For some people, the middle of summer is the Fourth of July weekend. For me, it is when our callers all begin to ask questions about canning green beans. At AnswerLine, the middle of summer officially started in the first week of August. That is when our phone lines started to get really busy and we spent most of the day talking about green beans.
The most common question callers have is: “Is it really necessary to process my green beans in a pressure canner?” Or a variation of that call is “How many hours do I need to process my green beans in a boiling water bath canner?”
The answer, of course, is the green beans MUST be processed in a pressure canner to ensure that the botulism bacteria are inactivated. There is NO safe time that low acid foods like beans can be processed in a boiling water bath canner.
Even though the occurrence of those bacteria your green beans is rare, the consequences are quite severe. Botulism poisoning can cause death or very severe illness that can have a long recovery time. I think we can all agree that it is more important to protect our family members than to save a little time or money taking a short cut.
If you don’t own a pressure canner, consider freezing the beans, borrowing a canner, or purchasing one on sale at the end of the canning sale.
Also, remember to always use current, safe, tested canning recipes and procedures. Always make altitude adjustments if you live at an altitude over 1000’.
Follow those rules to preserve safe food for your family. Remember if you have any questions you can always call us at AnswerLine.
It’s salsa time. We are beginning to get questions about making salsa so I thought it might be time to remind people of the rules for making salsa.
First of all, if you have a salsa recipe that has been in the family for years or if you love to experiment and develop new recipes, make all the salsa you want. Just don’t plan to process it in the boiling water bath canner and store it on the shelf. These salsas can only be stored in the refrigerator (for 5-7 days) or in the freezer (for 1-2 months). The texture of the frozen and then thawed salsa will be similar to canned salsa but you won’t have the risk of eating an unsafe product.
Always, and I can’t say this enough, always choose and use a tested recipe for home preserved salsa. That means look at Preserve the taste of Summer publications, recipes from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the USDA canning guide, or the Ball Blue Books for a safe tested recipe. These recipes have been tested to ensure that there is enough acidity to balance the amount of low acid vegetables in salsa. The onions, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes are low in acid so they must be combined with a quantity of acid to make a mixture that is safe to process in the boiling water bath canner. If there is not enough acid in the salsa, the botulism bacteria can grow.
When callers ask how long a salsa should be processed, how long it should be processed in a pressure canner, or the processing time for quart jars of salsa; we know that the caller is likely not using a tested recipe. Since salsa is not heated before eating it, the salsa must be unquestionably safe. Using a tested recipe and following it without changing the recipe is the only way to guarantee safety.
Until a year ago, you could not use much creativity when making salsa. You could vary the type of peppers but not the total quantity of peppers in a recipe. So, you could make a mild or fiery hot salsa by using either bell peppers or ghost peppers. Now the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a choice salsa recipe that allows a bit of creativity when you make salsa.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any salsa questions.
picture courtesy of CDC
With the recent recall of some Gold Medal flours, it is more important than ever to NOT eat any raw products made with flour. The reason for the recall is a multistate outbreak of E.coli 0121.
E.coli 0121 is eliminated by heat through baking, frying, sautéing or boiling products made with flour. All surfaces, hands and utensils should be properly cleaned after contact with flour or dough.
Some E.coli strains are harmless but E.coli 0121 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration. Seniors, the very young, and persons with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible to food borne illness. Once you have ingested a product with E.coli, it can take anywhere from 2-10 days for symptoms to appear. In addition to the diarrhea and dehydration, abdominal pain and vomiting may also be present. Usually there is little or no fever.
General Mills continues to collaborate with officials to investigate the outbreak. The Gold Medal flours being recalled are: 13.5 oz Wondra; 2 lb All Purpose; 2 lb Self-Rising; 10 lb All Purpose; 5 lb All Purpose; 5 lb Self Rising; 4.25 lb All Purpose; 5 lb Unbleached; 10 lb All Purpose Flour-Banded Pack; and 2 lb Signature Kitchens All Purpose Flour Enriched Bleached. If you have specific questions about your product being safe, you can check online at the General Mills or FDA websites or call us at AnswerLine.
As the weather gets warmer it is always a good idea to review safe food handling when shopping and bringing foods home from the grocery store. I wanted to share with you some tips to make sure your foods are handled correctly both for food safety and for best quality.
