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Archive for the ‘Food Safety’ Category

Preparing meals for the freezer

July 24th, 2014

freezing leftover

 

 

Do you struggle with what to make for dinner?  Families today have very busy schedules and often we don’t think about what’s for dinner until it is time to eat.  With a little planning you can have wonderful home cooked meals ready to take from the freezer, put in the oven and your family can be eating a in about an hour!

 

Here are a few helpful tips for preparing meals for the freezer.

  • Pre cook meats and place it in freezer bags for quick meals like tacos or maid rites.
  • If you are making casseroles freeze them before baking, especially when all of the ingredients are cooked.
  • Undercook starchy ingredients like potatoes, rice and pasta when using them in a meal for the freezer.
  • Freeze meals in portion sizes for the number of people in your family.  If you have leftover freeze individual size meals in freezer bags for quick lunches.
  • Freeze meals in the containers you plan to cook them in.  Glass containers work well.
  • Don’t freeze meals that include items that don’t freeze well such as boiled eggs, sour cream and mayonnaise.
  • Seasoning intensity can change during freezing so season lightly.  Cloves, pepper, garlic and celery become stronger upon freezing.  Remember you can always add more seasonings when reheating.
  • Make double batches and freeze one for later use.
  • Let your family help!  Many hands will make meal preparation go more quickly.  Assign tasks to family members according to their age.  You will help develop life-long skills and talents.
  • If you are baking your casserole before freezing, cool it quickly.  Also remember that shallow baking pans speed freezing and thawing of casseroles.
  • To thaw casseroles before reheating, allow the casserole to stand in the refrigerator overnight.  Then cook as directed in the recipe.  If it is not completely thawed you may need to add 15 to 30 minutes to the cooking time.
  • Fully cooked casseroles should not be thawed, but baked at 400°F for the time according to the recipe.
  • Use frozen casseroles within three months for best quality.  Be sure and label all of your meals with the cooking directions and the date that you put it in the freezer.

Planning ahead helps you to take control of your family dinners making meal time enjoyable for everyone!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety

Vacuum Sealers

July 17th, 2014

vacuum sealer machineVacuum sealers are machines that are marketed for vacuum packaging food at home. There are many different models available but these machines are intended to extend the storage time of refrigerated foods, dried foods and frozen foods. I bought one to use with freezing meats and leftovers to keep the quality better for a longer period of time. The benefit of removing the air before sealing is the increased storage time of refrigerated, dried and frozen foods. If the air is not removed, oxygen can cause fats to develop rancid flavors and change the food’s color, texture and flavor. Vacuum seal bags are designed to help keep meat and other foods fresh in the freezer by preventing the loss of moisture and the development of freezer burn.

What vacuum sealers do not do is make a product that needs to be refrigerated shelf stable. The removal of oxygen from a food package doesn’t eliminate all bacterial growth; it just changes the type of growth that can occur. Temperature control is critical for safe vacuum-storage. If foods that require refrigeration are vacuum sealed then left at room temperature, there is a risk of harmful bacteria growing and causing illness. This also means that frozen items that are vacuum sealed should be thawed in the refrigerator, NEVER on the counter.

To avoid risks when vacuum sealing follow these safe food handling tips:

  • Vacuum sealing food does not replace the need to pressure can or water bath home canned foods that are stored at room temperature.
  • Keep vacuum sealed perishable items that need refrigeration (fresh produce, meat and fish, semi-dried foods, and moist bakery items), in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Use a vacuum sealer to extend the shelf life of properly dried nuts, fruits and vegetables and meat jerky. The removal of the oxygen will help these foods continue to taste fresh.
  • Wash your hands before and during the sealing process. Keep utensils, cutting boards and counters clean.
  • Don’t allow the food you are vacuum sealing to be out of the refrigerator before or after you seal it.

Remember to always follow safe food handling practices and enjoy the benefits of vacuum sealing foods.

