Here 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!
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.
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
Have you ever thought about deep frying a turkey? It gives you very tender meat with a nice crispy texture, but in order to keep yourself and your food safe you need to follow some precautions.
Completely thaw your turkey or use a fresh turkey. Be sure to remove the neck and giblets bag before cooking.
Make sure that your surface where you are frying is flat and in a safe outdoor location that is far away from garages, decks and house siding.
Do NOT stuff your turkey.
Use a turkey that weighs 12 pounds or less.
Make sure your frying pot is large enough for your turkey to be covered by 1 to 2 inches of oil and that there is at least 3-5 inches space between the oil and the top of the pot, so the oil does not boil over the sides.
Heat the oil to 350° F. After it has reached this temperature slowly lower the turkey into the hot oil. Constantly monitor the temperature of the oil and never leave it unattended.
It will take approximately 3 to 5 minutes per pound for the turkey to cook.
Use a meat thermometer to see if the turkey has reached a minimum internal temperature of 165° F. in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
If it has not reached that temperature return the turkey immediately to the oil to finish cooking.
When the turkey is finished cooking remove from the oil and place on a sturdy tray lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
Let rest for 20 minutes before carving.
Be sure that the heat is turned off and the pot is put in a spot where nothing will disturb it.
By following these precautions your guests will enjoy a juicy turkey and you will have a safe Thanksgiving!
If you have not done so already, it is probably time to start thinking about thawing your turkey. There are three different ways to thaw your turkey, four if you count cooking it from the frozen state.
The first method is thawing the turkey in the refrigerator. This is perhaps the easiest method. It is best to put the turkey on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator in a pan or cookie sheet. This will prevent drippings from the thawing bird contaminating other foods; especially ready to eat foods like fruits and vegetables. Expect the turkey to thaw at a rate of 5 pounds for every 24 hours. Plan to have the turkey thawed for no more than 2 days before cooking. If you find your turkey thawing much faster than expected, you can refreeze overnight then continue thawing. We never advise just setting the bird on a counter top for thawing.
Refrigerator Thawing Times
4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days
If you suddenly realize you were supposed to begin thawing the turkey several days ago and find yourself running out of time to thaw it, use the cold water thawing method. For this method, you will need to allow 30 minutes per pound of turkey. Be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag; this keeps the turkey from absorbing water. Place the turkey in a sink full of cold water. Change the water every half hour—the water will get very cold—until the turkey is thawed.
Cold Water Thawing Times
4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours
Not enough time for the cold water method? Try defrosting in your microwave. Follow the directions that came with your microwave. Plan to cook it immediately as the turkey may have developed hot spots while defrosting.
Call us at AnswerLine if you have further questions about getting that turkey thawed.
One of the questions we are asked a lot before Thanksgiving is “Do I need to refrigerate my pumpkin pie or not?” Probably the main reason for the confusion is seeing all the pumpkin pies at the grocery store just sitting on the shelves—stored at room temperature. The main difference between the grocery store bakery pies and the ones that you make at home is the ingredients. Those bakery pies are made with shelf-stable ingredients which can include preservatives and anti-microbials that won’t allow the growth of bacteria. If you read the label on the pie you may see a notation of RT; indicating the pie can be stored at room temperature. Leftover pieces of these pies should be stored in the refrigerator. Remember to use the pie within 2-3 days. If you need to store it for a longer time, consider freezing the pie.
When you make your own pie from scratch, you should refrigerate it as soon as it has had a chance to cool. Homemade pies have ingredients like milk and eggs which provide a great medium for bacterial growth. If you prefer a warm piece of pie, you can always warm the pie just prior to serving.
We hear it on the news almost every day. Remember to wash your hands, or hand washing can prevent the spread of disease. But is it really that important? The Center for Disease Control has a long list of the science behind the importance of hand washing. It really can be a simple procedure; yet not everyone knows how to effectively wash their hands. Below are some tips for teaching your children.
1. Wet—get your hands wet with clean, running water. Using a basin filled with water can contaminate your hands even further, so turn on the faucet. It doesn’t matter if the water is warm or cold, either is effective against germs but warm water is more comfortable and may make it easier to wash hands for the required time.
