way of explaining mental health care. In short, they state that the brain needs to be treated like any other organ in the body. We test for plaque buildup that damages the  heart, and for basic functioning in kidneys and liver. The brain, however, is largely reduced to an enigma. Mental health issues become something that we need to ‘talk out of someone’, rather than diagnosing a physical or chemical problem. We, as health professionals, need to spend more time trying to find chemical and dietary sources of imbalances in the brain. The science is out there, we just need to apply it.

Brain health for everyone

General mental well-being depends on a number of nutrients in the diet. There are lots of nutritional players in mental health, and it is always best to get a well-rounded diet to cover the bases. Here are a few of the major nutrients shown to impact mentnutrition-and-mental-healthal health:

Omega 3’s: Our brains are largely made up of fats. We require a good amount of healthy fats like omega 3 fatty acids from our diet to maintain tissue and brain function. Omega 3’s also have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, decreasing effects of oxidative stress on the body and brain. More here!

B-Vitamins: As a category, B-vitamins are responsible for nerve health in the body. Poor nerve health in the brain can lead to ‘bad connections’ that can present themselves as mental illness.

Vitamin D: The role of vitamin D in the brain is not completely understood, but we do know that there are several vitamin D receptors in areas of the brain that are linked to the development of depression. A review done in 2013 found a lack of vitamin D in the blood is linked with being depressed and increases risk of depression and that taking a vitamin D supplement can improve or prevent depression.

Mental illness

Complex mental health issues are just that: complex. There are classifications for different types, but no two people present symptoms in the exact same way. This is perhaps why it becomes so difficult to treat. A study from 1999 shows a strong link between patients with schizophrenia or autism and sensitivities to gluten and dairy. If you know us, you have gapslogoheard before that gluten and dairy are major causes of allergies and general body inflammation. This goes with the same line of thinking. Gluten and dairy cause inflammation in the body, which can manifest itself in many different ways. In the case of these patients, it manifests as mental illness.

Another known cause of mental illness is the consumption of heavy metals like lead, mercury or aluminum. It’s easy enough to reduce or eliminate harmful substances from our body, but that’s not always possible with heavy metals. These metals can linger in drinking water, in the plants and animals we consume, and even our daily hygiene and beauty products. This is  a full list of harmful heavy metals, but here’s a rundown of the major players:

Aluminum: toxicity causes slurred speech and nerve issues. It’s found in most mainstream deodorants.

Mercury: toxicity causes hyperactivity, delayed speech, and lack of communication with others. Symptoms somewhat mimic Asperger’s syndrome (curious!). Eatiimageforarticle_127671ng fish that are susceptible to high mercury concentrations due to ocean pollution can lead to toxicity. Look at this chart to see which species have the highest levels.

Lead: this proven neurotoxin has been linked to depression and anxiety disorder, not to mention decreased brain function and verbal ability. Lead was used in paint up until the 1950s, old homes may still be cause for concern, as well as contaminated water supply, like in Flint, Michigan recently.

Whatever the cause of mental illness, it is important to treat it like any other medical diagnosis. The historical practice of treating people as if they are ‘crazy, insane, etc.’ for presenting with a mental issue is all wrong. The stigma created by this practice makes it less likely that people will reach out for help. It’s important to talk to health care professionals regarding symptoms. Ideally, your team of medical, mental health and nutrition professions can work together to pinpoint possible underlying causes of symptoms and help treat them appropriately.

 

Spring Cleaning Without Toxic Chemicals

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Spring is a time to clean under rarely-moved furniture, wash bedding and curtains you never wash, and tag sale items you bought and never used. Harsh chemicals like bleach and ammonia (never together!) are commonly used to cleanse the home of unwanted dirt and microbes. Yes, your house will smell like you sterilized the living hell out of it, but is that what you really want?

Problems with harsh chemicals: In general, if a product has a skull and crossbones on it, you probably shouldn’t have it in your home. Bleach is a very common cleatoxic-cleaner-dependence-mdner, so let’s use that as our example. If you’ve ever used it, you have noticed the pungent smell, and using a bit too much gives you stinging, watery eyes, and a bothersome cough. Prolonged exposure can cause lung problems, and contact with skin can cause chemical burns. Fantastic. If you read the label, it says not to mix bleach with ammonia. Definitely don’t do this, as the chemical reaction can actually kill you. The problem doesn’t stop at household cleaning products. Hygiene products, like antibacterial soaps often contain harmful ingredient like triclosan, which is linked to hormone disruption.

