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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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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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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HAPPY HOLIDAYS! from AnswerLine 2023

operator taking phone calls or replying to emails
Phone operator – Photo: Canva.com

As 2023 comes to a close, AnswerLine is completing 48 years of sharing family and consumer information. 

During the past year, it has been our pleasure to answer more than 17,000 calls, emails, Ask Extension, Facebook/Instagram, and blog questions; it has also been our privilege to interact with consumers, helping them solve problems, issues, and concerns that affect their daily lives with researched-based information. 

Our clients come from all walks of life. Some are friends we have never met; we hear from them frequently, and in doing so, we have learned something about each other. We love helping anyone with a question; NO question is silly or foolish. While there is great satisfaction in helping each individual find a solution that works for them, the greater satisfaction comes from client feedback, the friendships we have built over the years, and the personal growth we each experience as we expand our knowledge.

Presently, the AnswerLine team has a staff of six women with varying backgrounds in consumer science, consumer science education, business, food science, dietetics, extension and 4-H. While our specialty is answering home and family questions, we have a wealth of experts whom we can call upon for help with horticulture, entomology, wildlife, agriculture, and other related questions through the Iowa State University and Extension and Outreach network and the University of Minnesota Extension. We are also members of the North Central Food Safety Extension Network (NCFSEN) allowing us to reach out to food safety experts in surrounding states.

Between questions this year, we were challenged to find a safe, shelf-stable frosting recipe for 4-H fair exhibits and share our research with 4-H families, extension staff, and fair judges before the 2023 fairs. We also updated the Foods for Iowa 4-H Fairs – Quick Reference Guide (2023) and are currently working on updates to the 2024 guide based on current trends and food safety issues. We helped the ISU Food Safety team develop a Fermentation and Preserve the Taste of Summer workshop that rolled out to Iowans in late summer. Several YouTube videos were prepared and shared with the public. We were involved in a joint NCFSEN effort to develop and publish three recent publications: Oops! Remaking Jams and Jellies, Play It Safe! Safe Changes and Substitutions to Tested Canning Recipes, and Steam Can It Right.

The AnswerLine team looks forward to serving you in 2024! Contact us in one of three ways:
1)  Call us toll-free Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – noon and 1 – 4 p.m.
                  1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
                  1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)
                  1-800-735-2942 (Relay Iowa phone linkage for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals)
                  515-296-5883 (toll charges may apply)
2)  Email us anytime: answer@iastate.edu OR at Ask an ISU Extension Expert a Question
3) Comment on the Answerline blog, Facebook, or Instagram.

We wish all our AnswerLine clients and friends a happy and safe holiday season! 
Beth, Carol, Jennie, Marcia, Marlene, and Rachel

__________________________________
Images source: Canva.com

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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Chocolate – Shelf Life, Storage, and Bloom

Does chocolate go bad? That is a question with a long answer. The type, quality, and storage conditions of chocolate affect its shelf life. Let’s dig in and learn more about chocolate.

Chocolate bar and cocoa
Pieces of chocolate and cocoa powder – Photo: Canva.com

SHELF LIFE

The shelf life of a food product is the period of time during which it will retain acceptable appearance, aroma, flavor and texture. Chocolate comes in various forms—cocoa, unsweetened, dark, semi-sweet, milk, ruby, white. Because each type of chocolate contains varying amounts of chocolate solids, cocoa butter and additives, the shelf life varies. 

Chocolate is derived from the chocolate liquor of cacao beans and is rich in flavanols, a type of flavonoid specifically found in cocoa and chocolate. Flavanols are a natural preservative, preventing chocolate from going bad in the way that other perishable foods spoil. Further, the risk of microbiological growth in chocolate is very low as the water activity (aw), the amount of free water in a product which promotes microbial growth in food, is low and ranges between 0.3 and 0.4.

Chocolate usually comes with a “best buy” date which is a reflection of best quality, not food safety.  While chocolate quality (texture, color, or flavor) may be affected after that date, it is safe to consume unless there are signs of spoilage—off odor, flavor, or appearance (mold).

