If my honey has darkened, is it still safe to eat?

July 30th, 2015

HoneyI stopped by my parent’s assisted living apartment on the way to work today. They were enjoying breakfast when I arrived, so I sat at the table and visited with them while they ate. I noticed that the honey packets in the center of the table had darkened and I was thinking about honey on my drive in to work today.

We often get calls when people discover their honey has darkened or crystallized. Improper storage of honey can cause this problem. Honey should be stored in a cool, dry area inside a tightly covered container. Over time the honey will darken and flavor will change but it will be safe to eat indefinitely. As it darkens, it may lose some flavor or become cloudy. As the honey becomes cloudy, you may even notice crystals in it. This will not make the honey unsafe as long as it has been stored properly. Honey stored in the refrigerator will crystallize more quickly.

If your honey has crystallized, you can place the container in warm water and stir the honey until the crystals dissolve. Resist the urge to use boiling hot water to melt crystals as this can damage the color and flavor of the honey. If your honey foams or smells like alcohol, discard it as it has spoiled.

Those darkened packets of honey at assisted living will be safe to eat for some time to come, but the dining room staff may want to look into another way to store their honey supply. This reminds me to go home and check my own jar of honey.




Food Safety

Prevent Box Elder Bugs

July 27th, 2015

boxelder bugsIt seems really early in the year to be thinking about Box Elder Bugs but this is the time of year to work at preventing an infestation next fall.  Use a tube of calking to seal up sites where the bugs can enter the house.  Check cracks in the foundation or house siding and gaps around the windows or doors.  It may seem like a big job, but with the arrival of nice weather you can break the job down into smaller parts.  Perhaps do one side of the house every week this month.

Later in the year, you can spray massing box elder bugs with Sevin, Diazinon, or Orthene.  You can also make a spray of soapy water using 5 tablespoons of liquid detergent per gallon of water.  This is a very effective spray but does not have any residual effect.

Take a little time this summer to slow or eliminate the entry of Box Elder Bugs into your home.





Cleaning, Entomology, Housing

How do I blanch vegetables?

July 23rd, 2015

imageWe get lots of calls at AnswerLine as callers are getting ready to freeze vegetables from their gardens.  We give directions for blanching food and then often need to review the directions for blanching as it has been a while since the caller has blanched anything.

Blanching food is done for quality reasons, not safety reasons.  Therefore, you do not HAVE to blanch a food that you will be freezing to keep it safe.  Blanching destroys enzymes that naturally occur in the food so that they won’t overly soften the food while it is stored in the freezer.  In order to destroy the enzymes, the food must be heated long enough to penetrate the flesh of the vegetable.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation has a guide available with times for blanching various vegetables.

One confusing part of the blanching process is just when do I start my timer?  We advise callers to work with small batches of vegetables.  Get a large pot of water boiling, place the quart sized batch in the water.  It is best to blanch an amount that will allow the water to return to a boil within 1 minute.  Otherwise the food will be in the hot water too long and will be overly cooked.  After the water begins to boil again, set the time for the required amount of time.  If you can use a basket to lower the food into the boiling water, you can easily remove it all at once.  Then you can submerge the food in ice water and stop the cooking process.  After the food has cooled, package and freeze it.

Remember that you do not want to put stacks of freshly blanched food into the freezer.  Instead, spread the packages around inside the freezer.  This allows the food to freeze quickly, which will give the best possible frozen food.  You can also spread food onto a tray or cookie sheet with sides and freeze overnight.  Package it the next day and you will have free flowing frozen vegetables—just like those you buy at the store.

Happy gardening and happy blanching.










Tips for Freezing Fruits and Vegetables

July 20th, 2015

ripening fruitThis time of year at AnswerLine, we answer so many questions about freezing.  People have questions about freezing fruits, vegetables, and leftover food.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource for preserving food.  We use their website and cookbook “So Easy TO Preserve” many times each day. They also write a blog called Preserving Food at Home.

The blog that was published on May 12, 2015 had some great information about which foods can be successfully frozen.  We know that freezing a food affects the texture.  As the food freezes, the water inside the cells expands and causes the cell walls to burst.  The loss of structure as those cell walls break down makes thawed food seem soft or mushy.

In that blog post they mention a quick way to know if a food will freeze well.  Foods that are generally eaten raw–such as lettuce or celery– do not tend to freeze well.  Those foods that are generally eaten after cooking–such as green beans or corn– do freeze well. Cooking foods also breaks down cell walls, so cooked foods will have a similar texture to those frozen and then thawed.

Any of the above mentioned foods would not be unsafe to freeze, that is, you will not cause anyone to become ill from eating foods that do not freeze well.  You will NOT enjoy the texture and possibly flavor of those foods.

Some foods can lose flavor after freezing.  Onions stored in the freezer will lose their characteristic flavor over time, while garlic will become strong and bitter.

Remember if you have any questions about freezing food; don’t hesitate to contact us at AnswerLine.







Food Preservation, Food Safety

Transporting food to family gatherings.

