Food Safety and COVID-19

AnswerLine has been getting lots of calls about food safety and food safety practices during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  With many of us being at home, our TVs provide some entertainment as well as non-stop COVID-19 news and advice from one ‘expert’ to the next.  The messages are very mixed and sometimes downright FALSE.  We at AnswerLine, a part of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, are committed to providing consumers with researched-based information and supporting the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s measures and advice on staying safe during this time.

Here’s answers to some of the questions clients have asked regarding food safety, food packaging, and how to shop for food safely.  Answers to these questions come from the following resources:

1USDA, Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions/Food Safety 
2Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, No Evidence COVID-19 Is Transmitted Through Food and Food Packaging 
3North Carolina State Extension, Covid-19 Food Safety ResourcesSee this site for copies of flyers to share on these topics.

Q:  Can I become sick with COVID-19 from food?
A:   “The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the European Food Safety Authority are in full agreement that there is currently NO evidence that COVID-19 has spread through food or food packaging.  Previous coronavirus epidemics likewise showed no evidence of having been spread through food or packaging.”2  

“Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like Norovirus and Hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness and not food poisoning, and foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.” 2

As before the pandemic, one needs to vigilantly practice good hygiene such as washing hands and surfaces often and correctly, separating meat from other foods, cooking foods to the correct temperature, and refrigerating foods properly and promptly to keep food supplies safe and prevent food-borne illnesses.

Q:  Do I need to disinfect my produce before I use it?
A:  “Washing produce before eating or using fresh is always a good idea.  It is NOT recommended to wash produce with dish soap or any detergent or to treat produce with a chemical disinfectant.”Washing produce with these products can cause vomiting and diarrhea making consumers otherwise sick.

Some have promoted the use of natural disinfectants like vinegar and water as a safer way to wash fruits and vegetables.  Unlike soaps, detergents and chemicals, vinegar and water will not harm anyone; however, vinegar and water simply offer false security when it comes to COVID-19.  While a few studies have shown that vinegar helps with some viruses and microbes, there is no evidence that it can kill COVID-19.  

Q:  I have heard that the virus lives on surfaces.  Do I need to sanitize or disinfect packaged and canned food items?  Do I need to remove food items from cardboard packaging and store otherwise?
A:  As previously stated, food and food packaging are NOT major sources of virus transmission.  However, laboratory studies have shown that COVID-19 can survive for days on plastic, cardboard, glass, and steel.  Therefore, it is “possible that a person could get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the primary way the virus spreads.”2 Person to person is the most likely means of transmission.

“Handling of food packaging should be followed with handwashing and/or using hand sanitizer.”3 If it offers one more peace of mind to handle items with gloves and to wipe plastic, glass, and cans at home with a disinfectant before storing, there is no harm in doing so as long as it is done safely, items are allowed to dry completely, gloves are disposed of, and hand washing follows.  Cardboard should not be wiped with a disinfectant prior to storage; foods items can be removed and stored appropriately otherwise with the cardboard box disposed of, if that brings more peace of mind.

Q:  Should I store my groceries someplace other than my pantry, refrigerator, or freezer?
A:  “It is NOT recommended to store groceries outside of the home, in cars or garages.”3

Q:  How can I minimize my risk at the store?
A:  “Use hand sanitizer when entering stores and wash hands and/or use sanitizer when leaving. Bring your own disinfecting wipes and use on cart and basket handles and card readers. Maintain social distancing as much as possible while shopping and give others at least 6 ft of space. Avoid touching surfaces or items unnecessarily (touch only items that you will buy) and avoid touching your mouth, nose or face.”3 To avoid touching produce with your bare hands use a produce bag to pick up items and place into a clean bag or use the same bag if you are getting a single item; avoid touching multiple items when making produce selections.  Discard all plastic bags at home and wash your hands after discarding. 

If your store permits the use of recyclable bags, make sure to follow these guidelines each and every time they are used during this time of caution.  Many stores are not permitting their use presently.

Lastly, the best food safety protection for ALL is for everyone to be responsible and avoid shopping if experiencing a cough, runny nose, or fever—symptoms of any virus.  And always seek responsible, researched-based information for as a friend’s father advised, “Misinformation is worse than no information at all!”