Here’s a look at the various kinds of chocolate and shelf life of each:

Cocoa powder – Cocoa powder is the processed and ground product of the roasted cacao bean. The powder contains no fat or additives giving it a long or nearly indefinite shelf life. However, it may lose its potency. If properly stored, an unopened package of unsweetened cocoa powder has an indefinite shelf life.  Once opened, cocoa powder will retain its best quality if used within 3 years of opening, provided it is stored properly and packaging is tight. The same is true for “Dutched “or Dutch-process cocoa.

Unsweetened, bitter, or baking chocolate – Chocolates by any of these names are pure solid chocolate liquor containing 50-58 percent cocoa butter with no added sugar or milk. When stored properly, the cocoa butter in baking chocolate is very stable, as it has undergone tempering which stabilizes the cocoa butter. Thus, baking chocolate has a long shelf life but is at best quality for 2 years. 

Dark, semi-sweet and sweet chocolate – Chocolates in this group are dark chocolate and contain varying amounts of cocoa butter with the main difference being the amount of sugar and cocoa butter (15-70%) in each. The label may indicate a percent of cacao; the higher the cacao, the darker and more bitter the chocolate. Like baking chocolate, these chocolates, including chips, have a best-quality shelf life of at least 2 years. The higher the cacao percentage, the longer the chocolate tends to keep due to no- or less- milk and other perishable ingredients.

Milk chocolate – Milk chocolate contains at least 10 percent chocolate liquor plus milk solids and fats and sugar to give a sweet and creamy taste. For best quality, the shelf life is 1 year. The main reason milk chocolate has a shorter shelf life is because milk fat oxidizes and becomes rancid faster than cocoa butter.

Ruby chocolate – Made from ruby cacao beans, ruby chocolate has the most robust berry flavor in its first year but is safe to consume unless it molds. Ruby chocolate is sensitive to light, moisture, and heat causing fading and greying.

White chocolate – White chocolate consists of sugar, milk solids and fat, and 20 percent cocoa butter. Because it does not contain chocolate solids, it is not a true chocolate. Further, it does not contain the natural antioxidants of true chocolate, thereby making it prone to oxidation or rancidity when expose to light and air. As a result, white chocolate has a shelf life of about 6 months for best quality.

STORAGE

The shelf life of chocolate is dependent upon proper storage to preserve its flavor and appearance. These storage tips will insure the longevity of chocolate:

  • Store in an airtight container. Cocoa butter has an affinity to absorb odors and flavors of whatever is nearby. Further, an airtight container blocks out oxygen that causes chocolate to oxidize and lose flavor.
  • Store in a cool, dry environment. To maximize the shelf life of chocolate, store at room temperature between 65°F and 70°F and with a relative humidity of lower than 50-55 percent. Under these conditions, the cocoa butter and cocoa solids stay stable. 
  • Store in a dark location (pantry). Light, like oxygen, contributes to oxidation.
  • Refrain from storing in the refrigerator. Ideally, chocolate should not be refrigerated, as doing so may cause the chocolate to absorb odors from other foods and/or develop a moist surface when brought back to room temperature resulting in bloom. If refrigeration is necessary due to high temperature/high humidity, tightly wrap the chocolate to prevent both scenarios.
  • Freeze chocolate with care. Chocolate can be stored in the freezer for up to a year but does not significantly change the shelf life. Place the chocolate inside a covered, airtight container or a heavy-duty freezer bag to preserve flavor. Freezing chocolate may induce bloom due to temperature shock. Freezing is a good option for chocolate that will be used later for baking or melting.

BLOOM

Chocolate bloom describes chocolate that appears dusted or streaked with grey on the surface. Bloom does not affect either the taste or shelf life of chocolate nor does it render chocolate unsafe. Bloom only affects the aesthetic appeal of chocolate. Two types of bloom occur in chocolate: fat bloom or sugar bloom.

Fat bloom is a result of chocolate exposed to warm temperatures. Heat causes the cocoa butter to soften, separate, and rise to the surface leaving grey/white streaking. When running a finger gently over the surface, fat bloom feels smooth.

Sugar bloom is a result of exposure to humidity or moisture. The sugar particles in the chocolate absorb moisture. When the moisture evaporates, sugar crystals left on the surface leave a blotchy or dusty look and rough feel to the touch. Sugar bloom is most likely to occur with refrigerated chocolate.

Chocolate bloom is not reversible but it can be remedied by melting. By heating the chocolate, the fat or sugar goes back into the chocolate and when re-hardened, is without bloom. Melting works especially well with fat bloom; heating sugar bloom must be done with care as the chocolate may seize or change to a grainy form. Chocolate that has bloomed may also be used in baking.

