Are you planning a graduation party, baby shower, or family reunion? At AnswerLine, we get many calls from people working on menus or other party ideas. We are always glad to help you
Smorgasbord with a variety of choices
with your planning
If you have someone graduating, It isn’t too early to start thinking about your celebration. At Iowa State University, graduation is scheduled for May 6 and 7. High school graduation parties start in May and continue through early June. If you are planning some sort of gathering of family or a party for friends and family, we are happy to help answer any questions. We have lots of experience and resources that can help people know how much food will be needed for the celebration. We also have almost any color punch recipe you could want to serve.
Some of the questions we answer often for party planners:
- How much fruit do I need to buy to make fruit salad?
- How many potatoes will I need for potato salad?
- What size serving should I use for ______ food?
- Do I have enough food on my menu for my party of ____ people?
- How many servings do I need to feed _____ people?
- What food can I make ahead?
- How can I be sure not to run out of food?
- How do I keep my food safe for 2-3 hours?
Please call us. We love to help!
As long as your child or other family member has a food allergy, you will need to avoid that food. Sometimes that is easier said than done. You will need to become someone who reads every food label and is extra vigilant if the allergy is severe.
Here are some tips for living with allergies:
- Read the label before buying food at the grocery store. Allergens are listed at the end of the ingredient label. People that are very sensitive should avoid foods that state “may have been processed on equipment that processed some other allergen”.
- Look at restaurant menus on line before you leave home. You may find options that work well with the dietary restrictions. You may also find hidden ingredients in foods you might not suspect. Some fast food French fries contain dairy. I know that surprised me when we discovered it.
- Let your server know the dietary restrictions. They may be aware of how the food is prepared and can help with any possible cross contamination issues. They may also be aware of substitutions that the restaurant has on hand for allergies.
- Avoid buffet or family style settings as there may be cross contamination issues. When many people serve themselves it is easy for someone to use the serving utensil from one pan in another pan.
- Fried foods may be a problem as the same oil may be used to fry many different foods.
- Make sure that your child’s school is aware of the allergy. If the allergy is severe, make sure that the school is prepared to help your child in the event of a severe reaction. Many schools now have a policy of outlawing peanut butter and homemade treats to keep everyone safe.
- Work with other families that have the same food restrictions; sometimes they are aware of products that work well as substitutions or you may buy some foods in bulk and share with them.
This information is really just a basic introduction to food allergies. Work with your doctor and a dietitian to help your child lead the best, safest life.
Food allergies are something that we seem to hear about often. It seems like they affect so many different things; from eating at a restaurant, to food for school treats, to a child’s birthday party. Is it really an issue, or is it just a fad that will disappear soon? We sometimes have callers frustrated that the menu or treat they have planned is not acceptable just because one guest or child claims to have an allergy. One caller wanted to serve peanuts at a large bridal shower but was frustrated because people told her she couldn’t as the bride had a severe peanut allergy. She didn’t know what the “big deal” was; the bride should just not eat the peanuts. We discussed the possibility that if a child may handle some peanuts and later hug and kiss the bride. We explained that the risk to the bride for accidental exposure was too great and that peanuts must be eliminated from the menu. After all, who wants to get the bride sick at her own party?
Food allergies are simply a child or person’s immune reaction to a food. The person must have had some exposure or eaten the food previously to exhibit an immune reaction. Most food allergies are caused by one of these eight foods:
- Tree nuts
Peanuts, milk, and eggs are the most common foods causing allergies. Some children may outgrow an allergy; other allergies are lifelong.
Symptoms of the allergy may begin within a few minutes of exposure to the food. Other reactions may occur after a longer period—an hour or so. The symptoms may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Lowered blood pressure
Sometimes very young children or infants may be allergic to soy or milk. Usually colic or fussiness, poor growth, or blood in the stool are signs of this allergy. It does not take much of a particular food to cause a bad reaction in a person that is highly allergic.
Food allergies can’t really be prevented; however, delaying feeding solid foods to children for the first 6 months can help. Avoid feeding wheat, eggs, peanuts, fish, and cow’s milk during baby’s first year. If it is possible, try to breast feed for the first 6 months.
There is no medicine to give a child to prevent food allergy, work with your doctor if you suspect a food allergy. Avoid those foods causing the allergy. Your doctor may advise using vitamins if your child’s diet is very limited. You may need to avoid those same foods if you are breast feeding. Small amounts of the allergen may be passed through the milk. If your child has severe allergies, your doctor may prescribe an emergency kit with an epinephrine pen.
