Freezer Burn and Food Safety

Have you opened some frozen food to find it has a dry, grayish surface or lots of ice crystals clinging to the surface? This is freezer burn. Freezer burn is simply the result of air coming into contact with food, and while it may not look appetizing, it is usually safe to eat.

Package of food in the freezer
Frozen food

The phenomenon of freezer burn happens when tiny ice crystals on the food’s surface evaporate directly into vapor without first going through the liquid water phase – a process scientifically termed sublimation. This moisture loss or dehydration leaves the food’s surface layers dried out and discolored.

Freezer burn happens when food is not adequately wrapped to remove oxygen, which has a bleaching effect on the food surface. Food stored constantly at 0 °F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy or inadequate freezer storage.

The bleaching and moisture loss effect of freezer burn may not make food unsafe to eat, but it certainly affects the taste, texture, and color. Severely freezer-burned food will have an off taste and smell that is especially noticeable. It’s best to toss any food that exhibits severe freezer burn as the quality does not merit the effort to save or prepare it. Products exhibiting mild freezer burn are usually fine to eat by cutting away the burned area either before or after cooking. Foods with a higher water content are more likely to get freezer burn.

A few simple precautions will help to avoid freezer burn and ensure frozen foods remain at peak condition at time of use and eliminate food waste. Here are some tips from the experts:

  • Use freezer-safe containers. Only use bags, jars, paper and containers that are labeled for freezer use. These products are designed to keep air out.
  • Remove as much air as possible. Air is the enemy of frozen food. Vacuum sealers do a wonderful job of removing air. However, squeezing the contents without smashing will also remove a lot of air.  Some people like to insert a straw into the corner of a zipper bag and pull air out before the final close. If using freezer containers, crumple a piece of waterproof paper on top of the food to help minimize headspace. This helps prevent freezer burn, ice crystal formation, and keeps food pieces from drying out.
  • Maintain the freezer temperature at zero degrees F or lower to help freeze food fast and stay frozen solid. Foods stored near or in freezer doors or at the top of a chest freezer should be eaten first as these areas are for short-term storage. Also avoid packing the freezer tightly; air must be able to flow freely around the food.
  • Let foods cool before packaging. The USDA recommends cooling food as rapidly as possible, either in the refrigerator or in an ice bath. Cold foods are less likely to trap steam inside the packaging. Steam, like air, is detrimental to frozen foods as it turns to ice crystals. Individual blanched vegetables, fruits, meat pieces, and baked goods are best if cooled and then flash frozen on baking trays (tray pack method) for an hour or two before packaging.
  • Store-packaging may be left on meat products but they should be over-wrapped in freezer paper, heavy duty foil or plastic wrap, or placed in freezer bags prior to freezing for long-term storage.
  • Label and date. Freezing keeps food safe almost indefinitely. However, there are recommended storage times for best quality. Refer to the FDA Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart which lists optimum freezing times for best quality. 

Freezer burn affects food’s quality but not its safety. Even though the food is safe to eat, it doesn’t mean one should. Freezer burn fundamentally changes a food’s chemical composition, affecting its flavor and texture. All foods are susceptible to freezer burn but with proper packaging and freezer management, the problem can largely be eliminated.

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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Freezing Yeast Dough

The frozen yeast dough products available at the supermarket are a nice convenience. But did you know that yeast dough can also be prepared at home and frozen to nearly duplicate the convenience of a ready-to-use product?

Bread rolls
Baked rolls – Photo: mrgeiger

Fleischmann’s Yeast introduced home bakers to freezing yeast dough in their 1972 publication, Fleischmann’s Bake-it-easy Yeast Book. Included in the book were the very first recipes for frozen dough one could make at home, freeze, and bake later. The recipes introduced were specifically developed for freezing and to this day, they remain the standards for freezing yeast doughs.

It should be noted that freezing dough at home may not yield the same results as commercially frozen dough but is still a means to delicious, freshly baked bread when time is short. Frozen dough manufacturers have access to superior dough stabilizers and freezing equipment that freeze the dough very quickly, allowing doughs to freeze with minimal damage to the yeast and dough structure. Dough freezes slower in home freezers increasing the risk of damage to the yeast and dough structure.

