Archive for the ‘Food Safety’ Category

STOP, don’t wash that Turkey

November 23rd, 2015

This time of year, we got a LOT of questions about preparing turkey.  I’m sure that won’t shock anyone, but some of this information that we share with callers might surprise you.

Many of our callers are not familiar with the recommendation that we should not wash poultry of any kind before cooking.  It just doesn’t feel “right” for people to skip washing the poultry.  We have to explain that washing the poultry can cause more problems than it cures.  The risk of cross contamination is very high when we start rubbing and splashing as poultry is being scrubbed.  One of the biggest sources of the contamination is our hands, which now carry the bacteria we washed off of the poultry.  This can spread to other parts of the kitchen and could contaminate other foods as well.  It is surprising just how many surfaces a person can touch with contaminated hands.  Protect your family this Thanksgiving.  Skip washing the turkey.

Signature AnswerLine Specialist

Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Making food ahead

November 19th, 2015

chopping tomatoes for salsaThis is the time of year that we get lots of questions about preparing food ahead of time.  Callers want to make Thanksgiving day (or any day they have family celebrations planned) an easier day by fixing as much of the meal ahead of time as possible.  Often callers want to make and freeze pies and vegetable casseroles days or weeks before the holiday.  Those items typically freeze well and as long as the food is prepared and handled safely there is no problem with an early preparation.

Other callers want to partially cook foods and store them in the refrigerator for a few days before finishing the cooking process and serving.  We typically discourage this sort of short cut as foods that have been partially cooked, cooled, and stored run the risk of bacteria growing to unsafe levels during the storage time.  Those bacteria may not all be killed during the final cooking process. Additionally, the quality of these dishes may not be what we consider “company food”.

We do offer a few tips to people that want to make life easier on the actual holiday.

  1. Dry ingredients can be premeasured and mixed together for baked products and wet ingredients could be premeasured and held in the fridge.  It only takes a couple of minutes to break some eggs and mix all the ingredients together just prior to baking.  And premeasured ingredients don’t make much of a mess in the kitchen.
  2. Plan out the table settings and table linens ahead of time.  Wash and iron linens or wash serving dishes that are used infrequently. This can be done a week or two before the holiday.
  3. Set the table(s) the night before the event.
  4. Either buy precut raw vegetables or cut your own a day or so before the event.
  5. Did you know you can freeze mashed potatoes, or use a recipe that should be prepared a day or so before the event.  There are many recipes for Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes that include garlic, cream cheese, and sour cream.  These recipes should be prepared a day early so the flavors can blend.
  6. Make a time schedule of the preparation times for the items in your menu.  This alone will help you feel more organized and prepared for everything necessary to make the holiday work flow smoothly.

Hopefully these tips will make your holiday easier this year.

    Extension and Outreach Specialist

Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Tips for maintaining cutting boards

October 26th, 2015

Cutting boardFall can be a great time to think about catching up on some things around the house. I’m thinking about giving my cutting boards a thorough cleaning and oiling after the workout they got this summer. I have a number of cutting boards at my house. I use my vintage wooden cutting boards for cutting fresh fruits and vegetables. I use my plastic boards for cutting both raw and cooked meat. Of course I use a different cutting board for raw and cooked meats to avoid cross contamination.

I clean the wooden boards with a damp dishcloth. I try not to get the cutting boards overly wet as that can cause cracking. I sanitize the boards after use with a mild bleach solution. I use 1 teaspoon of bleach in a quart of water. I spray the surface of the board with this solution and let the board air dry. If I used a stronger bleach solution, the boards might dry out and crack.

My wooden boards do not have a varnished finish, so I oil the boards with mineral oil when they seem to be getting dry. I warm the oil a bit and apply a coat, going in the same direction as the wood grain. I let the oil dry and give it another coat after 6 or so hours. This oiling will help keep the board from drying out and cracking. If that happened, I would have to toss the board or use it only decoratively. If my boards were deeply scored by knife marks, I would sand them and then oil them.

I send my plastic cutting boards through the dish washer. The hot water and dish washing detergent sanitize the boards after each use. Now I’ll be ready for all the cutting and chopping I do to make those hearty stews, soups, and casseroles this winter.






Cleaning, Food Preparation, Food Safety

Flu and Food Poisoning

October 12th, 2015

FullSizeRenderThe AnswerLine staff got flu shots today.  As we move into the cold and flu season, callers sometimes ask how to tell the difference between the flu and food poisoning.  It can be difficult to tell if someone has the flu, or if they ate something that made them ill.

