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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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. 

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.

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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Induction Cooking – What You Need to Know

If you’re buying a new range or cooktop, you might be deciding between electric or induction. Induction cooking is currently one of the top choices. It has risen to popularity because of how fast food cooks through the induction method. While both use electricity to cook food and produce the same outcome, the way they get there is quite different. Both are great options, but it’s important to understand the differences between them and which will be the best fit for your cooking needs.

Standard electric cooking sends electric current to open coils or radiant burner elements below the glass or ceramic surface to transfer heat to cooking vessels (pots or pans)  and then to the food inside. This process is known as thermal conduction. It takes time for the burner to heat and transfer heat to the vessel as well as to cool down due to the residual heat that the burners hold; after reducing the temperature, burners take a few minutes to settle to a lower setting and remain hot after burners are turned off.

An induction cooktop or range looks similar to a glass-top electric counterpart but is powered by an electromagnetic field below the surface of the glass cooktop. Instead of passing heat along from surface to cookware to food, induction cooktops heat the cookware directly resulting in even cooking and less loss of energy. The magnetic field reacts with the cookware (which must contain ferrous iron) and transfers heat and energy directly into the cooking vessel. Only the pan, and what’s directly under it, on an induction range gets hot. The surface around it stays cool.  

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF INDUCTION COOKING?

  • Cooking is faster.  In general, an induction range or cooktop is 2-4 minutes faster than gas or electric at bringing 6 quarts of water to a boil.
  • Excellent temperature control. Allows for precise temperature adjustments and reduces the chance of burning food.  When you turn the burner off, heat transfer stops immediately, so there’s less of a chance of foods boiling over or overcooking.
  • Easy clean up. Spatters or spills outside of the pan will not bake onto the cooking surface.  There are no burners to take apart and reassemble.
  • More energy efficient. An induction model uses 10% less energy than a smooth-top electric range.
  • Safe.   There is no emission of gas into the air. Cloth objects will not catch on fire because no element is exposed and heat only transfers to items with iron particles in it. Induction units also turn off when the cookware is removed from the heating element so there’s little risk of accidentally leaving it on when cooking is done. Burners accidentally turned on will not get hot.  Fire hazards and risk of burns is reduced.

Electrical appliances such as an induction unit create Non-Ionizing or Low-Frequency EMF. According to the National Cancer Institute there are no current studies that have been able to provide a link that Non-Ionizing radiation causes any adverse health issues such as cancer. In fact the natural radiation emitted from the sun is far more harmful than induction unit could ever be.[1]

The American Heart Association has also deemed the low electromagnetic field safe for patients with pacemakers or medical implants.

  • Reduces kitchen heat and ventilation requirements.

WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF INDUCTION COOKING?

  • Cost.  Induction surfaces are an investment since the technology is relatively new.  However, as induction becomes more mainstream, the cost is decreasing.
  • Require cookware containing ferrous iron.  Specifically, that means stainless steel, cast iron, and carbon steel. Pots and pans made from aluminum and copper aren’t compatible. Most confusing of all, some cookware uses a combination of materials in its construction, so its induction status isn’t always obvious. Look for pots and pans marked “induction safe” or “induction compatible.” An easy test to see if cookware is compatible is to see if a magnet strongly sticks to the bottom of the pan.  If a magnet sticks to the bottom, it can be used with induction. 
  • Caution – Cooktops can get hot.   Heat is transferred from the cooking vessel to the glass through conduction, much as a hot pan would transfer heat to a countertop if you set it down to rest.  The glass surface never gets as hot as it would on a traditional radiant electric range but one can never assume that it will be cool to the touch.
  • Unfamiliar sounds.  Some consumers report a buzz or hum on the higher settings resulting from the high energy transferring from the coil to the pan.  There is also the possibility of hearing the element clicking or the fan cooling the electronics. All are common and resolve by turning down the heat or adding food to the pot or pan,, Consumer Reports says that heavy, flat-bottomed pans help reduce the vibrations that cause the buzz.
  • Magnetic field can interfere with digital thermometers.  Consumer Reports suggests the need to resort to an analog thermometer—an old-fashioned solution to a modern problem.
  • Requires a learning curve. Induction cooking takes some getting used to.  Some nuances include: placing the right sized cookware in the center of the heating element in order for it to be properly activated; cookware must be flat-bottomed; the heating element may cut off prematurely or shut off without warning when the pan is shaken or moved; food may overcook until one learns that cookware doesn’t take long to preheat and a lower heat setting is needed to maintain the temperature of food.  Touch pad controls also take time to get used to.
  • Cooktops scratch easily.  Although induction cooktops are made of a durable glass-ceramic composite, they are more prone to scratching if scratchy pans are slid across the surface and even cracking if a heavy pot is set down too hard. Most manufacturers suggest using cookware with clean, smooth bottoms, and to avoid sliding pots and pans across the surface. Sharp tools or abrasive cleaning materials should not be used on the surface.
  • Repairs may be expensive after the warranty period. 
  • A 240V outlet is required.  An induction range or cooktop easily replaces an electric range or cooktop.   If the conversion is from gas, an electrician will need to install the proper wiring. 
  • Requires canners (pressure and water) specifically made for induction cooktops.  Both are available.

