Freezing strawberries

This is the last week for picking strawberries at the farm I go to. I am always sad to see the season end. The berries are consistently delicious! The ones I buy in the store the rest of the year never measure up. I do make sure I freeze a certain amount to have on hand during the Winter as I enjoy the flavor in smoothies and desserts.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends using a sugar syrup or sugar pack when freezing strawberries. This process works very well and helps preserve the color and texture of the berries. It is however a quality issue, not a safety issue.

Many people prefer not to have the added sugar. This also gives you more options when you are ready to use them later in the year. For my purposes I prefer the dry pack method. It is easy right now to spread my berries out in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet and let them freeze individually overnight then transfer them to my freezer bags/containers. By letting them freeze individually first it is easy to just remove the amount I need without any of them sticking together in a glob.

I will enjoy the fresh strawberries of the season as long as I can and also make sure I freeze some to enjoy later.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Blanching?

We are starting to get calls about freezing and blanching fruits and vegetables. We often explain to callers that blanching is a quality step and not a safety step. Blanching vegetables will kill the enzymes present that will continue to soften the food even in the freezer. Blanching will also protect the color of the vegetable. The directions for blanching are often confusing for callers.

We tell callers to blanch vegetables in small batches; work with a quart of product at a time. Start water heating on the stove and when it boils, add the vegetables. Wait until the food returns to a boil to begin timing the blanching time. When the time is up, remove the vegetables from the boiling water and plunge them into ice water. The ice water will stop the cooking process. Plan to cool the vegetables for at least as long as the blanching time. Cooling for a bit longer will not hurt the quality of the food and will help it cool much faster in the freezer. Callers can choose from freezing in a container or freezing on a tray and then transferring vegetables into a freezer bag or container after 24 hours. Tray freezing will allow the caller to enjoy any amount of vegetable at a time without thawing an entire container of food.

Happy blanching!

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Liquid Smoke, that Controversial Condiment

Liquid smoke is a condiment that invites controversy.  Barbecue purists roll their eyes and say “no way.”  Health groups consistently voice concern over possible health risks. Yet despite all the ‘nay’, there is a strong ‘yay’ with marketing trends showing that the condiment is growing in popularity as a flavor additive.

Liquid smoke is made by channeling smoke from smoldering woodchips through a condenser that quickly cools the vapors causing them to liquefy.  The water-soluble flavor compounds in the smoke are trapped within the liquid while the insoluble tars and resins are removed by a series of filters.  The results is a clean, all natural smoke-flavored liquid that provides a cookout-like flavor when outdoor grilling isn’t an option.

Ernest H Wright is credited with introducing liquid smoke in 1895.  As a teenager, he worked in a print shop and noticed the liquid dropping from the stove pipe that heated the shop tasted like smoke.  Years later as a pharmacist, he experimented and perfected the process of condensing hot smoke from a wood fire to create Wright’s Liquid Smoke which is still sold today and remains as a pure product, smoke and water.

Unless liquid smoke has added chemicals or ingredients, it is an all-natural product—just smoke suspended in water. (It should be noted that some brands add molasses, vinegar, and other flavorings so read the label to be sure that it is just smoke and water.)  Liquid smoke is used as a flavor additive in a whole host of foods beyond the little bottles on the grocery shelf.  It is the source of the smoky flavor in commercial barbecue sauces, bacon, hot dogs, smoked meats, cheeses, and nuts to name a few.  The process of adding liquid smoke or smoked flavorings to foods is justification for the use of the word “smoke” on package labeling.

What about the health risks?  Smoke, no matter the source, contains cancer-causing chemicals.  Some of those chemicals persist even in the extracts making liquid smoke a potential cancer risk.  Studies have shown that the amount of carcinogenic chemical found in liquid smoke depends on the type of hardwood used and the temperature at which it is burned. Other studies have shown that liquid smoke is less risky than food charred and cooked over smoke. A researcher at NYU found that controlled smoking plus an ensuing filtering process removed most, if not all, of these compounds. Therefore, most experts contend that the concentrations of the carcinogenic molecules in liquid smoke are far too low for any genuine health concerns as one would need to consume far more liquid smoke than most recipes call for to see any effects. Moderation is key with this magical ingredient, so use a light amount (1/4 teaspoon) in dishes for the safest route and if sediment is detected, let it settle and use only the liquid above it.