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Learning to Stay Social While Social Distancing

After several days of staying home to social distance, I began to really miss my pre-COVID-19 life—occasional lunch with friends, haircuts, grocery shopping, library time, exercise classes, grandkids’ sport games, friends and family, social and business meetings, church services, work, and every other social outlet I had.  

Besides connecting with family and friends via phone, Skype, email, or other social media platforms, I needed something more to bring my social groups together.  I began to look for and learn about various online video conferencing options or a way to socialize virtually from the safety of my home.  There are several options available offering both free and subscription services.  Some that I researched included GoToMeetings, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and ZOOM.  As with any service there are pluses and minuses to consider.  After much consideration, I chose to try ZOOM.  Besides being a very popular platform, ZOOM has great video support to aid one in using the medium. Almost overnight, I became a Zoomer!

After downloading the application and learning the basics of how to use it, I asked a friend to try it with me.  Once we were successful, we asked our husbands to try it with us to enlarge our audience.  Again with success, I was ready to try hosting a group meeting with friends with minimal computer skills who agreed to be my test group.  A meeting was scheduled and the chosen friends were invited.  Everyone successfully made it into the meeting via their computer or tablet!  And what a good time we had seeing each other’s face, hearing each other’s voice, and visiting as if we were in a room together. 

Businesses and educational institutions have used virtual meetings for sometime which allows workers to telecommute, save on travel, connect to people around the world, educate, and keep teams together. For those of us not in that world, virtual meetings serve a way to humanize our conversations. A video is a moving picture in contrast to phone or email communication. Seeing someone while talking to them completely changes the nomenclature of a conversation and is highly important to human interaction.

It is not my intention to promote ZOOM or any other product, but simply to raise awareness to the options we have today to stay connected in a time of social distancing.  We are social beings and we need to find our own ways to continue our pre-COVID-19 life while maintaining our own safety until such time that we are free once again to enjoy in-person contacts.  So whether it be any of the virtual meeting options I looked into or Skype, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Apple FaceTime, Marco Polo, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or any others, the bottom line is to find the best way to stay connected.  Doing so will keep us happy and in turn, healthy!

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Out of Bread? Bread ‘In a Pinch’ Ideas

As we hunker down during this time of social distancing and staying home unless absolutely necessary to go out, we may find that we are running out of things that we commonly buy as needed.  One of those items may be bread.  In our previous life, we might have made a run to or a stop at the store to pick up a loaf or two.  Maybe NOT today.  There are ways to get bread ‘in a pinch’ with basic pantry ingredients at minimal cost—and no yeast needed as it might not be a staple in everyone’s pantry.  Further, the recipes are so easy that the kids can get involved with the making, too.

Idea One–‘Magic’ Dinner Rolls or Biscuits.  This recipe was shared by a friend.  The ingredients needed include flour, baking powder, salt, milk and mayonnaise.  Here’s the recipe:

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Combine all ingredients and spoon into a greased muffin pan. The recipe makes 5-6 rolls. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 15 min or until golden brown. After you take the rolls out of oven, brush butter on top.

I experimented with this recipe a bit by adding some raisins and a small amount of cinnamon and sugar for a quick breakfast treat.  One could also add a little cheese, herbs, and bacon bits for a savory flavor.  If the latter is added, the biscuits should be eaten out of the oven rather than stored. I also plan to experiment with gluten-free flour.

Idea Two—Indian “No Fry” Fry Bread.  I’ve had Indian Fry Bread in Arizona where it is usually deep fat fried.  Since I don’t personally deep fat fry, I sought to find a recipe that could be baked.  Indian Fry Bread is a very simple bread made with flour, baking powder, salt, and warm water resulting in a tortilla-style or flat bread.  After trying several, I liked Indian “No Fry” Fry Bread published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  I used my indoor electric grill to bake them.  An outdoor grill could be used as well.  I topped my fry bread with strips of meat, onion, pepper slices, black beans, and grated cheese to make a quick lunch but anything—savory or sweet–could be used.  Further, they are very tasty and would make a great accompaniment to soup or salad.  The directions that come with the recipe are excellent.