While induction cooking is one of the most efficient, safest and precise ways to prepare food, the question remains, is it 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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Defrosting Trays

With the arrival of warmer weather and holiday weekends, you may be thinking about firing up the grill. Grilling is a great way to enjoy a variety of proteins, vegetables, and even fruits! Sometimes when grilling we are looking for a quick way to defrost items before putting them on the grill. However, it is important that food safety is also considered when you think about thawing these items.

Raw meat on defrosting tray

A caller recently posed a question about a defrosting tray she had used to thaw meat on her counter. This was the first time I had heard of this equipment, so I did some research. Defrosting trays are made from a material that has a high ability to conduct heat, such as copper or aluminum. When these trays are placed on your kitchen counter, they will quickly come to match the temperature in your kitchen.

Many defrosting trays are advertised showing how quickly they can melt an ice cube. However, the trays aren’t as efficient at melting dense items, like a steak. When a frozen food item, like a steak, is placed on the tray, the surface temperature of the steak will warm up at a slightly quicker speed as compared to being just on the counter, but the interior of the steak will remain frozen. Ultimately, this method for thawing will not result in significantly faster thawing as compared to just having the item on your kitchen counter.

The kitchen counter is not where we want to be thawing our frozen items, regardless of whether a defrosting tray is involved. This is because the temperature of our kitchen falls within the Temperature Danger Zone (40° – 140°F), which is the temperature range where bacteria multiply rapidly.

So, what is considered a safe way to thaw food? Frozen items can be safely thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water, in the microwave, or cooking from the frozen state.

  1. Refrigerator: place frozen items in a tray to catch any juices while thawing and place on the bottom shelf in your refrigerator. Food thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some loss of quality.
  2. Cold water thawing: food must be placed in a leak-proof package or plastic bag and submerged in cold tap water. The water needs to be changed every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw.
  3. Microwave thawing: after thawing food in the microwave, plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during the thawing process.
  4. Cooking without thawing: it is safe to cook foods from the frozen state, just keep it mind it will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time.

References:

  1. Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Defrosting Trays https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-a-defrosting-tray-4782382
  2. What is a Thawing Tray https://enewsletters.k-state.edu/youaskedit/2018/04/16/what-is-a-thawing-tray/
  3. The Big Thaw – Safe Defrosting Methods https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/big-thaw-safe-defrosting-methods#:~:text=There%20are%20three%20safe%20ways,water%2C%20and%20in%20the%20microwave.

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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Remember to Vent

A critical step to achieving proper pressure inside a pressure canner is allowing it to VENT. What does this mean?

Venting is also “exhausting” the canner, a process of letting steam (and air) come out of the canner through the vent pipe for a period of time before beginning the pressure processing time.  Air trapped in a canner lowers the processing temperature and results in under processing of low-acid foods.  To be safe, the USDA recommends that all types of pressure canners must be vented 10 minutes before they are pressurized.

