Ice Cold Facts

ice cubesJust because ice is cold does not mean it is protected against certain viruses and bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Therefore, ice should be handled like any other food.

When planning your tailgating activities this football season, ice will play an important part in keeping your food safe for you, your family, and your friends. Protect yourself, family, and friends by following these “Ice Cold Food Safety Tips:”

• Avoid touching ice with dirty hands or glasses.
• Use clean, nonbreakable utensils to handle ice (i.e., tongs, scoop).
• Store your ice in a clean container. If you are using an ice chest/cooler, be sure to wash it with hot soapy water and let it air dry before using it.
• Keep the ice you want to use in your drinks in a separate cooler from the ice that you are using to keep your foods cold.
• Use ice bags that are sealed shut rather than drawstring bags. By keeping your ice bag closed, you are also preventing your ice from getting contaminated.

For more information about food safety, visit the Food Safety website at

Food safety in stormy weather

refrigerator graphicThis time of year brings occasional stormy weather. Are you prepared if your power goes off? Your refrigerator and freezer can help you avoid foodborne illness if you are prepared.

Be prepared
• Monitor the temperature. Keep a thermometer toward the front of the refrigerator and freezer. Check the temperatures as soon as you can after the power is restored before the food refreezes and you cannot tell how warm it had been. Safe temperatures are 40°F or lower in the refrigerator and 0°F or lower in the freezer.
• Keep ready-to-eat food. Store ready-to-eat foods in case you can’t cook or cool food.

When the power goes out
• Refrigerator and freezer doors should be kept closed as much as possible.
• The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if the door is kept closed.
• A full freezer will hold temperature about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
• Packages can be grouped in an “igloo” if the freezer isn’t full.

When power is restored
• Toss perishable food that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.
• Throw out food with an unusual odor, color, or texture, or that feels warm to the touch.
• Check for ice crystals in frozen food. Food partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40°F or colder.

When in doubt, throw it out.
Need to know which foods are safe to keep? Ask for When the Home Freezer Stops (PM 1367) at your county Extension and Outreach office. Or download it:

Springtime Learning = Summer Safety

young boy on tabletUse technology to introduce your children or grandchildren to food safety basics they can put to use all summer long. Below is a list of technology-based resources that can help make learning food safety fun. The first two are free apps for iPads, iPhones, or iPod touch that can be downloaded from iTunes:

Perfect Picnic Game: This app helps kids learn how to build and run a food safe picnic park.

Solve the Outbreak: This app allows kids to become a food detective and uncover the what, why, and how of foodborne illness outbreaks and to see the type of work that real-life “Disease Detectives” do. (Created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Scrub Club: This interactive website teaches kids about hand-washing through the use of games, songs, videos, and other downloadable activities. (From the National Science Foundation International) Go to:

For more information on these and other food safety applications, please visit:

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Explained

GMO CornMisinformation about the safety of GMOs is widespread today, especially on the Internet. Dr. Ruth MacDonald, professor and chair of the department of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, answers some common questions about GMOs.

Why do we use GMO technology?
GMO technology allows farmers to use fewer pesticides and fertilizers on their fields and produce higher quality and greater yields of crops. This has the potential to result in less damage to the environment and in lower food prices.

How are GMO crops made?
To make a GMO crop like corn, scientists insert a very carefully selected section of DNA into the corn plant. The DNA is converted by the plant, as part of the corn’s own DNA, into a protein. That protein gives the corn plant the ability to resist a herbicide or prevent a pest from damaging the plant. The added DNA and protein affect only the pests and herbicides, not people or animals. The added DNA and protein are broken down when we eat them, just like all the other DNA and protein already in the plant.

Are foods made with GMO plants safe to eat?
We eat DNA and proteins all the time! Every living thing, including plants, animals, and bacteria contain DNA and protein. The added versions, such as those found in GMO foods, are not different. Since the beginning of agriculture, farmers have been combining and selecting varieties to improve crops. Using modern tools, scientists speed up this process and make it much more specific.
Most of the major health organizations including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have declared that foods from GMO plants are safe. Farm animals have been consuming GMO grain for many years and the meat, milk, and eggs they produce are safe and healthy for people to eat. Farmers in the United States have been growing GMO corn and soybeans for almost 20 years and these foods and ingredients have been part of our food system all along. To date, there have been no reported cases of sickness from or allergic reactions to foods grown using GMO technology.
Is the use of GMO technology monitored?
Before farmers can grow foods that contain GMO technology, rigorous testing is done to make sure the plants are safe for the environment, animals, and humans. Government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), carefully examine the plants for safety and only those that pass are allowed to be grown.

