Are my old cans still safe to eat?

September 29th, 2014

One of the questions we hear a lot at AnswerLine is: How long can I keep cans of food? Often, these callers are doing some spring cleaning or moving an elderly relative into a new home. They discover a number of cans that are several years old and wonder if it is still safe to use those cans.

photo 4The way cans are stored will affect the life of the food inside the cans. If foods are stored in a cool, dry place with a stable temperature they will last longer than cans stored in places where the temperature fluctuates widely. Damp storage areas can cause the can to rust which will also shorten the shelf life of the can.

Acidic foods, like fruits, have a shorter shelf life than low acid foods such as meat or vegetables. Dented, swollen, or rusty cans are an indication that the food inside the container is no longer safe to consume. This may also be an indication that the botulism bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, are present. Even a tiny exposure to these bacteria could be deadly. Discard these cans safely, in a spot where no other person or animal will be tempted to eat the food.

I was surprised to find this can in my own pantry.  The best if used by date was February 15, 2010.  Generally speaking, commercially canned food will be at good quality for photo 22-5 years after the best if used by date.  This can was peach pie filling, so the acidic nature of the filling shortened the shelf life of the product. We would advise you to use home canned foods within the first year or two at the most.

If the lid or inside of the can appears corroded when you open it, the food inside should still be safe to eat. Acid foods can cause this reaction during storage time. The taste, nutrition, and texture of foods will decline over long storage times. Remember to bring the older cans to the front of the shelf as you put groceries away after a shopping trip. This kind of inventory control can help prevent food waste.








Food Safety

Freezing Garden Herbs

September 25th, 2014

Freezing Garden Herbs

We talked about drying herbs in the last blog.  But did you know you can successfully freeze herbs with great results?  Freezing is an excellent way to preserve tender herbs, such as dill, chives, parsley, and tarragon. It is very easy to freeze herbs, and it takes much less time than drying.

While it is possible to place herbs right out of the garden into the freezer, the quality in terms of taste and color will not be quite like fresh herbs; slightly bitter flavors and drab grayish-green colors are common. Frozen herbs can be improved by blanching before freezing. They still will not taste and look quite like fresh herbs, but they will come very close. They are best used frozen, but frozen herbs can be thawed in the refrigerator; they will keep approximately one week.

To freeze fresh herbs:

  •  Rinse freshly picked herbs.Blanch for a few seconds using the following method:
  •  Hold the herbs by their stems with tongs,
  •  Dip them in boiling water briefly; swish around a bit.
  •  When their color brightens, remove them from water.
  •  Cool, either by holding them under running water and then blotting dry with paper towels; or by placing them on towels after taking them from the boiling water to let them air cool.
  •  Remove stems, chop, if desired or leave in whole leaves to chop later.

Freeze in one of several ways:
1)Place in small plastic freezer bags in amounts that will be used at one time.
imagesfreezing2)Place in ice cube trays and cover with water; repackage into freezer bags when frozen. (Note: if boiling water is used to cover herbs, the cover not only protects the herbs from expo sure to the air, it also blanches them at the same time.)
To make it easier to separate herbs, lay the dried herbs out in a single layer on wax paper. Roll or fold the paper so that there is a layer of paper separating each layer of herb. Then, pack, paper and all, in freezer bags or wrap in freezer-rated plastic wrap. To use, break off as much as is needed, and chop if it wasn’t chopped earlier.


These can be used in cooked dishes. These usually are not suitable for garnish, as the frozen product becomes limp when it thaws.

Happy freezing!!


 jill sig



Drying Herbs

September 22nd, 2014

herbs-pots-garden-decorations-33439875Drying Fresh Garden Herbs

Whether you grow herbs in your garden or landscape or have a few pots growing, most herbs can be harvested, dried and stored for use during the winter months. By preserving these flavorful seasonings, you can enjoy them well into the winter months.

Many herbs, such as basil, rosemary, and sage, are harvested for their leaves. Gather these when the flowers are about to open. The oils in the leaves, which give the herbs their distinctive flavors and aroma are at their maximum levels at this stage of growth. Remove approximately 1/3 of the current year’s growth on perennial herbs. Annual herbs can be cut completely back. Most herbs can be harvested in midsummer and again in the fall.

Harvest herbs early in the morning, after the dew has evaporated and before the sun becomes too hot. After harvesting, rinse the herbs in cool water.  Next place them on paper toweling to dry.  Then dry them using one of the following methods:

herbs-hanging-drying-parsley-sage-rosemary-thyme-string-line-ladybird-pegs-over-marble-background-34354607Air Drying is the most popular method used to dry herbs.  To dry whole branches or stems, gather 8-12 stems in a bunch. Tie the ends of the stems together and hang each bunch upside down in a warm (70 – 80 F) dry area, not in direct sunlight. The herbs should be dry in 2-4 weeks.  After drying, crush or crumble the leaves and store in airtight jars in a cool, dry place.

Drying Tray A drying tray consists of a mesh screen or cheesecloth attached to a wooden frame.  A small window screen also works well. Place blocks under the corners of the frying tray to insure good air circulation.  Place a single layer of leaves or branches on the drying surface and keep stock-photo-21254192-herbsthe herbs in a warm, dry area until they are thoroughly dry.

Oven To oven dry herbs, spread in a single layer of leaves or stems on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Place the herbs in a warm, not hot, (up to 180 F) oven for 3 – 4 hours. Leave the door open and stir the herbs periodically until they are thoroughly dry.

Microwave Place the herbs on a paper towel and cover with a second sheet.  Set the microwave control on high and dry the herbs for 1-3 minutes. (This method requires some experimentation to determine exact drying time.) Then remove the herbs and let them cool.

Some herbs, such as dill, caraway, and coriander, are valued for their seed. The seed heads should be harvested just before they turn brown so that the seeds don’t fall off while cutting.  Cut off the entire head and place in a paper bag.  Then place the bags in a warm, dry area.  After drying, shake the seeds loose into the bag.  Remove any chaff by pouring from one container to another outside in a gentle wind.

Use your dried herbs all year long to flavor your soups, stews, casseroles, meats, etc. Happy Drying!

jill sig









How do I know if it is a jam or a jelly?

September 18th, 2014

pepper jelly

It seems that we speak to people making fruit spreads all summer long. It starts when rhubarb and strawberries are ripe and continues into the fall.  The terminology of fruit spreads can be confusing so here is a simple explanation of the variety of products that can be made from fruit.

  1.  Jelly—possibly the most popular product for home food preservation. Jelly is made from fruit juice, sugar, and pectin. Jelly is somewhat clear and translucent with a bright color. The sugar in jelly is what preserves it, thus it is an important ingredient. Jelly should form a thick enough jel to “jiggle” when shaken, yet tender enough jel to spread on bread or toast.
  2. Jam –probably the second most popular product for our callers. Jam is a thick, sweet spread made with the whole fruit. Often the fruit is chopped or crushed. Jam will be spreadable but somewhat thicker than jelly.
  3. Preserves—these are made from whole fruit or chopped pieces of fruit. The fruit is plump and tender surrounded by somewhat thickened, clear syrup.
  4. Conserves—have a consistency more like a jam and often include nuts and dried fruits along with the fresh fruit.
  5. Marmalades—are soft jellies that contain bits or pieces of fruit and fruit peels. Often they are made of citrus fruits.


Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Nutrition

Tips for Storing Furits and Vegetables

September 15th, 2014

fridgeAre you wondering what should be stored in the drawers of your refrigerator?  It is important to know how to best use them to keep your produce at top quality for as long as possible!

Refrigerator drawers are designed to help you adjust the humidity level so it can be different from the rest of the refrigerator.  Many drawers have a control that allows you to increase or decrease the air flow coming into them.  Less air flow means higher humidity.  Since different produce require different levels of humidity it allows you to tailor the drawer to the produce inside and it will last longer.

Here are a few tips to store your fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator:

  1. Vegetables typically like high humidity and fruits like lower humidity.
  2. Leafy greens like high humidity (85-95%) and cold temperatures(32-40°F).   This includes lettuce, spinach, chard, collards, mustard greens and watercress. Bulbs like green onions, leaks and endive should also be stored here.
  3. Apples, grapes, cherries, apricots, nectarines and other tree fruits like less humidity and cold temperatures (32-35°F).
  4. Don’t put ripe fruits and veggies in the same crisper drawer since fruits give off ethylene gas.   Apple, pears, plums, cantaloupes and peaches are all high-ethylene producers. This can cause green vegetables to turn yellow, lettuce to get rust colored spots, potatoes to sprout and carrots to turn bitter.
  5. Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruit can be stored in the main part of your refrigerator since they prefer even less humidity.
  6. Some fruits and vegetables do better outside of the refrigerator. Tomatoes, potatoes and onions prefer a cool, dark, dry place. (65-70°F).
  7. Wash your fruits and vegetables before eating, not before storing them.

By storing your foods properly you save money since your fruits and vegetables will remain fresh as long as possible!

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Food Preservation, Food Safety, Household Equipment

Storing Garden Vegetables

September 11th, 2014

tomato plantIt’s time to think about harvesting vegetables as the gardening season winds down. After you have spent hours choosing seed, planting, weeding, and watering your garden it only makes sense to store the vegetables carefully. You have many options for storing vegetables. Canning, freezing and drying are not your only choices. Many vegetables benefit from moist storage in a cool, dark area. If you are fortunate enough to have basement storage that can be heated without being overheated, you can build shelves and bins for vegetables. A small room that can be insulated from the rest of the basement with shelves and separate ventilation works even better. Plans for such a room are available.



Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Canning Tomato Sauce

September 8th, 2014

tomato plantIt’s that time of year again, more tomatoes than I can possibly use in salads and BLTs.  I do like to freeze some whole but it is also nice to have some home preserved tomato sauce too. There are many variations of tomato sauce recipes that are safe, tested, and research based. Some of these recipes must be processed  with a pressure canner so be sure to check the recipe before you begin to be sure you have the proper equipment.

There are also recipes for canning tomato juice, “V 8″ style juice,  and  catsup or other sauces. None of the recipes are very difficult so you can truly enjoy the bounty of your garden all winter long. You can even make a tomato jam if you still have tomatoes left after making all of the other recipes listed above.

Remember we are always glad to answer questions about home food preserving.  Give us a call Monday through Friday from 9-11 and 1-4.


Food Preservation, recipes

Easy Roasted Vegetable Recipe

September 4th, 2014

veggiesRoasted vegetables are one of my favorite foods. This time of year it is really easy to roast vegetables on the grill. Any vegetable fresh from the garden is enhanced by this slow cooking method that caramelizes the natural sugars present. Vegetables can be roasted in the oven any time the grill is not a convenient option.  Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website has a great recipe for oven roasted vegetables.

Vegetables can be roasted individually–think fresh roasted asparagus stalks, or in a combination–think potatoes, onions, carrots and mushrooms.  Remember to cut the vegetables in uniform sized pieces so that all the vegetables will cook evenly.


Enjoy some roasted vegetables tonight!


Food Preparation, Nutrition, recipes

Freezing applesauce

September 1st, 2014

freezing appleasuce

Last fall the apple trees were packed with an abundance of apples. Even though I don’t have a tree myself I was lucky enough that Liz, my co-worker shared her apples with me! I used the majority of them to make and freeze applesauce for my family.

The best applesauce is made with apples that are sweet, juicy and crisp. If you like a tarter flavor, try adding 1 to 2 pounds of tart apples to each 3 pounds of sweeter apples.   Simply wash, peel and core the apples. To prevent them from turning dark you can put them in a solution of ½ cup lemon juice per ½ gallon of water as you peel them. Then when you have enough that you are ready to start cooking, place them in an 8 to 10 quart pot. Add ½ cup water, and stir occasionally to prevent them from burning. Heat them quickly and cook until the apples are tender (5 to 20 minutes), depending on the maturity and variety. If you like smooth applesauce, press the cooked mixture through a sieve or food mill. If you like chunky-style sauce you are ready to taste. If desired, you can add 1/8 cup sugar per quart of sauce. Taste and add more if needed. My apples were so sweet additional sugar wasn’t needed!

I have found that using freezer bags is a very easy and space saving way to store applesauce in the freezer. I used quart freezer bags since this was a reasonable amount for our family to eat. When the applesauce is completely cooled simply lay the bags flat and you can stack them on top of each other in the freezer.

My family has really enjoyed having applesauce ready to eat in the freezer whenever they want it! I am sure your family will too!

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Food Preservation, recipes

Roasting vegetables

August 28th, 2014


Roasting vegetables can be done on the grill or in the oven.   They are a special treat especially this time of year when the vegetables are coming fresh out of your garden!  The best roasted vegetables are soft and tender, browned and caramelized and full of flavor.  It is easy to roast the vegetables, but there are some tricks to making them come out delicious.  These tips are adapted from How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson.


  1. Preheat the oven. Set the oven anywhere between 350°F to 450°F. The lower temperature will take longer to roast the vegetables.
  2. Cut the vegetables into even sized pieces. If you have smaller vegetables they can be roasted whole as long as they are similar in size to the other vegetables.
  3. Toss with oil. Oil will help the vegetables brown so toss them with 1-2 Tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil. It will also help to hold the spices or seasonings that you add.
  4. Don’t crowd the vegetables. The less the vegetables touch each other the more surface area on them will brown.
  5. Add a small amount of salt before you roast. Many restaurants add salt at the beginning of the roasting process and also at the end.
  6. Use the top third of your oven. This will help them to brown the best.
  7. Shake or turn the vegetables. In order for the vegetables to brown evenly move them around by using a spatula or shaking the pan, after they start turning brown.
  8. Roast them thoroughly. Your goal is to have the vegetables both brown and tender. If they start to get too dark, cover with foil until they are tender and take the foil off for the final 5 minutes. If they are tender but not as brown as you want move the pan to the upper part of the oven.
  9. Finish the vegetables. Add a final drizzle of olive oil and a little sprinkle of salt to finish off the vegetables. You could also add fresh pepper, lemon juice, minced herbs (parsley, thyme).
  10. Serve the vegetables warm. Any vegetables left should be cooled in a single layer so they don’t get soggy.

With these tips you will be offering your family and friends delicious roasted vegetables from home!

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Food Preparation, recipes