WHY VENT? 

It is STEAM, not water, that does the processing in a pressure canner. Low-acid foods (foods with a pH of 4.6 or higher such as all vegetables excluding tomatoes, meats, seafood, soups and sauces) are not acidic enough to destroy bacteria, their spores, and the toxins they produce or prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria in a vacuum.  The heat-resistant spores produced by C. botulinum can only be destroyed with the correct combination of temperature, pressure, and tested time. Temperatures in the range of 240°F to 250°F (115°C to 121°C) are needed to kill spores (USDA 2015). Water can get no hotter than the boiling point (212ºF, 100ºC), but steam can. Steam trapped in the canner increases the atmospheric pressure inside the canner causing the boiling point of water to increase to 240ºF-250ºF, the temperature needed to destroy bacteria and C. botulinum, that would otherwise be free to grow in a vacuum sealed jar.

In order to reach the optimum temperature to destroy botulinum bacteria, air inside the canner must be exhausted to allow space for a pure steam environment to build. There is a vast amount of air in a canner due to the space between the water level and the lid as well as the air that escapes from inside the jars and from the water. The most “jar air” comes from those with raw-packed foods.

Image Source: USDA Complete Guide to Home CAnning

HOW TO VENT

The vent or petcock is a short hollow pipe that sticks up above the canner lid.  When open, it allows air and steam to escape from the canner.  When closed, it holds steam inside. To vent a canner, leave the vent port uncovered or manually open the petcock (some older models).  After placing jars inside the warm canner and securing the canner lid, set the burner on high. Watch for steam to escape from the vent pipe. When a strong, visible, funnel-shaped steam cone emerges, set a timer for 10 minutes and let the canner continuously steam. After the 10 minutes, add the weight or counterweight to the vent or close the petcock to pressurize the canner.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING VENTING?

As the water boils inside the canner, the empty spaces become a mixture of steam and air. As steam increases, it pushes the air out creating a pure steam environment.  USDA processing times are based upon a pure steam environment which makes venting so very important.

In addition to venting, remember to adjust for altitude. Most recipes list processing time based on altitudes near sea level. To ensure the health of those who enjoy your foods, always use a tested recipe and follow instructions. Remember to VENT for 10 minutes to ensure that any and all microorganisms are destroyed.

Source: National Center for Home Food Preservation and USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (2015)

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 Two-Piece Lids Really Necessary?

The past two years have been very frustrating for home canners as canners searched and scrambled for two-piece lids. Out of frustration and desperation to get garden produce into jars, canners turned to using lids from uncertain suppliers, one-piece lids, reusable lids, and sadly reusing lids from previously canned foods (definitely a NO! NO!).  It is hopeful that the canning lid supply and demand problem will be less in 2022, but it is not clear that the problem has gone away as the shelves of many reliable outlets remain void of lids at this time.

Despite the supply and demand issue with two-piece lids, the USDA and the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) continue to recommend and support the two-piece lid system even though one-piece and reusable lids are available.  Why the recommendation? 

The two-piece lid system (flats and screw bands) is still the best option for home canners. They are easy to use, known to seal reliably, and easy to tell if the jars sealed. When researched guidelines are followed by users, the two-piece lid system safely replaces the vacuum system used for commercially canned foods with a self-sealing system consisting of a flat metal lid held in place by a metal screw band. A trough around the outer edge of the flat lid holds a rubber-like, plastisol sealing compound which acts like a gasket; heat causes the compound to flow slightly over the rim of the jar.  During processing, the gasket allows air to escape from the jar and then forms an airtight seal as the jar cools. 

To ensure safe home canned foods, follow these important tips for two-piece lids:

  • Use new lids (flats) each time; after the first use the lid will no longer seal effectively. With careful handling, canning jars and screw bands may be reused many times. 
  • Purchase your lids (flats) from reputable suppliers.
  • Buy only the quantity of lids (flats) that will be used in a year’s time—please don’t hoard.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s directions for preparing lids (flats) to make sure to get a good seal.
  • Carefully observe headspace requirements for the product.
  • Removed air bubbles inside the jar with a plastic or silicone spatula.
  • Make sure the rim of the jar is clean before placing the flat lid on the jar.
  • Tighten the screw band as specified by the manufacturer.  Usually this is fingertip tight, which means the first full resistance is felt using just your fingertips.
  • Check all metal lids carefully. Don’t use old (more than 5 years old), dented, deformed, or defective lids.
  • Do not re-use lids from previously canned foods.