July 16th, 2015

We sure get a lot of calls at AnswerLine with folks headed out to a family celebration.  Often times they are going to help with a graduation or wedding shower.  They may be traveling anywhere from 2 to 6 hours with the food.  Usually they understand that cold food must be kept cold (below 40° F.) and hot food must remain hot (above 140° F.)  These conditions can be difficult to maintain.

We often offer several solutions to the problem.

  • Bring the ingredients along and prepare the food at the destination.
  • Make the food at home and keep on ice for the entire trip—this works well with potato salad or other salads that are time consuming to prepare.
  • Make the food ahead and freeze it, bake it upon arrival at your destination. Of course this works best for dishes such as casseroles.

Don’t hesitate to contact us with these sorts of questions.  We love to help folks think creatively about how to transport food for celebrations or just to share something special.



Stuck Again!

July 13th, 2015

PirateI can’t believe that it happened to me again.  I got my finger stuck with Super Glue.  I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a problem with Super glue: this is a problem that callers often ask about.

This morning I was trying to glue one of my grandsons’ toys back together.  The foot on one of the pirates from Peter Pan’s pirate ship was almost broken off and I thought I should glue it before the grandkids come for another visit.  I was extra careful with the super glue because years ago I managed to glue my thumbs and index fingers together and had to have the neighbor come over to rescue me.  I was being very careful this time.  The first bottle of glue I found in the junk drawer was old and dried up.  Squeezing as hard as I could did not help get any glue out of the container.  I rummaged around and found another tube and gave it a healthy squeeze.  This tube was not dry and I had a large drop come out of the tube.  I used the back of my thumb nail to press the pirate’s foot up.  I thought that this would prevent any glued fingers.  Unfortunately, glue ran over the foot and down my thumb.  Now the nail was glued to the skin underneath the nail.  Fortunately for me, I did have a large bottle of finger nail polish remover that contained acetone.  This is one of the products recommended for removal of super glue.  Super glue can be removed with fingernail polish remover, acetone, super glue remover, or goof off.

You may need to soak your finger directly in one of these products—as I did this morning.  For removal of lighter glue stains, a cotton ball or Q tip soaked in remover will work.



Jam and Jelly problems?

July 9th, 2015

Late spring is jam and jelly season at AnswerLine. We get lots of calls this time of year from folks wondering what went wrong. I’ve listed some of the more common problems and their causes for jam and jelly.

Sugar crystals in my jelly:

  • You may have used more sugar than the recipe listed.
  • There might have been undissolved grains of sugar on the sides of the pan that washed into the jelly while ladling into the jars.
  • Overcooking the jam or jelly by cooking too long.
  • Doubling or tripling the batch.
  • Crystals could be tartrate crystals—these are found in grape juice that has not been allowed to settle and strained.

Bubbles in my jelly:

  • Trapped air in the jelly—remember to skim foam before filling jars.
  • Fill jars quickly to prevent partial gelling before jars are filled.
  • Bubbles may be an indication of spoiling. If the bubbles are moving discard.

Jam or Jelly did not set:

  • You may have overcooked the fruit while extracting the juice or used too much water in this part of the process.
  • You may not have measured the ingredients accurately—or doubled the recipe.
  • You may not have cooked the jam or jelly quite long enough.
  • You may have moved the jam or jelly before it had a chance to set up in the jars.
  • Or, the jam or jelly may need several weeks to set up properly.

Jam or Jelly seems to be weeping:

  • There may be extra acid in the juice that made the pectin unstable.
  • You may be storing the jam or jelly in a place that is too warm.

My Jam or Jelly seems to be darker than I expected:

  • You may have boiled the jam or jelly too long or cooked it too slowly.

The jam or jelly may have been stored in a place that is too hot

My Jelly is cloudy:

  • You may have used fruit that is under ripe.
  • You may have squeezed the juice bag while straining the juice from the fruit. Just let the juice drip out next time.
  • You may have waited too long to place the jam or jelly in the jar. Ladle it into jars before it begins to set up.

My Jam or Jelly is too stiff:

  • You may have overcooked the jam or jelly.
  • The fruit you used may have too much pectin in it—remember to use ripe fruit.

Remember to call us for directions to remake jams or jellies that do not gel properly. We love to be able help.


Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Mold Cleanup in the Home

July 6th, 2015

IMG_2951Last time we discussed detection and prevention of mold growth in the home environment. What if you have detected mold and need to get rid of it?  Here are some steps you can take to clean, disinfect, and remove mold:

  • Dry all surfaces quickly; mold will grow within about two days.
  • Anyone spending more than a brief time cleaning mold should use a HEPA filter mask and gloves.
  • Porous materials should be discarded or completely decontaminated if they are moldy. Materials such as hard plastic, glass and metal can be cleaned and disinfected.
  • Remove the mold using a non-ammonia soap or detergent and scrubbing with a wet sponge or cloth. Never mix bleach and ammonia. Surfaces should be rinsed and allowed to dry after cleaning, as quickly as possible. Surfaces from which the mold cannot be completely removed should be treated with enough chlorine bleach to keep the surface moist for at least 15 minutes, rinsed and then rapidly dried.
  • Disinfect to kill mold spores after surfaces have dried by applying a solution of ¼ cup chlorine bleach per gallon of water or one tablespoon of bleach to a quart of water if you prefer to use a spray bottle or you have a small area to treat. Thoroughly wet the surface to be treated with the bleach solution and leave the solution to dry. There is no need to rinse the bleach solution as it will kill the mold spores within 10-15 minutes and the bleach will dissipate after drying.
  • *Important note: Bleach has a shelf life of six months, so be sure to use fresh bleach in your solution.
  • Other products that kill mold are biocides. These biocides have Environmental Protection Agency registration numbers on the bottle and instructions for the intended application.

