Elevation? Does It Matter?

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

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

Elevation and Everyday Cooking and Baking

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

Elevation and Canning Safety

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

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

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

Elevation and Sugar Concentrations

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

Find and Know Your Elevation

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

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

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

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

Marlene Geiger

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

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Pressure Canner Load

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Updated January 2024, mg.

Marlene Geiger

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

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Safe Food Storage Containers

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

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

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

Safe Food-Grade Container Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

Marlene Geiger

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

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Steam Juicing Grapes and Other Fruits

America’s favorite juice and jelly grape, the Concord, is ripe now. Extracting a clear juice from grapes or any fruit for a jelly or juice can be a daunting task. A steam juicer makes juicing fruit easy and results in a clear juice ready for making jelly or saving the juice. The prep work is minimal; steam does all the work.

Steam canner
Three-piece steam juicer – Photo: mrgeiger

Steam juicers are a four-part stacked cooking unit–a water reservoir bottom pan, a middle collection pan with a funnel opening in the center, a steam basket pan, and a lid. Water is placed in the bottom pan and boiled gently. As it boils, steam funnels up through the hole in the middle pan and heats the fruit in the steam basket pan. The lid prevents the steam from escaping. As the fruit heats, the fruit releases its juice which drips down through the holes in the steam basket and collects in the middle pan. As the collection pan fills, the juice begins to run out of the unit through a silicon tube on the front of the middle collection pan into a heatproof vessel placed below the unit. The juice is clear, free of pulp, and is ready to drink, gel, can, or freeze after it comes out of the steamer. So easy!

The steamer saves so much time and effort. For a step-by-step ‘how to’, see Steam Juicing: Extracting the Juice, by UCCE Master Food Preservers of El Dorado County, CA. There is no chance of over steaming the fruit; one just needs to be mindful of keeping sufficient water in the lower pot so that it doesn’t boil dry.  Extraction is complete when the fruit has completely collapsed; it is a good idea to let the collapsed fruit sit for awhile after steaming as juice will continue to be released. If there is a need to move on with another batch, the collapsed fruit can be placed in a colander on the counter and allowed to drain while steaming goes on with additional batches.

While many internet sites suggest that the juice can be drained right into hot sterilized canning jars, capped, and left to cool on the counter, this is not a safe practice. To be shelf safe, fruit juices need to be processed in a hot water bath. (See directions at National Center for Home Food Preservation.) Jelly can be made directly from the extracted juice. The juice may also be frozen for future use. Sugar may be added prior to canning or freezing, if desired.

Just about any type of fruit works with a steam juicer; cherries, plums, apricots, blueberries, cranberries, apples, and pears are just some suggestions. Fruits like apples or pears should be cut in half before steaming while all small fruits can be left whole. Steam juicers can also be used to extract juice from vegetables. When not being used for juicing, the bottom pan makes a great cooking vessel and when combined with the steam basket, it becomes a great steamer for steaming vegetables and other food items or steam blanching vegetables before freezing.

Some fruit and vegetable juices do well to sit for a period before using or preserving to allow any sediment to settle. Grapes, in particular, are prone to tartrate crystal formation. To learn more about preventing tartrate crystals, see Preventing Crystals in Grape Jelly, Jam, Syrup, and Juice, blogs.extension.iastate.edu/answerline/?p=10143.

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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Preserving by Home Freeze Drying

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 a more recent option for home food preservation due to the advent of home freeze dry units. HarvestRight, a company in Salt Lake City, Utah, introduced a freeze drying unit for home use in 2018, opening new opportunities for home food preservation. Early in 2023, a second company, Prep4Life, introduced a slightly different freeze drying unit for home use known as THE CUBE; Prep4Life is also a Utah-based company.

Freeze drying unit on retail display
Freeze drying unit exhibit at retail location – Photo: mrgeiger

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 battlefield.  In the 1950s–1960s, freeze drying was viewed as a multi-purpose tool for pharmaceuticals and food processing and became a major component of space and military rations. Freeze drying has been widely used in the food industry for some time to extend the shelf-life of food while maintaining quality (think berries in commercial cereals that feature real berries) and offer consumers fast meal prep, emergency preparedness, and portable food. Freeze-dried foods also offer convenience as some foods can be eaten “as is” (except for raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs), added directly to recipes, or rehydrated and used as fresh food.

In a nutshell, freeze drying works by dropping the product temperature to <-40F, then reducing the pressure and adding heat to allow the frozen water in the product to change directly to a vapor (sublimate). Per HarvestRight, the process removes 98-99 percent of the moisture in food yet retains 97 percent of the nutrients, natural enzymes, and original flavor and color, making it a superior method for preserving food [1]. Additionally, freeze-dried foods are easy to use; food returns 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 10-pound bag of fresh apples weighs about one pound after freeze drying. Further, freeze dried foods supposedly have a 25-year shelf-life under proper storage conditions.