One-piece, reusable, and previous used lids are not approved for home canning by the USDA as they may allow air to be trapped within the sealed jar permitting bacteria to thrive and spoilage to occur which can lead to illness and even death.   While one-piece lids are available for home canning, they were made for use in industry where very strict time and temperature controls are in place.  Because they do not allow air to escape properly in home canning, consumers have reported jar breakage and lids buckling.

Reusable canning lids have been around for decades [1]. Research conducted through the National Center for Home Food Preservation on the reusable lids revealed that the three types of reusable lids they tested had an acceptable seal and removed the necessary amount of air. However, despite these finding, it was still recommended that the traditional two-piece metal lid system be used to “ensure the highest confidence in sealing.” [1] While there is no data to indicate that these lids will not perform satisfactorily if the manufacturer’s instructions are followed explicitly, the USDA and NCHFP cannot recommend their use due to a lack of researched-based information about their performance.

Lastly, recommendations and recipes from the USDA and NCHFP are currently based on the two-piece metal lid system.  The recommendation does not come lightly; it is backed by a body of research documenting how well they work consistently for safe home canning.

Why take a chance?  TWO-PIECE LIDS REALLY ARE NECESSARY

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Sources: 

1G. Sivanandam. Evaluation and Comparison of the Sealing Performance of Three Major Types of Jar Lids Available for Home Canning. Thesis Project – University of Georgia. https://tinyurl.com/pj7ywjat

National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), Recommended Jars and Lids, https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/general/recomm_jars_lids.html

North Central Food Safety Extension Network, North Dakota State University, Put a Lid on It, Best Practices for Using Closures for Home-based Canning, https://www.ncrfsma.org/files/page/files/fn2028_put_a_lid_on_it_fillable_information.pdf

University of Missouri Extension, GH1452, Steps for Successful Home Canning, https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/gh1452

University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension, Put a lid on It, Best Practices for Using Closures for Home-Based Canning, https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/safefood/files/2021/04/Closures_2021.pdf

Marlene Geiger

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

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What’s Your Elevation? Does It Matter?

While residents of most Midwestern States usually don’t think about their elevation, elevation affects cooking and baking as well as home canning.  As elevation rises, air pressure falls and water boils at lower temperatures.

Boiling water at 1014 Ft of elevation

When it comes to everyday cooking and baking, there are few noticeable effects of elevation until one reaches 3000 ft.  Higher altitudes present several challenges when preparing some foods. At higher altitudes, leavened products using yeast, baking powder/soda, egg whites, or steam rise more rapidly, may collapse, and may not be fully cooked. Because water boils at a lower temperature at higher elevations, foods that are prepared by boiling or simmering will cook at a lower temperature, and it will take longer to cook. High altitude areas are also prone to low humidity, which can cause the moisture in foods to evaporate more quickly during cooking. At altitudes above 3,000 feet, preparation of food may require changes in time, temperature or recipe.  For those that find themselves at higher elevations, Colorado State University and New Mexico State University have excellent tips and guidelines for successful baking and cooking.

Because water boils at 212°F at sea level and decreases about 1°F for each 500-ft increase in altitude, adjustments must be made when canning foods at home to ensure home-canned foods are processed safely. The amount of time that jars are held at a certain temperature during canning is important to producing a safe product. Processing times for most recipes are based on elevations of 0-1000 ft unless stated otherwise. When elevations are above 1000 ft, extra time is added for food processed in a water-bath canner.  For food processed in a pressure canner, extra pressure is added.  Both adjustments are needed to get to their respective safe processing temperatures for high acid and low acid foods. 

