Author: Courtney Luecking

Tracking Food Recalls

By: Courtney Luecking, MPH, MS, RD Doctoral Candidate: Nutrition

Back around Labor Day, I blogged about ways to prevent foodborne illness. Another way to keep your loved ones safe is to pay attention to food recalls. According to, food recalls and alerts are made when “there is reason to believe that a food may cause consumers to become ill”. This could be the result of a bacteria or virus being present in a food, a potential allergen, or the mislabeling or misbranding of food.

In preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday, two headlines jumped out to me – “Heinz Recalls Hundreds of Cases of Gravy Just Ahead of Thanksgiving” and “Sabra recalls hummus amid listeria contamination fears”. These were particularly concerning because I knew foods like this were on the menu. What if I had missed those news stories?

Here are some tips to proactively get information about potentially contaminated food products and what to do if you have one of these products in your home.

Checking for Product Recalls

  • Visit the website to see information about recent recalls
  • For packaged products, compare your labels to the recalled product for: brand name, sell by date, and the package code
  • For fresh produce concerns, call your grocery store and ask to speak with a manager

Staying Aware of Food Recalls

What to Do When You Have a Recalled Product

  • Do not eat the food product
  • Check the FDA or USDA website for instructions on what to do
  • Check with your grocery store to see if they are issuing refunds or replacement products
  • Clean your kitchen to ensure the contaminated food hasn’t affected other parts of your kitchen

Resources: – Recalls & Alerts.

How to Check Food Recalls.

Let us give thanks

By: Courtney Luecking, MPH, MS, RD Doctoral Candidate: Nutrition

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is an opportunity to take time away from routines, gather with family and friends, and literally give thanks. The history buffs can check their knowledge about the origin of Thanksgiving, but I would like to concentrate on the science behind the power of gratitude.

Check out this beautiful infographic for a more in depth summary, but the short of the long is that expressing gratitude has numerous physical and mental health benefits. Studies have linked gratitude with improved sleep, increased energy levels, and increased self-esteem. One trial also found those who kept a gratitude journal for 10 weeks were 25% happier than the group who did not keep a journal.

Read more about the benefits of expressing gratitude here and here.

With all these benefits, why limit it to one day a year? Instead, why not find some space for gratitude all year long?


Here are some ideas to intentionally acknowledge what or who you are grateful for throughout the year:

  • Snap a daily photo. Get inspiration from 365grateful, a stunning display of all the wonderful – big and small – things in the world
  • Keep a journal or list – paper, word document, or note on a phone or tablet
  • Try an app
  • Write a thank you note – for a purpose or just because
  • Jar of happiness
  • Meditate
  • Pray
  • Count your blessings

Let us give thanks not only this Thanksgiving holiday but more frequently in the upcoming year. After all, don’t we have much to be thankful for?


Waste Not Want Not

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

Have you ever thought about how much food you throw away each day? Each week?

In general, America wastes about 40% of the food that is produced each year (Gunders, 2012). That amount of food weighs as much as 123 Empire State Buildings and has economic, environmental, and social costs. The image from the Food and Agriculture Organization details specific examples of those costs.


What exactly is food waste?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service, food is considered wasted when edible portions go unconsumed. This happens at all points along the food supply chain – think farms, manufacturing facilities, transportation, businesses, restaurants, and our own homes. If we could reduce food waste along the food supply chain by just a quarter, this would provide more than 25 million people nutritious, edible food (Gunders, 2012).

How can we reduce food waste?

Check out and support the @UglyFruitAndVeg Campaign.

Choose one or a few of the tips from the USDA’s infographic.


Every little bit we don’t waste can have a big impact on our wallets, the wellbeing of our community members, and the health of our environment!


Grace Communications Foundation. Food Waste.

Gunders, D. (2012). Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40 of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill. National Resources Defense Council.

Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign.—veg.html

USDA. Let’s Talk Trash.

What’s culture got to do with it?

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

What happens when a cultural and political sociologist teams up with health researchers? Answer: some really fascinating work and advancement of how we think about the influence of culture on health.

Meet Andrew Perrin, Ph.D. He is a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.


While his work focuses mostly on “what people need to know, be and do to make democracy work”, his family has opened up the opportunity to share his expertise with the public health arena. Does culture influence health? If so, how, and to what extent?

Dr. Perrin suggests that although the public health and health communication world may be able to measure certain aspects of culture well, there is a lack of breadth and depth of conceptualizing culture. This could mean we, public health and communication groups, are missing or misinterpreting a big piece of the health puzzle. He offered context of the contemporary synthesis of culture as presented by Johnson-Hanks and colleagues. A cyclical interaction between culture in the world and culture in our mind influences our individual and collective decisions and actions, but how can we robustly measure this?