Generally speaking, many of the symptoms of the flu are similar to those of foodborne illness.  Symptoms such as fever, achy muscles, fatigue, and sinus congestion are more typical of the flu since it is more of a respiratory illness.  Food poisoning can cause nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, stomach or abdominal cramping/pain, or fever.  These symptoms relate to our digestive system which seems logical as food poisoning is due to something we ate. These symptoms can begin hours after eating or up to several days later.  The delay in feeling symptoms is what makes foodborne illness difficult to track.  It can be hard enough to remember what you had for breakfast.  Now imagine trying to remember what you had two or three days ago.

Foodborne illness occurs more often than we may think; one out of every six people is sickened each year.  That sudden illness that goes away the next day just may be due to something you ate. It is interesting to note that the people most susceptible to foodborne illness are the elderly, the very young, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems.

Remember that food does not always have to look or smell suspicious to contain enough bacteria to make us sick.  Frequent hand washing, avoiding cross contamination of surfaces, keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold will go a long way in preventing sickness in your home.


Food Safety

Applesauce time!

October 1st, 2015

apple treeAs I walk around my yard in the evening, I’ve noticed that my apple tree has way more apples than I will be able to use again this year. Two years ago, I invited Beth and Carolyn out to our farm to pick apples. I’ll have to share the apples again this year. I may also need to make some applesauce from these great apples.

When my children were young, my husband and I would can about 80 quarts of applesauce every fall. It was a huge undertaking, but our family enjoyed it so much that it was worth the trouble. If you want to make some applesauce of your own and can it, you can do this in a boiling water bath canner. It is not a difficult recipe; unless you think you need to process 80 quarts of applesauce.

These days, now that my children are grown and have children of their own, I like to make and freeze my applesauce. I use the same recipe I used to can applesauce but I package it into freezer bags. These bags store in my freezer more efficiently than freezer containers. I just need to remember to cool the applesauce pan by setting my large cooking pot of applesauce into a sink-full of ice water for about half an hour. Stirring it occasionally will release heat and speed cooling of the applesauce. I would not want to stack large piles of boiling hot applesauce into my freezer. That would raise the temperature inside my freezer and the applesauce might take several days to cool enough to freeze. For best quality, it is important for food to freeze as quickly as possible once placed inside the freezer.


Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Why are we such sticklers at AnswerLine when it comes to canning advice?

August 17th, 2015

BWB1Why are we such sticklers at AnswerLine when it comes to canning advice?  Callers are sometimes a bit frustrated with us when we answer canning questions.  We often have to tell a caller that the old family recipe for a canned product is not safe.  We must advise them that oven canning, canning low acid vegetables in a water bath canner, and using “any old recipe” for pickles are not safe practices.

Times have changed since Great Grandma was canning for her family.  We now have recipes that have been scientifically tested to ensure a safe product.  They are available through several resources.  Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has the Preserve the Taste of Summer series of recipes, The National Center for Home Food Preservation through the University of Georgia has both a website and a cookbook “So Easy to Preserve”, the USDA has a Home Canning Guide, and the Ball company has the Ball Blue Book (new expanded edition this year) as well as their Complete Book of Home Preserving.

The recipes and procedures in these books have been scientifically tested in a laboratory to ensure the coldest part of a canning jar gets hot enough long enough to kill the botulism bacteria if present.  We don’t want you to cut corners and put your family at risk.  Botulism can be a deadly disease and those at the greatest risk are those who are often most dear to our hearts; the elderly and the very young.  Pregnant women and those people with a compromised immune system are also at great risk.

We sometimes don’t enjoy our role as the “canning police” but our main goal is to help you keep your family safe for years to come. Please contact us if you have any canning questions or need some tested recipes.


Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

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

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

Freezing Eggs

June 24th, 2015

eggs1We have had a lot of calls lately asking about freezing eggs. Yes, you can easily freeze eggs for later baking or scrambling. You have the choice to either freeze whole eggs or separate the eggs and freeze yolks and whites by themselves.

Whole eggs inside the shell should not be frozen.  If you have a carton of eggs freeze accidentally, discard the cracked eggs. You can safely use a whole, frozen, uncracked egg.  Just store it in the refrigerator until you need it. It may be best to hard cook the uncracked eggs that froze. The yolk in those eggs may become thick and syrupy; this change makes it difficult to use them in baking.