Idea Three—Tortillas.  Homemade tortillas are nothing new for me as I’ve made them off and on for years.  Ingredients are very similar to Indian Fry Bread with the addition of shortening.  One thing that I learned from a very good YouTube video, How to Make Soft Flour Tortillas (recipe included in the video), was that kneading the dough for a longer time made the tortilla dough much easier to handle.  Tortillas are best baked/prepared on a hot skillet or griddle; a cast iron skillet is best but definitely not necessary. The finished tortillas can be used in all of the same ways that one might use purchased tortillas but know that they do not keep as long.  They are best used freshly made or within a day of making.

As I experimented with the recipes, I liked the suggestion of making balls before resting the dough as shown in the Flour Tortilla YouTube video for both the Indian Fry Bread and Tortillas.  I also found that I could get thinner tortillas and fry bread if I let the rolled dough rest a few minutes after the first rolling and then rolled them a second time.

Do you have ideas for getting by ‘in a pinch’ when a staple just can’t be had? I’d love to hear from you.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Clean Your Phone to Help Protect Against Coronavirus and Other Illnesses

It’s no secret that our smartphones are filthy and my phone is no exception.   There are any number of scientific studies documenting such.  Our phones go everywhere with us and often times to places where contamination is high making it a breeding ground for germs of all kinds.  They touch our faces, ears, lips, and hands.  And who knows what our hands have touched prior to or after handling our phone. Keeping our phones reasonably sanitary is a smart way to keep germs off our fingers and away from our face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider phones to be a “high-touch surface,” which makes them a possible carrier of the Covid-19 virus.   Therefore, it seems prudent that we clean our smartphones regularly and more so, in this time of a global health crisis.  The CDC does not know at this time how long the coronavirus lives on surfaces, but evidence suggests it could be hours to 9 days.

As a result of my concern to sanitize, not just cleaning, my phone, I began to research the proper way to do it to insure success in disinfecting and at the same time, not using something that would damage my phone.  Here’s what I learned:

Apple support has guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting Apple specific products.  Amidst novel coronavirus concerns, Apple recently updated its cleaning guide to say “70% isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox disinfecting wipes” could be used to clean iPhones as long as one is careful to avoid getting moisture in the openings in the phone.  Android users should check with their individual phone manufacturer for specific guidelines. In general, most manufacturers (Samsung has not yet provided a statement) suggest using ordinary household disinfecting wipes or 70% isopropyl alcohol-based wipes to disinfect phones, including the screen.  Wipes containing bleach should not be used on the screen as it will eat away at the oleophobic coating used to help prevent fingerprint smudges.  In all cases, one must avoid getting moisture into openings like the ports, switches, and camera lens.  

The CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves during the cleaning and disinfecting process.  To begin cleaning, power off and unplug the phone.  Remove the outer protective case and clean as appropriate for the material the case is made from.  Wipe the phone with an appropriate disinfecting/cleaning product as suggested by the phone manufacturer.  Allow the phone and case to thoroughly dry before putting the two back together.  Finally, remove and dispose of the gloves and wash your hands.

While there are some ultraviolet light sanitizing devices available to buy, they have not been proven to be effect for the Covid-19 virus.

Here’s to an “ounce of prevention being a pound of cure” or “I’d rather be safe than sorry” in these uncertain times when there are simple things we can do to protect ourselves.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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2020 Food Trends and “Superfoods”

It is hard to believe we are already several weeks into 2020. I am just now taking the time to look into what some of the food trends were predicted to be for this year.

Some registered dietitians and nutritionists predicted popular food trends for 2020 would include coconut-based yogurts, puffed snacks, foods “stuffed” full of vegetables, and coffee “stuffed” with milk, cream and protein additions.

“Superfoods” predicted included beets, ancient grains, and avocados. “Clean eating” and the keto diet were also predicted to be popular.

So what is a “superfood”? The dictionary defines it as a food that is rich in compounds considered to be beneficial to a person’s health (i.e. antioxidants, fiber, fatty acids). Even though “Superfoods” are often nutritious it is important to not just focus on a few specific foods and forget about other equally nutritious options.