Here are some things to think about at the grocery store:
- Look over any fresh produce you are interested in purchasing. Make sure they are not bruised or soft. If you are purchasing precut fruits or vegetables only buy if they have been refrigerated.
- Do not buy any canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusty. Many stores sell dented cans at a discounted price but there is a risk of the food in the can being contaminated so do NOT buy those!
- Keep foods separated in your grocery cart. Raw meats, seafood, and poultry could cause cross-contamination if their juice comes in contact with other foods you are purchasing. Make sure that meats are bagged separately when checking out.
- Look at the dates on the foods. “Sell by” is a date the store should sell the product by. “Best If Used By” means the manufacturer says the product will remain at peak quality until this date. It is not a safety date. “Use by” means the product should be eaten or frozen by this date.
- Put the refrigerated and frozen items in your cart last, so they don’t have time to warm up when shopping. Many times the grocery store is where I see friends and food can warm up quickly when it is sitting in a grocery cart while you are talking!
- If you have hot foods have them put in a double paper bags to maintain their temperature.
So we have handled the food safely at the grocery store now we need to safely transfer it home!
- Make sure that the grocery store is your last stop. Run your other errands before you get your groceries. The key to all perishable foods is to refrigerate within 2 hours.
- Put your perishable foods in the coldest part of your car. This is not necessarily your trunk unless it is open to the back seats. If your travel time home is more than a half hour think about bringing a cooler along to store your refrigerated and frozen foods. If the weather is above 90° F. food needs to be refrigerated within 1 hour.
- Unload your car as soon as you get home. Don’t get distracted! Put the perishable foods away first.
Following these tips will help to keep the food you purchase safe and will prevent food waste and illness.
Are you planning a graduation party, baby shower, or family reunion? At AnswerLine, we get many calls from people working on menus or other party ideas. We are always glad to help you
Smorgasbord with a variety of choices
with your planning
If you have someone graduating, It isn’t too early to start thinking about your celebration. At Iowa State University, graduation is scheduled for May 6 and 7. High school graduation parties start in May and continue through early June. If you are planning some sort of gathering of family or a party for friends and family, we are happy to help answer any questions. We have lots of experience and resources that can help people know how much food will be needed for the celebration. We also have almost any color punch recipe you could want to serve.
Some of the questions we answer often for party planners:
- How much fruit do I need to buy to make fruit salad?
- How many potatoes will I need for potato salad?
- What size serving should I use for ______ food?
- Do I have enough food on my menu for my party of ____ people?
- How many servings do I need to feed _____ people?
- What food can I make ahead?
- How can I be sure not to run out of food?
- How do I keep my food safe for 2-3 hours?
Please call us. We love to help!
As long as your child or other family member has a food allergy, you will need to avoid that food. Sometimes that is easier said than done. You will need to become someone who reads every food label and is extra vigilant if the allergy is severe.
Here are some tips for living with allergies:
- Read the label before buying food at the grocery store. Allergens are listed at the end of the ingredient label. People that are very sensitive should avoid foods that state “may have been processed on equipment that processed some other allergen”.
- Look at restaurant menus on line before you leave home. You may find options that work well with the dietary restrictions. You may also find hidden ingredients in foods you might not suspect. Some fast food French fries contain dairy. I know that surprised me when we discovered it.
- Let your server know the dietary restrictions. They may be aware of how the food is prepared and can help with any possible cross contamination issues. They may also be aware of substitutions that the restaurant has on hand for allergies.
- Avoid buffet or family style settings as there may be cross contamination issues. When many people serve themselves it is easy for someone to use the serving utensil from one pan in another pan.
- Fried foods may be a problem as the same oil may be used to fry many different foods.
- Make sure that your child’s school is aware of the allergy. If the allergy is severe, make sure that the school is prepared to help your child in the event of a severe reaction. Many schools now have a policy of outlawing peanut butter and homemade treats to keep everyone safe.
- Work with other families that have the same food restrictions; sometimes they are aware of products that work well as substitutions or you may buy some foods in bulk and share with them.
This information is really just a basic introduction to food allergies. Work with your doctor and a dietitian to help your child lead the best, safest life.
