Keep It or Toss It?

January 26th, 2015

usebydatenewHere at AnswerLine, we get a lot of calls regarding food dates on labels and how long different foods can be safely stored. This can be very confusing to most people!

There are several different kinds of dates that are used by food processing companies such as:

Use-By, Best if Used By, Best Before, Sell-By, Expires On, and more!can date

What do these all mean? Most of these are quality-based dates from the manufacturers.

  • Use-By, Best if Used By, Best By, Best Before: These “use-by” and “best” dates are generally found on shelf-stable products such as ketchup, salad dressings, and peanut butter. After the “use by” or “best” date has passed, you may start to notice changes in the unopened product’s texture, color, or flavor. But as long as you’ve stored the unopened item properly, you can generally safely consume it after the date has passed.You should always examine the product to gauge the quality after the date. Discard foods that have developed an off odor, flavor or appearance. You can also call us here at AnswerLine if you have questions on what to keep or toss. The date, which is voluntarily provided by the manufacturer, tells you how long the product is likely to remain at its absolute best quality when unopened. But according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, it is not a safety date.

 

  • Sell-By: Most sell-by dates are found on perishables like meat, seafood, poultry and milk. The date is for stores to know how long they can display a particular product. You should buy a product before the sell-by date expires.  But you can still store it at home for some time beyond that date, as long as you follow safe storage procedures.For example, milk that has been continuously refrigerated can be consumed for about a week after the “sell-by” date on the carton.  Likewise, you can store ground beef in your refrigerator for one to two days after you bring it home, even if the sell-by date expires during that time.

 

  • Expires On: The only place you’re likely to see this type of date is on baby formula and some baby foods, which are the only food products the federal government regulates with regard to dating. Always use the product before this expiration date has passed.

 

  • Packing Codes: These codes, which appear as a series of letters and/or numbers on the package, sometimes indicate the date or time of manufacture. Often though they appear as meaningless jumble. Either way, packing codes help manufacturers and grocers rotate their stock and quickly locate products in the event of a recall. But they are not meant to be interpreted as an indicator of either food quality or safety.

 

  • Open Dates: Open dating (use of a calendar date as opposed to a code) on a food product is a date stamped on a product’s package to help the store determine how long to display the product for sale. It can also help the purchaser know the time limit to purchase or use the product at it’s best quality.  It is not a safety date.

To summarize, most dates on foods are a manufacturer’s estimation of peak quality and the product can be safely eaten past that date.  For more specific information about a specific food storage time or for food safety information, call us here at AnswerLine or visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service web site.

 

 

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition

Storing Whole Grains

January 22nd, 2015

Many of us are preparing more foods with whole grains these days.  Whole grains require more careful storage than regular all purpose flour.  Since whole grains contain the healthy oils in the germ of the grain it is more sensitive to heat, light and moisture.   Once they are brought home from the store they should be stored in either the refrigerator or freezer to maintain their freshness.

Whole grains can be purchased as either whole intact grains or whole grain flours and meals.  Wheat berries and brown rice are examples of whole intact grains.  They last longer than flour because they still have the protective coating of the grain kernel which keeps it from oxidizing as quickly.   Just like flours and meals they will keep longer if stored in air tight containers.   It is good advice to buy what you can use within 2-3 months.

Since each type of grain varies in fat content the Whole Grains Council has put together a chart to help you with how long they can be stored.  Remember to look at dates on the packages to find the freshest whole grains to bring home.

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If you are new to using whole grains start by substituting 1/4 to 1/2 of the all purpose flour for a whole grain variety.  Enjoy the health benefits of whole grains!

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Food Preservation, Nutrition

Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

January 19th, 2015

 

Here in the upper Midwest plumbers have been busy with the recent cold snap. When the temperature plummets, the risk of pipes freezing goes up. In fact frozen pipes are one of the most common causes of property damage during frigid weather and can cause thousands of dollars in water damage for the home or business owner, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.  Pipes that freeze most frequently are those in unheated interior spaces such as basement, attics, and garages.  But pipes that run through your cabinets or that are against an exterior wall are also at risk. Here’s some advice from the American Red Cross on how to prevent your pipes from freezing as well as how to thaw them if they do.

FREEZING PIPE PREVENTIONIMG_1412

During the cold weather months, take measures inside to keep your pipes warm and water running. Some may conflict with your desire to conserve water and heat, but the extra expense is nothing compared to a hefty repair bill.  Here’s what to do.

