Countertop Dishwashers

Three years ago, I was newly married and was touring the farmhouse we were going to be renting. As I entered the kitchen for the first time my heart sank as I realized there was no dishwasher. “I’ll be fine,” I told myself, “How many dishes can we actually make?”

Countertop dishwasher loaded with dishes

I had grown up in a household without a dishwasher (or should I say machine dishwasher; my mom shouldered the brunt of the dishwashing growing up) and had lived without one until purchasing my townhouse. Over my six years in this townhouse, I had grown very accustomed to a dishwasher. But I figured we could make the best of our current situation. As time marched on, I got used to doing dishes and it only seemed to be a nuisance during times we had done lots of cooking. However, November of last year, our son Thomas came along. Enter bottles, pump parts, and most recently, additional dishes. Our kitchen countertop was a disaster zone most of the time.

About a month ago a box showed up on our front step. Much to my surprise, the box contained a countertop dishwasher! I had been fantasizing about one but couldn’t justify the expense. My husband had decided the amount of time and sanity this unit would save us would pay off in the long run. Beyond time and sanity savings, dishwashers also use less water compared to handwashing. Countertop dishwashers only use around 2 gallons of water and portable and built-in units can use as little as 3 gallons of water per load. Handwashing can use up to 27 gallons of water.

There are several options for portable dishwasher models. Freestanding, portable units are available that hook into your sink, but these are large, so you will need to think about where this will be stored when not in use. You can add a butcherblock type surface to the top so it can serve as an island that is used for food prep. We don’t have a great space to store a larger unit like this, which is why we went with a countertop model.

Considerations

  • Size: Think about how much countertop space you are willing to give up as well as the weight if you plan on moving the dishwasher around. You will also want to consider the distance between your countertop and the bottom of your cupboards and make sure the height of the model doesn’t exceed this distance.
  • Capacity: How many place settings do you want the unit to be able to hold? Most countertop units claim to hold up to six place settings and accommodate dinner plates ranging in size from 10-12 inches. Make sure the unit can hold the plates you use most often.
Countertop dishwasher with lid closed
  • Sound: Consider how loud you want the unit to be. Remember that a full-size dishwasher has noise dampening due to the cabinets and walls around it; portable units do not. The lower the decibel rating (dBA), the better. Typical dishwashers have a noise level of 63 to 66 dBA. Quieter portable units have a decibel rating of around 55 dBA, which is about as loud as a microwave.
  • Settings: Think about which controls and cycles will be most useful given your situation. Sleek electronic controls generally cost more than push buttons but are easier to clean.
  • Water source: Your portable unit is going to need a water source. Some portable units have a hose that attaches temporarily to the faucet of your kitchen sink. This only works in your sink faucet has a threaded faucet spout. The other option would be models that include a water reservoir that holds the water needed to run the unit. We went with this option so our kitchen faucet could always remain usable.
  • Energy efficiency: All countertop dishwashers carry yellow Energy Guide labels, so you’ll be able to compare approximately how much they will cost you per year to run. Some models are Energy Star certified, meaning that they are the most energy efficient models.

Cleaning and Sanitation

You may be wondering about the cleaning and sanitizing ability of these portable units. The National Sanitation Foundation has set sanitation standards for residential dishwashers, referred to as NSF/ANSI 184. This standard helps confirm that a residential dishwasher can achieve a minimum 99.999 percent or 5-log reduction of bacteria when operated on the sanitizing cycle. Other requirements of this standard include the dishwasher reaching a final rinse temperature of at least 150°F and sanitation performance being verified only when the unit is operated on the sanitizing cycle. A sanitize cycle will typically increase the heat during the main wash and finish with an even hotter final rinse.

A list of residential dishwashers certified to NSF/ANSI 184 can be found here. I checked on our unit, which does not appear to be certified to NSF/ANSI 184, however the user manual does indicate two of the programs achieve a final rinse temperature of at least 150°F:  

  • Normal: final rinse 158°F, total cycle time of 130 minutes
  • Baby Care: final rinse 162°F, total cycle time of 120 minutes

All countertop dishwashers have filters that require cleaning, and some recommend a regular vinegar rinse to remove deposits and mineral build up. Our model doesn’t require that we pre-rinse our dishes, but we do scrape off any excess food before loading it into the dishwasher. When thinking about detergent, the packets, tablets, powders, and gels are all fine to use. However, most brands caution against using the packets or tablets for short cycles as they may not fully dissolve.

We are looking forward to this device continuing to free up some of our time and counter space, as well as reduce the amount of water we use. Regardless of what unit you end up with, make sure you do your research to ensure the product meets your needs!

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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. 

Resources:

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/appliances/dishwasher-reviews/g33438785/best-countertop-mini-dishwashers/

https://www.cnet.com/home/kitchen-and-household/how-to-buy-a-portable-dishwasher/

https://www.energystar.gov/products/dishwashers

https://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/articles/dishwasher-certification

Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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Think Safety as Students Return to Campus

It’s that time of the year when college campuses are preparing for students moving into dormitories, campus housing, or off-campus apartments or housing.  Stores are stocked with every possible item a young, trendy college student could possibly need or want.  With all of the excitement, anticipation, and stress, it is important for students and parents to revisit “college safety!”  College life brings new challenges.