Tips for Preparing Yeast Dough for the Freezer  

  • According to Fleischmann’s Yeast, only yeast dough recipes specially developed for freezing should be used for best results. Freezer dough recipes usually call for more yeast and sugar and less salt and fat. The most success is achieved with roll or pizza dough. The method of preparation is not limited; dough can be made by hand mixing and kneading, mixer, food processor, or bread machine.
  • Original freezer-dough recipes used all-purpose flour. Today, it is recommended to replace all-purpose flour with bread flour as it helps to maintain better structure.   
  • Active dry yeast should be used instead of fast-acting yeast. Fast-acting yeast is not ideal for recipes that require a long rising time. King Arthur Baking suggests making the dough with cool, not lukewarm liquid (water or milk) to keep the yeast as dormant as possible so that it is less vulnerable to damage during the freezing process.
  • To compensate for the yeast that will inevitably die in the freezing process, King Arthur Baking suggests increasing the yeast by ¼ to ½ teaspoon per 3 cups (360 grams) of flour.
  • Dough may be frozen at two junctures:
    1) after kneading and before the first rise (proofing) OR
    2) after the first or second rise.  
    American Test Kitchen tested both junctures and found “freezing the dough between the first and second proofs was the best strategy. The first proof ensured that enough yeast had fermented for the dough to develop complex flavors and for some gluten development for better baked size. The remaining viable yeast cells then finished the job as the dough thawed and proofed for the second time.” 
  • Form the dough into balls for rolls or flatten the dough into a disk about 1 inch thick for pizza crust or dough to be shaped later. French bread, loaves of bread, braids, and cinnamon rolls can be shaped prior to freezing; loaves should be frozen in greased loaf pans and cinnamon roll slices placed on their sides on a lined baking sheet. Tightly wrap the dough with plastic wrap.
  • Flash freeze the dough in the freezer for 1-2 hours. Dough should be covered during flash freezing, thawing, and rising prior to baking to prevent the dough from developing a dry crust.
  • When the dough pieces have formed a hard shell around the outside, transfer to a zipper freezer bag or air-tight freezer container. Return the dough to the freezer. Dough may be frozen up to 1 month. For best results, use dough sooner rather than later.

When ready to use, remove needed dough balls, loaves, rolls, or disks from the freezer and allow to thaw covered in the refrigerator, a warm location, or combination until doubled in size. Do not over proof.  Since the yeast and bread structure have been compromised during freezing, over proofing may cause the dough to collapse on itself.

Previously formed dough can be thawed in a greased baking pan until double. Disks should be allowed to thaw and then rolled or shaped (pizza crust or any shape or specialty desired), placed in a greased baking dish, and allowed to rise until doubled. (Rolled dough for pizza crust does not need time to double unless desired.) When dough has reached the desired size, bake as directed.

Thawing and rising times vary according to the temperature of the dough, the size of the dough pieces, and where thawing takes place. Use these times as a guideline for thawing:
Refrigerator: 8-16 hours
Countertop: 4-9 hours
Warm location: 2-4 hours
Dough balls for dinner rolls take about 1½ -2 hours to thaw and double before baking in a warm location. Loaves of bread may take 4-6 hours at room temperature.

Cinnamon rolls

Recipes for freezer dough can be found on the Fleischmann’s website. Some examples include: pizza dough, bread dough, and dinner rolls. If one is lucky enough to have a copy of Fleischmann’s Bake-it-easy Yeast Book, 1972, a variety of yeast doughs developed for freezing can be found therein.

Fresh-baked bread is always more delicious than reheated. If you plan ahead, you can freeze yeast dough to save time provided you remember to pull it from the freezer early enough—that’s the hardest part! 

References:

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

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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Tray Pack for Freezing Food – Why and How

Sometimes a small amount of a frozen food is needed, like a few strawberries for a smoothie, one chicken breast, or a few pepper slices for a soup. By “flash freezing” or using the “tray pack” method, one can easily remove just the right amount of fruit, vegetable, meat, and even baked items needed, rather than thawing larger amounts of food all at once. Removing only what is needed is a great way to reduce food waste.