Temperature shock can also cause bloom. If chocolate is to be frozen, place it in the refrigerator, unwrapped, for 24 hours prior to freezing. Wrap generously and freeze in an airtight container. At the time of use, thaw the wrapped, frozen chocolate in the refrigerator for 24 hours before bringing it to room temperature. Unwrap the chocolate after it reaches room temperature.

Chocolate is a shelf-stable product that does not become inedible or unsafe like other perishable foods.  It may lose potency over time. Proper storage and handling are the keys to the longevity of this delicious treat. 

Sources:

What is the Shelf Life of Chocolate (Products)?, Puratos
The Ultimate Shelf Life Guide, Still Tasty
Storing Chocolate for World Chocolate Day, University of Florida Extension, Sarasota County
Does Chocolate Go Bad?, WebstaurantStore
Death or Health by Chocolate? , University of Wyoming Extension
Does Chocolate Go Bad? , Southern Living

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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Start a Canning and Preserving Notebook/Journal

With gardens and orchards coming to their seasonal ends, food preservation is wrapping up.  Now is the time to make a note of it!  Better yet, start a preserving notebook if you do not already have one to get ready and organized for coming seasons.

Cover of a preserving notebook
Cover of Preserving Notebook – Photo: mrgeiger

A few years ago, I had the brilliant idea to start a notebook of safe canning recipes so that I did not have to look them up or remember where they came from when I was ready to preserve. Since that time, that notebook has become my go-to for all things food preservation and includes recipes, tips, notes, answers to questions, quantities made and used, dates made or put into storage, new equipment to check out, and more–anything that I need to jog my memory.  I only wish that I had started my notebook and journal many years ago; it would have saved me so much time, saved me from making mistakes, kept me organized, prevented food waste, and made sharing and preserving so much easier and more efficient. It would also be a wonderful history of my canning and preserving life.

The notebook, a 3-ring binder, started with recipes copied or printed from reliable sources for all of the usual things—tomatoes, green beans, fruit juice, strawberry jam, salsa, etc. As time has gone on, more recipes have been added, expanding the kinds of things preserved as well as helpful information including updated methods. Another valuable part of my notebook is the annual journal listing the foods preserved, how much, when, recipe, etc. At first, it was just a piece of notebook paper with columns.  Since then I have made a page using Excel on my computer that can be printed each year and penciled in as preservation takes place. 

The best time to start a notebook or journal is NOW while you may still have memories of what you did in the past season and prepare for a new canning or preserving season. Besides making preservation more efficient, it can also be a way to be creative making it your own like a scrapbook. If you are not crafty, there are ready-made and even handcrafted personalized canning and preserving journals available to purchase. Most of these are available on various online sites.

Preserve what you have learned or have done. Keep track of all your canning and preserving projects for future seasons and perhaps posterity! You’ll be glad you did!

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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Safe Food Storage Containers

Vegetables stored in glass storage containers
Stack of food storage containers with food – Photo: Canva.com

Safe storage practices are just as important as knowing how to safely prepare, serve, or preserve food. Most kitchens contain an assortment of containers, wraps, and bags for storing food either short- or long term. These items may be glass, plastic, silicone or metal. How do we know if a container is appropriate and safe for storing our foods?

To begin, all food products should be stored in food-grade containers. Food-grade is a regulatory term used to specify materials and products that are suitable and safe to come into contact with food and beverages at any point in the field-to-consumer chain. To be certified as a food-grade, food-safe material, the material undergoes extensive testing to insure that the material does not affect the color, odor, taste, or safety of the food or leach substances into the food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the regulatory agency responsible for determining the safety of materials for food use. It is important to note that a food-grade material is only considered food-safe if it is utilized per its intended use.

Safe Food-Grade Container Options

Glass, stainless steel, and ceramic – These materials are non-reactive and non-toxic. They are easily sanitized and offer the most longevity. These materials are sturdy and heat-tolerant and do not release chemicals or toxins into food. Further, they are inert and do not react with natural chemicals or dyes found in food. Food and beverages stored in these containers stay fresh longer. Glass and ceramic can be microwaved; all three can be heated in the oven and placed into the dishwasher. These materials are eco-friendly; glass is especially so being 100% recyclable. Some cons of these materials include weight, breakability (glass and ceramic), cost, bulk, and lack of portability. 