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Food Safety, Household Equipment

Canning Methods

July 14th, 2014

 

Canning JarsOne of the questions we often hear when folks are canning is: What is the difference between Hot Pack and Raw Pack? Obviously, the main difference is that one style involves totally raw food while the other method uses partially cooked food. Both styles of pack have benefits; select the best pack for the situation.

Raw Pack is often used when canning vegetables in the pressure canner. This is an easy method; clean and slice the fruit or vegetable and pack tightly into the jar. Air is often trapped between pieces of raw food and this air can be difficult to eliminate. Trapped air can cause a loss of liquid during the canning process, floating fruit, or discoloration of the food after a few months of storage.

Hot Pack foods are heated to a boil followed by simmering for about 5 minutes. Precooking shrinks the foods, allowing you to fit more food inside the jar. Air is not trapped inside the food (so fruit will not float) or between the pieces of food, which can cause loss of liquid in the jars. Also, the best quality of some foods, like pears, is obtained by using a hot pack.

No matter which pack you choose for your food, remember to always use boiling water, broth, or juice to fill the jars.

Happy canning.

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Pickling Carrots

July 10th, 2014

pickled carrotsSummer canning time is one of my favorite times of the year.  We get many calls from people learning to can or trying something new. It is fun to teach people proper canning methods. There are so many different options available to us with the recipes tested by the USDA, National Center for Home Food Preservation, Extension Resources, and the Ball Blue Books.

Pickled carrots are yet another way to serve a delicious and nutritious vegetable.  Carrots that are small, young, and tender produce a great canned product.  You may want to try pickling some of the first carrots you pull in the garden this summer.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation has this recipe available for Pickled Carrots.

Enjoy!

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Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Food Safety

Confused by the dates on canned goods?

June 30th, 2014

can date

Are you confused by the dates that appear on food labels?  If so you are not alone!  According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service product dating is not required by Federal regulations with the exception of infant formula.  Most companies do put a date or a code on the package but unfortunately there is no universally accepted method used so it can get confusing.  Here are some terms that will help you in determining if the food item is still safe.

“Sell by” means that store should sell the product by the date printed, but it can still safely be eaten after that date.  Eggs cartons have a sell by date.

“Best if used by” means the consumer should use the product by the date listed for best quality and flavor (not for safety reasons).  Most canned goods have a best if used by date.

“Use by” or “expires” means the product should be used by or frozen by the date listed.  There will likely be a marked deterioration in product quality and safety after this date.  Meats are an example of a food with a use by date.

A packing code is required on all cans.  This enables the company to track when and where the food was manufactured.  Unfortunately these aren’t meant for the consumer to interpret as “use by” dates.

Canned foods are safe indefinitely as long as they are not exposed to extreme temperatures (freezing or temperatures above 90°F).  Any cans that are dented, rusted, or swollen should be discarded.   You will find that high-acid foods (tomatoes, fruits) will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months and low-acid canned foods (meats, vegetables) for 2 to 5 years.

Follow these tips for ensure that the food that you purchase will be at top quality:

  • Purchase the product before the date expires.
  • If perishable, take the food home immediately after the purchase and refrigerate it promptly.
  • Once you freeze a perishable item, it doesn’t matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
  • Don’t buy dented cans from the store.  The can could be compromised it could be unsafe.
  • Follow the recommendations for on the products for safe storage.

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Consumer Management, Food Safety

Power Outages and Food Safety

June 26th, 2014

imageBig storms can cause power outages any time of year.  We may have more concern for food safety when this happens during a summer storm as the contents of the refrigerator and freezer are exposed to warmer room temperatures, especially when the air conditioning goes off.

You should always check the condition of food in the refrigerator and freezer as soon as power returns. That allows you to make safe choices when determining which food is still safe to eat.

These items will be safe: juice, pickles, olives, hard cheese (i.e. Cheddar, Colby, or Swiss), butter/margarine, fresh fruit and vegetables, vinegar/oil dressings, jellies/jams, catsup. Discard any of the above if moldy.