Fortunately, Dr. Perrin and an interdisciplinary crew are working to develop tools to measure culture in the world and culture in the mind within the context of obesity. Once measured, they will work to interpret the effects of culture on health. One project looks to explain variations and health outcomes in a county in North Carolina using a combination of geocoded photographs (culture in the world) and focus groups (culture in the mind). Results for this are forthcoming. Another project looked at obesogenic behaviors and stigma in children’s movies. You may or may not be surprised to learn that unhealthy behaviors are represented more than healthy behaviors, and movies contain messages that encourage weight-related teasing or bullying. For more information and results about this, review the paper on Pass the Popcorn.

Thanks to Dr. Perrin for sharing his time and expertise with our class! He highlighted the value interdisciplinary teams bring to thinking about problems in a more holistic manner that could ultimately benefit the public’s health.

 You can learn more about Dr. Perrin’s work at his website.

You are what you Tweet?

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

Are you someone who puts your mood, food, or physical activity on social media? If so, you may be helping researchers develop and test new ways of tracking health behaviors.



It is known that the places where we live, work, play, and learn positively and negatively influence our health. But due to the time and other resources necessary to gather and update information about neighborhood characteristics, there is a lack of information to really understand how characteristics influence our health or why those effects might differ across town or the U.S.

As an alternative, a group of researchers explored the usefulness of using geotagged tweets to generate neighborhood level information to characterize happiness, food, and physical activity. By linking tweets to census tract level information, investigators found correlations (relationships) between happiness, food, and physical activity information and health behaviors, chronic diseases, death, and self-rated health.

And although this wasn’t the intention of the study, you might be interested to know the top 5 most tweeted about foods and forms of physical activity in the 1% random sample of publicly available tweets from April 2015 – March 2016:


  1. Coffee
  2. Beer
  3. Pizza
  4. Starbucks
  5. IPA (beer)

Physical Activity

  1. Walk/walking
  2. Dance/dancing
  3. Running
  4. Workout
  5. Golf

Any chance your tweets over the last year included one of those words?

This study, like all others, has limitations, and it is important to remember this is a first look at the usefulness of geocoded Twitter information. Having said that, these results show promise that Twitter or other social media data could be a useful and cheaper, more efficient way to create neighborhood profiles. More information about our neighborhoods could provide insight about important targets for change to improve the health of our communities. Now that is something to #tweet about!



Cara, E. Top 10 Food Tweets Reveal Diet and Physical Activity Patterns of Twitter Users. Medical Daily. October 16, 2016.

Nguyen QC, Li D, Meng HW, Kath S, Nsoesie E, Li F, Wen M. Building a National Neighborhood Dataset From Geotagged Twitter Data for Indicators of Happiness, Diet, and Physical Activity. JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2016;2(2):e158. DOI: 10.2196/publichealth.5869. PMID: 27751984

Fearful of Food?

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

I started following the Conscienhealth blog years ago. The organization aims to “advance sound approaches to health and obesity…(and) advocate evidence-based prevention and treatment”. Part of their approach is to provide a daily reflection about how a hot topic might influence our view of obesity or health policy.

A recent post got me thinking about whether fear-based messages are an effective or appropriate way to speak to consumers about food and nutrition. A meta-analysis published last year pooled 127 articles to look at the effect of fear appeals on attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. [Notes: Meta-analysis is a technique that aims to provide a conclusion based on statistical evidence about a large number of studies. Fear appeals are messages designed to persuade people to take action by sparking fear.]

Interestingly enough, fear appeals were found to have generally positive effects but less so for repeated behaviors. We eat multiple times each day, definitely a repetitive behavior, so perhaps fear-based messages are not the best way to communicate food-related lifestyle messages.


So how should talk about food? Headlines often pose negative or sensational statements to entice us to read. An example of this: Why Sitting is Killing You. But evidence suggests it might be more useful to share gain-framed messages. That is, focus on action people can take and what the positive outcome would be.An example of this: Review suggests eating oats can lower cholesterol as measured by a variety of markers.

Two decades ago, a study reported that Americans perceived food to be mostly associated with health and least associated with ple
asure. Americans reported more action to change diet to support health, yet they were also less likely to consider themselves healthy eaters. What would it look like if we talked in a more positive, less fearful or restrictive manner about food?



Rozin P, Fischler C, Imada S, Sarubin A, Wrzesniewski A. Attitudes to food and the role of food in life in the U.S.A., Japan, Flemish Belgium and France: possible implications for the diet-health debate. Appetite, 1999 Oct; 33(2): 163-180.

Tannenbaum MB, Hepler J, Zimmerman RS, Saul L, Jacobs S, Wilson K, Albarracin D. Appealing to fear: a meta-analysis of fear appeal effectiveness and theories. Psychol Bull, 2015 Nov; 141(6): 1178-204.

Wansink B, Pope L. When do gain-framed health messages work better than fear appeals? Nutr Rev, 2015 Jan; 73(1): 4-11.

The ‘battle’ of fast-food vs. fast-casual

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

Taco Bell vs. Chipotle. Subway vs. Panera. Grabbing food on the fly is inevitable. But how do you decide where to go or what to eat? What might make you choose fast-food (think McDonald’s) or fast-casual (think Five Guys)? People often perceive that fast-casual restaurants are healthier than fast-food, but are they? [Note: the true answer to that question depends on how you define ‘healthier’.]

