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Create Lasting Family Memories

March 30th, 2015

eggs easter color dyeSpring is here and with spring brings the Easter celebration.  My youngest child is in college now but one activity that the whole family has enjoyed doing since they were little is getting together to dye Easter eggs.  Not only did they enjoy it as kids but it is still a fun activity for the whole extended family!

Here are a few things to remember when handling eggs safely.

  • Make sure that everyone washes their hands before handling the eggs and make sure that the counter is covered to keep dye from staining it.
  • After cooking and cooling the eggs put them in the refrigerator unless you are dying them immediately. Eggs should be out of the refrigerator for no longer than 2 hours.
  • Use a food safe dye if you are planning on eating the eggs.
  • To make your own dye with food coloring to ½ cup of water add 1-2 teaspoons of vinegar and 20 or so drops of food coloring. Add more if you want a darker color. Leave in the water mixture until it is the desired color. (For additional tips on making your own natural dyes look for out April 2nd blog post!)
  • Try wrapping rubber bands around your eggs before placing them in the dye. Just be sure the egg is dry before removing them!
  • Use a crayon to draw a design on the egg. The wax will keep the dye off the design while the rest of the egg will be colored.

If you plan to hide your eggs remember that they should be out no longer than 2 hours.  According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service don’t eat eggs that have been lying on the ground.  If there happen to be cracks in the shell, bacteria can contaminate the eggs.  They should be hidden in places that are protected from dirt, moisture, pets and other sources of bacteria.  If you follow all of these rules the “found” eggs should be washed, re-refrigerated and eaten within 7 days of cooking.

If you want to keep your eggs from one year to the next, or if you want to use them for decorating you will need to blow out the eggs.

  • Make sure that the eggs you are using do not have any tiny cracks in them.
  • Use a long needle to make a small hole in the small end of the egg and a larger hole in the large end.Carefully make the hole larger (on the large end) so that you are able to stick a needle into the yolk to break it.
  • Shake the egg over a bowl until the contents come out. Rinse the shell in cool running water and stand it on end to let it drip and dry.
  • You can also press the bulb of a kitchen baster (that has been squeezed to expel the air) in the larger hole made in the egg. Release the bulb to siphon out the shell contents. Rinse and let dry.
  • Remember the eggs will be very fragile so you might want to save an egg carton to store them in!
  • Try making your own Easter grass by shredding or thinly cutting colored paper. Crush it in your hand to give it the correct grass texture. It makes the perfect nest for your blown out eggs or for the inside of an Easter basket!

Enjoy the fun times spent with your family!  With our family these are memories that last a lifetime!

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Food Safety, Holiday ideas, recipes

Egg Safety

March 26th, 2015

pasteurized egg cartonToday I wanted to answer some questions that we often receive about eggs.

Salmonella is something that we have heard in the news in recent years.  People have gotten sick from eating uncooked or under cooked eggs.  This includes using raw eggs in recipes for homemade ice cream, sauces or even leaving your yolks runny when making fried eggs.  Your only option to continue to make these recipes is to use pasteurized eggs.  Pasteurized eggs have been heated to a temperature high enough to kill the bacteria but not cook the egg.  Pasteurized shell eggs are now available at some grocery stores. Like all eggs, they must be kept refrigerated to retain quality and safety. Unfortunately pasteurizing eggs at home is not an option. The equipment to pasteurize shell eggs isn’t available for home use, and it is very difficult to do at home without cooking the egg. Liquid eggs are also pasteurized and can be used in uncooked recipes.

Did you know that older eggs are easier to peel? That’s because the air cell, found at the large end of the shell between the shell membranes, increases in size the longer the raw egg is stored and as the moisture inside the egg evaporates through the shell. As the air cell enlarges, the shell becomes easier to peel.  Also just because an egg floats in water doesn’t mean it is bad. As the air cell increases it will make the egg become buoyant. It means the egg is older but it may still be perfectly safe to use. A spoiled egg will have an unpleasant odor when you break open the shell, whether it is raw or cooked.

Here are a few other tips from the Food Safety and Inspection Service on handling eggs in dishes.

  • Egg mixtures are safe if they reach 160 °F, so homemade ice cream and eggnog can be made safely from a cooked egg-milk mixture. Heat it gently and use a food thermometer.
  • Dry meringue shells are safe. So are divinity candy and 7-minute frosting, made by combining hot sugar syrup with beaten egg whites. Avoid icing recipes using uncooked eggs or egg whites.
  • Meringue-topped pies should be safe if baked at 350 °F for about 15 minutes. Chiffon pies and fruit whips made with raw, beaten egg whites cannot be guaranteed to be safe. Instead, substitute pasteurized dried egg whites, whipped cream, or a whipped topping.
  • To make a recipe safe that specifies using eggs that aren’t cooked, heat the eggs in a liquid from the recipe over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 160 °F. Then combine it with the other ingredients and complete the recipe.
  • To determine doneness in egg dishes such as quiche and casseroles, the center of the mixture should reach 160 °F when measured with a food thermometer.
  • Eggs and egg dishes, such as quiches or soufflés, may be refrigerated for serving later but should be thoroughly reheated to 165°F (74°C) before serving.