The foods of greatest concern are the perishable items. Estimate the amount of time the power has been off and the current temperature in the fridge or freezer.

Generally speaking:

  • Food will keep 4-6 hours in a refrigerator
  • A full freezer will keep food frozen for 2 days
  • A freezer that’s only half-full will keep food frozen for 1 day
  • If the just off a couple hours, most products will be safe.

Remember these tips for refrigerated or frozen foods:

  • Food held at 40 F. or less (ice crystals are intact): the food is SAFE, either consume or refreeze
  • Food held above 40 F. for 2 hours or less: DO NOT REFREEZE as is, either cook and consume or cook and freeze
  • Foods held above 40 F. for over 2 hours: DISCARD.

 

 

Do not hesitate to contact us with questions about specific foods. We are always happy to help.

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Consumer Management, Food Safety

Safe Grilling Times and Temperatures

June 12th, 2014

It is important to use a meat thermometer to know when the meat you are cooking on the grill is done. Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicates that the color of the meat is not a reliable indicator meat or poultry has reached a temperature high enough to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present.  The following chart from the University of Minnesota Extension gives approximate cooking times for grilling.  Remember grill temperatures vary, so watch carefully and check with a meat thermometer often. The USDA recommends cooking pork, beef, veal, lamb chops, roasts, and steaks to 145°F and then letting it rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating.

Food   Type

Size

Grilling   Time

Internal   Temperature

Beef      
Steaks ¾” thick 3-4 min/side 145°F (Medium rare)
4-5 min/side 160°F (Medium)
Kabobs 1 inch cubes 3-4 min/side 160°F
Hamburger patties ½” thick 3 min/side 160°F
Rump roast (rolled-indirect heat) 4-6 pounds 18-22 min/lb 145-160°F
Sirloin Tip- indirect heat 3 ½-4 pounds 20-25 min/lb 145-160°F
Back Ribs Cut into 1 rib pieces 10 min/side 160°F
Tenderloin Half, 2-3 poundsWhole, 4-6 pounds 10-12 min/side12-15 min/side 145-160°F145-160°F
Ham
Fully cooked-indirect heat Any size 8-10 min/lb 140°F
Cook before eating-indirect Whole, 10-14 poundsHalf, 5-7 pounds 10-15 min/lb12-18 min/lb 160°F160°F
Lamb
Chops/shoulder, loin, rib 1” thick 5 min/side 145-160°F
Steaks, sirloin or leg 1” thick 5 min/side 145-160°F
Kabobs 1” cubes 4 min/side 145-160°F
Ground lamb patties 4 oz, ½” thick 3 min/side 160°F
Butterflied leg 4-7 pounds 40-50 min/total 145-160°F
Pork
Chops—any type ¾ “ thick1 ½” thick 3-4 min/side7-8 min/side 145°F145°F
Tenderloin ½ -1 ½ pounds 15-20 min/total 145°F
Ribs—indirect heat 2-4 pounds 1 ½-2 hours total 145°F
Ground Pork Patties ½” thick 4-5 min/side 145°F

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition, recipes

Ready for rhubarb!

June 9th, 2014

rhubarbIt’s the time of year for harvesting rhubarb!  The rhubarb stalk is used in tarts, pies, sauces, jams, jellies, puddings and punch. Although classed as a vegetable, rhubarb is used as a fruit because its high acidity gives a tart flavor.

Only the stalks or petioles should be eaten because the leaves contain moderately poisonous oxalic acid.   During hot, dry periods of weather eating the leaves could lead to severe sickness.

It is generally recommended that home gardeners stop harvesting rhubarb in early to mid-June. Continued harvest through the summer months would weaken the plants and reduce the yield and quality of next year’s crop. The rhubarb stalks may become somewhat woody by mid-summer, but they don’t become poisonous.