Each USDA process has an altitude table with it. In this example for Crushed Tomatoes from the USDA Compete Guide to Home Canning, 2015 edition, note that time is increased in 5 minute increments as altitude increases for boiling water canning and pounds of pressure is increased for pressure canning. (Crushed Tomatoes is one example a food that can be processed by either boiling-water bath or pressure.)

While time is adjusted for water-bath canning, pressure regulation differs by the type of pressure canning equipment used—dial- or weighted-gauge canner as noted in the chart. (To be considered a pressure canner, the USDA recommends that a canner be large enough to hold at least 4 quart jars.) Pressure canners have either a dial gauge to indicate the pressure or a weighted gauge to indicate and regulate the pressure. Weighted gauges are designed to “jiggle” several times a minute or to rock gently when they are maintaining the correct pressure. If a dial-gauge canner is used, the gauge needs to be checked each year for accuracy.  If the gauge reads high or low by more than two pounds at 5, 10 or 15 pounds pressure, it should be replaced. If it is less than two pounds off in accuracy, adjustments can be made to be sure you have the required pressure in your canner [NCHFP]. Gauge testing is available at some county extension offices; contact your local extension office for testing availability. See Testing dial pressure canner gauges for more information [University of Minnesota Extension].

Elevation does matter in all aspects of food preparation, but especially so in home canning. Before beginning the canning process, it should be a priority to find and know your elevation.  It is quite easy to find your elevation using one of these sources:

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

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

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

How to Use a Water Bath Canner video
How to Use a Pressure Canner video

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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Potential Deadly Canning Mistakes

Home canning is an excellent way to preserve garden produce and share it with family and friends, but it can be risky—or even deadly—if not done correctly and safely.  The potential culprit is botulism. 

Although it’s a rare occurrence, botulism is a serious illness caused by a bacterium toxin, Clostridium botulinum, that attacks the body’s nerves. It can cause difficulty breathing, muscle paralysis, and even death.  Clostridium botulinum is commonly found in soil, on raw fruits and vegetables, on meat and fish, and many other foods and surfaces. Improperly home-canned, preserved, or fermented foods can provide the right conditions for the bacteria to make the toxin.  One cannot see, smell or taste the toxin, yet if ingested, even a small amount can be deadly. 

To avoid concerns about botulism, steer clear of these canning mistakes [1].

Making Up Your Own Recipe
Use only up-to-date, scientifically tested recipes approved by the USDA and follow directions exactly.  Good sources are The Complete Canning Guide, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, So Easy to Preserve, and land-grant university publications.    Without scientific testing, there is no way to know how long the product needs to be processed to be safe.

Adding Extra Starch, Flour or Other Thickeners
Starches slow the rate of heat penetration into the product and can result in under processing.  Clear Jel® is recommended as a thickener for canned pie fillings. If a product is not as thick as desired going into the jar, it can be thickened at the time of use.

Adding Extra Onions, Chilies, Peppers, or Other Vegetables to Salsas or Sauces
Tested recipes specify the quantity of vegetables allowed to keep the salsa or sauce within the safe pH range.  Most vegetables are low-acid and adding extra vegetables will dilute the acidity and result in an unsafe product.  While it is dangerous to add more vegetables to salsa and sauce recipes, fewer may be used for a milder flavor.  Extra ingredients can be added at the time of use.

Canning by Electric Pressure Cooker, Oven, Open Kettle, Microwave, or Dishwasher
Boiling water bath or pressure are the only approved canning methods. Any other method should be avoided as foods will be under processed and unsafe. Heat is conducted by air in an oven which is less efficient than water or steam. As a result product temperature never exceeds the boiling point; jar breakage is also a possibility. Open-kettle canning, placing hot food in jars and sealing with no further heat treatment, has been considered an unsafe home canning practice since the 1980’s due to insufficient heat to destroy bacteria [2]. Microwaved food reaches 212°F but heating is not uniform; in additon, there is a danger of jar explosion within the microwave oven or as food is being removed [2]. The water temperature of the dishwasher’s cleaning and rinsing cyles is far below that required to kill harmful microorganisms. While electric pressure cookers use pressure for cooking, they do not meet the appliance standards for home pressure canning, even if marketed as safe for pressure canning. Washington State Extension explains all the reasons why electric pressure cookers should not be used for home canning in Canning in Electric Pressure Cookers.