Grocery stores will be bringing in new trends for 2020. They are predicted to include fusing soda and beverage flavors, zero-waste cooking methods, speedy check-out, meat-plant blends, and more fresh produce from countries around the world.

Chefs will be looking to serve more healthy foods, whole grain breads made of ancient grains, and smoky flavors. Restaurants will be offering more vegetables including greens such as broccoli rabe, blue peas, and purple potatoes.

I think the bottom line is food trends will be dominated by better nutrition and food choices. It is interesting to see what the predictions are but also to remember variety in our diets gives us the benefit of getting a wide array of essential vitamins and minerals and helps prevent us from eating too much or too little of a particular nutrient.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Iowa Ingredient

One of my favorite TV shows to watch on Saturday morning is on Iowa PBS. It is called Iowa Ingredient. Each week they focus on a single Iowa ingredient and how it gets from farm to table. There are always guest chefs who prepare various dishes using the ingredient.

I have a few favorite chefs I like to watch on the show although one of the recent episodes I was watching introduced me to Iowa Girl Eats. Many of the recipes she includes in her blogs are gluten free as she was diagnosed with Celiac Disease a few years ago. I have several friends who are gluten-sensitive and just feel like they feel better if they limit the gluten in their diets and several friends who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. In addition to the gluten-free recipes she shares on her site she also has recipes for light-and-healthy and crock-pot.

If you are curious I hope you will take the time to search for Iowa Ingredient on Iowa PBS! I think you will find it very interesting!

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Hasselback Technique

baked potato stuffed with cheese, bacon and sour cream. loaded hasselback potatoes

If you have not tried the Hasselback technique it is really a fun and fancy way to dress up many vegetables, fruits and even poultry! It is a cooking method that involves thinly slicing the food about three quarters of the way through, accordion style, and leaving the bottom intact, before cooking. This creates more surface area and the cuts you have created can be stuffed or topped with additional flavorings. It also adds additional texture to the food. 

The Hasselback technique is typically thought of as being used on baking potatoes. The technique was introduced as a Swedish side dish at a Stockholm restaurant, named the Hasselbacken, where it was first served. Although potatoes are the most typical many other foods lend themselves nicely to the technique: eggplant (leave the skin on), sweet potatoes, apples, butternut squash (peel and seed), zucchini, chicken and tomatoes (leave raw and add a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf in each cut before drizzling with balsamic vinegar and oil!).

You do not need a bunch of fancy kitchen tools when using the Hasselback technique. All you need are chopsticks or wooden spoons and a very sharp knife. Laying the chopsticks or wooden spoons on each side of the food really helps keep you from cutting all the way through and keeps the cuts a uniform depth. You may also want to lay a ruler beside the food so you can make evenly spaced cuts 1/8 to 1/4 inch apart. The thinner you make the cuts the faster it will cook.

Fat will be your friend with this technique especially if you try it on potatoes as it will help the edges crisp up nicely. If you are using zucchini however there won’t be as much crisping as the zucchini doesn’t contain as much starch. Using your favorite oil, or butter, will create a golden carmelized top on the food. Coat the entire top with the fat and use a pastry brush to add some in between layers. 

If you would like to try this technique the University of Tennessee has a great recipe using sweet potatoes . Hope you enjoy and experiment with other foods!

 

 

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Freezing Pies

Pumpkin pie ready to serve.

On Monday, I wrote about problems that you might experience when you are baking a pie. Freezing pies is another topic of interest to callers. We tell callers that they can either freeze the pie raw or cooked. A raw frozen pie baked just before serving it will taste fresher.

If you want to bake the pie first and then freeze it, the directions are pretty simple. Bake the pie, allow it to cool, wrap well and freeze. To serve this pie, thaw it in the refrigerator. If you want to warm the pie, set it inside a warm, not hot oven, for 5-10 minutes.