While the flower or seed stalks should not be used, the leaf stalks are edible. However, the flower stalks should be promptly pulled and discarded. If allowed to develop, the flower stalks reduce plant vigor and next year’s production. Flower stalk formation may be caused by drought, infertile soils, and extreme heat. Age may be another factor. Old plants tend to flower more than young ones. Flower formation can be discouraged with good cultural practices. Water rhubarb plants once a week during dry weather. Sprinkle ½ cup of an all purpose garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, around each plant in early spring. Manure is an alternative to a commercial fertilizer. Apply a 2 to 3 inch layer of well-rotted manure around rhubarb plants in spring.

After picking, fresh rhubarb stalks can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 weeks. If you have more than you can eat and want to save some to enjoy some during the winter months it can be frozen successfully.  To freeze wash, trim and cut the rhubarb.  Next blanch in boiling water for 1 minute then cool promptly in ice water which will help retain the color and flavor.  Measure the amount that you put in your freezer bag or container and label and date the package.  If you plan to bake with frozen rhubarb, thaw it completely before using. Drain the excess liquid in a colander, but do not press liquid out.

Enjoy!

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Food Safety, Horticulture

Guidelines for Safe Grilling

June 2nd, 2014

The weather is finally warming up and I am ready to get out and use the grill!  It is important to remember that food must be handled correctly both in the kitchen and on the grill.  Here are some quick reminders when using your grill to keep the food you are grilling safe.

  • Remember to keep your cold foods cold.  Bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature, so keep your meat in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it.  If you want to marinade meat do it in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.  If you plan to grill away from home make sure that you transport meat in a cooler with some ice. The goal is to keep meat at refrigerator temperature.
  • Do not reuse the plate that you use to take the meat out to the grill.  Juices from raw meat and poultry are high in bacteria that could contaminate the cooked meat.
  • Do not use color as an indicator of when meat is done.  Recent USDA research studies indicate that some ground beef may turn brown before it has reached a safe internal temperature of 160°F.  The only safe way to determine if food is done is to use a meat thermometer.  An instant read thermometer takes the guess work out of grilling.
  • It is not a good idea to partially cook meats.  If you must cook ahead, cook the food completely, cool it quickly in the refrigerator in shallow containers and reheat it later on the grill.

Remember these Safe Internal Minimum   Temperatures

Whole Poultry 165°F
Poultry Breasts 165°F
Ground Poultry 165°F
Ground Beef and Pork 160°F
Other Pork cuts 145°F (followed by a 3 minute rest)
Beef, veal and lamb(steaks, roasts and chops) Medium rare     145°FMedium               160°F

So get out there and enjoy your grill, knowing that you are doing all you can to keep your food safe.

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, recipes

Thaw Meat Safely This Summer

May 26th, 2014

imageBarbeque season is here!  This season brings added concern for thawing food safely, meats in particular.  There are really only three ways to thaw meat safely:

  1.  Thaw meat in the refrigerator. Remember to allow enough time, possibly more than 24 hours, for larger pieces of meat to thaw. Set the package of meat on a plate, pan, or inside a plastic bag to prevent drippings from contaminating other food in the refrigerator. Also remember not to place the meat over food that will be consumed raw, just in case drippings find their way onto the food.
  2. Thaw meat in cool water. The water will need to be changed every 30 minutes.  The frozen food will chill the water rapidly, so refilling the sink with cool water will speed defrosting. Remember to keep the meat inside a closed plastic bag.
  3. Thaw the meat in the microwave. Choose the defrost cycle or 50% power setting.  Cook the meat immediately after defrosting.

Defrosting meat on the counter top is not considered safe.  The outer layer of the food can be exposed to the “danger zone” long enough for bacterial growth.  The “danger zone” is between 40 F and 140 F.  In this temperature zone bacteria multiply exponentially.

Play it safe this summer and defrost food safely.

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Nutrition