Liquid smoke has zero calories, zero fat, and most brands are low in sodium (about 10 mg per teaspoon), but it still brings an intense flavor like bacon.  Knowing that we should use it sparingly, it may be brushed on meats to add a depth of flavor or added to foods that generally rely on saturated fats and salt to bring out their flavor; thus it may add flavor for those on restricted diets who find that their food lacks flavor. Just a dash imparts that distinctive meaty, salty flavor that we know and love.   Taste of Home says “there is almost no sauce that wouldn’t benefit from a few drops of liquid smoke.  Adding a few drops to everything from your BBQ sauce to vinaigrette to your ranch dressing will help elevate your burgers, salads, and everything in-between.”

I’m inclined to agree with the barbecue purists–liquid smoke does not replace true smoke, but I enjoy using a little liquid smoke now and again when smoking or grilling is not possible or to step up the flavor of foods and sauces.

Marlene Geiger

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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Ham tips

This time of year AnswerLine gets a lot of calls about ham. Ham is meat from the hind leg of pork. It can be fresh, cured, or cured-and-smoked. Hams are either ready to eat or not. Ready to eat hams include cooked hams and prosciutto. Hams that must be cooked will have cooking instructions and safe handling instructions right on the label and you MUST cook them. Typically you cook ham at 325 degrees for 10 minutes per pound or to an internal temperature of 145 degrees followed by a 3 minute rest time. To help keep ham moist and juicy during cooking, place cut side down and tent with foil.

Fresh refers to uncured leg of pork. It will have the flavor of a fresh pork loin roast or pork chops. “Fresh” will be part of the product name on the label. The color will be pale pink or beige as opposed to cured ham being a deep rose or pink color and country or dry cured ham being pink to mahogany in color.

Hams can be wet-cured, which is very common, in a brine solution containing water, salt, sugar and spices. During this process the solution is injected into the meat before cooking. There are three varieties of wet-brined ham. “Ham with natural juices” has little water added during the curing process and results in an attractive appearance with a velvety type texture. “Ham with water added” retains more water during the process and is good for steaks, thin slicing and shaving. A “Ham and water product” has the most water added to it and is most often found at the deli counter. It is a good choice if the ham is going to be served cold.

Hams can be dry-cured by rubbing salt and spices into the meat’s surface. They are known as “country-style” hams. Prosciutto is also made using a dry cure.

After curing some hams are smoked. This is a process involving hanging or heating the ham in a smokehouse to allow it to absorb smoke from either smoldering fires or generated smoke which gives added flavor and color.

When purchasing ham allow 1/4 -1/3 pound per serving if it is boneless and 1/3 -1/2 pound per serving if it is bone-in. If you end up with enough leftover ham you won’t be able to consume it within 3 or 4 days consider freezing the leftovers.

FoodSafety.gov has excellent information on ham storage and ham cooking.

 

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Making Homemade Noodles Safely

“What is the best way to store homemade noodles?” was an AnswerLine question.  The caller related how her grandmother used to make large batches of homemade noodles, cut, and dry them on a clothes drying rack or on dowel rods between the kitchen chairs.  After the noodles were thoroughly dry, they were packaged in large tins and placed in the pantry for future use.

That was the method of yesteryear.  NOT today. The University of Illinois has a great publication on the ease of making homemade noodles and how to store them properly.  Here are some highlights from that publication that pertain specifically to homemade noodle food safety:

  • Noodles are pasta but different from other pasta because noodles contain eggs or egg yolks while other pasta does not. The FDA stipulates that a “noodle” must contain 5.5% of the total solids as egg solids which makes the raw egg ingredient a food safety concern.
  • Homemade noodles should be used right away or refrigerated for up to three days.
  • Fresh noodles may be dried.  At room temperature, they should only be allowed to hang for drying no more than two hours to prevent possible salmonella growth.  A food dehydrator may also be used to dry noodles; recommendations for drying in a food dehydrator are to dry for two to four hours at 135F.  Once noodles are dried, they should be packed in an airtight container or plastic bag and stored in the freezer for three to six months for best quality.  I usually add an extra step when I make noodles for the freezer; after allowing them to air dry for 2 hours, I scatter them on baking sheets and place them in the freezer for a couple of hours before packaging.  With the extra step, the noodles are easier to use as they usually don’t stick together.

Here are a couple of other food safety issues to consider when making homemade noodles:

  • As with any dough that contains raw eggs and flour, the dough should never be tasted.
  • Avoid contamination by having a clean working surface, clean hands, and clean equipment.  A cutting board that has been used for raw meat or poultry should not be used for noodle rolling and cutting.
  • Just like other foods that are left at room temperature for longer than two hours, cooking or reheating noodles may not make them safe to eat.  When food items are left out too long or not handled properly, some bacteria can form a heat-resistant toxin that cooking simply can’t destroy.

Homemade noodles are easy to make and are a delightful addition to soups and casseroles.  One only needs to practice a few food safety tips to avoid any potential risks.

Marlene Geiger

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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Baby Carrots – Myth and Facts

“Is it safe to eat baby carrots that have a white film on the outside?” This was a question from an AnswerLine caller who had read on social media that the white film was a chlorine residue from processing that could cause cancer.  This is an internet myth that has been making the rounds for years.

True facts.  The white film on baby carrots is safe.  It is little more than white blush which is a thin layer of dehydrated carrot.  The film develops when the baby carrots are exposed to air and the outside becomes dry.  Baby carrots do not have a protective skin to prevent them from drying.  Most baby carrots are cut and shaped from larger deformed carrots really making them baby ‘cut’ carrots.  According to a researcher at McGill University ”moisture loss from the carrot surface roughens the outer membranes causing light to scatter which in turn results in a whitish appearance.”

While it is true that carrots may be rinsed in a dilute solution of chlorine to rid bacteria, this has nothing to do with white blush.  Instead of representing a cancer health hazard, carrot processing with chlorinated water is a health-protective step recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration to prevent foodborne outbreaks. The amount of chlorine used in processing is many levels below the allowable limit for drinking water.1  Prior to packaging, the little carrots go through a plain tap water rinse.

If white blush is undesirable for fresh carrot eating, they are still great for cooking.  Besides showing white blush, baby carrots may also get rubbery if packages are not sealed. Rubbery carrots are safe to eat and may be used for cooking should they not make great snacks.  Finally, baby carrots that go beyond rubbery to soft and slimy should be tossed.

Here’s some great baby-carrot storage facts from StillTasty.com

  • How long do baby carrots last? The precise answer to that question depends to a large extent on storage conditions – keep baby carrots refrigerated.
  • To maximize the shelf life of baby carrots, refrigerate in covered container or re-sealable plastic bag or wrap tightly in aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
  • How long do baby carrots last in the fridge? Properly stored, baby carrots will last for 2 to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.
  • Can you freeze baby carrots? Yes, to freeze: (1) Blanch (plunge into boiling water) baby carrots for two minutes and chill quickly in ice cold water; (2) Drain off excess moisture, package in airtight containers or freezer bags and freeze immediately.
  • Frozen baby carrots will soften when thawed and are best used in cooked dishes.
  • How long do baby carrots last in the freezer? Properly stored, they will maintain best quality for about 12 to 18 months, but will remain safe beyond that time.
  • The freezer time shown is for best quality only – carrots that have been kept constantly frozen at 0°F will keep safe indefinitely.
  • How to tell if baby carrots are bad or spoiled? The best way is to smell and look at the baby carrots: discard any carrots that have an off smell or appearance; if mold appears, discard the baby carrots.

So put the internet myth to rest and enjoy your baby carrots!

Marlene Geiger

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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Is my milk still safe?

We had a family gathering over the weekend and as things were drawing to a close; my daughter questioned the safety of the milk in my refrigerator. She noticed that the date on the milk jug had just passed. We had a short discussion about how long milk is safe to drink past the sell by date marked on the carton.

In case you are wondering, milk that has been properly stored will remain safe and drinkable for about a week after that sell by date. Of course, if you notice an off flavor, odor, or appearance, you should toss the milk. One of the things that keeps milk safe for the week after the date is storing it in a refrigerator kept below 40° Fahrenheit.

At AnswerLine, we get many calls about food safety. After reading the sell by date on eggs, callers often ask how long

they can safely use eggs. The sell by date on an egg carton, as on milk cartons, refer to the time the store has to sell a product. They cannot legally sell the milk or eggs after the date marked on the carton. Producers of those products do not expect that you will be able to use an entire gallon of milk or a dozen eggs overnight if you happen to purchase them near the date.

It is important to remember that very few items have actual expiration dates. Baby formula is a food that does expire, so remember to always check the date and discard expired formula. Canned foods that have been commercially canned are good for 3-5 years past the best if used by date. Food you home canned should ideally be used within the first year or two at the most after processing.

We ae always happy to help you understand just what food products you have in your home are safe and which ones would be best discarded.

 
Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Storing chocolate

If your sweetie got you some chocolates for Valentine’s Day, you may be wondering just how long you can safely keep them. I did a little research and discovered that you can store that box of chocolate longer than you may have thought.

Chocolate should be stored at temperatures that are slightly cooler than room temperature. Try to keep them between 60° and 70° Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, they should keep well for at least six months. If you need to store them longer, consider storing in the refrigerator or freezer. Chocolates will keep for a year in the refrigerator and for a year and a half in the freezer.

If your sweetie went all out and bought some handmade or premium chocolates, enjoy them now. These chocolates have a much shorter shelf life and will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator or for 3-6 months in the freezer.

Chocolates will absorb odors from their surroundings so store them in the box they came in or place the box into a freezer bag and keep it sealed. Enjoy that special treat.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Planning a 4-H exhibit wisely

It hardly seems possible, but we are beginning to get calls and emails from 4-H members about projects for county fair. Many members are planning food preservation projects for the fair. This is a great time of year to preserve food, especially canned foods. Many members choose to can jams or jellies, vegetables, fruit, and even meat.

Home food preservation has some stricter rules than other food products that you may want to exhibit. ALL home food preservation exhibits must be made using research based information. This includes the USDA canning guide, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publications (Preserve the Taste of Summer), anything from the University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation or their So Easy to Preserve book, a recent Ball Blue Book (or anything on their website). Additionally, the printed directions in a pectin package or Mrs. Wage’s products may be used. We do not consider old family recipes to be research based, nor recipes from the neighbor, church cookbooks, or Better Homes and Gardens or random websites.

It is important to remember that Pinterest by itself is not a resource. Pinterest is more like an index. Each Pinterest post connects to a website. If you follow the post back to the webpage, that would be your resource.

If you decide to prepare a baked product, the recipe does NOT need to be listed in an approved resource or research based. Cookbooks are great resources for recipes as the recipes listed in them have been tested to ensure the product turns out as expected. Recipes from random websites likely were not been tested and you may not end up with the product you expect. That does not mean you are not allowed to use these recipes, but you may wind up wasting time and ingredients.

There are some limits on what baked or cooked foods can be safely exhibited at a fair. We have a resource to help members know what products can be exhibited and what products may need to be prepared at home and photographed for entry to the fair. In the case of a food requiring refrigeration, like a pumpkin pie, it is fine to bake and taste at home. Bring only the write up and pictures. Since the judge will not see the pie, remember to make a very thorough write-up to take to the fair. This method works as long as the product is considered safe to eat normally. Making an unsafe product, such as using a water bath canner instead of a pressure canner for green beans can neither be exhibited at the fair nor exhibited through the use or a write-up with pictures.

Reports or posters on nutrition or the effects of a certain vitamin or mineral do need to use research-based information. It is important to provide accurate information when reporting to the public. Members will want to use the same effort to report on a nutrition topic as they would when writing a report for school.

This is only a short list of the mistakes it is easy for members to make when planning an exhibit for their County Fair. Remember that AnswerLine is only a phone call (1-800-262-3804) or email (answer@iastate.edu) away. Contact us, we love to help.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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FOG (Fats, Oils and Grease)

As we continue to enjoy the Holidays with family and friends, I want to remind everyone about something we may not think about often but that could certainly impact a gathering in our homes. If not disposed of properly, fats, oils and grease can build up in the pipes of your home and cause a sewer backup. Those backups are always unpleasant and expensive to repair and there are things we can do to help prevent the backups in the first place. Many food products can lead to a buildup in your homes pipes if not disposed of properly: grease from cooking a turkey in the oven or a deep fat fryer, salad dressing, leftover gravy, cooking oil, butter/margarine, etc.

Here are some tips to help us all avoid having a sewer backup event:

Use a paper towel to remove as much leftover fat, oil and grease as you can on dishes and pans before you wash them.

If you cooked with the fat, oil or grease, let it cool completely then either throw away the fat that has hardened or pour the leftover fat in a sealable container and throw it away in your garbage.

If you have deep fried your turkey, dispose of that oil after each use. If you leave the oil in the fryer to reuse at another time it may attract pests and may not be safe. Many resource recovery plants will accept used cooking oil at no or minimal cost.

By following a few tips in removing fats, oils and grease from our dishes and pans we can save ourselves a lot of stress over clogged pipes in our homes.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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