Food allergies are something that we seem to hear about often. It seems like they affect so many different things; from eating at a restaurant, to food for school treats, to a child’s birthday party. Is it really an issue, or is it just a fad that will disappear soon? We sometimes have callers frustrated that the menu or treat they have planned is not acceptable just because one guest or child claims to have an allergy. One caller wanted to serve peanuts at a large bridal shower but was frustrated because people told her she couldn’t as the bride had a severe peanut allergy. She didn’t know what the “big deal” was; the bride should just not eat the peanuts. We discussed the possibility that if a child may handle some peanuts and later hug and kiss the bride. We explained that the risk to the bride for accidental exposure was too great and that peanuts must be eliminated from the menu. After all, who wants to get the bride sick at her own party?
Food allergies are simply a child or person’s immune reaction to a food. The person must have had some exposure or eaten the food previously to exhibit an immune reaction. Most food allergies are caused by one of these eight foods:
- Tree nuts
Peanuts, milk, and eggs are the most common foods causing allergies. Some children may outgrow an allergy; other allergies are lifelong.
Symptoms of the allergy may begin within a few minutes of exposure to the food. Other reactions may occur after a longer period—an hour or so. The symptoms may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Lowered blood pressure
Sometimes very young children or infants may be allergic to soy or milk. Usually colic or fussiness, poor growth, or blood in the stool are signs of this allergy. It does not take much of a particular food to cause a bad reaction in a person that is highly allergic.
Food allergies can’t really be prevented; however, delaying feeding solid foods to children for the first 6 months can help. Avoid feeding wheat, eggs, peanuts, fish, and cow’s milk during baby’s first year. If it is possible, try to breast feed for the first 6 months.
There is no medicine to give a child to prevent food allergy, work with your doctor if you suspect a food allergy. Avoid those foods causing the allergy. Your doctor may advise using vitamins if your child’s diet is very limited. You may need to avoid those same foods if you are breast feeding. Small amounts of the allergen may be passed through the milk. If your child has severe allergies, your doctor may prescribe an emergency kit with an epinephrine pen.
There are several of us at the office that are suffering from colds right now. As we are trying to keep from exposing all of our staff it got me thinking that the spread of viruses and bacteria that cause colds is passed on in the same way that foodborne illnesses are spread – from hand to hand or from hand to food contact. We are sanitizing our doorknobs, computer keyboards, and phones but there are things at home that we need to disinfect to keep from passing foodborne illnesses on to our family. An inexpensive sanitizing solution that you can use at the office or for toys, eating utensils, dishes, dining tables, and kitchen countertops at home is to put in a 1 quart spray bottle, 1 teaspoon bleach with 1 quart of water. If you have concentrated bleach use ¾ teaspoon per quart of water. Use for 1-2 days then make a new batch.
Let’s look at some areas in the kitchen that we need to pay particular attention to when talking about sanitizing.
- Cutting boards. Make sure that you are cleaning your cutting boards after each use. Have two separate cutting boards. One for meat and another for fruits and vegetables. When cutting boards get deep knife marks it is time to replace them since bacteria can harbor in those grooves. After cleaning they can be sprayed with the sanitizing solution and allowed to dry.
- Can openers. These need to be cleaned each time you use them. Then wiped with the sanitizing solution and allowed to air dry.
- Sinks. Before washing your dishes wipe the sink with hot soapy water and use the sanitizing solution. After spraying the sanitizing solution allow it to work for 10 minutes before you use the sink.
- Countertops. Think of all of the items that are set on the countertop. Grocery bags that have been sitting in your trunk, the mail, newspapers, etc. Even if a countertop looks clean before you cook, wash and sanitize it. If the countertop has not been cleaned you don’t want to set your rubber scrapers or other utensils on it for fear of transferring bacteria into your food.
- Dishcloths and towels. Use a clean dishcloth daily. If you wipe up a spill then allow it to dry and put it in the laundry and get out a clean dishcloth. Clean all dish towels and cloths in hot water. If you have scrubbing utensils they should be put in the dishwasher every time that you run it. Most dishwashers have a sanitizing cycle but if you don’t have a dishwasher use your sanitizing solution and allow them to soak for 10 minutes.
- Garbage disposal rubber splash guard. Bacteria can form on inside folds and the underside of the splash guard. A thorough cleaning on both the top and the bottom is important. Use a brush that can reach in all parts and spray with the sanitizer spray and let it dry after it is clean.
- Refrigerators. Remember that spills in the refrigerator should be cleaned up immediately. Make sure that you look at your food items regularly and get rid of the items that are past time to safely eat. Don’t allow food to mold or decay.
Be diligent in keeping bacteria away! Remember these tips to keep your family safe.
