County fair season is just around the corner and soon we will be getting lots of questions at AnswerLine about the safety of food projects for the fair. This can be a confusing subject for 4-H members, their parents, and even some judges. On the surface, the rules may seem to be rather random. However, if you can understand what the rules are based on, then it is a bit easier to understand why the rules are necessary.
The first and most important reason for not allowing a food item to be entered at a fair is to prevent judges from sampling foods that are not safe and could potentially make them sick. Many foods are perfectly safe to take from the oven or stove and eat at a family meal. However, when the food has cooled and not been refrigerated, bacteria may grow in the food that could make someone sick. This is the reason behind not allowing meats, foods that must be stored in the refrigerator, uncooked eggs, and cream cheese frostings with smaller than a 2:1 ratio of sugar to cream cheese.
Other inappropriate foods are those containing alcohol (as no 4-H members are old enough to consume alcohol), or breads with chopped and dehydrated vegetables, meats, or layers of cheese. These last foods have the potential to be a botulism risk.
Since 4-H is a part Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; the information presented must be accurate and safe. All home food preservation exhibits must follow safe, tested recipes and procedures. Canning jars must be labeled with the food item, date preserved, method of preservation, and source of recipe. Recipes must be those that are from current, accepted resources. Those resources include: The USDA canning guide, The National Center for Home Food Preservation, Extension and Outreach recipes, and the Ball Blue Books (post 2009). Recipes that have been handed down in the family may also meet those criteria—as long as the family recipe is identical in /procedure/processing time. 4-H members must also remember to adjust processing time on canning recipes if the member lives in a county that has an altitude above 1000 feet.
Another problem area is foods that are prepared in unusual containers. Food grade containers must be used for baking; no baking in flower pots. Breads baked and sealed in jars are also considered unsafe. These products can be botulism risks because of the low acid and lack of oxygen in the jars with bread. Great conditions for the botulism bacteria to thrive. Canning jars are not designed for the dry heat of an oven and could shatter while cakes/breads are being baked. Paper bags are not considered safe as there may be chemicals in the ink or glue that could contaminate food.
There is a way that many of the inappropriate exhibits could be exhibited at the fair. Many of these foods can be made at home and photographed. The member can evaluate the product and write a detailed report with the goals, learning, and procedure. This would allow an inappropriate product to be judged and exhibited at the fair. This method allows a wide range of projects such as: learning to make the evening meal for the family, custard pie baking, freezing vegetables or fruits to preserve them, or making breads with vegetables or layers of cheese inside the bread. Another alternative is to practice making breads with vegetables or cheese in it at home but being sure that the bread baked to exhibit at the fair does not include those unsafe ingredients. These methods will not work for all inappropriate foods. Baking in nonfood safe containers or canning jars would remain inappropriate.
Remember that you can always call us at AnswerLine and we will be happy to help you know if the project is appropriate to exhibit at the fair.
Food Preparation, Food Safety