Friday, January 31, 2014

Extension offers Food Safety classes in Moorhead

MARSHALL, Minn. (01/16/2014) — University of Minnesota Extension is offering two courses to help food service establishments meet the educational requirement for Certified Food Managers.

The initial certification course, called ServSafeรข, will be offered on Thursday, March 6, 2014 at the Travelodge and Suites in Moorhead.  The class will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with the test following at 4:30 p.m.  Participants must attend all day to be eligible to take the certification exam. This course includes information about safe food preparation, handling, sanitation and prevention of foodborne illnesses.  Registration is required by February 20, 2014.

Certification renewal for food managers will be held on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 from 1-5 p.m.   It will be held at the Travelodge and Suites.  Certified Food Managers need four hours of continuing education credits within three years of becoming certified.  University of Minnesota Extension educators and University specialists developed the four-hour Serve It Up Safely ™ renewal course that meets these criteria.   Registration is due by February 19, 2014.

Pre-registration is required. For a registration brochure or for more information call 507-337-2819 or contact Connie Schwartau at 

The Food Safety Manager Certification Course and Serve It Up Safely renewal course are also available on-line.   To get more information about all of these classes go to or contact Connie Schwartau at at 507-337-2819.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

MN Commerce Commissioner announces $15,814,434 in additional LIHEAP funds

SAINT PAUL, MN – The Minnesota Department of Commerce announced today that Minnesota will receive an additional $15,814,434 in federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds for the Energy Assistance Program (EAP). The total amount of funds Minnesota has received this year is $114,540,746.  The LIHEAP program in Minnesota helps low-income homeowners and renters pay heating bills through grant money paid directly to utility companies and heating fuel vendors on behalf of customers.

This announcement is critical for Minnesota’s low-income households, especially those with seniors, young children, veterans, and people with disabilities.  The ongoing sub-zero, arctic weather and sky-rocketing propane prices have added additional stress to family budgets.  To address this need, the Department of Commerce recently increased crisis benefits from $500 to $1,000 for households that heat with propane or heating oil.  The additional LIHEAP funds announced today is greatly needed and with projected sub-zero temperatures continuing in the next few weeks, the State of Minnesota is calling on Congress to provide additional funding.

“These critical federal dollars will make a difference to help Minnesotans who struggle to pay for home heating and make ends meet in the cold winter months ahead. The Minnesota Commerce Department has and will work hard to make sure these funds best help low-income families and individuals in need of energy assistance," said Commissioner Mike Rothman. “No Minnesotan should be without a warm place to call home during this bitterly cold winter.”

The Minnesota Department of Commerce administers the LIHEAP in partnership with 32 local service providers throughout the state. LIHEAP is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program helps renters and homeowners earning less than 50 percent of the state’s median income ($42,789 for a family of four) obtain grant money to help pay their heating bills.  Last year, Minnesota served 147,636 households and renters with $109 million in federal funds.

How to apply:
Qualifying families must apply for assistance at the local service provider in their area. Funding is limited and is administered on a first-come, first-served basis. Interested households should contact their local service provider by calling 1-800-657-3710 or visiting the Energy Assistance section of the Commerce Department’s website ( The Minnesota EAP is supported by federal LIHEAP funding and administered by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

State Emergency Operations Center:
Governor Mark Dayton declared a State of Peacetime Emergency in Minnesota in response to the persistent cold weather and the increased risk households may run out of heating fuel, a situation that would pose immediate threat to public safety. This declaration activated the state’s emergency operations center housing a hotline for Minnesota residents with questions about the current propane situation or who are in danger of running out of heating fuel.  Minnesotans can call 651-297-1304 in the metro area or 1-800-657-3504 in greater Minnesota.

What consumers and Minnesota residents can do to stay safe:
People who use propane to heat their homes can take several steps at this time.

·         Conserve energy as much as possible. Turn down thermostats and be aware of your propane use.
·         Check in on your family members, neighbors and friends.  Call 9-1-1 only in a crisis
·         State Hotline and Department of Commerce online resources are available
o   1-800-657-3504 in greater Minnesota
o   651-297-1304 in the metro area
o   Department of Commerce Energy Assistance Program Section

Use Alternative Heat Sources Safely:
People often turn to alternative heat sources to stay warm when the temperature plummets. The State Fire Marshal (SFM) reminds residents to use caution when using alternative heating sources.

Types of alternative heating sources often seen include:
·         Portable electric heaters
·         Liquid-fueled heaters:
·         Kerosene
·         Waste oil
·         Gas-burning heaters – Propane is most common
·         Solid-fuel heating:
·         Wood-burning
·         Pellet-burning

Any heating appliance with an open flame needs to be vented to the outside because the combustion process of burning fuel uses oxygen and also gives off carbon monoxide — a deadly combination inside of a home.
Other tips when using alternative heat sources:
·         Keep anything flammable -- including pets and people -- at least three feet away from heating equipment.
·         Make sure portable space heaters have an automatic shut-off. 
·         Turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed. 
·         Space heaters need constant watching. Never leave a space heater on when you go to sleep. Never place a space heater close to any sleeping person. 
·         Make sure all cords on electric heaters are in good shape and checked periodically for any frays or breaks in the insulation surrounding the wires.
·         Check the cord and outlet occasionally for overheating; if it feels hot, discontinue use.
·         Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. 
·         Use a heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up to date safety features; older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards.