Are GMO foods labeled?
FDA scientists are responsible for food labels, and they agree that foods produced with GMO technology are as safe and nutritious as other foods—and therefore do not need to be labeled. Some food companies have chosen not to use GMO ingredients in their products, like Cheerios©. General Mills, the company that makes Cheerios©, has said that they are not concerned about the safety of GMOs but believe some consumers might want to have
a choice.

For more information about GMOs visit: and

Safe Home Food Preservation

Preserve the Taste of Summer LogoInterest in home food preservation has increased due to the popularity of local foods and gardening. With more people preserving food, there is concern about whether the resulting food products are safe to eat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the most common cause of foodborne botulism in the United States is from home-canned vegetables because proper procedures were not followed. It is important to keep food safety in mind every step of the way when preserving foods at home.

  1. Follow food safety guidelines when preparing the recipe.
  2. Always use up-to-date tested recipes and directions from a reliable source because knowledge and recommendations change over time with scientific developments. Ignoring recommended procedures can result in home canned products that will make you and your family very ill.
  3. Use the appropriate canning method. The acidity of the canned food product determines whether or not it should be processed in a hot water bath canner or in a pressure canner.
  4. Have the dial gauge on your pressure canner checked each season. Weighted gauges remain accurate and do not need to be tested. Contact your local extension office for information on how to get your dial-gauge pressure
  5. canner tested.

ISU Extension and Outreach offers the Preserve the Taste of Summer (PTTS) program that provides a thorough review of research-based, safe home food preservation practices, includes eight online lessons as well as four hands-on workshops (requires completion of online lessons), and is available statewide. The cost ranges from $25 to $100 depending on the level you choose.
Participant evaluations show that the program increases knowledge of safe home food preservation practices and is well received by those who have participated. One participant said, “I would never have attempted home canning before the online lessons. Now I know how to do it correctly and will attempt home canning.” Another stated, “I plan to make homemade jams and can tomatoes. I wouldn’t feel confident in trying these out before taking this workshop. Great opportunity!”
To register for PTTS, visit

Dating 101

Americans throw out billions of pounds of food every year due to confusion about food expiration date labeling practices, according to a recent report released by Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council. This study found that over 90 percent of Americans prematurely toss food because they misinterpret dates on food labels as indicators of food safety.

For most products, date shelf life is determined by the manufacturer and is based on food quality, not food safety. The lead author of the study concluded that a standardized date labeling system providing useful information to consumers is needed. Until a new system is in place, use the guide below to help decipher codes on your next grocery store trip:

  • A “Sell-by” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best If Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

It is also important that you keep track of your food inventory at home. The acronym FIFO (first in, first out) can help you remember oldest food should be stored in front and used first, while newer items should be placed in the back of your fridge or cabinets.

A helpful resource is StillTasty. Here you can type in a food item and determine how long it will stay safe and tasty. The website provides storage recommendations for the fridge and freezer. An app for the iPhone is available as well, and even alerts you when food should be tossed! A good rule of thumb is “4 day throw away”; after four days leftovers should be eaten, thrown out, or frozen.

Food Safety Mythbusters

We all do our best to serve our families food that’s safe and healthy, but some common myths about food safety may surprise you.wash produce

Myth #1: I don’t need to wash fruits or vegetables if I’m going to peel them.
Fact: Because it’s easy to transfer bacteria from the peel or rind when you’re cutting to the inside of your fruits and veggies, it’s important to wash all produce, even if you plan to peel it.

Myth #2: To get rid of any bacteria on my meat, poultry, or seafood, I should rinse off.
Fact: Rinsing meat, poultry, or seafood with water can increase your chance of food poisoning by splashing juices and any bacteria they might contain onto your sink and counters.

Myth #3: If I really want my produce to be safe, I should wash fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent before I use them.
Fact: It’s best not to use soaps or detergents on produce since these products can linger on foods and are not safe for consumption. Using clean, lukewarm, running water is actually the best way to remove bacteria and wash produce safely.

Myth #4: I saw on the Internet that I can cook my whole meal in my coffee maker.
Fact: Cooking your meal in a coffee maker is not an approved or tested method for safe preparation of foods. Besides, the coffee flavor residue would transfer to anything placed in the coffee maker.