To date, very little university research has been done on in-home freeze drying; specifically research on how long the food retains quality and nutritive characteristics [3]. Utah State Extension staff has been experimenting with the HarvestRight dryers. In a recent webinar, they stressed that freeze drying produces high quality foods that are safe as long as they are handled properly prior to freeze drying, dried thoroughly, packaged appropriately, and used or prepared correctly 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.

Nearly any food item can be freeze dried—fruits, vegetables, herbs, meats (cooked and raw), eggs, dairy, meals, casseroles, desserts. Utah State recommends that vegetables be blanched prior to freeze drying to prevent discoloration. Food high in fat content, high in sugar content, and baked goods such as breads, cakes, muffins, etc do not freeze dry well and should be avoided. Sugar causes foods to expand.

To ensure the safety and quality of freeze-dried foods, basic food safety principles must be used in preparation, product must be completely dried (crisp), and product must be stored properly. Proper packaging is crucial to extend the shelf life of freeze-dried foods and prevent contamination or spoilage. The storage container must eliminate oxygen, light, and moisture. In order of long-term to short-term storage, the following containers may be used: Mylar® bags, vacuum-sealed canning jars, #10 cans, vacuum sealed bags, and PETE re-sealable containers. An oxygen absorber must be enclosed in the container to remove or decrease the available oxygen in the package to help maintain product safety, quality, and extend shelf life. Foods should be stored in a cool, dark place. 

For long-term storage, PET or PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate) food grade, non-toxic plastic pouches, also known as “mylar bags” are excellent. The opaque (silver) 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® bags with a clear side are not long-term air tight [3]. Mason canning jars can be used if they are vacuum sealed with a vacuum sealing machine capable of using a jar sealing device. Metal cans have a zero oxygen transfer rate and are great for long-term storage [4]. However, a #10 can contains a large amount of dried food which must be used at the time of opening or resealed in another container. Vacuum bags and re-sealable containers have short-term oxygen barrier qualities. 

Oxygen absorbers do not have a long shelf life; as soon as they are exposed to air (oxygen), they start to absorb and are spent when they become hard. They are available in different sizes (measured in cc’s); contents and container size should be considered when purchasing absorbers. The smaller the container the less cc’s needed. There is no harm in using a larger than needed absorber and would be preferred to one that is too small [3]. When a container is opened, the absorber should be replaced before resealing.

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 food [5]. While dehydration is a very acceptable means of food preservation, it differs from freeze drying in several ways: 
– foods shrink up and develop a leathery feel and appearance;
– foods do not return to their natural state;  
– foods retain less of their nutritional value;
– foods have a 4 months to 1 year shelf life;   
– fewer foods are successfully dehydrated;
– foods rehydrate slowly.

There are many advantages to freeze drying. Besides holding nutritive value, it allows one to utilize garden produce at the peak of harvest, buy in bulk, save money over commercially prepared freeze-dried foods, offers a long shelf life, preserve foods that cannot be typically preserved, and offers compact, lightweight storage. Some disadvantages pointed out by Utah State Extension include unit size, noise, time for drying and allowing freezer to unthaw, cleaning, sanitation, and maintenance, small batch sizes, and cost—cost of the machine as well as machine accessories, packaging supplies, sealers [10], and electricity. In addition, reconstituting freeze-dried foods is somewhat experimental. Utah State Extension specialists suggest starting with a small amount of water and giving ample time to reabsorb; there is no need to rehydrate herbs, onions, or bell peppers as they can be added directly to foods and will absorb moisture from the food. Buying a Home Freeze-Dryer: What to Know Before You Go and Let’s Preserve:  Freeze Drying offer more information.  

The options for food preservation are many. Each method offers pros and cons to preservation and storage. If long-term food storage or portable food storage is the goal, freeze-drying is an option to consider. HarvestRight machines are available at several retail outlets. The Cube is available from the Prep4Life company. Imagine rehydrating lasagna on a camping trip!

Sources:

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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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
Countertop dishwasher. Photo: rsweeney

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.

In my quest to streamline household tasks, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of home appliance tips at www.homeupward.com. The website became my go-to resource for practical advice on optimizing kitchen efficiency and managing household responsibilities. From innovative dishwashing techniques to clever storage solutions, the insights offered transformed the way I approached domestic chores. Implementing some of their suggestions not only made the lack of a dishwasher more manageable but also brought a sense of order to our kitchen, allowing me to navigate the demands of parenthood with greater ease.

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!

________________________________________

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.

Five students walking on a college campus
Five students walking on a college campus – Photo: Canva.com

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?

Assorted brands of canning jars and lids at a retail outlet - Photo:  mrgeiger
Assorted brands of jars and lids at a retail outlet – Photo: mrgeiger

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 the various websites selling jars and lids, they are safe for preserving, crafting, and storing; information is provided for water bath and pressure canning.  Wide-mouth and regular lids are available.  Customer reviews 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.

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 Standard 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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Induction Cooking – What You Need to Know

If you’re buying a new electric powered 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.

Pot of boiling water on an induction range top.
Pot of boiling water on an induction range top.

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
Defrosting tray with a piece of meat on it surrounded by various vegetables.

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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