If you want to freeze a fruit or berry pie, make as usual but add an extra tablespoon of flour or tapioca or one-half tablespoon of corn starch to the filling. This will prevent those juicy fillings from running over in the oven. Do not cut a vent into the top crust at this time; wait until baking to cut the vent. Freeze the pie at this point and then wrap it tightly after freezing. To bake this pie, first cut the vent holes in the top crust. Bake it without thawing at 450° F. for 15-20 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 375° F for an additional 20-30 minutes or until the top crust is browned.

You may be surprised to know that you can freeze a pumpkin pie before baking it. Prepare both the crust and filling as usual. Chill the filling before pouring it into the crust. Freeze and then wrap this pie as you would the fruit or berry pie. When you are ready to bake it, bake without thawing at 400° F. for 10 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 325° F to finish baking. Test for doneness by inserting a knife half way between the center and edge of the pie. When the knife comes out clean, the pie is done.

This is a good time of year to do some experimenting with freezing pies. You may find that a frozen pie or two helps with that next big holiday meal.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Pie Problems

Pie problems are a common call at AnswerLine. I had a little time recently, so I thought I’d do a little research to help me answer callers questions. I used our Keys to Good Cooking book by Harold McGee and did a bit of reading.

Raw pie crust in the pie pan.

Probably our most common call is about soggy bottom crusts on a pie. The book had several solutions for this issue. I was surprised when I read the first tip for a crisp bottom pie crust. McGee suggests using a crust recipe that includes egg. He states that a flaky crust (baked without egg) more easily adsorbs liquid. That makes sense, if you think about it. His second tip was one we often suggest. Blind bake the crust–which is baking a pie crust without the filling inside. You can line the crust with parchment paper and use either dry beans or pie weights to prevent the crust from shrinking or puffing up while baking. McGee also suggests coating the pre-baked crust with an egg wash and returning the crust to the oven to dry the crust before filling and baking the crust fully.

Of course, you can come at this problem in a different direction. Instead of treating the pie crust, you can ensure that the filling is precooked and thickened before adding it to the pie crust. Fruit fillings often release a lot of liquid during the baking time and if you have not added enough thickener, you can have a really runny pie. If you thicken the filling before placing it in the crust, you can reduce the chance of a soggy bottom crust.

Another issue that bakers have is taking a custard pie out of the oven and having the custard become thin and watery. This happens if you don’t heat the custard filling hot enough to destroy an enzyme found in the egg yolk that can liquefy the custard. Bake the custard pie to 180°-190° F to destroy the enzyme.

Use these tips if you want to cure a soggy bottom.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Teaching kids to sew

Sewing pajamas

My favorite hobby is sewing; especially quilting. When I started having grandsons, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to share my love of sewing and quilting with grandchildren. After I thought about it a bit, I realized that I can share my love of sewing and quilting with boys as easily as with girls. We may be sewing different things with the grandsons than I would have with granddaughters but it is just as much fun. Every year, when we head out to Idaho to visit our grandsons I plan a sewing project.

The boys are finally old enough to work with patterns and follow the written directions. I like to choose the pattern before we leave Iowa as I can ensure the pattern will be easy to follow with a little guidance from me.

This year and last year, we opened the patterns and looked at the instructions before heading out to the fabric store. We circled the size we planned to make so that we were prepared when we selected fabric. They boys choose a fabric, take the bolt to the cutting counter, and tell the clerk how much fabric they need. The also read the pattern to select any thread or notions they might need to construct their garment. Of course, this is the fun, easy part of the process. They do love to shop at the fabric store.

I find it easiest to work with one child at a time. We preshrink fabric if needed and then cut out the pattern pieces. Pinning the pieces onto the fabric and explaining straight of grain makes this process take a bit of time. Explaining that careful cutting saves time later is often a difficult concept for them to understand.

Finished Ppajamas

I’ve taught them to pin the pieces together and I try to get them to sew slowly enough to follow the seam guide imprinted on the needle plate. Their skills have improved over the years, but it is still hard to sew a long seam or a curvy seam. This year, I set in the sleeves on a pajama top and I always take out mistakes for the boys when they make an error. I want sewing to be fun and challenging, not discouraging.

Choosing pajama or shorts patterns ensures that the finished garment will be useful. They are always proud to wear something they made themselves.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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