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. (If you have small children, be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals.)
  • Let the cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe-even at a trickle-helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night.
  • If you plan to be away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55 ⁰ F.
  • For the long term, add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in those areas.

THAWING FROZEN PIPES

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, you probably have a frozen pipe.  Likely places for frozen pipes include those against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.  If the water is still running, you can take the following steps but if you suspect a more serious problem, call a plumber.

  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, chances are others are frozen too.
  • If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen section is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.

If you need supplemental heat, you can add a space heater to a room where pipes may be at risk.

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Consumer Management, Home Environment, Household Equipment, Winter

Preventing Falls at Home

January 15th, 2015

This time of year when you hear of people falling most likely you are thinking it is from icy sidewalks.  Each year though thousands of older Americans fall inside the home.  According to the National Council on Aging one in three older Americans falls every year.   Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65+.  The elderly are not the only ones at risk for falling.  All of us including small children can be injured.

There are several things that can be done to help prevent falls.

  • Establish an exercise routine. Regular exercise helps improve strength and balance.
  • Make sure that you have your vision checked yearly. If your vision is not clear it can cause an increase in falls.
  • Wear shoes both inside and outside. Slippers and socks can sometimes have slippery soles.
  • Get up slowly after you have been sitting or lying down.
  • Go over all medication that you are taking with your doctor or pharmacist. Some can make you dizzy or sleepy without you realizing it.
  • Make sure that the lighting in the room is adequate. If there are dark areas it may lead to tripping over something that has been left on the floor.
  • Make sure if there are throw rugs that they have a non-slip backing so they don’t move when they are stepped on.
  • Keep unnecessary items off of the floor. Magazines, books, blankets as well as other items should always be picked up.
  • Make sure items are stored where they can be easily reached. If you must use a step stool make sure that it is steady and that a chair is never used.
  • Be sure that there are grab bars in a bathroom when needed by the shower, tub or toilet. If a shower or tub is slippery use a non-slip bath mat.
  • Use a night light so that you can see where you are walking at night when it is dark. Many now automatically come on by themselves when it gets dark.

With a few simple changes in a home falls can be prevented for not only older relatives but young ones as well.

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Cleaning, Consumer Management, Home Environment, Household Equipment, Housing

Winter Window Condensation

January 12th, 2015

humidityDo you have problems in the winter with dry skin and nasal passages?  Is there condensation forming on your windows?  In the winter when our houses are sealed tight the humidity level can lead to winter moisture problems.  According to Ken Hellevang, an agricultural engineer with the North Dakota State University Extension Service,” a relative humidity of 30 to 40 percent is considered optimum during the winter”.

“Window condensation is one way to tell if the humidity level is off in your house.  If the inside temperature is 70 degrees and the relative humidity is 35 percent, moisture condenses on single-pane windows at 30 degrees”, Hellevang says.  “With double-pane windows, condensations will form at temperatures below zero.  With three layers of glass, condensation will not form until outdoor temperatures are about 40 degrees below zero”, he says.

Condensation will form at higher temperatures if air leakage cools the window surface.  If you have cracks in the windows they should be fixed or at least taped to help seal the air leakage.  Use weather stripping or caulk any areas around windows and doors where there are noticeable leaks.  Even installing plastic thermal covering on windows will reduce air leakage which will commonly contribute to condensation problems.

A few practical tips to help you stay warm and eliminate mold formation include:

  • Open the drapes on sunny days. This will let in the warmth during the day. Closing them at night will help to retain the heat. Make sure that it is not a tight seal to allow for air circulation which will help keep mold from forming on your windows.
  • Make sure that your furniture is away from the heat registers to allow for air circulation in your house. Also keep some space between the walls and the furniture for air circulation. If the walls are not insulated well the temperature difference between outside and inside can cause moisture to develop and could cause mold to grow on the walls.
  • Closed closet doors can also be a problem . If you start to notice mold growth on outside walls leave the closet doors open to allow for heat to enter and air to circulate.

Watching your homes humidity will keep your house comfortable, help you save energy and keep mold from growing and causing health and structure problems.  Remember changes made to improve your homes energy efficiency will also have a positive impact.

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Consumer Management, Home Environment, Housing, Winter

Safe Ice Melting this Winter

January 8th, 2015

slippery sidewalksWinter snow and ice can be harmful to people trying to walk or drive but they can also be harmful to the environment.  Deicing agents can improve sidewalk, driveway and road conditions but they can also damage cement, cars and plants.  Using the correct deicer in the correct amount is important for the life of your sidewalks, driveways, lawns and plants.