10 safety tips to remember as students return to campus

  • Keep electric safety in mind.  Don’t overload outlets, extension cords or power strips.  Keep electrical cords and appliances away from bedding, curtains, and other flammable material.  Make sure that all cords and electrical products are UL, CSA, or MET approved.  Check with university/college housing for specific housing rules for use of hot plates, coffee makers, microwaves, air fryers, etc allowed in dorm rooms.  Many colleges are banning the use of cooking appliance in on-campus housing and instead providing a designated area for the use of cooking appliances.
  • Check for smoke detectors.  Know the fire escape route and never assume that if an alarm sounds that it is a drill.
  • Always keep dorm or apartment doors locked, even when occupied. 
  • Keep an inventory of valuable possessions and record serial numbers.
  • Know what coverage is needed for the housing situation.  A student living in a dorm may have coverage for their personal belongs under their parents’ homeowner’s insurance policy. Students living off-campus will want to consider rental insurance to cover their personal possessions.
  • Make sure that health insurance coverage meets the university/college requirements.  Most colleges in the United States require their students to have health insurance.
  • Don’t allow technology to cause unawareness of surroundings.  When one is plugged into music or a smartphone, they may no longer be aware of their surroundings leaving one open to potential dangerous situations or walking into traffic.
  • Never walk alone, especially at night.  Utilize the buddy system whenever possible and know where emergency call buttons or phones are located across campus. Consider carrying pepper spray or a whistle.
  • Have fun, party safe. Come and go with a friend. Avoid becoming inebriated and losing control. It’s easy for others to take advantage of someone who is alone, can’t think or act rationally.
  • Always have emergency contacts on you or in your device. In the event of an emergency, one of the first steps emergency responders and hospitals take when someone is admitted alone is to check a smartphone (in most cases they are able to bypass the pass code in order to access contacts) or look for medical ID tags.

Wishing all students and parents a safe academic year!

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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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.

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’s 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 and/or download 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, 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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What About All the Different Brands of Canning Jars and Lids?

With supply and worker shortages and an increase in home canning in 2020 and 2021, new or unfamiliar brands of canning jars and lids began to appear to fulfill consumer needs.  Should consumers trust these new or unfamiliar products?

Canning jars have been around since 1858 when John L. Mason invented and patented a threaded glass jar that became known as the Mason jar and sold under the label, Mason. The original jar has changed very little but has undergone variations in shape and cap design. After Mason’s patent expired, many other manufacturers produced glass jars for home canning using the Mason-style jar with labels such as Ball, Kerr, Atlas, Drey, Mason, Globe, Mom’s, Knox, and Golden Harvest. However, as so often happens, through a process of competition and consolidation, the number of jar producers grew fewer over the years with one company, Newell Brands, acquiring the Ball®, Kerr, Bernardin, and Golden Harvest brands—all familiar brands to consumers.

Mason’s initial form of closure for the glass canning jar was a zinc screw-on cap with a milk-glass liner that screwed down onto a rubber ring on the shoulder of the jar, not the lip. In 1903, Alexander Kerr introduced lids with a permanent rubber seal eventually giving way to the modern two-piece metal lids that seal on the rim.

AnswerLIne has received many calls from clients wanting to know about the new or unfamiliar brands of jars and lids filling the shelf space formerly occupied by familiar and trusted brands. It is important to note that regardless of the brand, USDA canning procedures and processing times are based on scientific testing using standard Mason jars and two-piece metals lids. See Canning in Odd Sized Jars for information on non-standard sized jars.

Here’s what has been gleaned about some of the brands AnswerLine clients have asked about as they have shopped for canning supplies:

Anchor Hocking – Originally known for glass bake- and cookware, Anchor Hocking has re-entered the market with Mason jars.  The jars are made in the USA and per company information are dishwasher safe and perfect for canning, crafting, and storage.  The Anchor Hocking website gives instructions for both water bath and pressure canning with the jars.  Information on the box says the jars, lids and bands are BPA free.  The jars come with lids and bands; no information was found regarding the quality of the lids. 

Country Classics – These jars and lids are made in China and distributed by a company in Ohio.  Per the Country Classics website, www.countryclassicscanning.com, the jars are safe for preserving, crafting, and storing; information is provided for canning by water bath and pressure.  Wide-mouth and regular lids are available.  There is no information about the lids on the website but customer reviews on other sites are mixed. (17 October 2022 Update: numerous AnswerLine clients who have used these lids have reported buckling and seal failure.)