Not Making Altitude Adjustments
The temperature at which water boils is affected by barometric pressure which is reduced with elevation or altitude. When water doesn’t reach the normal boiling temperature, undesired pathogens may survive the canning process. These pathogens could multiply in the canned food and cause sickness.  Processing times and temperatures for recipes in most canning resources are based on canning at an elevation of 1,000 feet above sea level or lower.  When canning at a higher elevation, one must add more pounds of pressure for pressure canning and more processing time for water bath canning.  See charts prepared by South Dakota State University Extension for altitude adjustments.

Not Venting the Pressure Canner
Trapped air inside a pressure canner lowers the temperature obtained for a given pressure and results in under processing.  To be safe, the USDA recommends that all pressure canners be vented 10 minutes before they are pressurized.

To vent a canner, leave the vent pipe (steam vent) uncovered (or manually open the petcock on some older models) after you fill the canner and lock the canner lid in place. Heat the canner on high until the water boils and generates steam that can be seen escaping through the open vent pipe or petcock. When a visible funnel-shape of steam is continuously escaping the canner, set a timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes of continuous steam, you can close the petcock or place the counterweight or weighted gauge over the vent pipe to begin pressurizing the canner. [3]

Failure to Acidify Canned Tomatoes
Because the pH of tomatoes is an unknown, the USDA recommends that bottled lemon juice be used to lower the pH of the product to be unquestionably safe.

Rushing the Pressure Canner Cool-Down Time
The natural cool-down of the canner is part of the tested processing time.  Hurrying this process will result in under-processed food and siphoning of liquid from the jars.  It may also cause jar breakage.

Allowing “Hot Pack” Foods to Cool in Jars before Processing
Processing times are based on the food being hot at the beginning of the processing.  Foods not starting hot could be under processed. Further, the rule, “hot foods hot and cold foods cold” applies; when foods are held between 40 and 140°F, bacteria can grow rapidly.

Processing Low-Acid Foods in a Water Bath
Canning low-acid foods requires special care. This includes red meats, fish, poultry and all vegetables (except for acidified tomatoes). Low-acid foods can support the production of the deadly botulism toxin if these foods are not processed properly in a pressure canner. A pressure canner heats food to high temperatures (240-250 degrees F or higher) and destroys the spores that produce the botulism toxin. A boiling water bath canner, which can be used for canning pickles or fruit, heats food to boiling temperature (212 F), which is not high enough to ensure safety for canning vegetables and other low-acid foods.[4]

Home canning is perfectly safe but needs to be done correctly.  If you are new to canning (or need a refresher), check out Safe Home Canning Basics, by Minnesota University Extension to learn about preventing botulism and other key issues to be aware of when preserving food by home canning.

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!

________________________________________

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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Cleaning Your Iron

When was the last time you cleaned your iron?  Cleaning an iron can be one of those tasks that is easily forgotten or put off.  That is, until the iron seems to be sticking to fabric, spraying dirty water, or leaving black spots on your clothing.  It is not uncommon for dirt, dust, lint, detergent, and spray starch to build up on the soleplate of the iron or for water inside the water reservoir used for steam to cause dirty spots.  For those who sew or do fabric crafts, there is often the sticky residue from fusible interfacings or other fusible/iron-on products.

The frequency with which an iron needs to be cleaned depends on frequency of use and/or how it is used.  At any rate, a cleaning or maintenance schedule that meshes with the frequency or use is important to keeping the iron functioning properly.  If maintaining a schedule is too much, then a good rule of thumb is to clean as soon as a problem is detected—iron doesn’t glide as it should or steam doesn’t come out or sprays or spurts out rusty or black droplets onto the cloth.  All are signs that gunk has accumulated on the soleplate, the steam outlets are clogged, or tap water mineral deposits have accumulated in the water reservoir.