Deicing agents work by lowering the freezing point of water below 32 degrees F.  These materials are salts and include sodium chloride (NaCl), calcium chloride (CaCl₂), potassium chloride (KCl), and magnesium chloride (MgCl₂).  Each of these products works at different temperatures and with different speeds.  Read the package directions to make sure the product is safe for where you want to use it.  Sodium and calcium chloride can damage newly poured concrete and should also not be used on brick or stone surfaces.  Abrasive materials like sand do not melt ice or snow but do provide traction when walking or driving on snow and ice.

Here are some tips for using ice removers correctly:

  • Remove as much snow or ice as you can before applying a melting product. The products should not be used instead of a shovel for large amounts of snow.
  • If applied before ice accumulates it is most effective. It is much easier to prevent ice from forming than to try and melt a thick layer. This is why you often see the roads coated before a storm is expected.
  • Avoid piling snow and ice that has been treated around trees and shrubs. When the ground starts to thaw in early spring, heavily water the areas where salt may accumulate over the winter. This should help flush the salt from the root zones of the plants.
  • Deicers can be used with sand. This will provide melting and provide for better traction when walking on the surface.
  • Be sure and buy deicers early in the season so you have it when you need it.
  • If an ice storm is predicted, try covering small areas with heavy plastic or other waterproof materials. This will give you an area where the ice is not allowed to form.

Use caution when dealing with ice and snow this winter.  Follow these tips to avoid nasty falls or damage to your plants next spring from using deicing agents.

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Horticulture, Travel, Winter

Suede Shoe Care

January 5th, 2015

 

CARE OF SUEDE SHOES IMG_1047

It seems that every winter, I get those nasty salt lines on my suede leather shoes and boots from the salt used to combat ice on sidewalks and streets. Prevention is the best method, but there are ways to clean these unsightly stains to have your shoes back in top shape and looking great again.

Here are a few tips on caring for your leather footwear from the Shoe Service Institute of America:

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Water Proofing: The key to keeping suede and nubuck in top condition is preventative maintenance.  Before you wear them in sloppy weather, spray the footwear with a water-repellant coating, (found at shoe or department stores), to prevent stains from occurring.  Check the label to be sure the spray is designed for suede and nubuck and be sure to allow time for the spray to dry before you wear the shoes.  You may have to retreat the shoes with the spray over time if you notice that water is no longer beading up on the surface.

 

Brushing: Use a plastic or rubber-tipped brush regularly to restore the nap and remove surface dirt before it sets in. Be gentle brushing nubuck.  It is softer than suede and is easily damaged.  With oiled nubuck, use a nubuck conditioner to replace some of those oils on a regular basis.

Stain Removal: If you get a stain on suede or nubuck, try to remove it immediately with a solvent-based cleaner made specifically for the material.  Oil absorbing blocks are also available. These blocks abrade the leather to bring back the nap and remove stains.  Use a less aggressive block with nubuck because of its more delicate nature.  You can also rub off overall dirt with a very soft eraser, or just lightly sand away stains with an emery board.  With more serious stains, you might be better off taking the shoe to a shoe repair professional.

With suede you can’t use oil based cleaners as they will stain the suede more than the salt. To clean pesky salt lines from suede shoes, try a mild blend of 1 teaspoon each of dish washing detergent and fabric softener in two cups of warm water. First brush the suede with a shoe brush to loosen and remove any salt and dirt that may be removed. Spray some of the solution on evenly over the suede and lightly brush it in. Wide off with a cloth dampened with clean water.

 

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Stuff the shoes with crumpled newspaper to help retain their shape. Allow to dry then rub the suede with light sand paper to recover the texture.

 

 

With a little care and maintenance, your suede shoes will retain their beauty for a long time.

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Cleaning, Home Environment, Textiles, Winter

KEEN ON QUINOA

January 1st, 2015

KEEN ON QUINOA                                              

 

While training for races in the last couple of years, I started incorporating quinoa into my diet for its nutritional value and ease of preparation and absolutely love it. If you’re like most people, you have no idea what quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is, let alone how to pronounce it. Quinoa is a nutritious seed that serves as a whole grain. It can be used as a hot cereal or side dish, as a cold salad similar to pasta salad, or it can be used in recipes in place of rice or other grains.