Denali – Offering wide-mouth and regular flat lids, rings, and a pressure canner in their canning line, this company has an engineering team in the US with manufacturing facilities currently in China; per the company website, www.denalicanning.com, this company plans to expand US operations in the near future.  Made of a heavier gauge of steel, the lids have been rigorously tested.  Consumers find that the lids seal well.  If something should not go right with the lids, Denali has a customer resolution option with possible refund.F

ForJars – ForJars has been in business for two year and currently offers only canning lids. Per the company website, https://forjars.co, the lids are made of high-quality metal, which prevents bending and buckling. They have also added some stainless steel material to the composition which prevents the formation of rust. The lids are thicker than many lids with a thickness of 0.18 mm versus 0.10 -0.12 mm of others. The lids work well for either pressure or water bath canning. A high-quality food-grade silicone is used for sealing. Presently the lids are manufactured in China but the company is hoping to open production facillities in Florida by late 2022 or early 2023. Customer service is provided at 941-257-8236 or support@forjars.com. A company representative said that they guarantee their lids and will work to make things right with customers who experience problems. Customer reviews are positive.

Golden Harvest – Golden Harvest is back on the market as a lower-priced line of home canning jars and lids sold by Newell Brands which also owns the Ball®, Kerr, and Bernardin (Canada) brands.  Most home canners find the Golden Harvest jars and lids to be of good quality.  The lids are manufactured in the US. There are no wide-mouth jars in the product line and there is no website for customer service. 

Kilner® – Kilner® is an old English company.  Currently jars are being manufactured in China.  Kilner® makes a variety of jars but the standard Mason jars with two-piece metal lids meet the USDA’s guidelines for home canning jars. They are safe for all types of canning, including pressure.  Kilner® makes their own lids but standard, two-piece, US market, metal lids also fit these jars. The jars may come with recipes but should be ignored; instead, recipes from a reputable source should be used.  The jars come in “ml” sizes, not the US standard half-pint, pint, and quart jars so processing times* need to be considered.  The USDA has not released any recommendations on these jars at the present time, so the rule of thumb is to use the next tested time up. More information can be found on the company’s website, www.kilnerjar.com.

Mainstay – The Mainstay line has been part of Walmart’s offering for several years.  However, it is not clear that Walmart is selling Mainstay canning jars and lids in 2022.  Prior, both jars and lids were made in the USA per product labeling—jars at an Anchor Hocking plant in Monaca, PA and lids by Healthmark LLC Jarden Home—but cannot be verified for recent products (should there be any).  Judging by 2020 consumer reviews, most consumers were satisfied with the lids but did note that the lids were thinner and some of the lids were defective right out of the box. The jars were listed as safe for home canning and freezing but did not specifically mention pressure canning. Mainstay BPA-free plastic lids that fit Mason jars are still available; these lids can be used for storage but not for canning.

Orchard Road – Orchard Road canning jars and lids are made in China following stringent guidelines per a company spokesperson. The plastisol sealing compound is made in Pennsylvania.  A company spokesperson said the entire canning product line has been tested by an independent lab against Ball® products and found to perform just as well.  Azure Marketing asserts that they provide consumers with high-quality canning products at reasonable prices.  The jars are heavy and safe for both water bath and pressure canning.  The lids are BPA-free and can be used with other Mason jars.  They also offer a line of decorative lids. 

PUR Mason – PUR Mason jars and lids are manufactured in China and distributed by the PUR Health Group in Broomfield, Colorado. According to a PUR company official, PUR lids and jars are safe for canning—both water bath and pressure canning.  Jars are lead free.  A new generation of BPA-free lids are now on the market and are heavier, have a thicker coating of enamel on the inside, and have an improved sealing compound for better adhesion.   For more information visit the PUR website.

Tattler – Known for their reusable lids since 1976, Tattler began producing one-time use lids in October 2022.  American made, the disposable lids feature extra thick metal for durability and double BPA-free coating on the underside to deter corrosion.  The flat lids are designed to be used with Tattler’s existing rubber gasket ring which replaces the plastisol used by other companies.  The lids are suitable for pressure canning, water bath canning, steam canning and vacuum sealing. For more information visit the Tattler website or call customer service at (231) 912-0525.

True Living – Both jars and lids are made in China and distributed by a company in Tennessee.  Lighter in weight than some other brands, they are sometimes found in the craft section of stores rather than the kitchen section.  Information on the side of the jar box says “dishwasher safe and BPA free.”  Lids have mixed reviews. 

Weck – Weck home canning jars are made in Germany and are well-known in Europe. Weck also owns the Rex line of preserving jars in Austria. The Weck canning jar system consists of glass jars, glass lids, tabbed rubber gaskets (sealing rings) and metal clamps. The jars are certified for both water-bath canning and pressure canning. The jars come in numerous irregular “ml” sizes—not the US standard half-pints, pints and quarts requiring processing time* adjustments; there are currently no USDA recommendations.  Canning information accompanying the jars has been found to lack modern, research-based procedures so should be discarded in the interest of food safety; tested recipes from reputable sources should be used.  Weck jars and supplies are more costly and are irregular in size; it is not possible to fit the standard 7 (quart) jars in a canner. More information can be found at www.weckjars.com.

There are countless sources for canning lids and it appears that most are made in China.  It is not possible to find reliable information for the no-name brands; reviewer’s comments indicate that lid failure is a problem.  Counterfeit lids are still being sold so it is definitely a “buyer beware” canning market.  While the cost will be higher, supplies are predicted to keep up with demand in 2022.

The USDA, National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, or AnswerLine do not recommend for (or against) any of these products.  The current recommendation is to use the tested two-piece metal lid system that has been the norm for many years and Mason jars specifically made for the rigors of canning.

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*The shape and size of a jar effects the safety of the canning process, so it should not be assumed that recommended processes can be used with jars other than the standard sizes and shapes of Mason-type jars manufactured for home canning. – So Easy to Preserve

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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Are You Prepared for a Power Outage?

Spring often brings unsettled weather.  This year has been no exception as Iowa and other parts of the country have already experienced unprecedented winds, powerful storms and tornadoes causing personal loss, major damage and power outages. While personal loss and damage are devastating, power outages can be a major inconvenience.  To prepare and stay safe, it’s important to know steps you can take before, during and after a power outage.

Power outages can be over almost as quickly as begun, but some can last much longer — up to days or even weeks. This depends on the severity of the storm and what damage has been done to power lines and systems. A power outage disrupts everyday life as it shuts down communications, water, transportation and services, closes businesses, causes food spoilage, and prevents use of medical devices.

Before a Power Outage – Prepare

Preparation can keep the most important people in your world safe when bad weather hits.  Here’s some quick tips on how to prepare:

  • Have a plan that all family members know and understand. 
  • Take an inventory of items in the home and keep it up to date.
  • Plan for alternative power sources and test in advance—batteries, portable generator (fuel), power banks.
  • Build an emergency kit that includes 3-days of non-perishable foods and bottled water; important medications; blankets; personal hygiene items; first aid supplies; flashlights.
  • Talk to your medical provider about medical devices powered by electricity and refrigerated medicines. Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures and get specific guidance for any medications that are critical for life.
  • Place thermometers in freezers and refrigerators to monitor temperature when power returns.  A container of water (or ice cubes) in the freezer is also a good indicator of temperatures going above 32ºF.
  • Remove or secure items outside of the home that can blow or become weapons.
  • Trim tree branches overhanging a house and clean gutters.
  • Get a weather alarm with battery backup (keep batteries fresh) and/or sign up for weather alert notifications from local radio or tv stations.
  • Have your phone charged.
  • Freeze jugs of water.

During a Power Outage Stay Safe

The lights are out, appliances, and all electrical equipment without battery or power backup have stopped running. Now what?

  • Report downed power lines. Do not touch down lines nor attempt to remove trees which may be tangled in downed lines.
  • Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment, including sensitive electronics. Leave a lamp or night light connected to indicate when the power does come back on.
  • Turn off or disconnect any appliances, equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out. When the power comes back on, surges or spikes can damage equipment.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed. Food is safe in a securely closed refrigerator for up to 4 hours. In a freezer it depends on how full it is — the fuller your freezer, the longer it can last. A full freezer can last up to 48 hours, and a half-freezer can last up to 24 hours. Place frozen jugs of water in refrigerator to help maintain coldness.
  • Avoid using candles and your phone more than necessary.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning when using generators, camp stoves or charcoal grills; these items should always be used outdoors and at least 20 feet away from windows. Never use a gas stovetop or oven to heat your home.

After a Power Outage – Assess

Recovery begins.

  • Throw out any unsafe food, particularly meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers that have been exposed to temperatures higher than 40-degrees F for two hours or more or that have an unusual odor, color or texture.  When in doubt, throw it out. For additional help with food after a power outage, visit Play It Safe With Food After a Power Outage .
  • If the power is out for more than a day, discard any medication that should be refrigerated, unless the drug’s label says otherwise. Consult your doctor or pharmacist immediately for a new supply.
  • Plug in appliances and electric equipment including sump pumps. Check to make sure each is working properly.  Note anything that is not working properly and report to your insurance agent.
  • Note damage done to home or property and report to your insurance agent.
  • Call AnswerLine at 800-262-3804 with food safety questions or water/mold clean up should water get into the home.

For more helpful information and tips, visit Ready.  For a quick visual reminder, see this short YouTube video prepared by Farm Bureau Financial Services. One can never be reminded too often or be too prepared when storms strike and the power goes out.

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 Ready for Canning Season

Spring has arrived and it won’t be long before seeds or plants will find their way into the garden.  And that means that canning season is just around the corner so it’s time to get ready!  Having equipment ready and recipes selected before the fresh produce arrives helps to assure a successful canning season.

Recipes

Choose recipes that have been developed specifically for canning and come from research-based sources like the USDA Complete Guide to Canning (2015), the National Center for Home Food Preservation, So Easy to Preserve, or Extension resources from your land-grant university.  Recipes should be followed as written; canning is a science, not an art.  Therefore, alterations to the recipes should not be made. To learn more about the risks associated with modifying canning recipes with regards to swapping ingredients, adding ingredients, or increasing or decreasing ingredients, check out Modifying Canning Recipes by South Dakota State University ExtensionPenn State Extension also has an excellent article on Ingredients Used in Home Preservation, which describes ingredients and their function in canned goods.

Equipment

Safe canning methods include the boiling water bath method, the atmospheric steam canner method, and the pressure canner method. Each method uses a different type of canner. Electric, multi-cooker appliances should not be used for canning. Water bath and atmospheric steam canners require little maintenance and are used for canning high acid foods, pickles, fruit spreads, and most tomato products. (Atmospheric steam canners can be used in place of water bath canners as long as the canning process time is 45 minutes or less.)  Water bath canners have fitted lids and removable perforated or shaped-wire racks. The canner must be deep enough that at least 1 to 2 inches of briskly boiling water covers the tops of jars during processing.  All canners should be checked for signs of wear and corrosion on the body and lid. 

Pressure canners, used for low-acid foods (vegetables), some tomato products, and meats, require deeper inspection. Pressure canners have a weighted gauge, a dial gauge, or both for indicating and regulating the pressure. The lid gaskets along with the gauges, petcocks, vents, and safety valves should be inspected. Penn State Extension has a helpful inspection check list as a guide.  Pressure canners with dial gauges must be tested annually for accuracy. Gauges that read high cause under-processing and may result in unsafe food. Clostridium botulinum bacteria are the main reason why low-acid foods must be pressure canned to be safe. Home-canned foods are responsible for over 90% of all cases of food-borne botulism. Low readings cause over-processing. Your local extension office personal may have the equipment to test the accuracy of most dial-gauge canner brands such as Presto, National, Maid of Honor, and Magic Seal. National Presto Industries will also test gauges for free. (See University Minnesota Extension for more information.) All-American brand gauges cannot be tested at extension offices; contact the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, 920-682-8627 for help.* Burpee pressure canners can no longer be tested; the company is out of business and parts are no longer available for the Aristocrat; it is probably best to set these vintage canners aside as an heirloom or collectable. Dial gauges that are off more than two pounds of pressure should be sent to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. To learn more about canner gauge testing, watch Maintaining Your Canning Equipment by K-State Research and Extension. Iowa and Minnesota residents may call AnswerLine to find out where to go for testing.  Weighted or rocker-type pressure regulators do not require annual testing; the weights are not adjustable and usually maintain accuracy. 

It is also important to inventory canning jars, lids, and ring bands. Mason-type jars specifically designed to withstand the heat necessary for home canning should be used. Check jars for rim nicks, blemishes and hairline scratches or cracks.  Jars exhibiting any issues should not be used for canning; instead they can be recycled for dry food or pantry storage. Jar size plays a role in process time so the jar size called for in the recipe must be used. Two-piece lids are needed to seal the jars; the flat lid can only be used once while the ring band may be re-used unless it is rusty or dented.  For best results, use recently manufactured flat lids from reputable manufacturers.

Other essential canning equipment to locate and check for safe use include funnel(s) for large- and narrow-mouth jars, jar lifter, racks, food mill, jelly bags, bubble popper tool, and headspace gauge.  Make sure that everyday kitchen items like tongs, ladles, strainers, colanders, cheese cloth, long handled spoons, and a slotted spoon are conveniently located.  Also be aware that some canners cannot be used on glass stovetops and that a newly acquired electric range (since 2019) with coil burners may not allow consistent heat due UL858(60A) standards.[1].  A portable burner may be a suitable option provided NCHFP guidelines are considered.

Canning your own garden produce or farmer’s market produce can be rewarding and a great way to save your food for later use. Be ready by planning and preparing now.

*Newer models of the All American canner have both regulator weights (weighted gauge and dial gauge). [Picture 1.]  If the weight begins to rock at the desired pressure and the gauge is off by more than 2 psi the company recommends replacing the gauge. The gauge is now used as a reference to know when the unit is at 0 psi and can safely be removed.  The petcock on older All American Canners [Picture 2] can be replaced with a weighted gauge. Contact Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry for more information.  Photos used with permission from K-State Research and 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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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?

National Center for Home Food Preservation Banner used with permission from NCHFP.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation (Centro Nacional para la Conservación Doméstica de Alimentos) 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 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 PhD 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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Freeze Drying – A New Option for Home Food Preservation

Canning, pickling, freezing, drying, and fermenting are well-known methods of preserving fruits and vegetables for future use.  These processes have been used for generations and made simpler and safer over time with the help of science and innovation.  Freeze drying (lyophilization) is now an option for home food preservation.  HarvestRight, a company in Salt Lake City, Utah, introduced a freeze drying unit for home use in 2018 that has excited the curious of food preservers.  While still an uncommon home appliance, freeze drying is becoming a sought-after means for preserving food at home and the units are showing up at some retailers [1].

Freeze-dried vegetables for soups made from carrots, leek, celeriac, lovage, parsnips and parsley

Freeze drying is not a new process.  The process may date back to the 13th century with the Incas using a simple process to preserve potatoes in the Andes.  The first patent was issued in 1934.  During World War II it was used to safely transport blood serum and penicillin to the battle field.   In the 1950s–1960s, freeze drying began to be viewed as a multi-purpose tool for both pharmaceuticals and food processing and became a major component of space and military rations. Freeze drying has been widely used in the food industry to extend the shelf-life of food while maintain quality. Freeze-dried foods have been available commercially for some time and offer consumers fast meal prep, emergency prepardeness, and portable food. Freeze-dried foods also offer convenience as they can be eaten “as is” (except for raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs), added directly to recipes, or rehydrated and used the same as fresh food.

In a nutshell, freeze drying works by freezing the material, then reducing the pressure and adding heat to allow the frozen water in the material to change directly to a vapor (sublimate).  The process removes 98-99 percent of the moisture in food making it a superior method for preserving food. (An example of a freeze dried food are the berries in commercial cereals that feature real berries.) Freeze dried foods retain 97 percent of their nutrients and natural enzymes and original flavor and color [2] .  Additionally, freeze-dried food is really easy to use; food comes back to its original pre-freeze dried state by just adding water.  Since nearly all water has been removed, freeze-dried food is light making it a favorite for camping and backpacking.  A bag of apples that weighed 10 pounds when fresh, weighs about one pound after being freeze dried [3].

Freeze drying produces high quality foods that are safe as long as they were handled properly prior to freeze drying and once the packaging is opened.  It is important to note that freeze drying does not kill bacteria or other microorganisms; they remain viable, but dormant, despite the extreme conditions of freeze drying.  Any bacteria or microorganism on raw foods prior to freeze drying will reactivate upon rehydration. Therefore, food items that are traditionally cooked before eating must also be cooked before eating as a freeze-dried food.

A freeze dryer is not a fancy food dehydrator. While a freeze drying unit and a dehydrator both remove moisture from food so that microorganisms cannot grow and enzyme action is slowed down, a dehydrator uses low heat and a fan to remove 80-90 percent of the moisture content from food1.   As food is dehydrated, it typically shrinks up and develops a leathery feel and appearance; rehydration is slow and foods do not return to their natural state. Dehydration doesn’t change the fiber or iron content of food. However, dehydration can break down vitamins and minerals during the preservation process and retain less of their nutritional value when compared to freeze-dried food. Dehydration tends to result in the loss of Vitamins A and C, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. [4]. With a lower moisture content, freeze-dried foods offer a shelf life of 25 years [2] compared to 4 months to 1 year for dehydrated foods [5]. Freeze-dried foods rehydrate faster and also retain their original shape, texture, and color. A far greater variety of foods can be freeze dried than can be dehydrated [6].  Both dehydrated and freeze-dried foods store best in airtight containers with an oxygen absorber for long term storage.  Because dehydrated foods rehydrate slowly, they do not readily absorb moisture if exposed to less than optimal conditions; freeze-dried foods, on the other hand, are like a sponge and can go quickly from crisp to soggy when exposed to moisture.

A home freeze drier puts you in control.  Commercially prepared freeze-dried foods are pricey and often have added ingredients.  HarvestRight suggests that home freeze-dried food is one-third the cost of store bought. Freeze drying versatility also allows for the preservation of dairy, meat, produce, and complete meals. 

Display at a local store featuring the medium-sized unit.

Investment in freeze drying equipment is an important consideration, too.  Be prepared for ‘sticker shock’ as the units are expensive and require considerable space in the home.  Equipment cost ranges from four to eight times more than conventional drying equipment and the energy required is almost double that of conventional drying.  Buying a Home Freeze-Dryer: What to Know Before You Go by Utah State University Extension and Let’s Preserve:  Freeze Drying by Penn State Extension explain this in more detail. Besides the initial investment in a freeze drying unit, packaging after drying is another consideration.  When correctly packaged, freeze-dried items can be stored safely for many years.   To increase shelf life, properly sized single-use food grade oxygen absorbers—small packets that attract and retain the oxygen in a package—must be included in whatever type of packaging is chosen.  While glass jars, cans, zip bags, and vacuum sealed bags can be used, opaque Mylar® bags are preferred; they block out air and light during storage, can be resealed once opened and take up less space than glass jars or cans. Mylar® must be used with an oxygen absorber and heat-sealed with an impulse (heat) sealer.

The options for food preservation are many.  Each method brings something different to the table. The flavors and textures are different and how we use the food preserved is different. If long term food storage or portable food storage is the goal, freeze drying is an option to consider.  Imagine rehydrating lasagna on a camping trip!

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1Andress and Harrison. 2014. “So Easy to Preserve” 6th ed. Bulletin 989, Cooperative Extension Service. The University of Georgia, Athens.

Guide to Freeze Drying – The Miracle of Food Preservation, HarvestRight.

