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Has the Weather Changed Your Entertaining Plans?

SnowyWinter 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!

Beth Marrs

I graduated form Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Making your own baby food

baby-food-224x300In less than 7 weeks we will be blessed with the arrival of our first grandchild!  Needless to say we are all very excited!!  We have been shopping for car seats, strollers and porta cribs but one of the best gifts that I plan to give my new grandson is healthy and nutritious baby food that I have prepared and frozen just for him.  Although solid foods are not introduced to babies for several months I am starting to plan what I can grow and make into tasty baby food.  When you make it yourself not only do you know that the food you are feeding your baby is nutritious but it also costs much less than buying jars at the grocery store, especially as the baby grows and starts eating more!

Here are some tips to remember when making your own baby food:

  • Make sure everything is clean. This includes washing your hands, washing the fresh fruits or vegetables (even when you are peeling them) and using clean equipment.  Babies’ immune systems are more vulnerable to bacteria so practicing safe food handling methods is especially important.
  • Use fresh fruits and vegetables or frozen ones that have no added sugar, salt, flavorings or preservatives.
  • Cook fruits and vegetables to soften them with a small amount of water unless they are already soft like bananas. Save the cooking water to use if foods are too thick when pureeing.  Use a food processor, blender or immersion blender to get the food to the correct consistency.
  • Use ice cube trays to freeze the baby food. Each cube will be approximately 1 ounce.  Once frozen empty the contents of the ice cube tray into a freezer bag.  Mark the outside of the bag the contents and the date when frozen.  When ready to use always thaw in the refrigerator not on the counter.
  • Always throw away any uneaten leftover food in the baby’s dish.

To watch a video on making baby food, use this link from Spend Smart Eat Smart.  If you are wondering when to introduce food to your baby here is some great information from WIC.

Feeding your family healthy and nutritious foods is a priority for everyone.  I can’t wait to spoil my grandson with my homemade baby food made with lots of love.

Beth Marrs

I graduated form Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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Transporting Food Safely

 “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go!”

My siblings and I used to sing that song on the way to my grandma and grandpa’s house, riding along in our side-paneled station wagon. Chances are, this holiday season, you may be attending a gathering where you’re bringing food.  There are steps you can take to ensure your prepared food arrives at your destination safely. to avoid the risk of food poisoning.  Getting sick does not usually result in great memories.

Remember the two hour rule: Avoid leaving perishable foods at room temperature (or car temperature in this case) for more than two hours.

Important note: Just because it is cold outside, don’t rely on trunk temperatures to be low enough for food storage.  Sunlight could warm your trunk to unsafe temperatures, resulting in unsafe food temperatures.  The same goes for garages.  Don’t use these places for refrigeration!

When transporting food, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold at safe temperatures.

*Hot food must be kept at or above 140⁰F and should be wrapped well and placed in an insulated container, such as a cooler (Yes coolers work to keep foods not only cold, but hot as well).  I also like to wrap my hot dishes in towels for added insulation before placing them into a cooler.   IMG_0262

IMG_0265*Place cold foods in a cooler with ice or freezer packs or an insulated container with an ice pack so they remain at 40°F or lower, especially if traveling longer than 30 minutes.

 

When you arrive at your destination, place hot foods in an oven hot enough to keep the food at an internal temperature of 140°F or above. Place cold foods in a refrigerator. Use a food thermometer to assure that the food stays at a safe internal temperature. Try to serve foods soon after your arrival.

thermometer

Another option would be to transport your ingredients in a cooler, then make your dish on location.

People traveling a long distance might bring non-perishables such as breads and cookies. Those traveling about a half an hour or less can more safely bring perishables items such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products or foods containing these items. Close guests are also good candidates to provide salads, relishes and vegetables.

Keep these simple tips in mind to have a safe, happy holiday season with your family and friends!

contributed by Jill Jensen, former AnswerLine Specialist

 

Beth Marrs

I graduated form Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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STOP, don’t wash that Turkey

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.

Liz

Liz

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Making food ahead

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.

Liz

Liz

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Tips for maintaining cutting boards

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.

Liz

Liz

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Flu and Food Poisoning

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.

Liz

Liz

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Applesauce time!

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.

Liz

Liz

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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

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.

Liz

Liz

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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