Stay Warm Minnesota
Other forms of assistance may be available through county social service programs, community-based organizations, and nonprofit agencies.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Photography Takes Center Stage at Split Rock Lighthouse with 3-Day Workshop and Afternoon Symposium in March

The Minnesota environment, natural and built, provides inspiration to a wide range of artists. Split Rock Lighthouse is a favorite for photographers, thanks to its natural beauty and historic value. Photographers of all skill levels are invited to hone their craft at a 3-day photography workshop or a 1-day symposium, both offered in early March.

Photography Workshop, Feb. 28, March 1 and 2.
During this 3-day workshop, John Gregor and Randy Hagar of ColdSnap Photography will provide personalized professional instruction to build technical camera skills for digital photography. The workshop is a hands-on experience making this event ideal for photography students, tourists and nature enthusiasts.

Participants will be encouraged to explore the landscape on their own and conduct an independent field shoot. Facilitators will provide insight for exercising creative control and embodying the essence of the North Shore in their work.

On Saturday, participants will join the Lake Superior Photography Symposium. Then on Sunday, a critique will be held to conclude the workshop and celebrate each participants' work.
The workshop cost is $299. Advanced registration is required and can be made by calling 218-226-6372 or online.

Lake Superior Photography Symposium, March 1, 1 to 4 p.m.
Photography enthusiasts can opt for a shorter program where they can learn from four local photographers about their craft. Christian Dalbec, Bryan Hansel, Travis Novitsky and Emily Rose will discuss their work, showing some of their favorite photographs of Lake Superior. The symposium will include a question and answer session. John Gregor of ColdSnap photography will serve as the moderator. Guests are encouraged to go on a field shoot at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park after the presentation.

The symposium cost is $60. Advanced registration is required and can be made by calling 218-226-6372 or online.

MDH launches new effort to improve HPV vaccination rates among state’s adolescents

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) today announced a new effort to increase coverage rates for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine among adolescents in the state. The plan includes a public awareness campaign geared toward families of adolescents, a direct mailing with vaccination reminders and education opportunities for health care providers.

The effort was made possible by a $600,000 grant awarded to the department by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Following a competitive process, Minnesota was one of 7 states and 4 cities to be awarded the funds.

The primary purpose of the HPV vaccine is to prevent cancer. The vaccine protects against the strains of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer in women as well as several other types of cancers in men and women. The vaccine, given in a series of three shots, is recommended for adolescent girls and boys beginning at 11 years of age. It can be given at the same time as the vaccines that prevent whooping cough and meningococcal disease, as well as any other vaccines an adolescent may be due to receive.

Despite its cancer-fighting ability, the vaccine is greatly underused, health officials say. According to a 2012 survey, only 33.1 percent of young women in Minnesota had received the full three doses, mirroring the national rate of 33.4 percent, and slightly more than 59 percent of Minnesota girls had received the first dose. Among teen boys, to whom the recommendation was more recently expanded, first-dose vaccine coverage was only 20.8 percent.

"Taking into account cervical cancer alone, if we could vaccinate 80 percent of young women in the U.S. today, we could prevent 98,800 cases of cancer and 31,700 deaths, according to CDC estimates," said Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious disease for MDH. "Our goal in Minnesota is to reach that 80 percent coverage level of three doses of HPV vaccine for females age 13 to 15 by 2020. We hope this grant will give us a big boost toward that goal."
Minnesota’s three-part strategy for using the grant includes the following:
  • A public awareness campaign will use a variety of media and advertising vehicles to reach high-school and middle- school-age students and their families, including working with culturally and ethnically diverse media outlets to place ads and articles about HPV and other adolescent vaccines.
  • In its postcard reminder project, MDH will send postcards to the families of all 11- and 12-year-olds in the state informing them of the importance of the adolescent vaccines and encouraging vaccination.
  • For the health care community, MDH will offer a variety of in-person and online opportunities for providers to update their knowledge and skills regarding adolescent vaccination. Provider education is important, Ehresmann said, because studies consistently show that a strong recommendation from a provider is the single best predictor of vaccination and an important factor in a parent's decision to vaccinate their child.
The grant activities will complement the department’s efforts to inform parents and health care providers of new immunization requirements for school enrollment that take effect this fall, including Tdap and meningococcal vaccines for adolescents. While HPV is not included in the new requirements, MDH strongly recommends that adolescents receive all three vaccines at the same time. These activities also coincide with the Minnesota Cancer Alliance’s current initiative to promote HPV vaccine as a cancer prevention measure.
The HPV grant runs through Dec. 31, 2014.