Make sure that you have located the source of the moisture responsible for the mold growth and have taken steps to remedy the problem.  If the water source is not stopped the mold will regrow even after disinfection.

For information on mold removal from specific products and surfaces see the publication by North Dakota State University Extension Service, Molds in Your Home. https://www.sdstate.edu/sdces/districts/north/1/browncounty/upload/homemolds.pdf


Cleaning, Home Environment

Prevention and Detection of Molds in Your Home

July 2nd, 2015

moldHere at AnswerLine we receive many calls about mold in the home. It’s very common especially in the humid midwest summer months. Mold exposure may cause health problems; it’s not safe to live in a house with high mold levels.

Molds can usually be detected by a musty odor, and discoloration of surfaces is common with mold growth. Colors can include white, green, brown, black or orange. If you see or smell mold, you have a problem. Reliable sampling for mold can be expensive since it requires special equipment and training. Testing is not generally recommended as a first step, but instead finding the source of the moisture and controlling it and cleaning existing mold to remedy the problem.

Molds need moisture to grow.  Water leaks, flooding, high relative humidity and condensation are all situations that increase the growth of mold, and it can develop almost anywhere in a home.  There are measures you can take to prevent mold growth in your home. Most of these steps involve moisture reduction.

Mold Prevention:

  • Cleaning, disinfecting and drying surfaces prevent mold growth. Mold will grow on damp surfaces within a couple days at normal temperatures.
  • Reduce moisture levels in the bathroom by running an exhaust fan during and after showers.
  • Fix plumbing leaks and seepage to prevent the buildup of moisture and prevent the growth of molds.
  • Store clothing dry and clean to prevent the growth of mold on clothes.
  • Reduce humidity levels with the use of dehumidifiers and air conditioning when humidity levels are high.
  • Increase the flow of air within your home. Moving furniture away from walls and opening closet doors to permit air circulation limits the growth of molds.
  • Prevent condensation. Insulating walls and installing storm or thermal pane windows keeps walls warm and limits condensation.

For more detailed information on mold prevention in the home check out NDSU Extension Service’s Keep Your Home Healthy website.

Stay tuned next time – we’ll discuss mold CLEANUP in the home.

jill sig

Cleaning, Home Environment

Spring Laundry Challenges

June 29th, 2015

Spring can bring some interesting laundry problems.  Here is some help if you come in contact with some of these stains.

  • Removing pollen from clothing.

Pollen from plants can be very difficult to remove from your clothing.  If you notice that you have some pollen on your clothing don’t try to brush it off with your hand.  Instead use scotch or masking tape to lift it off the fibers. Brushing off the pollen by hand can set the stain.  If you have a stain rub liquid laundry detergent into the stain and launder in as warm water as is safe for the fabric.  If color remains use a bleach solution for white clothes or color safe bleach for colored clothes.

  • Perspiration stains

To remove perspiration stains apply liquid laundry detergent on the stains or soak in warm water with an enzyme presoak (Axion, Biz or Clorox 2) according to package directions.  If it is on a white t- shirt you could put salt on the stained area then squeeze fresh lemon juice on the salt.  Put it in the sun and allow to dry.

  • Mud and grass stains

Mud is a protein stain and needs cold water to remove.  Try rubbing the fabric against itself under cold running water to dislodge the mud.  If hot water is used first it cooks the protein, causing it to coagulate between the fibers in the yarns of the fabric, making it more difficult to remove.  If you also have a grass stain you treat the mud first then when the mud is removed use a pre-treater or liquid detergent to rub into the stain.  Allow 10-15 minutes for it to start breaking up the grass stain then rinse under hot water in your sink while rubbing the fabric together.  Pretreat again before washing as usual.   If the stain is not completely removed you can soak white items in a diluted bleach solution or colored ones in color safe bleach.

  • Tar stains

Tar stains are treated as a combination stain.  First you remove the oily/waxy portion of the stain by using a dry-cleaning solvent (Aerosol Shout, Spray’n Wash or K2R Spot Lifter) or stain stick and allow it to work to break up the stain for 10-15 minutes.  Then rub with a liquid laundry detergent and scrub in hot water.   If it is not completely removed rub liquid detergent into the stain again before washing.

With all stains check to be sure the stain was removed before putting in the dryer.  The heat from the dryer can set stains and make them almost impossible to remove.  Get out and enjoy the outdoors knowing that even if you get a few stains we can help you get them out!

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Laundry, Textiles