If you would like to freeze eggs at home, you will need to add either sugar, corn syrup, or salt to the egg yolks or whole eggs. Add one and a half tablespoons of light corn syrup OR one and a half tablespoons of sugar OR one half teaspoon of salt to every cup of eggs or yolks you freeze. Addition of the salt or sugar prevents the yolks from thickening and allows you to use them in baked products. The way you plan to the eggs will help you determine which ingredient (salt, corn syrup, or sugar) to add to the eggs. (E.g. Scrambled eggs with sugar added might not be very tasty).

Blend the egg mixture gently; avoid whipping air into the mixture. Package the eggs and freeze. Add the previously listed amounts to either whole eggs or egg yolks that have been separated. If you choose to freeze the whites alone, they do not need to have any salt, sugar, or corn syrup added. If you freeze the eggs in a clean ice cube tray and store them in a freezer bag, you will be able to use the frozen eggs easily. Remember that one egg equals about ¼ cup. Measure the amount of water it takes to fill one section of the ice cube tray so that you will know how many egg cubes it takes to equal one egg. Thaw frozen eggs in the refrigerator. Stir or shake them before using. You must use the thawed eggs within 3-5 days.

Remember to purchase eggs before the “sell by” date stamped on the carton. Once you have the eggs home, they can be safely used for another 3 to 5 weeks. The “sell by” date will have passed during the storage time but they are still safe to use.

Callers often ask if the egg floats in water, does this mean the egg is “bad? No, it does not mean the egg is bad. As the egg ages, the air cell inside enlarges enough to make the egg buoyant. This means the egg is older, but it may still be safe to use. Break the egg into a bowl to examine it for an off-odor or unsuitable appearance before you decide to use it or toss it away. A spoiled egg will have an unpleasant odor when you open the shell—raw or cooked.

Never buy cracked eggs; bacteria can enter an egg through the crack. If eggs crack on the way home from the store, break them into a clean container, cover tightly, and keep refrigerated. You must use them within 2 days.  Do not worry if the eggs crack during hard boiling; if they do the eggs are still safe.

We know that as the price of eggs increases, we will have more questions about eggs. Please don’t hesitate to contact us, we are always glad to help.

Food Preservation, Food Safety

Grill Gifts for Fathers Day

June 15th, 2015

grilling utensils (2)It’s father’s day and if your father or husband is a griller what better gift for him than accessories for the grill!  We have assembled our top ten list to make your dad feel special on this day and all summer long!

  • A new grill brush will make cleaning the grates easier. Make sure it has a long handle since the grates clean more easily when they are warm. Many also have a scraping or curved blade that helps to clean the individual grates.
  • If you like to cook vegetables on the grill a roasting tray or basket makes it easy to do. Usually they have sides so that the vegetables can be stirred to ensure even cooking.
  • An instant read thermometer is a must. This allows the griller to know when food has reached a safe temperature. This also helps to avoid overcooking which decreases the quality of the food.
  • A new basting brush is another great grill tool. Many are now made of heat resistant materials and are dish washer safe.
  • Grill covers not only keep your grill clean but many now are available with logos of your favorite team on them! Also available are mats that go under your grill. These help to keep any grease that could drip from the grill, from staining your deck.
  • If your father uses a charcoal grill and doesn’t have a Chimney Starter it would make a perfect gift! It allows you to stack the charcoal in the canister and light some newspaper underneath. In no time at all the charcoal will be hot, ashed over and ready to use. With this there is no need for lighter fluid.
  • If your dad likes to cook ground beef patties a burger press is a must. It makes the perfectly shaped patty that will hold together when cooking. Most are bun sized so you are assured that your burger will fit in your bun.
  • New spatula, tongs and forks are grilling necessities. Make sure that they have long handles to reach to the back of the grill and if you find some that are dishwasher safe, it will make clean up a breeze.
  • A grilling cookbook is also a wonderful gift. Many times they have pictures that show the finished product which helps to determine if you want to try the recipe! Many also give vegetables, fruits and even dessert recipes.
  • Another fun idea is to put together a basket with a variety of rubs and sauces. Or find a recipe and make your own rubs with spice combinations.

Giving any of these grilling gifts will bring a smile to your dad’s face.  Hopefully he will invite you to join him for dinner as he tries them out!

s signature - Copy

Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas