Canning Season Readiness – Time to Test Pressure Canner Dial Gauges and Check Out the Canner

A pressure canner is the only safe method for canning low acid foods—red meats, seafood, poultry, and low acid vegetables. Ensuring your pressure canner is working properly and in good condition is critical to producing unquestionably safe products every year.

Dial Gauges Must be Tested Annually for Accuracy

Two styles of pressure canners - one with gauge, other with weights
Two pressure canners, one with dial gauge (rear) and one with a weighted gauge (front). Canner in front shows a cutaway to inside the canner. Image source: USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015.

Most of today’s pressure canners have either a dial gauge or weighted gauge for indicating and regulating the pressure. There is one exception; the All American brand has both a dial and weighted gauge. For canners having a dial gauge, safe canning begins with getting the gauge checked for accuracy yearly or before the start of the canning season. A dial gauge has movable parts which can go out of calibration. Gauges that read high cause under-processing and may result in unsafe food. Clostridium botulinum bacteria are the main reason why low-acid foods must be processed with the correct pressure and time to be safe.  Gauges with low readings may cause over-processing which is not a food safety issue, but rather a food quality issue. Pressure adjustments can be made if the gauge reads 2 pounds high or low. Gauges testing more than 2 pounds of difference should be replaced. The dial gauge should also be checked if any of the following conditions exist: cover has been submerged in water or dropped, gauge lens is broken or has fallen out, parts are rusty, pointer is not on “0”, or for any reason you believe the gauge may not be accurate. The dial should be replaced if it is cracked, rusted, or the glass is missing. Gauges on new canners and replacement gauges should be tested before use.

Weighted gauges do not require testing for accuracy because they cannot go out of calibration.

Dial Gauge Testing Services

There are several services that provide dial gauge testing. After testing is complete by a service, you will get a Canner Dial Gauge Testing Report or similar. It is a good idea to keep the reports for reference.

Local County Extension Office – Many County Extension Offices have the equipment and trained personnel for testing the National (National Pressure Cooker Company), Magic Seal (sold by Montgomery Ward), Maid of Honor (sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company), or Presto® brands. Check with your local office for availability or to find out about testing events in your area. AnswerLine (800-262-3804 or 515-296-5883) can help residents of Iowa and Minnesota find a location for testing in your area.

Presto – National Presto Industries will test dial gauges at no charge provided it is one of the following brands: National (National Pressure Cooker Company), Magic Seal (sold by Montgomery Ward), Maid of Honor (sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company), or Presto®. Check out the Care and Maintenance Guide at Go.Presto.com for information on how to send a gauge for testing.

Hardware Stores – Some hardware stores also offer this service. Call before you go.

All-American – For testing of All-American dial pressure gauges, contact Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, 920-682-8627. The weight is more accurate than the gauge and customers should use the weights to attain the correct pressure. If the weight begins to rock at the desired pressure and the gauge is off by more than 2 psi the company recommends replacing the gauge. The gauge is primarily used as a reference to know when the unit is at 0 psi and can safely be removed and the canner opened.

Canner Manufacturers – For pressure canner brands not specified, contact the manufacturer of the unit.

Self-Test – If your pressure canner has a both a dial gauge and a weight, it can be tested at home. UCCE Master Food Preservers shares how.

In addition to getting dial gauges checked, there are a number of other items to check out to make sure that the canner is in good working order for canning season. If any of the following do not check out, they should be replaced or cleaned as needed.

Annual Pressure Canner Checklist

Handles*Secure.
Canning Rack*Jars must be off the bottom of the canner during processing to reduce stress on the glass. Rack
should be free of rust and strong enough to support weight of jars.
GasketThe intense heat of pressure canning may cause the gasket to shrink or crack allowing air and
steam to escape under or around the lid. Under normal conditions, the gasket should be replaced
every three years or sooner if steam or water is coming out around the lid or if a hissing sound is
detected. Wash the gasket to remove any food deposits or grease that may have accumulated on
the gasket. Also wash the gasket trough before replacing the gasket.
Pressure PlugThe pressure plug should be replaced at the same time that the gasket is replaced. Many gasket
replacements come with the pressure plug as well.
Vent TubeCorrosion of any sort, water deposits, food debris, etc., in the vent pipe can cause a build-up of
pressure inside the canner that is not registered on the dial or it can prevent the weight from jiggling.
Use a pipe cleaner to brush along the sides and clean away any deposit that my be there.
WeightsMost weighted gauge canners use a three-piece system–a center piece that fits onto the vent
pipe and two rings that slip over the center. Each piece measurers 5 pounds of pressure. If 15
pounds of pressure are needed, all three pieces are used together. For 10 pounds of pressure,
use the center piece and one ring. For 5 pounds of pressure, only the center piece is needed.
Another type of weighted gauge is a round disc that is turned to the appropriate poundage needed
and placed on the canner.
Manual*The manual that came with the canner is invaluable for learning more about the canner, model
number, etc. If the manual has become lost, the Pick Your Own website has a listing of canner
manuals to download. If the canner is several years old, there is a good chance that the
processing information in the manual is out of date. Should this be the case, replace the manual
with the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning (2015) (purchase or download).
*Also apply to a water bath canner.

Replacement Parts

Replacement parts are available at some hardware stores or stores that also sell food preservation equipment. Parts may also be purchased directly from some of the manufacturers. The Pressure Cooker Outlet has replacement parts for many makes and models of canners. Parts can also be found at Amazon.com. Be sure to know the canner model number and part number of the needed item (may be found in the canner manual). The model number can be found on the bottom of the canner, the handle, or the lid. 

Start the canning season off right. Get the gauge tested and make sure that your canner meets all check marks. 

Sources:

Reviewed and updated 4-2024, 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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Staying on Top of Product Recalls


RECALL Image

A RECALL occurs when a manufacturer takes a product off the market because there is reason to believe that it may cause harm to consumers. There are recalls for all kinds of consumer products—children’s toys, automobiles, appliances, clothing, furniture, electronics, food and more. Keeping up with all the recalls can be daunting.

Several governmental agencies are responsible for protecting consumers and issuing recalls.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is responsible for protecting the public against unreasonable injuries and deaths associated with consumer products—everything from children’s toys to electronics and more. Recalls are posted on the CPSC website.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a division of the Department of Transportation (DOT), handles all moving vehicle issues. A recall is issued when either the manufacturer or NHTSA determines that a vehicle or equipment creates an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet appropriate standards. Check for recalls on the NHTSA website. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), also a division of the DOT, assesses the risks associated with aviation.

Two agencies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), are responsible for food safety. The FDA is responsible for the safety of food, drugs, and cosmetics while the USDA regulates beef, poultry, and processed egg products. Both issue food recalls when it is believed that a food item may cause consumers to become ill. Warnings are posted on their individual websites, but FoodSafety.gov is the go-to consumer website to learn about all food related recalls from both agencies. Bacterial contamination (listeria or salmonella), undeclared allergens, or foreign matter in the product are the most common reasons for food recall, removal from store shelves, and advising consumers to return or toss problematic food. Food Recalls & Alerts is an app that collects all FDA, USDA and pet food recalls and sends real-time alerts to your phone. The app is available at the Apple or Google Play stores.

Recalls from all of the different agencies can be found at Recalls.gov.

Recalls happen frequently, but it can be difficult to know when a recall affects your health or safety. For that reason, it is critical to know where to find recall information, take recalls seriously, and discontinue use of recalled products immediately, be it ice cream or tires.

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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Spouting or Greening Potatoes . . . Keep or Toss?

“Should a potato with sprouts be used or tossed?” There is a great deal of conflicting advice on the question of use or toss. It comes down to the condition of the potato.

Sprouted potatoes in bag
Photo: MGeiger

As the warmer months approach, potatoes in storage may be showing signs of sprouting or even vigorously sprouting; shriveling may also accompany sprouting as the starch in the potato is converted to sugar to feed the new plants. Potatoes have an inherent natural dormancy maintained by endemic plant hormones. The concentration of the hormones in the tubers decreases over time resulting in sprouts forming at the eyes. When sprouting starts to occurs, this is a sign that the dormant period is over and nature is telling them it is time to reproduce. Even under ideal well ventilated, cool, dry, and dark storage conditions, this natural phenomenon occurs. Potatoes that are improperly stored in the home may exhibit the same sprouting and shriveling regardless of time of year as conditions may trick them into “thinking spring.”

Why the Concern?

Potatoes contain two kinds of glycoalkaloids called solanine and chaconine. Both are naturally occurring chemical compounds. Glycoalkaloids are found throughout potato tubers, but are in highest concentration in the leaves, flowers, sprouts, green skin and the area around the potato ‘eyes’. The lowest concentration is found in the flesh of the tuber.

In normal tubers, glycoalkaloids concentrations are small with a slightly higher concentration in a thin layer immediately under the skin and around the eyes. Peeling potatoes and removing the eyes reduces the presence of the compound. The concentration of glycoalkaloids in sprouts is much higher and can be high enough to be toxic to humans. The more potatoes sprout, the greater the presence of glycoalkaloids in both the sprout and potato itself. High concentrations of glycoalkaloid compounds give potatoes an unpleasant, bitter taste and can lead to headaches, vomiting and other digestive issues.

According to articles by Michigan State and North Carolina Extensions, removing the sprouts will allow safe consumption of the rest of the potato as long as the potatoes are firm, not soft or shriveled, and the sprouts are small. Further, most of the nutrients are still intact. But if the sprouts are long (1 inch or more) and the potato has shriveled, it should be tossed.

The same is nearly true for potatoes exhibiting greening. Green skinned potatoes have been exposed to too much light. Light causes the potato to produce chlorophyll and activate the skin cells to produce solanine which has a bitter taste and is an irritant to the digestive system. Because of the bitter taste, most people do not eat enough to get sick. Despite that, always use caution when greening is found on the tubers as this indicates elevated levels of solanine. Peeling the potato and removing the green portions by simply cutting them out will eliminate most of the toxin. However, if more extensive greening occurs into the tuber, throw the tuber away. Never eat tubers that are green beneath the skin. 

Cooking does not destroy glycoalkaloid compounds; therefore, potatoes exhibiting sprouts and shriveling or deep green parts should not used. Potatoes that are firm and exhibiting only small sprouts at the eye and/or skin-deep greening can be eaten if the entire sprout and any green-tinged parts of the potato are cut away.

Storing Potatoes to Prevent Sprouting and Greening

Storing potatoes the right way will prevent sprouting and greening. As mentioned earlier, potatoes should be stored in a cool (45-50 degrees), dark, dry, and well ventilated location for maximum freshness.  Kept in these conditions, potatoes will likely last up to three months or longer. At room temperature, potatoes will usually last about 2 weeks. Storing potatoes in a cellar or cool basement is ideal. Storage areas should always be away from appliances that give off heat or any area that allows light. If potato tubers will be consumed soon, they can be stored in a cupboard/pantry in a paper bag.

Don’t store potatoes in the fridge. Cold temperatures turn the starches in potatoes into sugars. This makes potatoes sweeter and cook dark. Also, potatoes should not be stored with onions. Storing them together shortens their shelf life. Onions produce ethylene gas which causes potatoes to spoil prematurely. The high moisture content of potatoes can cause onions to turn brown and rot.

In conclusion, sprouted or green potatoes are not necessarily destined for the landfill or compost pile.  With certain precautions, the potato may be safe to eat as long as sprouts and green spots can be cut away. If there is extensive sprout growth, shriveling, and deep green within the tuber, potatoes should be tossed to prevent risk of potential toxicity from solanine and chaconine, the two natural glycoalkaloid compounds found in potatoes.

For other questions about food safety and storage advice that will help keep food safe after purchase or harvest, The Food Keeper is an excellent resource. This handy reference tool was produced by the Food Marketing Institute at Cornell University in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It contains useful guidelines for storing food safely. The app is just a finger touch away for IOS and Android smartphones users by visiting the App Store or Google Play and searching for “FoodKeeper Mobile App.” The same app is also available for computer or pads at FoodSafety.gov.

Sources:
Toxic Glycoalkaloids in Potatoes, Centre for Food Safety
Glycoalkaloids in Potato Tubers, Oregon State University Extension
Food Safety of Potatoes, Michigan State University Extension 
Is It Safe to Eat a Potato That Has Sprouted?, North Carolina Extension
Is It Safe to Eat Sprouted Potatoes? Here’s What the Experts Say, EatingWell
Are Sprouted Potatoes Safe to Eat?, Poison Control

Reviewed and updated 3-2024, 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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Oh no, my freezer is out!

Food in freezer
Food in freezer

Freezer failure can happen at any time due to mechanical problems, power failures, or human error. Regardless of cause, freezer failure means the loss of all or part of a large investment in food, time and money.

When you discover that the freezer is not working, it is important to determine why it is no longer working. Has the door been left open? A blown fuse, a broken electrical circuit or an accidental disconnection? Is the freezer over packed or full of frost build up? Has there been a power failure or did the unit simply die? In any of these cases, normal operation should be restored as quickly as possible and the food checked for thawing.

If the freezer outage is due to a power outage you will want to do what you can to keep all the food from thawing. If the outage is not expected to be more than 12-24 hours, avoid opening the freezer and cover with blankets or quilts. If a longer outage is expected, the food should be moved to a locker or taken to a working freezer (friends and neighbors), if available. Move food as quickly as possible using insulated boxes or cooler chests. Purchased dry ice or packaged ice can be added to help keep the contents cold for a longer period. If dry ice is used, handle it carefully and get usable sizes. Don’t open the freezer again until you need to replace the dry ice or until the freezer is working again. (For more tips on using dry ice, see If Your Home Freezer Stops.) If the freezer is in need of a repair or has died, the same guidelines for moving food or adding dry ice may save the food until a repair person arrives or a new unit is purchased.

Once the freezer is working or is replaced, check to see if the contents are still completely frozen or partially frozen. It is possible to refreeze many foods that have completely thawed if you are absolutely certain that they have been kept at a temperature lower than 40°F for no longer than two days (about normal refrigerator temperature). Refreezing food must be done quickly. It is best to set the temperature control to the coldest setting and once the food is solid again, return the setting to maintain 0°F or lower. Since refreezing may affect the quality of the food, it is a good idea to mark the refrozen food and use it as quickly as possible.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation and Oregon State University have guidance on what to do with thawed foods. Some thawed foods can be re-frozen. However, the texture will not be as good. Other foods may need to be discarded.

  • Meat and Poultry: Re-freeze if the freezer temperature stays 40°F or below and if color and odor are good. Check each package, and discard any if signs of spoilage such as an off color or off odor are present. Discard any packages that are above 40°F (or at room temperature). Refrozen meat should be used within three to four weeks and cooked to 165°F before eating. The same is true for refrozen sausage, bacon and other processed meats. Refrozen meats will probably be drier than other frozen meat.
  • Vegetables: Be careful with blanched or cooked vegetables. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in them. It may be impossible to tell by their odor whether they have started to spoil. Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present or if the freezer temperature is 40°F or below. Vegetables should be immediately refrozen if they still have ice crystals. Discard any packages that show signs of spoilage or that have reached room temperature.
  • Fruits: Re-freeze if they show no signs of spoilage. Thawed fruits may be used in cooking or making jellies, jams, or preserves. Fruits survive thawing with the least damage to quality. However, fruits and fruit products are likely to ferment after they have thawed and been held at temperatures above 45°F. This doesn’t make them harmful, but it will change their flavor. They may be used in cooking or baking or for making jams, jellies and preserves.
  • Shellfish and Cooked Foods: Re-freeze only if ice crystals are still present or the freezer is 40°F or below. If the temperature is above 40°F, discard as bacteria multiply rapidly in these foods.
  • Ice Cream: If partially thawed, throw it out. The texture of ice cream is not acceptable after thawing. If its temperature rises above 40°F, it could be unsafe. The same is true for creamed foods and puddings.
  • Breads, Nuts, Doughnuts, Cookies and Cakes: These foods re-freeze better than most. They can be safely re-frozen if they show no signs of mold growth. Refreezing will likely result in some loss of moisture.

Marlene Geiger

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

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Freezer Burn and Food Safety

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

Package of food in the freezer
Frozen food

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marlene Geiger

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

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Tray Pack for Freezing Food – Why and How

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

Tray of raspberries in the freezer

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

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

Foods that can be Flash Frozen with the Tray Pack Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marlene Geiger

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

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March is National Frozen Food Month!

March - Frozen Food Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Welcome Jennie Savits to AnswerLine!

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

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

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

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

Family
Savits family – Photo: jsavits

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

Marlene Geiger

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

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