Fortunately, cleaning an iron isn’t that difficult.  If you’ve ever Googled “how to clean an iron”, you will find many shared methods.  And if you have a method that works for you, by all means continue on as the bottom line is to achieve a properly functioning iron.  If you are new to iron cleaning or unsure of how to proceed with your iron, the best route is to consult the owner’s manual as there may be specific guidelines for the kind of soleplate (stainless steel, ceramic, titanium, or non-stick), water reservoir, or self-cleaning feature unique to your iron. (If a manual is lost, often times they can be found online.)

Cleaning the Soleplate

Various options exist for cleaning the soleplate.  I will review the three most common recommended by iron manufacturers.  In all cases, never use anything that could scratch the soleplate.

Hot Iron Cleaners.  Cleaning pastes are found almost anywhere fabric or laundry products are sold and usually restore the iron’s soleplate to perfect condition. They are nontoxic, nonflammable, and nonabrasive.  When the pastes are applied to a very hot iron soleplate, they quickly and easily remove starch, detergent, and fusing residue. These cleaners dissolve the residue either by ironing over the cleaner on an old towel or by squeezing the cleaner onto the soleplate and wiping off residue with an old towel or cloth.   (Rowenta offers a product specific to Rowenta irons for consumers who choose to use it.)  One must be careful to remove the paste from the steam vents as well. (Cotton swabs work great for vent cleaning.)

Iron Cleaning Cloths.  Cleaning cloths (usually in packs of 10) are designed to be disposable and as an alternative to hot iron cleaning pastes for quick clean ups.  They dissolve and remove any residue by simply running the cloth over a hot soleplate. They usually work best for less soiled soleplates or for very regular clean up.  Because there is no paste involved, they do not clog the steam vents.

Baking Soda and Water or Vinegar.  Both baking soda and vinegar are common household cleaners.  They also work wonders as a natural scouring agent to remove grime from an iron’s soleplate.  One begins by mixing baking soda with distilled water or vinegar to make a paste (approximate 2:1 proportions of soda to liquid).  Apply the paste with an old tooth brush to a cool, unplugged iron.  Scrub gently with the brush to loosen the residue; wipe residue away with a microfiber cloth until the soleplate is cleaned. Like the commercial pastes, the steam vents must be cleaned, too. 

Hot vinegar applied to a microfiber cloth works like an iron cleaning cloth if the residue is light.

After cleaning, fill the reservoir with water, heat, and run the iron over an old towel or cloth, pressing the spray button several times to insure the soleplate and vents are clean before ironing clothing. 

Cleaning the Water Reservoir

When cleaning the water reservoir, discretion is needed.  Steam iron reservoirs need to be cleaned out often to ensure that the appliance doesn’t leave rusty or black water marks on clothing or fabric, performs properly, minimizes build up that may damage clothing, and, thereby, extends the life of the appliance.  Whenever possible, follow manufacturer’s directions.

Distilled water is commonly and safely used for cleaning the reservoir and vents.  While there are many distilled water and vinegar recipes suggested for reservoir cleaning, most manufacturers caution against the use of vinegar.  In a previous blog, AnswerLine suggested a method of filling the reservoir with distilled water and allowing the iron to self-steam out the minerals, lint, and other accumulations in the reservoir and vents.

A commercial iron cleaner is another option to decalcify and remove lime and mineral build-up from steam irons and vents. However, some iron manufacturers will void the warranty if you use them as they can be harsh and cause additional damage.

Keep the Iron Working at Its Best

Here’s some tips to protect and keep an iron working at its best.

  • Whenever possible, use distilled water.  Tap water, even when filtered, contains minerals that can clog, corrode, or damage the iron resulting in rusty or black steam or spray.
  • Fill the iron with water before plugging in and while cool.
  • Empty the reservoir before storing the iron—especially if it isn’t used frequently.
  • Store in an upright position.  This will prevent water from leaking if water is left in the reservoir and avoid scratching the soleplate.
  • Avoid pressing or ironing over zippers, snaps, decals, pins, or any screen printing without using a pressing cloth to avoid scratching the soleplate or adhering paint or plastics to the soleplate.

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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