Why a little dirt is a good thing: Nasty chemicals like bleach are toxic to humans, organisms that are a billion times larger than bacteria. If it’s toxic to us, it is devastating to a bacterial colony. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the particular colony is of an illness-causing variety, but constant use of harsh, antibacterial chemicals lead to two things:jpg120051fa

  1.  Antibacterial-resistant evolution (they get stronger and more nasty). Microbes develop new ways to resist harsh chemicals as a means to adapt to their environment. Chemicals, like cleaning products, hygiene products and antibiotics, eventually become less effective in eliminating the bacteria.
  2. Decrease in human immune system. Systematically killing off bacteria reduces the number of exposures. The human immune system requires exposure to pathogens in order to create antibodies to resist them. Sterilizing your environment leads to a weak immune system, leaving you more susceptible to antibacterial-resistant bad guys later down the line.

Natural cleaning products as a solution: Decreasing the amount of harsh chemicals we use can do a few things; decrease exposure to harmful toxins, keep bacterial evolution in check, and strengthen the immune system. Natural products will not kill off every bacteria, giving the body the exposure it needs to create an immune response. Since some of the bacteria can survive in the environment, there is no need to bulk up their defenses.

Your options: There are a number of options, and there isn’t one product (chemical or natural) that will take care of every strain of microbe. Using a combination of the following options will most likely cover all of the bases.drbronners-organicoils-bar-soap-peppermint

  1. Plain soap: There is very little evidence showing that using antibacterial soap keeps people healthier than when using plain soap and water. Antibacterials can contain harmful chemicals like triclosan, so its best to stick to the basics. Tom’s of Maine is a great brand that can be found at most mainstream stores. Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile soap is harder to find, but is also a good option for soap, laundry detergent, and countless other things. It’s one of my favorites!
  2. Vinegar: All vinegars prevent microbial growth, including mold, but white vinegar and garlic wine vinegar seem to have the most antimicrobial properties. Although a k2-_bc628b71-8502-4524-9dca-1a1c6e884517-v1good option for a multi-purpose cleaner, it may not kill bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, or more commonly, the cause of staph infections. Vinegar does not need to be diluted and can be used on a number of surfaces, but avoid using it on unfinished wood. It doesn’t stain wood, but the vinegar smell will be absorbed.
  3. Baking soda: This abrasive powder will not kill bacteria, but can be used in combination with vinegar to create an antibacterial scrubhow-to-fight-colds-and-the-flu-with-baking-soda1. It can also be used in combination with vinegar to create a drain cleaner. Much better than Draino.
  4. Hot water: Prolonged exposure to hot water can kill bacteristeam-imagea. Dishwashers are meant to use high heat and steam to disinfect dishes. Water needs to be above 150F degrees to kill bacteria, a temperature that would be uncomfortable to human skin. Using hot water to hand wash dishes, for example, is not hot enough to kill bacteria, but does helps activate the detergent in soap to wash away more of the bacteria.
  5. Essential oils:essential-oils-peppermint-oil-or-tea-tree-oil-nail-growth Tea tree oil and lemon oil have natural antimicrobial properties, and make a great addition to vinegar or castile soap cleaners. They add a mainstream-product smell to your cleaner that you may miss while providing extra bug killing properties. They are each also good for a number of body ailments, check out the links above for more info.

Rethink common cleaning tools. Sponges are good at soaking up water, but also make a wonderful home for bacteria. If you’re set in your ways, disinfect them often by spongemicrowaving or throwing in the dishwasher. If you can take them or leave them, try using washcloths on dishes instead, then throw them in the washing machine.

Is there still room for harsh chemicals? In short, yes. There are some very harmful microbes out there, and places like hospitals and nursing homes are susceptible to colonizing all of them. This puts already immune-compromised patients at risk. These facilities use harsh chemicals to make sure their patients are not exposed to potential pathogens that may make their condition worse.

It is your choice to use them in your own home. It may be wise to use something stronger when a bout of the cold or flu is running through your family to minimize new exposures. In short, save the big guns for when you have a seriously unruly colony on your hands. For ordinary, every day use, natural cleaning products are your best bet. Check out EWG’s website for a full list of safe natural cleaners.