Produce quality is usually better and the prices are usually lower in the summer because they are in season.

Right now, there is an abundance of delicious, fresh summer produce that awaits you. Grill it, chill it or eat it by itself, you can’t go wrong.

Last year was hard for many of us to get out and purchase local produce but this year we are getting back to a “new normal.” There are so many varieties and ways to prepare summer produce. Local markets and grocery stores are brimming with fresh vegetables such as bell peppers, cucumbers, corn on the cob, summer squash, tomatoes, cabbage and much more. And, who can resist refreshing watermelon and cantaloupe on a hot day?

Produce quality is usually better and the prices are usually lower in the summer because they are in season.

Something else to remember about these colorful food gems are the health benefits. These foods are loaded with vitamins such as A and C, which help protect your body and your immune system.

Fruits and vegetables have also been shown to lower the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and may help individuals achieve a healthier weight. Produce is naturally low in calories and high in fiber, so they help fill you up.

The American Heart Association recommends filling at least half your plate with fruits and veggies in order to make it to the recommended 4½ cups of each per day. While fresh may your choice, all produce counts — including canned and frozen varieties. If you are using canned or frozen be sure to compare food labels and choose the products with the lowest amount of sodium and added sugars.

While you work to improve your health, consider the benefits of choosing local foods. Choosing locally sources foods can benefit your health, your local farmers and your environment.

Local foods travel a short distance from the farm to your plate, which can improve freshness and quality of the foods. You can also find varieties of produce that grow well in the local climate.

To find out where you can purchase locally grown foods, download the VISIT NC FARMS app. This was created by the NC Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services to help connect NC residents and visitors to farmers and local foods.

During the hot summer months, it important not to forget about food safety!

Wash hands and surfaces before preparing foods and after contact with raw foods.

Use separate utensils and cutting boards for raw and ready-to-eat or cooked foods.

  • Thaw foods safely.
  • Beware of the temperature danger zone. Harmful bacteria grow fastest between 41ºF and 135ºF.
  • Perishable foods, such as those containing animal products, cooked vegetables and grains, should be tossed or composted after four hours at room temperature or one hour if the outdoor temperature is over 90°F.
  • Use cooking temperature recommendations to reduce bacteria to a level considered “safe.”
  • Measure the internal temperature of the food by inserting a food thermometer into the side of meats to the very center.

Visit “Safe Plates at https://foodsafety.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Grilling-flyer_562020.pdf?fwd=no to find out internal temperature recommendations of various foods and other great informatio

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The Women, Infants and Children program has increased the cash-value benefits for active participants to $35 per month through September. The increase will help clients to choose more fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. In addition, WIC Farmers’ Market vouchers are being offered to eligible participants. For more information call 902-2393.

PPH meets on the second Thursday of each month. If you have questions or would like more information, contact Mary Hall at mphall@vidanthealth.com. Find PPH on Facebook or visit the website at pittpartnersforhealth.org

Robin Tant, MPA, RD, LDN is the Nutrition Program Director at the Pitt County Health Department

Leigh Guth is the Pitt County Center Director for the NC Cooperative Extension Service

Pitt Partners for Health is a community health improvement partnership with representatives from local churches, businesses, communities, the hospital, the health department and other human service agencies. The partnerships mission is to improve the population health of Pitt County through coalition building and partnership.