There are several of us at the office that are suffering from colds right now. As we are trying to keep from exposing all of our staff it got me thinking that the spread of viruses and bacteria that cause colds is passed on in the same way that foodborne illnesses are spread – from hand to hand or from hand to food contact. We are sanitizing our doorknobs, computer keyboards, and phones but there are things at home that we need to disinfect to keep from passing foodborne illnesses on to our family. An inexpensive sanitizing solution that you can use at the office or for toys, eating utensils, dishes, dining tables, and kitchen countertops at home is to put in a 1 quart spray bottle, 1 teaspoon bleach with 1 quart of water. If you have concentrated bleach use ¾ teaspoon per quart of water. Use for 1-2 days then make a new batch.
Let’s look at some areas in the kitchen that we need to pay particular attention to when talking about sanitizing.
- Cutting boards. Make sure that you are cleaning your cutting boards after each use. Have two separate cutting boards. One for meat and another for fruits and vegetables. When cutting boards get deep knife marks it is time to replace them since bacteria can harbor in those grooves. After cleaning they can be sprayed with the sanitizing solution and allowed to dry.
- Can openers. These need to be cleaned each time you use them. Then wiped with the sanitizing solution and allowed to air dry.
- Sinks. Before washing your dishes wipe the sink with hot soapy water and use the sanitizing solution. After spraying the sanitizing solution allow it to work for 10 minutes before you use the sink.
- Countertops. Think of all of the items that are set on the countertop. Grocery bags that have been sitting in your trunk, the mail, newspapers, etc. Even if a countertop looks clean before you cook, wash and sanitize it. If the countertop has not been cleaned you don’t want to set your rubber scrapers or other utensils on it for fear of transferring bacteria into your food.
- Dishcloths and towels. Use a clean dishcloth daily. If you wipe up a spill then allow it to dry and put it in the laundry and get out a clean dishcloth. Clean all dish towels and cloths in hot water. If you have scrubbing utensils they should be put in the dishwasher every time that you run it. Most dishwashers have a sanitizing cycle but if you don’t have a dishwasher use your sanitizing solution and allow them to soak for 10 minutes.
- Garbage disposal rubber splash guard. Bacteria can form on inside folds and the underside of the splash guard. A thorough cleaning on both the top and the bottom is important. Use a brush that can reach in all parts and spray with the sanitizer spray and let it dry after it is clean.
- Refrigerators. Remember that spills in the refrigerator should be cleaned up immediately. Make sure that you look at your food items regularly and get rid of the items that are past time to safely eat. Don’t allow food to mold or decay.
Be diligent in keeping bacteria away! Remember these tips to keep your family safe.
Easter is right around the corner and we often get calls about using eggs safely. Here are the answers to some questions regarding eggs that we often get asked.
- What do the dates on egg cartons mean? The dates on egg cartons help the stores to know which cartons are older and which ones are newer. The recommendation is to use the eggs within 3-5 weeks after bringing them home from the store. This time will often be beyond the date on the carton. The best way to tell if an egg is bad is to crack it in a cup and smell it before using. A bad egg will have a definite odor whether it is raw or hard boiled.
- How long can you keep hard boiled eggs? You should refrigerate hard boiled eggs within two hours of cooking them and use them within a week.
- Can raw eggs be used in recipes? The only egg that you can use in a recipe where the egg is not cooked would be a pasteurized egg. Many grocery stores now sell shell eggs that have been heated to a temperature that kills bacteria. These are found in a carton that states that they are pasteurized. Many times the eggs will have a P stamped on them indicating they are pasteurized. Liquid eggs are also pasteurized and can be used in recipes where the eggs are not cooked.
- Can you pasteurize eggs at home? The equipment that pasteurizes eggs is not available for home use. There is a very fine line to cooking them long enough to kill bacteria without cooking the contents of the egg.
- Is a brown egg more nutritious than a white one? The breed of the hen determines that color of the egg shell. Nutrient levels are not significantly different in white or brown eggs.
- What does it mean If an egg floats? Just because an egg floats in water when you are boiling them does not mean that it is unsafe. As an egg gets older the air cell enlarges making it more buoyant.
- Why are some hard boiled eggs harder to peel? A fresh egg is hard to peel. The air cell that is found at the larger end of the egg increases in size the longer the egg is stored. As the contents contract and the air cell increases the shell becomes easier to peel. So if you have eggs that are older use those to hard boil to make peeling easier.
- What temperature do I need to cook my egg dishes to ensure they are safe? To make sure your egg dishes are safe use a food thermometer and make sure it is cooked to 160° F in the middle of the dish.
- Are Easter eggs safe to eat? Be sure that dyed eggs are returned to the refrigerator within 2 hours of coloring them. Also use a food-safe coloring so that if is it absorbed through the shell it is safe to eat the egg. Do not hide hard boiled eggs where bacteria can contaminate them. That includes in the dirt outside or where pets can find them.
- Should eggs be stored in the refrigerator door? It is not recommended that eggs be stored in the refrigerator door. When a refrigerator door is opened the foods stored in the door tend to warm up faster than foods stored in the inside. Store your eggs in the carton and put them in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
- Can you eat eggs that are cracked? Check your eggs at the store and then again when you bring them home. If an egg has cracked on the way home from the store remove it from the shell and put it in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and use it within 2 days. Eggs that crack while you are boiling them are safe to eat. Don’t buy cracked eggs from the store.
- Using eggs safely is important. If you have any additional questions about eggs give us a call at AnswerLine.
Corned beef Patrick’s Day
It is nearly St Patrick’s Day so we are beginning to get calls about making corned beef. Peopleoften want to know why the corn is in the name of the dish as there is not typically any corn found in corned beef. Actually, the corn in corned beef refers to the “corns” of salt used to preserve the meat. Salting meat heavily was one way of preserving meat before refrigeration was widely available.
As you are purchasing the meat, remember to look at the sell by or use by date on the wrapper. Store the meat in the refrigerator if you are able to use it within that time frame. If not, you can safely freeze the meat. For best results, you won’t want to leave it in the freezer for an extended time. The salt in the meat will speed the reactions that cause rancidity; use the frozen meat within a month or two. It is not a good idea to buy corned beef on sale after the holiday this year and plan to store it for next year.
Remember that corned beef is a less tender cut of beef. The cooking method should be long, slow, and moist. This means plan on a longer cooking time at a lower temperature (325°F) in a moist environment. Usually you can accomplish this in the oven with a covered pan that has a small layer of liquid in the bottom of the pan. We always recommend using a meat thermometer to determine doneness of the meat. The meat should reach a temperature of 160°F. At that temperature, the meat will be fork tender but will retain a pink color. That color is due to the curing process and the nitrites involved. If you allow the beef to stand for 10 minutes after cooking, it will be easier to slice.
After cooking and enjoying the corned beef, save the leftovers for only 3-5 days in the refrigerator. Remember you can freeze the cooked meat and enjoy it for a longer period. Again, plan to use the frozen meat within several months.
You may be surprised to learn just how many calls we get from people who discover some old food in their pantry or freezer. Often times they are cleaning their kitchen, or they may be cleaning out an elderly relative’s pantry. Sometimes they want to eat it themselves or they may want to make a donation to the local food pantry but want to be sure it is still safe to eat. Other people are digging through their freezers and discover a turkey or other cuts of meat that have been in the freezer for a year or longer. We give lots of advice to callers on this topic. We are always happy to assist callers but sometimes you may need to know the answer at a time we are not at work. I discovered this free app from the Food Safety and Inspection Service. You can download it on your smart phone and have the answer to your question immediately. We love to help callers find answers but this app may also be helpful.
It may seem like a strange time of year for a blog about canning but at AnswerLine, we get calls about canning almost every day. Callers today were canning pork, beef, or planning what products to preserve next summer.
One of our callers today realized that she had not processed her beef at the correct pressure in her canner. She had only done 5 quarts of beef but was concerned that it would not be safe to eat. She was right, that beef was under processed and would not be considered safe to eat. I was happy to tell her that she did have options to correct the problem and she would not have to discard the jars of beef.
- The jars could be reprocessed at the proper pressure (PSI) for the entire time prescribed in the recipe. The resulting food would not be quite as high quality as food processed only once but it would be safe. For beef, likely very tender beef would not be problematic but processing green beans a second time does result in an inferior product.
- The jars could be stored in the freezer. If the jars are overly filled, you may want to remove a small amount to prevent jar breakage as the food expands in the freezer. These jars will not break in the freezer.