Home Canning 101

The incidence of people preserving food by canning in the oven or in the dishwasher is increasing as many gardeners and home cooks are looking for a shortcut to preserve their canned tomatoesfresh produce at home. However, these are unsafe canning practices. Using unsafe canning practices can cause a deadly foodborne illness called botulism, which is virtually undetectable.

It is estimated that there are 55 actual cases of botulism annually in the United States. Although this is small in comparison to other foodborne illnesses, the death rate associated with foodborne botulism is as high as 17.3 percent. The cause for each case was inappropriate home canning methods, not recognizing the signs of food spoilage, and unawareness of the risk of botulism from home canned foods.

Signs of food spoilage in home canned products include:

  1. Bulging lids and unsealed jars
  2. Dried food starting at the top of the jar
  3. Rising air bubbles and unnatural color
  4. Unnatural odors
  5. Spurting liquid
  6. Cotton-like mold growth on top of the food surface and underneath the lid

Botulism causes a very deadly type of foodborne illness that begins usually within 72 hours after consuming the contaminated food. Symptoms can include digestive upset, blurred or double vision, difficulty swallowing or breathing, paralysis, and eventually death.

Canning in the oven and dishwasher does not heat the food in the jars to a temperature high enough to kill any and all pathogens that may be present in the food. It is important to remember that a sealed jar does not mean food inside the jar is safe to eat. It takes less heat to seal a jar than it takes to make the contents safe. Depending on the type of food, ALL canning must now be canned in a boiling water canner (high acid foods) or a pressure canner (low acid foods).

To ensure that your home canned goods are safe, be sure you are using recipes that follow the most current canning guidelines. Significant changes were made in 1994 that are critical to the safety of some processes. These included changes in canning tomatoes, pickles, and meat processing. Also, other recipes were reviewed and updated for safety and food quality. In 2006 and again in 2009, canning guidelines were reviewed and revised. For this reason, all recipes should be 1994 or later.

Some recommended resources include:

Handwashing 101

handwashingHandwashing is one of the most effective means to reduce the spread of infectious disease. It also helps protect against food borne illness outbreaks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately half of all food borne illness outbreaks is due to people not washing their hands properly.

A recent study at Michigan State University found that only 5 percent of people (consumers, not food service workers) in a college town using restrooms properly washed their hands. The study observed over 3,000 people after they had gone to the restroom and discovered that about 10 percent (384 people) skipped washing their hands all together and about one-third (33%) did not use soap. Of those who did wash their hands, the average time spent doing so was about six seconds. The recommended time by the CDC is 15 seconds.

To properly wash your hands follow these steps:

  1. Wet hands to help loosen dirt, oil, and germs.
  2. Apply soap, preferably antibacterial, to remove the dirt, oil, and germs from hands.
  3. Rub your hands together for 15 to 20 seconds to make sure all parts of both hands are washed. Don’t forget about cleaning around your fingernails, which
  4. are ideal for trapping dirt and germs.
  5. Rinse off all the soap and loosened dirt from the hands under running water.
  6. Dry your hands with a clean, dry towel or by using a hand dryer.

For more information on safe handwashing look at the ISU Extension and Outreach “5 Myths of Handwashing” publication.

Is It Still Good? Tossing Food That Has Expired

Deciding what food is safe to eat and what food should be tossed can be confusing, given the various terms used with dates printed on food containers. The USDA Foodmilk expiration
Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) defines each of the terms as follows:

  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

For safety concerns, these dates are more important for perishable foods like meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. It is recommended to use food by the “use-by date.” Smelling food to determine if it is safe is not always effective. Many bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. Even if you think the food— such as lunch- meat—smells and looks fine, it is best not to consume after the “use-by” or expiration date. If you want to keep the food longer than that date, freeze it. Milk that has been properly refrigerated (40 degrees F) is safe to consume for one week past the “sell by” date.

For concerns about canned foods, high-acid foods (such as tomatoes or pineapple) will have the best quality if used within 12 to 18 months. Low-acid foods (such as meat, fish, or vegetables) will retain the best quality if used within 2 to 5 years. These rules apply only if the can remains in good condition and is stored in a cool, clean, dry place. Use the first in, first out (FIFO) method to be sure the oldest cans are used first. When putting away groceries, place the recently purchased items behind the existing food. It is recommended that home-canned foods be used within one year for best quality.

Additional Resources