Plastic – There are many reasons to use plastics: inexpensive, lightweight, hard to break, stackable, and readily available. While there are many plastic choices, one must choose wisely. Experts caution us against using plastics in general, and in particular older plastics, or re-using one-time-use plastics from purchased foods. Although plastic containers are convenient, many may contain BPA (Bisphenol A), a chemical that blocks and interferes with hormones leading to health issues. BPA is a big concern in older plastics or plastics that are scratched or heated in the microwave.

Any plastic used should be microwave safe, dishwasher safe, and BPA-free. Plastic products are typically labeled with a number surrounded by the recycling symbol. These numbers and labels identify both the type of resin used to make the plastic and the product’s recyclability. Associated with the different types of resin are potential health risks. The Smart Plastics Guide provided by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) summarizes seven different types of commonly used plastics, product examples, recyclability, and potential health risks.

Safe plastic numbers include 2, 4, and 5. These containers can store food without any toxic chemical infiltration and include the HDPE, LDPE, and PP materials. Containers with the number 7 are made of polycarbonate (the category that includes BPA), so should not be used with food. Plastics bearing numbers 1, 3, and 6 are single-use-only containers or bottles.

So what about those easy-to-pick-up plastic containers available at retailers or our long-held Tupperware®? Check to make sure they are labeled with one of the safe plastic numbers, BPA-free, and dishwasher and microwave safe. According to its website, Tupperware® items sold in the US and Canada have been BPA-free since March 2010; containers prior to 2010 should be disposed of as should any other older containers that do not display numbers 2, 4, or 5, contain BPA, and are not dishwasher and microwave safe.  

Since plastic does not have the longevity of glass or stainless steel, food safety experts encourage swapping out plastic containers frequently and especially if there is any discoloration, odor, or a change in taste when using the container. When plastic containers become scratched, stained, or damaged, they begin to pose a food safety risk by harboring bacteria and other harmful microorganisms that can contaminate food.

Silicone – Per the FDA, food grade silicone is safe and will not react with other materials or release hazardous compounds or fumes when heated. Food-grade silicone is safe to store food, put in the microwave, freezer, oven, and dishwasher without hardening, cracking, peeling, or becoming brittle as it is resistant to extreme temperatures. It is made without petroleum-based chemicals, BPA, BPS, PVC, latex, lead, phthalates, or fillers. It will not leak, break down, or degrade over time.  Silicone containers are available in many forms, lightweight, easy to transport, and considered a non-hazardous waste.

Cautions with silicone storage containers include limited studies on the long-term health effects of using silicone products as they are fairly new to the market. And while silicone is not a hazardous waste, it can only be recycled at special recycling centers.

All containers should provide a secure, air-tight seal.

As we strive to provide fresh, flavorful, and safe food for our families, it is important to store our food properly. Make choosing an appropriate food-grade storage container a priority to keep your food safe and fresh in the pantry, freezer, or refrigerator.

Sources:

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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Alert For Consumers Using Digital Payment Apps

Digital payment apps, also called nonbank or peer-to-peer (P2P) apps, such as Venmo, PayPal, Cash App, and many others, are being used widely by U.S. consumers at an ever-increasing rate. With a few clicks on a computer or mobile device, the apps allow payment from a linked account to another party without writing a check, handing over cash, or giving a credit card number. Money can also be received and stored inside the app. The speed, simplicity, and convenience of transactions with payment apps have made these everyday tools for millions of Americans. However, these apps also come with some consumer risks.

In addition to the convenience of digital payment apps, QR codes have become increasingly prevalent as a means of facilitating transactions seamlessly. QR codes, generated by various platforms, serve as efficient tools for initiating payments with just a scan. Integrating QR code technology into payment apps enhances the user experience by streamlining the process even further.

However, as with any technological advancement, there are accompanying risks, including potential vulnerabilities in QR code security. Consumers must remain vigilant and employ best practices to safeguard their financial information when utilizing QR codes for transactions. For those seeking guidance on navigating the realm of QR codes and maximizing their utility in digital payments, resources like the Pitiya website offer invaluable insights. They provide comprehensive guides, including recommendations for the best online QR code generators to use free in 2024. By leveraging such resources, consumers can stay informed about the latest developments in QR code technology, ensuring secure and efficient transactions in the digital payment landscape.