- The jars could be stored in the refrigerator and the contents enjoyed within 3-5 days. It would be difficult to use an entire canner load of jars within a week but you may want to enjoy at least one jar in that time.
Any of those three options can be used within 24 hours of the original canning process. You lose those options after that time, so always check to be sure that you used the proper processing time and that your jars have sealed. We offer these solutions to anyone that did not use a proper canning method or for jars that failed to seal.
Hopefully you will not need to use any of these remedies the next time you use your canner; but now you will know your options.
Happy Canning! Call us any time-we are always happy to talk canning with callers.
People of all ages have started gardening and are home canning to preserve their produce. Knowing the correct steps to safely preserve their bounty is important and something that we love to teach here at AnswerLine. One question that we often get asked is “Can a pressure cooker be used for home food preservation instead of a pressure canner?” The answer is NO, they are not the same! The similarity is that they both trap steam and build up pressure inside the pot. This happens when the lid, which has a gasket, forms an airtight seal when it is in the locked position. The pressure then builds up and the high temperature destroys microorganisms more quickly in pressure canning or it cooks food faster in pressure cooking.
Here are some of the differences between the two.
Pressure cookers or pressure saucepans
*Used to rapidly cook meats, vegetables and other foods for meals.
*They heat and cool too quickly to be safely used for pressure canning meats and vegetables in jars
*They are smaller in size and will not hold 4 quart jars.
*Many have no way to regulate the pressure since they have low, medium and high settings. Even the ones with weighted gauges may not accurately regulate the pressure.
*Designed to can low acid foods like vegetables and meat.
*To be considered a pressure canner they must hold more than 4 Quart jars.
*They use a dial or weighted gauge to make sure you are maintaining adequate pressure.
*When canning recipes are being developed, the researchers place a thermocouple into the coldest spot in the jar. They need to know that the cold spot gets hot enough long enough to kill bacteria that may be present. Researchers calculate processing time by adding the time it takes the vessel to get up to pressure, the time at pressure, and the cooling down time. Shortening any of these times will result in an under processed and unsafe product.
Make sure you are using the correct canner when you are doing home food preservation. Using a pressure cooker or pressure saucepan could make your home canned foods unsafe.
Winter weather and entertaining do not always go hand in hand. If you are preparing food and your guests get delayed or can’t make it at all do you know how to handle your food safely? Here are some tips from AnswerLine and The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on how to handle foods safely when the meal is cancelled or delayed.
Here are some winter scenarios and what to do to handle food safely:
Meat is thawed for dinner. Guests are coming…but not tonight.
- Raw meat can be refrozen ONLY if it was safely thawed in the refrigerator. You may find some texture differences if it was previously frozen but if it was handled correctly it is not a safety risk. If your guests are coming tomorrow instead then you could refrigerate your meat but if they reschedule for next week put the meat in the freezer. (FSIS)
The food is ready but your guests are delayed.
- FSIS reminds us to keep hot food hot and cold foods cold. Don’t let any food enter the danger zone – between 40° F and 140° F for more than 2 hours.
- If you have a meat dish in the oven use a meat thermometer in the center of your dish and adjust your oven to maintain the 140° F minimum temperature. Covering the food with foil will help to keep it from drying out. (FSIS)
My turkey has thawed but my party is 3+ days away.
- Thawed turkey is safe for only 1-2 days in the refrigerator.
- You can cook the turkey and cut the meat off. Place it in a casserole dish with broth and place in either your freezer or the refrigerator (for up to 4 days). When you are ready to eat place the foil covered dish in your oven at 325° F until your meat is heated to 165° F again.
I have soup ready and the weather report is advising no travel. What should I do with the soup?
- If you want to store the soup transfer to smaller containers that are shorter and wider to help the soup cool down faster. It is not safe to keep it in the big pot and place it in the refrigerator. It would take a long time for the soup in the middle of the pan to cool to a safe temperature and it would make it unsafe.
I have run out of refrigerator space and I want to store food in my garage or porch.
- Just because it is cold outside doesn’t mean that a garage or porch is cool enough to store food. A better choice would be a cooler with ice. We MUST store food below 40° F to keep it safe.
If you have any questions about food safety when weather messes with your entertaining plans give us a call at AnswerLine. We will help to answer your questions and keep your food safe!