Tray of raspberries in the freezer

In the food industry, flash freezing quickly chills food items at extremely low temperatures with circulating air. This quick-chill method keeps ice crystals small, preserving the cell structure and preventing moisture loss in the food when it thaws. In the home, flash freezing refers to the tray pack method or practice of freezing individual pieces of food separately spread out on a baking sheet or tray until firm (1-2 hours). When frozen firm, the frozen food is promptly packaged (use containers or bags specific for freezing to prevent freezer burn) leaving no head space, sealed, labeled, and returned to the freezer. This prevents individual pieces of food from fusing together during freezing.

Small ice crystals are desirable in frozen food to preserve texture. Large ice crystals rupture food cells and cause a soft, mushy texture. Small crystals are formed when food is frozen quickly and kept at a constant storage temperature of 0ºF (-18ºC) or lower, making the at-home tray pack method desirable for any foods that come in or can be cut or broken into individual pieces. Raw, cooked, or blanched foods may be frozen using the tray pack method.

Foods that can be Flash Frozen with the Tray Pack Method

Bacteria, molds, and yeast are present on all fresh foods and multiply rapidly between temperatures of 40°F and 140°F (4°C and 60°C). Therefore, fresh fruits and vegetables should be washed with cool water to remove dirt and residues and prepared appropriately, including blanching when necessary, prior to freezing. Other foods should be handled appropriately for their type. Freezing does not kill most microorganisms in food but prevents their growth. When thawed, the surviving organisms on any frozen food can grow again.

  • Fresh fruits: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, mango chunks, cranberries, grapes, bananas slices, pineapple chunks, peach slices, kiwi slices, gooseberries, currants, rhubarb. Fruits that darken, such as peaches, can be pre-treated with ascorbic acid and drained prior to freezing.
  • Fresh vegetables that do not need blanching prior to freezing: peppers and chilies (seeded, whole, halved, or chopped), onions and garlic (chopped), tomatoes (peeled). [See Freezing Onions, Peppers, and Tomatoes.]
  • Fresh vegetables that have been blanched, cooled, and drained prior: green/yellow beans, shelled peas, zucchini/summer squash, whole-kernel corn, carrots, okra, sugar/snap peas and small mixed vegetables. [See How to Blanch and Freeze Vegetables.]
  • Individual portions of meat or chunks of meat.
  • Individual scoops of cookie dough.
  • Unbaked, shaped yeast dough. [See Freezing Yeast Dough.]
  • Individual portions of baked items.

Trays or baking sheets may be lined with a silicone baking mat (Silpat) or parchment paper if sticking or freezing to the metal is of concern. To ensure that there is sufficient cold air to circulate around the trays to freeze quickly and not raise the temperature of already frozen food, add no more than 2 pounds of food per square foot of freezer space.

Food stored at temperatures of 0°F or below will always be safe to eat. Freezing prevents the growth of the microorganisms that cause food-borne illness. However, frozen foods might lose flavor, texture, or overall quality over time. The FDA Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart lists optimum freezing times for the best quality of most foods. Other recommendations from StillTasty.com for items not on the list include:

  • Baked items – 3-6 months
  • Unbaked yeast dough – 1 month
  • Cheesecake slices – 2 weeks
  • Fruit – 1 year
  • Cookie dough – 3-4 months

With the exception of most yeast dough products, it’s best to plan ahead and thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, where it will remain at a safe, constant temperature — at 40°F (4°C) or below. Other options include thawing in cold water or in the microwave. It’s also safe to cook foods from the frozen state; frozen vegetables are commonly prepared this way. Frozen fruit can be served frozen as snacks or used in salads or desserts.

The Mayo Clinic favors flash-freezing of produce, indicating that studies have shown that fruits and vegetables that are appropriately prepared and frozen as quickly as possible retain nutrients better.

For more information on freezing foods, check out The Science of Freezing Foods by the University of Minnesota Extension.

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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March is National Frozen Food Month!