Easter is right around the corner and we often get calls about using eggs safely. Here are the answers to some questions regarding eggs that we often get asked.
- What do the dates on egg cartons mean? The dates on egg cartons help the stores to know which cartons are older and which ones are newer. The recommendation is to use the eggs within 3-5 weeks after bringing them home from the store. This time will often be beyond the date on the carton. The best way to tell if an egg is bad is to crack it in a cup and smell it before using. A bad egg will have a definite odor whether it is raw or hard boiled.
- How long can you keep hard boiled eggs? You should refrigerate hard boiled eggs within two hours of cooking them and use them within a week.
- Can raw eggs be used in recipes? The only egg that you can use in a recipe where the egg is not cooked would be a pasteurized egg. Many grocery stores now sell shell eggs that have been heated to a temperature that kills bacteria. These are found in a carton that states that they are pasteurized. Many times the eggs will have a P stamped on them indicating they are pasteurized. Liquid eggs are also pasteurized and can be used in recipes where the eggs are not cooked.
- Can you pasteurize eggs at home? The equipment that pasteurizes eggs is not available for home use. There is a very fine line to cooking them long enough to kill bacteria without cooking the contents of the egg.
- Is a brown egg more nutritious than a white one? The breed of the hen determines that color of the egg shell. Nutrient levels are not significantly different in white or brown eggs.
- What does it mean If an egg floats? Just because an egg floats in water when you are boiling them does not mean that it is unsafe. As an egg gets older the air cell enlarges making it more buoyant.
- Why are some hard boiled eggs harder to peel? A fresh egg is hard to peel. The air cell that is found at the larger end of the egg increases in size the longer the egg is stored. As the contents contract and the air cell increases the shell becomes easier to peel. So if you have eggs that are older use those to hard boil to make peeling easier.
- What temperature do I need to cook my egg dishes to ensure they are safe? To make sure your egg dishes are safe use a food thermometer and make sure it is cooked to 160° F in the middle of the dish.
- Are Easter eggs safe to eat? Be sure that dyed eggs are returned to the refrigerator within 2 hours of coloring them. Also use a food-safe coloring so that if is it absorbed through the shell it is safe to eat the egg. Do not hide hard boiled eggs where bacteria can contaminate them. That includes in the dirt outside or where pets can find them.
- Should eggs be stored in the refrigerator door? It is not recommended that eggs be stored in the refrigerator door. When a refrigerator door is opened the foods stored in the door tend to warm up faster than foods stored in the inside. Store your eggs in the carton and put them in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
- Can you eat eggs that are cracked? Check your eggs at the store and then again when you bring them home. If an egg has cracked on the way home from the store remove it from the shell and put it in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and use it within 2 days. Eggs that crack while you are boiling them are safe to eat. Don’t buy cracked eggs from the store.
- Using eggs safely is important. If you have any additional questions about eggs give us a call at AnswerLine.
Corned beef Patrick’s Day
It is nearly St Patrick’s Day so we are beginning to get calls about making corned beef. Peopleoften want to know why the corn is in the name of the dish as there is not typically any corn found in corned beef. Actually, the corn in corned beef refers to the “corns” of salt used to preserve the meat. Salting meat heavily was one way of preserving meat before refrigeration was widely available.
As you are purchasing the meat, remember to look at the sell by or use by date on the wrapper. Store the meat in the refrigerator if you are able to use it within that time frame. If not, you can safely freeze the meat. For best results, you won’t want to leave it in the freezer for an extended time. The salt in the meat will speed the reactions that cause rancidity; use the frozen meat within a month or two. It is not a good idea to buy corned beef on sale after the holiday this year and plan to store it for next year.
Remember that corned beef is a less tender cut of beef. The cooking method should be long, slow, and moist. This means plan on a longer cooking time at a lower temperature (325°F) in a moist environment. Usually you can accomplish this in the oven with a covered pan that has a small layer of liquid in the bottom of the pan. We always recommend using a meat thermometer to determine doneness of the meat. The meat should reach a temperature of 160°F. At that temperature, the meat will be fork tender but will retain a pink color. That color is due to the curing process and the nitrites involved. If you allow the beef to stand for 10 minutes after cooking, it will be easier to slice.
After cooking and enjoying the corned beef, save the leftovers for only 3-5 days in the refrigerator. Remember you can freeze the cooked meat and enjoy it for a longer period. Again, plan to use the frozen meat within several months.