Today we’ll look at a recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that focused on the caloric content of lunch and dinner entrees at fast-food and fast-casual restaurants to see if there was in fact a difference.

To some people’s surprise, and perhaps disappointment, fast-casual entrees used in this sample were found to contain more calories than the fast-food entrees.

So what?

Calories are not the end-all-be-all to healthy, but they are an important part of the energy balance equation. And with a growing number of people dining out more often, it’s important to recognize that our choices over time add up.

Be wary of those health food halos. Buzzwords, claims, or pictures can make a food appear healthier than it really is.


Instead – ask questions or look up information. Thanks to legislation in 2010, chain restaurants are required to make their nutrition information available.

If your go-to meal isn’t as healthy or low-calorie as you thought, here are some suggestions of healthier alternatives from 10 of the most popular chains.



Schoffman DE, Davidson CR, Hales SB, Crimarco AE, Dahl AA, Turner-McGrievy GM. The fast-casual conundrum: fast-casual restaurant eentrees are higher in calories than fast food. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Oct; 116(101):1606-12.

Connecting Local Foods to Schools

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

Interest in local foods has risen so much in recent years that there are skits on Portlandia and critics speculate whether it’s time to table farm-to-table.

In spite of the pop culture hold on local food, there are sustainable and real economic, environmental, mental, physical, and social benefits to eating local:

  • Contributes to local economy
  • Safer food supply
  • Enhanced flavor
  • More nutrients
  • Increased community connection

Recently efforts have expanded to connect schools with local farmers to provide kids access to nutritious, high quality foods and hands-on learning opportunities. In return, farmers can gain access to a substantial financial opportunity and there is an increased sense of community.


October is National Farm to School Month. Core elements of farm to school include: education, procurement, and/or school gardens. Efforts begin in early childhood education settings and continue all the way through college. This year’s theme, One Small Step, highlights easy ways people can get informed, get involved, or take action support farm to school in their communities.

Check out some of the top Farm to School success stories from 2015.


How can you take one small step for farm to school?



Grace Communications Foundation. Local Food Systems.

National Farm to School Network.

Utah State University Extension Sustainability. The Local Food Movement.

Faces of Hunger

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

Although our nation is considered a Land of Plenty, the alarming truth is that a large number of people experience food insecurity. A newly released report indicates that in 2015, 42.2 million households (not people) were, at times, food insecure.


What does food insecure mean? About a decade ago, the United States Department of Agriculture introduced new terminology to capture the range of food insecurity people face. Essentially food insecure means at any given time, households are unable to get adequate food for one or more people in the home. Inadequate food may mean reduced quality, variety, desirability, or reduced food intake and disrupted patterns of eating. The term hunger, is often used to describe a consequence of food insecurity.

Other consequences of food insecurity affect both individuals and society. Food insecurity can impact an individual’s mental and physical health, learning, and productivity. At the societal level it can influence family and social dynamics as well as economic development (Hamelin et al., 1999).

National Geographic has a wonderful feature on The New Face of Hunger. The personal stories, pictures, and facts tackle our preconceived ideas about what hunger looks like and what people experience. I highly recommend you give it a read.


If you are looking for help with food insecurity, start with these links:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): learn and apply
  • Find your local food bank
  • Find local food pantries

If you have help to offer:

  • Map the Meal Gap to find out what food insecurity looks like in your area.
  • Get involved with local food banks or food pantries (see links above)



Cohen JH and Zagorsky JL. If America is the land of plenty, why do millions go hungry?

Newsweek, March 13, 2016.

Feeding America

Hamelin AM, Habicht JP, Beaudry M. (1999) Food insecurity: Consequences for the household and broader social implications. J Nutr, 129(2): 525S-528S.

McMillan, T. The New Face of Hunger. National Geographic Magazine.

United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Food Security in the U.S.

Feature image: Quotes on Fighting Hunger.

Are you prepared?

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

Zika virus. Flooding. Hurricanes. Wildfires. Earthquakes. What do these have in common? They are all examples of public health emergencies that have impacted our nation and world in just the last few months. While not all emergencies can be predicted, we can take steps to have an emergency response plan in place.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is promoting National Preparedness Month this September.



Preparedness is important not only for the international, national, regional, and local agencies and organizations that help people overcome disasters, but also for individuals and the communities they are part of.

One simple step you can take is to create a preparedness kit. Basics of an emergency kit include:

  • At least a 3-day supply of food and water
  • Health supplies
  • Personal care items
  • Safety supplies
  • Electronics
  • Documents
  • Extra cash
  • Extra house and car keys



You can learn more about being prepared for all kinds of situations through a Twitter chat Tuesday, September 27th at 1pm EST with @CDCemergency. And by checking out the resources below.



ASPCA. General Pet Care.

Boehrer, Katherine. 10 Disaster Preparedness Tips You Can Really Use. Huffington Post.

Prepare. Plan. Stay Informed.