Quinoa facts:

  • Quinoa is native to the Andean region of South America.
  • The quinoa plant produces seeds that come in different colors, including black, red, and ivory (sometimes called white or yellow).
  • Quinoa naturally produces a bitter pest resistance substance, so it can be grown without the use of pesticides. The quinoa seeds are soaked and rinsed several times before being packaged for sale to eliminate the bitter, soapy flavor.
  • Quinoa is naturally gluten-free so can be used as a substitute for whole grains that contain gluten and can be a great way for people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy to add variety to their diet.
  • Compared with other common grains, quinoa provides higher amounts of many nutrients as shown in Table 1 below. (United States Department of Agriculture, Release 26)
  • Quinoa is one of the few plant foods that is a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids.

Table 1.     Nutrient comparison for common grains (1 cup cooked)

Quinoa Couscous Long-grain white rice Barley
Protein (g) 8.1 3.3 4.3 3.6
Dietary Fiber (g) 5.2 1.2 0.6 6
Calcium (mg) 31 7 16 17
Magnesium (mg) 118 7 19 35
Zinc (mg) 2.0 0.2 0.8 1.3
Thiamin (mg) 0.2 0.05 0.26 0.1
Folate (mg) 78 13 153 25
Riboflavin (mg) 0.2 0.05 0.02 0.1
Vitamin E (mg) 1.2 0.1 0.06 0.02

 

Storing and Preparing Quinoa:

Quinoa can be store at room temperature in its original packaging, but it should be used before its “best by” date. The seed form of quinoa can be used as a replacement for rice, couscous, or pasta in a one-to-one ratio. Quinoa is prepared much like rice with one part dry seed to two parts liquid. Water or broth can be used to cook quinoa; simply add seeds and liquid to a pot and heat on high.  Once a rolling boil is reached, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.

Here are some delicious recipe ideas for quinoa from Tufts University:

Quinoa Salad With Mediterranean Flavors

 

Combine quinoa, water and 1/8 tsp salt in medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat until quinoa is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Transfer to large bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile, bring large saucepan of water to a boil. Add green beans and cook until crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold running water.

Whisk lemon zest, lemon juice, shallot, pepper, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil.

Add cherry tomatoes, olives, parsley, chives, and green beans to quinoa. Add lemon dressing; toss to coat. Salad will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. If you would like to make it the day before, store the blanched green beans separately and toss them into salad shortly before serving (the acid in the dressing causes green beans to discolor).

Yield: 6 (generous 3/4-cup) servings

Per serving: Calories: 209. Total fat: 13 grams. Saturated fat: 2 grams. Cholesterol: 0 milligrams. Sodium: 261 milligrams. Carbohydrates: 21 grams: Fiber: 3 grams. Protein: 4 grams.

Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup Quinoa
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups green beans, stem ends trimmed, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped shallot
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 pinch pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup Kalmata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives

 In summary, quinoa is a delicious food that counts as a whole grain and can add variety and essential nutrients to your diet; especially protein, fiber, calcium, and magnesium. It’s simple to prepare and can be enjoyed at breakfast as a hot cereal or with other meals as a hot or cold side dish.

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Food Preparation, Nutrition, recipes

New Year and Resolutions

December 29th, 2014

 

As the New Year approaches, many of us think of things we would like to change in our lives. There are many different approaches to making New Year’s resolutions.

It is tempting to consider making drastic lifestyle changes to accomplish a major goal as quickly as possible. This may not be the most effective strategy; instead, consider making small, manageable steps. If you are not already a subscriber, consider looking at some of the other Iowa State University Extension and Outreach blogs for ways to improve your life.  Spend Smart. Eat Smart can help you with healthy eating while getting the most for your food dollar. The Science of Parenting blog can help if you have resolved to be the best parent you can be.  If budgeting or overspending are on your mind, look at Money Tip$.  The Eco Family  blog will help you lead a “greener” lifestyle.  Of course, the SafeFood blog is a special favorite of AnswerLine as this blog has information about keeping the food in your home safe to eat.

Resolve to check out all of these blogs for tips on leading a smarter, healthier life in 2015

Happy New Year from the AnswerLine staff.

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Child Development, Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition, recipes

Merry Christmas

December 25th, 2014

Christmas

Remember to keep that milk cold or set it out less than two hours before you expect to see  Santa. Happy Holidays from the AnswerLine staff.FE4A7395F74D75DAF68D70AF51D28FD2s signature - Copy

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Food Safety, Holiday ideas