2. Lather—teach your children to rub their hands together with the soap. Lathering the backs of hands and in between your fingers is important. Don’t forget to lather the nails—on children this area is often neglected. Teach them to sing Happy Birthday twice while they scrub to be sure they lather long enough.
3. Rinse—use plenty of water, remember warm is often more comfortable for children.
4. Dry-use either a clean towel or airs dry your hands.
It is also a good idea to review with your children when it is necessary to wash their hands. Below is a list from the Center for Disease Control listing appropriate times to wash hands.
Before, during, and after preparing food
Before and after caring for sick people
Before and after treating wounds
After using the toilet or changing diapers
after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
after touching pets or handling their food
After touching garbage
These tips may help cut down on sickness in your home this winter.
I have such fond memories of special Halloween celebrations with my two kids, who are young adults now. We would make “scary” treats, homemade costumes, attend school parties, trick-or- treat on beggar’s nights, etc. I’m not sure who had more fun – the kids or me?
Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control to help make the festivities safe and fun for all:
Swords, knives, and other costume accessories should be short, soft, and flexible.
Avoid trick-or-treating alone. Walk in groups or with a trusted adult.
Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to help drivers see you.
Examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before eating them. Limit the amount of treats you eat.
Hold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help you see and others see you. Always WALK and don’t run from house to house.
Always test make-up in a small area first. Remove it before bedtime to prevent possible skin and eye irritation.
Look both ways before crossing the street. Use established crosswalks wherever possible.
Callers often ask if it is possible to freeze 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 an egg freeze accidentally, discard eggs that crack. 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 that egg as the yolk may become thick and syrupy; this change makes it difficult to use 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 1/2-1 Tbsp. light corn syrup OR 1/2-1 Tbsp. sugar OR 1 tsp. salt to every dozen eggs you freeze. Addition of the salt or sugar prevents the yolks from thickening and allows you to use them in baked products. The end use of the eggs will help you determine which ingredient (salt, corn syrup, or sugar) to add to the eggs.
Blend the 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.
Thaw any of these frozen eggs in the refrigerator. Stir or shake them before using. You must use the thawed eggs within 3-5 days.
If you have winter squash and are wanting to preserve it remember that you can NOT home can pumpkin or winter squash puree. If you want it pureed then you should freeze it. If you want to can it, it must done in a pressure canner and only when cut into 1 inch cubes.
According to the Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Extension Food Safety Specialist, Department of Foods and Nutrition, home canning is not recommended for pumpkin butter or any mashed or pureed pumpkin or winter squash. In 1989, the USDA’s Extension Service published the Complete Guide to Home Canning that remains the basis of Extension recommendations today, found in the September 1994 revision. The only directions for canning pumpkin and winter squash are for cubed pulp. In fact, the directions for preparing the product include the statement, “Caution: Do not mash or puree.”
Some of the factors that are critical to the safety of canned pumpkin products are the viscosity (thickness), the acidity and the water activity. Pumpkin and winter squash are also low-acid foods (pH > 4.6) capable of supporting the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria which can cause the very serious illness, botulism, under the right storage conditions. If the bacteria are present and survive processing, and the product has a high enough water activity, they can thrive and produce toxin in the product.
To process using a hot pack, wash pumpkin or squash and remove the seeds. Cut into 1 inch slices and peel. Cut the flesh into 1 inch cubes. Add to a saucepot of boiling water, boil 2 minutes. Pack the hot cubes into hot jars, leaving 1 inch headspace. Fill jar to 1 inch from top with boiling hot cooking liquid. Remove the air bubbles. Wipe jar rims, adjust lids and process.
Table 1. Recommended process time for Pumpkin and Winter Squash in a dial-gauge pressure canner.
Canner Pressure (PSI) at Altitudes of
Style of Pack
0 – 2,000 ft
2,001 – 4,000 ft
4,001 – 6,000 ft
6,001 – 8,000 ft
Table 2. Recommended process time for Pumpkin and Winter Squash in a weighted-gauge pressure canner.