Explore the wealth of information available on platforms like Pitiya to empower yourself with the knowledge needed to navigate the evolving landscape of digital payments and QR code usage effectively.

hand using mobile phone with online transaction application
Person using mobile device – Photo: Canva.com

In June, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued an advisory to consumers regarding using payment app accounts. The advisory headlines read: Your money is at greater risk when you hold it in a payment app instead of moving it to an account with deposit insurance. Money stored in nonbank payment apps is likely not protected by federal deposit insurance groups such as a FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation–a government agency that protects against loss on deposits of up to $250,000 per account if an insured bank fails) bank or NCUA (National Credit Union Administration–a federal government agency that is the equivalent of FDIC for credit unions) credit union, meaning there is no protection if the app company fails.

According to the CFPB, money held in digital accounts is not automatically swept into the user’s linked account. Instead, the funds are held in the app company’s account, which may or may not be an insured financial institution, OR funds may be invested by the payment app company for its own financial gain. Both situations should raise questions for app users should the app company, the financial holding institution, or the investment organization fail.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s consumer advisory article provides more information on what may be missing in the user agreements in case of failure.

To eliminate worry, the CFPB recommends that app users set a reminder to regularly transfer their P2P funds into a linked FDIC-insured bank account or NCUA-insured credit union account. 

Consumer Reports (CR) also evaluated four P2P payment apps and identified potential consumer concerns. The evaluation examined fund protection and security practices. Fund protection looked at ways consumers can lose money using the apps, with the most common being through user-error authorized transactions and unauthorized (fraud or scam) transactions. In either case, it is not common practice for P2P apps to reimburse users or intervene for fraudulent use. CR offers an imperfect solution for loss due to error or fraud: “Connect your P2P service to a credit card instead of your bank account. In this way, your payments are as protected as they would be with any credit card transaction. Credit cards are subject to the Electronic Fund Transfers rule, which requires that users be held liable for no more than $50 in the event of fraud or a payment made in error.” The downside of linking to a credit card is that some apps do not allow payment this way, and those that do allow it require a 3 percent fee. Also, look for payment protection for non-personal transactions. Experian also offers tips for protecting P2P payments.

Like CFPB, CR found that most payment app companies provide little information to consumers regarding protection for stored funds or how users may be able to obtain FDIC coverage through some apps by various means. And, like CFPB, CR confirms that many P2P users should be concerned.   

Digital payment apps can be a secure, fast, and easy way to send and receive payments, but consumers should be aware of the risks and take appropriate precautions.

Resources:

Blog reviewed by Barb Wollan, Human Science Specialist, Family Wellbeing, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

 

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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Welcome Jennie Savits to AnswerLine!

AnswerLine is pleased to welcome Jennie Savits as our newest team member. Jennie joined AnswerLine on June 1 and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team. Further, she is no stranger to Iowa State University or Extension and Outreach.  

Jennie holds BS/MS degrees in Food Science from Iowa State University and completed 11 years with the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State University. While with the Institute, Jennie held various roles in the lab and in the field. She worked on extension and outreach activities and research projects to support the local grape and wine industry in Iowa and throughout the Midwest. Jennie also has experience with the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University as a lecturer, where she taught food science laboratory courses and oversaw laboratory renovations.

Jennie’s interest in food science stemmed from participation in the 4H and FFA organizations. Growing up in rural Boone County, she was a member of the Harrison Happy Hustlers 4-H club and the Boone A&M FFA Chapter. Jennie enjoyed completing 4H projects in the areas of food and nutrition, horticulture, and livestock. Food science became a key area of interest after she competed on a team that won the inaugural Iowa FFA Food Science Career Development Event (CDE). Their team went on to place 2nd nationally and directed Jennie’s career path toward food science.

Jennie says that she really enjoys the opportunity to help people find answers and solve problems, especially on topics related to food safety and food preservation. Jennie has developed strong relationships within the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach organization and looks forward to helping disseminate research based information to those we serve.

Family
Savits family – Photo: jsavits

Jennie lives with her husband, Paul, and their 5 children on a farm near Ogden. She enjoys spending time with family, helping out around the farm, and gardening.

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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