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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Sweet Corn – A Summertime Treasure

The long-awaited summer treasure, sweet corn, will be available from local growers very soon.  I am fortunate to have sweet corn growing in our garden but if I didn’t, sweet corn would be at the top of my list to buy only in season from local growers.  Getting a variety I like and biting into an ear of plump kernels bursting with that sweet, corn flavor is well worth the wait. 

Sweet corn is an old food. The specific time when sweet corn originated cannot be pin-pointed.  However, Spanish explorers in the early 1500s found Indians growing corn in East Texas, and the Spanish carried on corn culture in the Rio Grande valley settlements and Texas missions. They ate the grain as a basic ingredient in tortillas, tamales, posole, and atole.  The first known variety, Papoon, was acquired from the Iroquois Indians in 1779 by European settlers. Sweet corn has been ever evolving. Over time, plant breeders have developed sweeter cultivars as well as cultivars with better keeping qualities, flavor, tenderness, vigor, and other characteristics. Sweet corn now comes in several hundred varieties of five genetic types and is available in three different colors: yellow, white and bi-colored (yellow and white).

Genetic Types and Characteristics

The long-grown or older varieties of sweet corn are known as Standards (su).  These cultivars have the traditional sweet corn flavor and texture with sugar levels generally between 10 and 15 percent at harvest. Unfortunately, standard cultivars retain their high quality for only one or two days and don’t generally store well as sugars quickly convert to starch after harvest [1]. Honey and Cream, Silver Queen, Sterling Silver, Jubilee, and Merit are some well-known names.

The first breeding improvement was the introduction of Sugar Enhanced (se) cultivars. Sugar enhanced cultivars contain the sugar enhancer (se) gene that produces ears with sweet, tender kernels. Sugar levels are slightly higher than standard sugary cultivars. The harvest and storage life of se types are slightly longer than standard sweet corn [1].  Well-known SE varieties include Bodacious, Ambrosia, Sweet Temptation, Delectable, and Miracle.  SE varieties are typically used for freezing.

Then along came the Supersweet (sh2) corn varieties.  These cultivars contain the shrunken-2 (sh2) gene. Supersweet varieties have smaller, crisper kernels with high sugar levels and convert sugar to starch slowly, allowing for a longer harvest period and storage life [1] of about three days1. Candy Store, Florida Staysweet, Sugar Loaf, Sweet Time, and Sweetie are some of the Supersweet varieties.

With further development, the Synergistic (syn) cultivars possessing the su, se, and sh2 genes entered the sweet corn scene. These cultivars are sweet, creamy, and tender and have an excellent storage life [1] remaining at their peak for five days before converting to starch1. Allure, Inferno, Providence, and Sweetness are examples of Synergistic varieties.

Lastly, an improvement on the Supersweets are the Augmented Supersweets (shA). They are sweet, tender, and have an even longer storage life [1] offering a ten day window where sugars are at their peak before converting to starch1. Anthem, Obsession, and Patriarch are examples in this group.

Of course, when you’re buying corn, you often only have one choice and it’s frequently not labeled as anything but fresh corn. If you really want a particular variety or want to know the characteristics of what you are buying, talk with the producer at a farmer’s market; they will likely be able to fill you in on the variety or other details.  A seller at a local stand may or may not know the variety and simply sell the corn by a popular or recognized name.  One that I often see used for bi-color corn is ‘peaches and cream,’ a sugar enhanced (se) bicolor that has been around for some time. For a short listing of suggested cultivars of each each gene type, see Sweet Corn by Iowa State University Extension horticulturalists.

Get It Fresh – Keep It FreshEnjoy It Fresh

Despite all the genetic improvements, the trick to getting good corn for eating is to get it as fresh as you can and cook and eat it promptly. When choosing corn, look for ears with moist, fresh-looking husks free of insect damage. Feel the ears to assess the plumpness of the kernels and whether the rows of kernels are fully formed. (Quick fact:  the average ear of corn has 800 kernels, arranged in 16 rows. There is one piece of silk for each kernel.)  Refrain from pulling the husks back to check out the kernels as it is not only bad manners, but spoils the corn for others; opened corn dries out quickly. Once home, store sweet corn in the refrigerator with the husks on or off in a plastic bag; husk on is best but shucked corn may fit in the fridge better. Remember, depending on cultivar, the sugars in corn begin to convert to starch so purchase only what you can use in a few days.

Fresh sweet corn can be prepared in a variety of ways—boiled, steamed, microwaved, grilled—and even raw. The key thing to remember is that today’s sweeter and fresher varieties do not require the cooking time of yesteryear.  Sweet corn can be cooked anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes, depending on how “done” you like it.  Once cooked, it can be eaten directly off the cob or sliced off and used in recipes.