March - Frozen Food Month

Some of America’s favorite, most versatile foods are found in the frozen food aisle. There are some 3,700 frozen food options available to consumers catering to every lifestyle, ethnic cuisine, daily food need, or food occasion.

Frozen foods have definitely made our lives easier and offer great value. With a wide assortment of choices from ready-to-cook meals to ingredients and produce that leave nothing to waste, there are so many reasons to prepare meals using frozen foods. Freezing keeps our foods safe and fresh tasting. Here are some frozen food facts from the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association:

  • Frozen foods are picked at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen, sometimes right in the field, locking in all of the beneficial nutrients and keeping them in their perfect, just-picked state.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are equally as nutritious as their fresh and canned counterparts.
  • Freezing acts as a natural preservative, so many of your favorite frozen foods contain no preservatives.
  • Frozen foods are consistently priced year-round. You are paying for 100% edible food – no stalks, seeds or rinds. And many frozen foods are perfectly portioned so there’s no waste.
  • Frozen foods last much longer than their fresh counterparts. You can use just what you need and put the rest back in the freezer for next time – wasting less food and saving you money.

We can also freeze many things ourselves at home—summer produce, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, leftovers, make-ahead-meals, casseroles, breads, cakes, pies, and more. Our food dollars are saved when we use frozen foods in our meals. Prior to freezing, best practices must be followed for any food to retain best quality and be safe after thawing. Check out Storing Food in the Freezer for helpful and safe preparation tips and Freezing Convenience Foods for using your freezer to help with meal preparations.

Although frozen food is convenient, foods in the freezer only remain safe and at best quality if the freezer temperature is at or below 0 degrees F. Keeping a thermometer in the freezer is helpful for monitoring the temperature. The thermometer should be checked frequently to be sure the freezer is maintaining the appropriate temperature. Further, always date and label foods placed in the freezer. Older foods should be used before newer ones for best quality and to avoid freezer burn. Food Safety.gov has a Cold Food Storage Chart for maintaining frozen food best quality; frozen foods stored continuously at 0°F (-18°C) or below can be kept indefinitely.

If you would like more information about freezing and food safety, contact AnswerLine,
Monday-Friday, 9 am to noon and 1-4 pm: 
Phone: 1-800-262-3804 or 515-296-5883 (Iowa residents); 1-800-854-1678 (Minnesota residents);
 1-800-735-2942 (Relay Iowa)
Email: answer@iastate.edu
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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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Getting to Know the National Center for Home Food Preservation

When AnswerLine clients have questions about food preservation, reference is often made to the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP). What is the National Center for Home Food Preservation?  What relationship does it have with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) when it comes to food preservation?

The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a publicly-funded center for research and education for home food preservation. The center is located in Athens, Georgia at the University of Georgia® and is hosted by the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. The NCHFP is your source for current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation. The mission of NCHFP is to conduct and coordinate research to further develop knowledge in the field of food preservation and to share science-based recipes, techniques, and guidelines with educators and end-users to insure that foods preserved in the home are done so safely.

The Center was established in 2000 with funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture (NIFA-USDA) to address food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods. The Cooperative Extension System (CES) and USDA have long been recognized as credible sources for science-based recommendations. For more background on the USDA work in food preservation and the founding of the NCHFP, see the webinar, Welcome to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Dr. Elizabeth Andress, who was instrumental in founding NCHFP, became the first director in 1999. She served as director until her retirement in December 2021. During her tenure, the center researched home canning and preservation recipes and methods; published So Easy to Preserve; developed the NCHFP website; wrote current topic blogs; developed preservation curriculum and courses suitable for institutions, workshops or webinars; and revised and updated the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (2015). The NCHFP webinar also discusses additional work done by the center.

NCHFP is now under new leadership. In November 2021, the University of Georgia announced Dr. Carla Schwan as the new director of the NCHFP, along with titles of Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in food safety and home food preservation. Dr. Schwan recently completed her Ph.D. and postdoctoral research at Kansas State University and began her appointment at NCHFP January 2, 2022. NCHFP has been a strong resource for home food preservation research and guidance and will continue to be there for consumers under Dr. Schwan’s leadership.

The resources provided by the NCHFP have become increasingly important in recent years. Due to consumer desire to have more control over their food and the impact of COVID-19, many consumers have turned to home gardening and food preservation at home. Both factors have led to demand for science-based information to educate consumers on safe methods to preserve food. 

Every consumer interested in food preservation should faithfully use the resources provided by NCHFP. If you are not familiar with the NCHFP, spend some time perusing the website or order So Easy to Preserve or USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (2015). You’ll discover useful food preservation tips, find answers to food preservation questions, and be inspired to can, freeze, dry, pickle, jam and jelly at home safely!

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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Elevation? Does It Matter?

While residents of most midwestern states usually don’t think about their elevation, elevation affects all aspects of food preparation–cooking, baking, canning, jams and jellies, and candy making. As elevation rises, air pressure falls and water boils at lower temperatures making recipe adjustments necessary.

Pan of boiling water on stovetop
Boiling water at 1014 Ft of elevation – Photo: mrgeiger

Elevation and Everyday Cooking and Baking

When it comes to everyday cooking and baking, there are few noticeable effects of elevation until one reaches 3,000 feet. Higher elevations present several challenges when preparing some foods. At higher elevations, leavened products using yeast, baking powder/soda, egg whites, or steam rise more rapidly, may collapse, and may not be fully cooked. Because water boils at a lower temperature at higher elevations, foods that are prepared by boiling or simmering will cook at a lower temperature, and it will take longer. High elevation areas are also prone to low humidity, which can cause the moisture in foods to evaporate more quickly during cooking. At elevations above 3,000 feet, preparation of food may require changes in time, temperature or recipe.  For those that find themselves at higher elevations, Colorado State University and New Mexico State University have excellent tips and guidelines for successful baking and cooking.

Elevation and Canning Safety

Because water boils at 212°F at sea level and decreases about 1°F for each 500-ft increase in elevation, adjustments must be made when canning foods at home to ensure home-canned foods are processed safely. The amount of time that jars are held at a certain temperature during canning is important to producing a safe product. Processing times for most recipes are based on elevations of 0-1,000 feet unless stated otherwise. When elevations are above 1,000 feet, extra time is added for food processed in a water-bath canner. For food processed in a pressure canner, extra pressure is added. Both adjustments are needed to get to their respective safe processing temperatures for high acid and low acid foods. 

USDA and National Center For Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) recipes include a table for proper processing based on elevation to insure sufficient time and temperature have been reached for a safe, shelf-stable product. In the NCHFP table for Crushed Tomatoes, note that time is increased in 5 minute increments as elevation increases for boiling water canning and pounds of pressure is increased for pressure canning. (Crushed tomatoes are one example of a food that can be processed by either boiling-water bath or pressure.)

While time is adjusted for water-bath canning, pressure regulation differs by the type of pressure canning equipment used—dial- or weighted-gauge canner.

Elevation and Sugar Concentrations

Elevation is also a factor in candy making and the gelling of jams and jellies when pectin is not used. At higher altitudes, atmospheric pressure is less so water boils at lower temperatures and evaporates more quickly. Syrups become concentrated and reach the gel point at a lower temperature. The concentration of sugar required to form a gel is in the range of 60 to 65 percent which occurs at 217 and 220 degrees F, respectively, at sea level. As elevation increases, the gelling point decreases by 2 degrees per 1,000 feet. When elevation is not taken into consideration, overcooked jam is the result as too much water has boiled away leaving a sugar concentration that is too high, leaving a jam that is gummy, dark in color or tough. The same is true for candy making. For each 1,000 feet above sea level, reduce the temperature in the recipe by 2 degrees F to prevent overcooking. Colorado State University provides a High Elevation Candy Making (Sugar Solution) Adjustment chart for various kinds of candy mixtures.

Find and Know Your Elevation

Elevation matters in all aspects of food preparation. It is especially important for the safety of home canned products beginning at elevations above 1,000 feet. Before beginning the canning process or making sugar concentrations, find your elevation using one of these sources to insure proper processing of canned products and prevent overcooking of jams and candies:

  1. Visit a web page about your town or city.
  2. Use an online tool such as What is my elevation?
  3. Use a smartphone app such as My Elevation.
  4. Refer to an elevation map for your state showing approximate elevations such as this one by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach from the Preserve the Taste of Summer series.

To learn more about elevation, watch this YouTube video by UNL Extension Food & Fitness.

To learn more about safe water-bath or pressure canning practices, watch these videos produced by South Dakota State University:

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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Making Granola Bars a Healthy Treat

granola bar
Granola bar – Photo: Canva,com

Crunchy, chewy, chocolatey, fruity granola bars are an American favorite breakfast staple and snack. In fact, granola bars are so popular they even have their own annual day of celebration in January. Often considered a healthy food (and they can be), the nutrition label may tell otherwise; most are little more than candy bars in disguise loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup, unhealthy fats, and short on fiber and protein. The satiety value is low—in a short time, hunger sets in again.

How can you enjoy your favorite snack without leaving you hungry or wanting more? Here are a couple of ideas to up the granola bar game:

  1. Look for a better bar. Check the ingredients and nutrition label. The ingredients are listed by weight, so the foods at the beginning of the list are the most prevalent in the recipe. Specifically, look for bars that include whole grains (oats) rather than enriched refined grains. Also, look for bars high in fiber (3-5 grams) and protein (5 grams), sweetened with fruit, honey, or natural syrups, and including nut butters, nuts, grains, seeds, and fruits to ensure the best nutrition possible. Granola bars are intended to be a snack, not a dessert, so pay specific attention to the amount and kind of added sugars. Lastly, avoid granola bars with hydrogenated oils and those where most of the total fat is saturated fat.
  2. Make or concoct your own. Homemade variations offer the option to choose healthier ingredients, use more whole grains and less sugar, and control the type of fats and add-ins. The cost is usually less than the store-bought versions. There are an abundance of recipes to choose from. Groovy Granola Bars from Oregon State University is an easy recipe to get you started. It is packed with fiber and protein and provides half of your daily value of Omega-3’s. Change it up with other dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and even a few dark chocolate chips.

Granola bars can be a healthy food. Check the ingredient list and nutrition information on the label to ensure they are a good source of fiber and protein, OR find a recipe that provides nutrition rather than just a sweet treat. Making your own granola gives you complete control over the ingredients to create something healthy and personally enjoyable!

Learn more about Buying and Making Healthy Granola Bars from PennState Pro Wellness.

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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2024 Income Tax Preparation and Filing Assistance

“. . . in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. . . .”
Benjamin Franklin, 1789.1

The IRS will kick off the new tax filing season on January 29, which means that taxpayers will have between that date and April 15 to file their returns.   For most Americans, filing deadlines for 2024 taxes are April 14 and October 15 for those filing an extension using Form 4868 and paying all taxes due by April 15.

Many Americans find tax rules and forms complex and confusing and may turn to professionals for help with preparation and filing.  IRS.gov has  tools to help consumers with information needed to file a complete and accurate return. The tools are easy-to-use and available anytime. There are also resources for FREE basic preparation and advice for those who qualify through volunteer organizations and the IRS.

Here is a list of tax preparation assistance resources:

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE).  IRS-certified volunteers provide preparation services to older Americans (age 60 or older), low- and moderate-income filers, people with disabilities and those with limited English language skills.  Generally, taxpayers must have an an adjusted gross income below $64,000 to qualify.  Call 800-906-9887 or check the IRS website to find a nearby VITA site using the Locator Tool.  Iowa residents may find VITA locations using the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance website provided by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach – Human Sciences. At selected sites, taxpayers can input and electronically fi­le their own tax return with the assistance of an IRS certified volunteer. Appointments may be necessary.

IRS Free File.  Taxpayers with income below $79,000 are eligible to file federal tax returns online through the IRS Free File.  To browse options and confirm eligibility, visit IRS Free File:  Do Your Taxes for Free.

IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs).  Help is also available at IRS offices that host a Taxpayer Assistance Center.  Check the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center site to find a location offering this service.

MilTax Filing Service.   Mil Tax from Military OneSource and the Department of Defense provide easy-to-use tax preparation and free e-filing software for federal income tax returns and up to three state income tax returns to all military members and some veterans, with no income limit. Tax pro consultants are available to provide 24/7 phone assistance at 800-342-9647.  For more information, check the Military OneSource website.

Do-It-Yourself Online Options.  Several tax software providers, H&R Block, TurboTax, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer offer free online filing tools for simple returns.  Check their individual websites to see if their offerings fit your needs. 

Minnesota residents can find resources available in both in Spanish and English at Free Tax Preparation Sites and Resources.

Before you GO (VITA and TCE Sites) –

  1. Call for an appointment or request an appointment online.
  2. Check on what to bring to the appointment. Use this list provided by the IRS to get started.
  3. Open a bank account if necessary. If you are without a bank account, visit the FDIC GetBanked website to find a bank where you can open an account (local or online) for paying taxes and/or for direct refund deposit.

Resources used in this blog in order of citation:

Updated Jan 2024, mg.

Source:
1 Sparks, Jared (1856). The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. X (1789-1790). Macmillan. p. 410.

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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What’s Under Your Kitchen Sink?

Is your ‘stash it’ place the cabinet under your kitchen sink? Too often it ends up being the place that this-that-and-the-other gets stuffed for lack of a better location or simply to get it out of sight. When this happens, it’s hard to keep this area tidy and ready for the unexpected leak.

Clutter under the kitchen sink
Under-the-sink poorly managed storage. Photo: Robin Litchfield

Along with the maze of pipes that live under the kitchen sink, it’s always amazing what may be found in the ‘cave of castoffs’ scattered among the needed and regularly used dishwashing and kitchen cleaning supplies.

The best way to reorganize and reclaim this space is to take everything out. Once the cabinet is emptied, clean the cabinet to remove dust and crumbs. This is also a good time to note any water stains on the cabinet floor or suspicious signs with any of the pipes, water lines, or faucets inside the cabinet.  (Anything suspicious should be checked out to prevent a plumbing disaster.)

Before putting anything back in the cabinet, consider an absorbent mat for the bottom of the cabinet to absorb a bit of water from a dripping sponge or leaking from a pipe or a stored product. These mats protect the cabinetry and prevent the formation of mold. One may also want to consider purchasing clear plastic containers for organizing or protecting items or even installing tiered under-sink organizers to make use of the available vertical space or pull-out racks to keep items from getting lost in the back of the cabinet and bring them forward for easy access. Home improvement and container stores have any number of these items designed to work around the pipes and garbage disposal. The inside of the cabinet doors are an ideal place to mount a towel rack or racks made for storing everything from trash bags to paper towels and sponges.

With a clean and open space, let’s get started on reclaiming that space and make it work better for you using Store This, Not That tips from various organization experts. It starts with an inventory of the contents noting what should be in the cabinet, what should or could be stored elsewhere, and what should be discarded.

NOT THAT
(What not to store under the kitchen sink.)

Cleaning items. Unused, old, broken or no-long suitable cleaners, sponges, scrub brushes and other castoffs that have accumulated behind closed doors should be discarded. If they might have a life in another capacity, place them with the anticipated activity. If you like to keep worn nylon scrubbers and brushes around to wash garden produce or other outdoor items, move these items to the space where they would likely be used for this purpose.

Overstock, refills, or extra supplies. Quantity or bought-ahead, unopened products should go to another storage area. Perhaps a space in the basement or a storage closet is a great place to store bulk paper towels, dishwasher tablets, boxes of trash bags, and other like items. If you need a reminder of what is on hand, leave yourself sticky notes inside of the cabinet. Refill from the stash in the alternative space until the quantity is exhausted; add the item to your shopping list and repurchase.

Towels, rags, paper towels, paper bags. All of these items absorb water and odors. While absorbing water in the event of a leak may be a good thing, it will ruin them. These items are also prone to odor absorption from other stored items or the waste basket when combined with heat and humidity coming from the sink and/or dishwasher. If the only storage space available for these items is under the sink, they should be stored in closed plastic containers.

Metal items. With one exception*, tools, pots and pans, metal cookware, or anything else that is prone to rusting does not belong. This also includes small appliances and light bulbs. (*Exception will be discussed in Save This.)

Produce, food items, pet food/treats. Produce and dry foods may mold under the sink. 

Harsh chemicals, flammable products, insecticides. Bleach, insecticides, solvents, thinners, paints, polishes, and household cleaners have no place under the kitchen sink. These items need to be stored in the basement, garage, or utility area and away from small children. Occasionally the containers of these items spring a leak or emit fumes—all of which we do not want in our living areas and especially not in our kitchen. Further, often a dishwasher sits next to the sink cabinet; heat or an electrical spark and flammable fumes could cause a sudden explosion or fire.

STORE THIS
(What to store under the kitchen sink.)

Cleaning products. Keep the essentials such as vinegar, dish soap, dishwasher products, cleansers, scrubbers, sponges, brushes, kitchen gloves, and cleansing agents—all of the items needed daily to maintain a clean and healthy kitchen. (If young children are in the home, the doors to the cabinet should be secured with child-proof locks to prevent accidental poisoning from any of these products.) A pull-out rack or a lazy susan is a great way to corral these items and make them easy to access.

Small fire extinguisher. One should always have a serviceable fire extinguisher in the kitchen in the event of a grease fire. Under the sink within quick and easy reach is one of the best locations for it. Before storing, the viability date should be checked and replaced if out of date. Consider mounting the extinguisher to a side wall of the cabinet.

Garbage disposal tool*. The one and only tool that should be stored under the sink is the garbage disposal tool used for unjamming the garbage disposal. Inevitably this tool gets lost. Some disposals come with a pocket for storing the tool on the side of the disposal. If not, consider placing the tool in a ziplock bag and thumb tacking the bag to a cabinet wall making it easy to see and locate when a jam occurs.

Miscellaneous. Depending upon space, items such as a vase or two, trash bags, dish towels in plastic containers, small dust pan and brush, and bags for recycling (contained in some manner) may find a home under the sink.

By reclaiming and organizing under sink space, the kitchen is safer and more efficient. Maybe the space under other sinks in the home need a look, too?

Updated December 2023, mg.

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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Pressure Canner Load

Pressure canner and boxes of lidsIs there a minimum load limit or guidance on the number of jars one must have for pressure canning?

Guidance has been given by the USDA and National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) regarding the minimum physical size requirements to be considered a pressure canner: the device must be large enough to hold at least 4 quart jars standing upright on a rack with the lid secure for USDA and NCHFP published recipes and processes.  Pressure canners meeting the specifications come in various sizes with either a dial gauge or a weighted gauge.

A minimum load for a pressure canner has not been specified by the USDA or NCHFP.  In 2016, Ball canning issued guidance on a minimum pressure canner load stating, “To ensure proper pressure and temperature is achieved for safe processing, you must process at least 2 quart or 4 pint jars in the pressure canner at one time.”

At this time, the USDA, NCHFP, university extensions, and contacted pressure canner manufacturers have not endorsed or tested the Ball recommendation regarding the 2 quarts/4 pints load minimum for safety.  However, it may be a good practice.  The more jars there are in a pressure canner, the more space is filled and the quicker it will vent (and the less time the food in the jars will be subjected to heat).2  UCCE Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County (CA) have found that a very small canner load can be difficult to bring up to required pressure and risks the water in the canner running dry.  At any rate, canner load would have an effect on the warm-up and cool-down times, both of which are important to tested pressure canning processes.

When pressure canning a small batch, add jars of water (no lids necessary) to fill the canner space.  The added jars will also prevent jars with food content from tipping over.  Adding jars of water when water-bath or steam canning also helps with jars floating or tipping.

If you have canning questions, please do not hesitate to contact us by phone or e-mail. We are happy to help!

Sources:

1The All New Ball Book Of Canning And Preserving, 2016, page 274.

2Pressure Canner Minimum Loads, UCCE Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County, December 2023.

Updated January 2024, mg.

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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