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Food Preservation, Food Safety, recipes

Valentine’s Day Treat Storage

February 12th, 2015

You may be surprised to learn that Valentine’s Day started with the Romans. There are two theories about the origin of Valentine’s Day. The first is that the day derives from Lupercalia, a raucous Roman festival on February 15 where men stripped naked and spanked young maidens in hopes of upping their fertility. The second theory is that while the Roman Emperor Claudius II was trying to bolster his army, he forbade young men to marry (apparently single men make better soldiers). In the spirit of love, St. Valentine defied the ban and performed secret marriages. For his disobedience, Valentine was executed on February 14.

Either way, Americans love to celebrate the holiday as a symbol of love and romance, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, you might be wondering how to store some of the goodies that come with the holiday.

Here are a few guidelines on cookie and chocolate storage from StillTasty.com, a website for food storage guidelines using research-based information.

Store boxed chocolates at a moderate room temperature. Stored at these temperatures, most types of boxed chocolates will retain their quality for at least 6 to 9 months, even after they’ve been opened. (The exception to this is premium gourmet, handmade chocolates. They will usually remain at peak quality for only about 2-3 weeks at room temperature.)

  • Ideal temperature for storing chocolates is generally between 60⁰ and 70⁰ Fahrenheit – much warmer than that, and the chocolates’ texture and appearance can begin to suffer.
  • In hot, humid conditions – or for longer-term storage refrigerate or freeze chocolates.
  • Refrigeration can extend the shelf life of your chocolates by at least 25%, while freezing can prolong it by 50% or more. Place the original box in a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag, seal and refrigerate for up to one year, or freeze for up to 18 months for best quality. Thaw frozen chocolates in the refrigerator.
  • If the climate in your home is routinely above 70⁰ Fahrenheit and humid – or if you can’t polish off your entire box of chocolates within a few months – your next best option is to refrigerate or freeze your boxed chocolates.
  • Chocolate absorbs nearby odors like a sponge. So it’s important to keep your boxed chocolates well-covered, no matter where you’re storing them. For maximum taste and freshness, place opened boxes in a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag and seal it tightly.

Bakery or homemade cookies can be stored at room temperature 2 – 3 weeks or 2 months in the refrigerator.  Cookies retain their quality when stored in the freezer for 8 to 12 months.

The best way to store cookies is in an airtight container or a resealable plastic bag with the air pressed out.

Baked cookies are best stored separately according to their type, crispy or chewy. For long- term cookie storage, freeze them.  Thaw at room temperature in their wrappers.

Moist bars, such as cheesecake and lemon bars, can be refrigerated for 7 days.  For best quality, store bars in the freezer for up to 2 to 3 months.

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day!

jill sig

Food Preservation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas, Uncategorized

Reducing Food Waste

February 9th, 2015

photo (2)With our last child leaving to attend college we have become empty nesters.  This has brought about a huge change in my grocery shopping and meal plans!  It has caused me to reevaluate how much I purchase and how many leftovers we are able to consume.

According to the National Resources Defense Council 40 percent of food in the US goes to waste.  A lot of the household waste is due to over purchasing, food spoilage, and plate waste.   About 2/3 of household waste is due to food spoilage from not being used in time, whereas the other 1/3 is caused by people cooking or serving too much.    With this in mind here are some suggestions to reduce your food waste and save money.

  • Be careful of buying in bulk.  Foods have limited shelf life and even thought the price may be much cheaper in a larger quantity, if you end up throwing the excess away the overall cost will be higher.
  • Plan your meals before you go to the grocery store using the grocery ad.  Then you will know what is on sale and not end up with impulse purchases and you will have the foods you need for the meals you have planned.
  • Store foods properly.  If your produce was purchased in the refrigerator section of the grocery store it should be refrigerated when you bring it home.
  • In the refrigerator store fruits that emit ethylene gas (apples, apricots, cantaloupe, figs, kiwis, melons and plums) away from other fruit and vegetables in a refrigerator drawer. Ethylene gas can contribute to overly quick ripening of other produce when stored together.
  • Remember to freeze foods that will not be consumed within a few days. Freeze leftovers in single serving sizes in freezer containers.  Then you will have small meals or lunches available to reheat when you want them and you don’t have to eat the same meal for days at a time.
  • Use fruits and vegetables in various ways. Besides eating them as side dishes or snacks put extra fruits in smoothies or mash for ice cream syrups or pancake toppings and cut fruit up to make fruit salsa. Roast extra vegetable and add them to stir fry dishes, put in a tortilla or use as pizza toppings.  Remember fruits and vegetables can also be frozen.  Be sure to blanch vegetables for best quality freezing.

Help reduce your food waste and decrease what you are spending on foods by being a smart consumer.

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Consumer Management, Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Keep It or Toss It?

January 26th, 2015

usebydatenewHere 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!can date

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.

 

 

jill sig

 

 

Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition

New Year and Resolutions

December 29th, 2014

 

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

Happy New Year from the AnswerLine staff.

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Child Development, Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition, recipes

Merry Christmas

December 25th, 2014

Christmas

Remember to keep that milk cold or set it out less than two hours before you expect to see  Santa. Happy Holidays from the AnswerLine staff.FE4A7395F74D75DAF68D70AF51D28FD2s signature - Copy

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Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Steps to Safely Fry a Turkey

November 24th, 2014

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!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas, Household Equipment

Time to Thaw the Turkey!

November 20th, 2014

 

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 turkey thawprevent 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 turkey thaw2water 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.

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas

Pumpkin Pie–Do I Need to Refrigerate It or Not?

November 17th, 2014

 

Pumpkin pie ready for bakingOne 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.

Enjoy!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas