Archive

Archive for the ‘Food Safety’ Category

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.

FE4A7395F74D75DAF68D70AF51D28FD2

 

 

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.

FE4A7395F74D75DAF68D70AF51D28FD2

 

 

 

 

 

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

Inappropriate Exhibits for County Fairs

June 8th, 2015

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.

FE4A7395F74D75DAF68D70AF51D28FD2

Food Preparation, Food Safety

Tips for Storing Fruit

June 4th, 2015

Fruit Wash 1Fresh fruits from the grocery store are a wonderful addition to any meal. It is recommended that we eat between 1 ½ to 2 cups a day (depending on age and activity level).  Once you bring it home how you store it determines how long it have maximum flavor and how long the fruit will last.

Many fruits are picked before they are fully ripe and shipped to the grocery store.  These fruits will continue to ripen and should not be refrigerated until they are mature.  Refrigeration before they are ripe could cause them to lose flavor and have a mealy texture.

Some of these are:

  • Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew melons
  • Kiwi
  • Mangos
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapples
  • Tomatoes

If you want to make it ripen more quickly place the fruit in a single layer in a large paper bag.  Fold the top down and check it every day to see if it is ripe and ready to enjoy.  When it is fully ripe it can be eaten and the rest put in the refrigerator.

Some fruits need to be stored in the refrigerator immediately.  These are fruits that will not continue to ripen after they have been picked.  If they are left at room temperature it will speed up their decay.  These include:

  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Boysenberries
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb

Some fruits can be left at room temperature or stored in the refrigerator.  These fruits will not ripen any further after picking but can also be left out at room temperature without harm.  Many of these are perfect to store in a fruit basket.

  • Apples
  • Clementines
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Oranges
  • Watermelon

When shopping, be sure and look for fruits that are not bruised or cut since this will cause them to spoil more rapidly.  Avoid excessively soft fruits since they are at the end of their lifespan.  Remember to wash all fruit before eating.   Follow these tips and store your fruit properly to avoid costly waste from spoilage.

s signature - Copy

Food Preservation, Food Safety

Summer Picnic Safety

June 1st, 2015

Summer and warm weather have arrived and it is time to start enjoying the outdoors!  What a better way than to go on a picnic!  Remember summer warmth provides the perfect environment for bacterial growth in foods if they are not handled safely!  Here are some tips to keep your picnic safe and enjoyable!

  • If your cooler is stored in a hot garage or attic be sure and bring it into the house to cool down before you use it. Your food will heat up quickly if it is put in a hot cooler!
  • Clean out your cooler. Wash the inside well with soap and water before using even if it was clean when you put it away last season.
  • Freeze ice in containers (like empty water bottles or sour cream containers) to use to keep your foods cold. A larger block of ice will take more time to melt than a bag of ice cubes. The goal is to keep your cooler as cold as if the food was being stored in your refrigerator.
  • Bring antibacterial disposable cloths and paper towels to use in case there isn’t a sink to wash hands before cooking and eating.
  • If you can, bring two coolers. Keep one for raw meats, poultry, and fish and a separate one for ready to eat foods. If you only have room for one cooler make sure that your meats are wrapped securely or put in zip lock bags to keep meat juices from contaminating foods that won’t be cooked.
  • Bring drinks in a separate cooler. Coolers that house drinks are opened more often and can make your foods warm up more quickly if stored together.
  • Bring along a meat thermometer. When cooking on a grill the outside of your meat may look done but the only safe way to tell is not by color, but by making sure it is cooked to the correct temperature.
  • Put your coolers in a shady spot when you arrive at your destination. If there isn’t going to be a shady spot bring a large umbrella to provide relief from the hot sun or wrap the cooler in blankets to keep them from warming up to quickly. If you are at a beach bury the cooler in the sand to provide natural insulation.

Follow these tips and enjoy the outdoors knowing that the food that you are eating on your picnic will be safe to consume!

s signature - Copy

Food Safety, Holiday ideas, Travel

Gifts for Canners

May 28th, 2015

 

 

Do you have family members that are interested in home food preservation?  Here are some great gift ideas that anyone would be interested in receiving! 

ball blue book1 

The 37th edition of Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving offers 200 pages that will guide you while you learn about preserving. This book provides information about equipment and step-by-step instructions for each preserving method. Also included are over 500 recipes for canning, pickling, dehydrating, freezing food, and much more!

 

So Easy to Preserve

 

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has now published a 6th edition of its popular book, So Easy To Preserve. The book is new as of September 2014. Chapters include Preserving Food, Canning, Pickled Products, Sweet Spreads and Syrups, Freezing and Drying. Ordering information is available on the So Easy to Preserve website.

 

clearjell1

 

Clear Jel® is a chemically modified corn starch that produces excellent sauce consistency even after fillings are canned and baked. Other available starches break down when used in these pie fillings, causing a runny sauce consistency.  Make sure that you are using the regular Clear Jel® and not the instant type.  It is not readily available in a grocery store but is available online.  A one pound package will make approximately 7-9 quarts of pie filling.

 

 

Complete book of home preserving

The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving contains 400 tested recipes that are easy to understand with detailed instructions to preserve your foods safely.   It includes everything from salsas and savory sauces to pickling, chutneys, relishes and of course, jams, jellies, and fruit spreads, such as: Mango-Raspberry Jam, Damson Plum Jam Crab Apple Jelly, Green Pepper Jelly Spiced Red Cabbage, Pickled Asparagus Roasted Red Pepper Spread, Tomatillo Salsa Brandied Apple Rings, Apricot-Date Chutney.  Excellent for new to advanced canners.

 

preserve

 

Another possible idea is to print off these publications published by Iowa State Extension and Outreach’s Preserve the Taste of Summer.  Also available are hands-on workshops in several areas across the state taught by our ISU Human Sciences Extension and Outreach Nutrition and Wellness Specialists.

With these resources your canner will have tested, reliable information, equipment and recipes to preserve their foods.

s signature - Copy

Food Preservation, Food Safety, Household Equipment, recipes

Healthy Grab and Go Breakfast

May 25th, 2015

Breakfast burrito Week days can be so hectic in the morning.  Sometimes I think I’m the only one who is so rushed that it is hard to get everything done before heading out the door.  This morning while waiting for a train, I looked at the car behind me and noticed the man in the car was eating and drinking.  I had just finished my own breakfast in the car.  This made me think that if breakfast in the car is a going to happen often for me, then I should find some healthy options.

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart website has so many healthy and easy recipes. I can search for some easy grab and go breakfast food.  My daughter keeps her freezer stocked with breakfast burritosBanana bread is easy to make and very portable. I can also find a healthy granola bar for breakfast if I take some time to read nutrition labels the next time I’m at the grocery store.

Another fast breakfast food is fresh fruit.  Bananas and apples are especially easy to transport and eat in the car.  I can toast some whole grain bread and spread some peanut butter on  it for a quick meal. There are so many options open to me if I just take some time to plan ahead.  You can bet that I will be doing that on my next trip to the grocery store.

FE4A7395F74D75DAF68D70AF51D28FD2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition

Home Food Preservation Courses

May 21st, 2015

Preserve the taste of summer2There’s nothing better than fresh-picked produce right out of the garden.  Many times we grow more than our families can eat at harvest time and we preserve that extra food to enjoy when the weather turns cold.  During the summer months here at AnswerLine we typically receive hundreds of calls with questions about home canning and other methods of food preservation. Some of the more common calls include questions about what can or cannot be safely canned in a hot water bath canner vs. a pressure canner. We recommend using only recipes that have been tested for safety by a trusted source such as the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation or the USDA.

Call or email the staff here at AnswerLine if you need advice or tested recipes. We can mail or email the information or read it over the phone if you need it immediately.

If you’re interested in learning more about home food preservation, there are courses available for both home and professional preservers in each of the three states covered by AnswerLine. Some of the courses are hands-on workshops taught by certified professionals and some courses are online that you can take right in the comfort of your own home.

For information and registration information about these courses, click on the link below for the state you reside in:

Iowa: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/preserve-taste-summer

Minnesota: http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/courses/home-food-safety/

South Dakota:  http://igrow.org/healthy-families/food-safety/home-food-preservation-self-study-course/image

 

Here at AnswerLine we provide a valuable service to residents of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota with toll free hotline numbers as well as residents of other states who wish to call our non-toll-free number.  It’s not too early to start gathering the information you need for the canning, freezing, and drying season and the staff here is ready and willing to assist you.

jill sig

Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety, Horticulture, Nutrition