Fresh corn kernels are also great to keep on hand for tossing into salads or other side dishes. Raw corn cut off the ear will last only a day or two in the refrigerator before turning sour. To preserve the freshness, cut the kernels off the cobs and blanch them in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes. Drain, let cool, and store in a covered container in the fridge for up to five days. Another option is to blanch, cool, and freeze the kernels in a single layer on a baking sheet until hard, and then store in an airtight container in the freezer where they will retain best quality for up to three months.

Lastly, when sweet corn is in season, it is a great time to freeze or can it for eating throughout the year. Corn is one of the best vegetables to freeze because the quality of home-frozen corn is superior to commercial products. Purdue Extension [2] says most sweet corn varieties are acceptable for canning and freezing but recommends the following varieties:
Yellow -Bodacious and Incredible
Bicolor – Temptation, Delectable, and Providence
White – Silver King, Silver Princess, and Whiteout.

For specifics on canning and freezing corn, see the National Center for Home Food Preservation website for details:
Freezing Corn,
Canning – Whole Kernel Corn,
Canning – Cream Style Corn.  
Or
Let’s Preserve Sweet Corn by Perdue Extension
Freezing Sweet Corn:  Whole Kernels by University of Minnesota Extension.

Enjoy and make the most of one of summer’s treasurers.  It’s only a matter of days!
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1
Rupp Seed Inc, 2021 Vegetable Resource Guide:  Sweet Corn Genetic Types

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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Deciphering Produce Labels and Codes

The produce department at the grocery store is the most shopped department.  Usually located at the front of the store, the brightly colored fruits and vegetables and eye-catching displays welcome shoppers to the store and the opportunity to explore nutritious options.  As shoppers peruse the aisles and refrigerated cases to make selections, one is sure to also find produce labels and stickers on the many selections. What do these stickers and labels tell us?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for assuring that foods sold in the United States are safe, wholesome and properly labeled. This applies to foods produced domestically, as well as foods from foreign countries.  The laws require that labels on food be truthful and not misleading, but the laws don’t regulated definitions for all of the labels that one may see.  Here’s some help with deciphering what each label or sticker means.

FDA Regulated Labels

Country of Origin: Perishable produce must be labeled with the country where it was grown.

USDA Organic: This label indicates that the produce was produced on a certified farm that follows defined organic procedures, such as non-use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Nutrition Facts Label: If packaging makes a claim about nutrients, the Food and Drug Administration requires a nutrition label. So if the spinach is stamped with “good source of potassium,” it must carry a Nutrition Facts Label [1].

Excellent Source Of/High In: A label bearing this claim must contain at least 20 percent of the daily requirement of that nutrient in a serving.  A Good Source Of label indicates that one serving has 10-19 percent of the daily dose of the named nutrient.

Fresh: Fresh means that the food is in its raw state and has not been frozen or subjected to any form of thermal processing or any other form of preservation.  Fresh does not address when the produce was harvested or if the produce was washed in a mild chlorine solution prior to packaging or shipping.

Unregulated Claims

Washed/Triple-Washed/Ready to Eat: Most produce gets a rinse prior to marketing.  However, a washing claim may only mean that the produce has had dirt or grit removed; it is not a guarantee that it is bacteria-free.

Pesticide-Free: This label could mean one of two things:  1) no pesticides were used during growing; or 2) pesticide residue has been washed away. There’s no real way to know unless it bears an organic label.

Hydroponically Grown/Hydroponic: This label generally means that the produce was grown in a greenhouse using a nutrient solution instead of soil.

Non-GMO:  The only possible GMOs to be found in the produce aisles include potatoes, squash/pumpkins, papayas, sweet corn, and soy beans (edamame). If this label were to appear on a package of greens, for example, it would be a misnomer.

Gluten Free:  Fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally gluten free.  This is a true claim but misleading in meaning.

No Preservatives/Free from Artificial Ingredients: Preservatives or artificial ingredients are not usually added to fresh produce making this label misleading on nearly all produce. 

Produce Code Stickers

Besides the labels, there are also stickers found on many fruits and vegetables.  Sometimes labels and stickers are one in the same.  The stickers on produce are for more than scanning the PLU (price look-up) number at the checkout. They may share information about the produce; no matter where you shop, the produce code for any particular fruit and veggie will be the same.  However, it is an imperfect system (no governing or regulating laws) that is voluntary on the part of the producer who could opt out of using the codes or telling the whole truth.  Here’s what those stickers are supposed mean.

Four Digit Code:  Produce with a four digit code beginning with a 3 or 4 means the produce was probably conventionally grown with the possible use of pesticides.  For example, the code for conventionally grown bananas is 4011.

Five Digit Code beginning with “9”:  Fruits and vegetables grown organically have a five digit code starting with a “9”.  An organically grown banana’s PLU would be 94011, for example.

Five Digit Code beginning with “8”:  Genetically modified produce (it has genes from other organisms) stickers also have five digits, but these codes begin with the number “8.” Remember there only five items likely to be found in the produce aisles that have been genetically modified so this is a rarely seen code.

The next time you’re at the grocery store, take a look at the labels on your produce!  Understanding what the labels and codes mean will help you choose what is right for you.

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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