This is your friendly reminder to keep your friends and family safe this Thanksgiving. We speak a lot about food safety this time of year. Here are some tips to remember.
- Remember to wash your hands often. Use soap and wash for at least 20 seconds.
- Resist the urge to wash your turkey. Washing will not make it safer to eat and the splash of water from the turkey will cross contaminate other parts of your kitchen.
- The safest way to make stuffing or dressing is to cook it outside the bird.
- Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. In some families, the tradition is to leave food out on the table all afternoon so people can nibble a bit more. This is a recipe for food bourne illness. Leave leftovers on the table for less than two hours. The clock starts ticking on the two hours as food comes out of the oven or refrigerator.
- Cool leftovers quickly. Store them in shallow pans separated in the refrigerator or freezer. Storing leftovers on the back porch or garage is NOT a good idea. Store them in a refrigerator set between 32°F and 40°F. Closer to 32°F is best.
- Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, cooked meat, and vegetables.
- Keep that pumpkin pie in the refrigerator.
- Use a meat thermometer to know when your turkey is done. Cook to 165°F.
- Use or freeze your leftovers within 3-5 days.
- Call AnswerLine if you have any questions. We really do love to help.
Thanksgiving is the busiest time of the year at AnswerLine. Most callers eat turkey only one or two times a year and often do not’ feel comfortable preparing turkey for guests. We are always happy to talk turkey with callers.
We often get these questions:
- How large a turkey should I buy? You should plan on two and a half or three servings per pound. Buy a larger bird if leftovers are important to you.
- How soon can I buy a fresh turkey? Use your fresh turkey within two days. Call us for advice if you buy your turkey too early.
- How long does it take to thaw a turkey? Plan on 24 hours for each 4-5 pounds of turkey. Remember to thaw it in the refrigerator. Once thawed, use within two days.
- Oh my, I forgot to take my turkey out of the freezer. What can I do? You have two options. You can cook a frozen turkey, just remember to take the giblets and neck out of the cavity after an hour or so. Plan to cook the frozen turkey for one and a half times longer than a thawed bird. Or you can use the cold-water method. Thaw the turkey by leaving it in the plastic wrapper and place in a sink full of cold water. This method takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw. Change the water every half hour. I was a bit skeptical the first time I tried this method, but it does work well.
- What temperature should I set the oven for turkey? 325°F
- If you want to cook the turkey the day before Thanksgiving, call us for advice.
These are the top turkey questions callers ask every year. Please call us with all of your questions. We love to help.
Callers often want to get ready for Thanksgiving as soon as possible. They often call to see just how far ahead of time they can begin preparing food. Here are some tips from AnswerLine staff to help you get ready and still keep your guests safe.
- In early November, compile your list of guests. Keep in mind any food allergies and favorite and least favorite foods.
- In that same period, begin putting a menu together. Do you want to have a traditional meal or would you enjoy trying something new?
- After deciding on a menu, gather recipes. If you want to try something new, you may want to make a dish in advance to ensure it will be what you expect on the big day. If you have a tradition of asking guests to contribute a dish, be sure to get them the recipe you have chosen so that they have time to buy the ingredients needed.
- Plan seating for your guests. Do you have enough chairs and tables? Do you need a larger tablecloth? Do you have enough place settings and serving pieces? If they are a bit dusty, consider getting them out and washing in advance.
- Plan the order of cooking for the foods you have chosen. Consider which dishes may be prepared ahead of time and frozen. If guests will be contributing a dish, think about how to keep it hot or cold before serving. Make room in your refrigerator ahead of time.
- Clean your house and set your tables a day or two in advance of the holiday.
- Cut up fresh vegetables the day before Thanksgiving. Peel your potatoes early Thanksgiving morning.
- When making foods with many ingredients, remember that you can measure out ingredients ahead of time so when the time comes to put a dish together, you can easily make it without measuring. Cut onions and celery for dressing the night before and take them out of the refrigerator on Thanksgiving to make that stuffing at the last minute.
- Follow your order of cooking and check your menu often on Thanksgiving so that everything is ready in time to serve.
- Remember that we are available to answer any questions you may have about Thanksgiving. Call from 9-4 the week of Thanksgiving. We will not be leaving the office those three days for lunch. You can email us or ask a question on our Facebook page.
Tailgating is in full swing in our area and what fun everyone has! Whether you are the person that plans the menu, prepares the food, sets everything up, or just enjoys, it is important to take precautions to keep everyone safe. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne illnesses every year. It is estimated that over half of those cases are related to improper hand washing. If your venue does not have hand washing stations readily available consider taking water and soap along specifically for hand washing. Proper hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds is always your best line of defense. If that is not feasible, take plenty of antibacterial wipes along and after using them follow up with an alcohol based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol which is very effective in killing harmful microorganisms. Most commercial hand sanitizers contain that percentage of alcohol or close to it.
Bacteria cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted and multiply rapidly in the Danger Zone – 40 degrees to 140 degrees F. It is very important to not let foods remain in this Danger Zone for more than two hours. If the temperature outside is 90 degrees or higher that time frame drops to 1 hour. Pack your cooler the last thing before leaving home for the tailgate and put foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the temperature inside the cooler at 40 degrees or colder. Raw meat and poultry should be wrapped tightly to prevent contamination of other foods. A separate cooler is recommended for beverages as it is opened frequently which allows the internal temperature of the cooler to increase. If you won’t be serving the food soon after your arrival at the tailgate, keep the food in the cooler.
To keep hot food hot, insulated thermoses work well. Fill the thermos with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, then empty and fill with your hot food before you leave. If you have access to electricity a crock pot works well to keep hot foods above the Danger Zone during the tailgate. If you do not eat all the hot foods you have taken, be sure to put any leftovers in your cooler with enough ice before you head to the game.
If you are planning to grill as part of your tailgate, the only safe way to make sure your meat has cooked to the correct internal temperature is to take and use a calibrated food thermometer.
So what foods should you be cautious of when tailgating and which foods would be considered always safe? Be cautious of foods that are high in protein like meat, milk and dishes/casseroles containing eggs as well as marinades, potatoes, and pie (especially cream pies). Often part of the fun at a tailgate is preparing the food while you are there. However from a safety standpoint, single-serving, pre-packaged foods are the best. There would be far less people touching the food limiting the chances of contamination. Dry foods and those high in sugar are safe bets as well. Things like breads, cakes, and cookies. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also good choices.
Enjoy the rest of tailgate season!
It is the time of the year for callers to be canning pie fillings. Callers want to can a filling that can go straight from the canning jar into the pie. That is not always possible since the only recommended thickener for pie fillings is a product called Clear Jel. This product is not readily available in stores like so many other canning products. At the time researchers were developing pie filling recipes, they anticipated that Clear Jel would be sold alongside other canning supplies. At this time, the easiest way to purchase Clear Jel is on the internet. It is very difficult to find Clear Jel at a local store.
Callers often wonder why Clear Jel is the only recommended thickener. Not all starches perform the same way; Clear Jel can be heated and cooled several times and still maintain the same thickening power. Cornstarch used to thicken pie filling can form clumps and cause the cloudiness inside the jar. Pie filling made with cornstarch may not thicken while the pie is baking.
It can be tempting to just experiment with adding a bit of flour or cornstarch to your recipe but the National Center for Home Food Preservation tells us that it is a bad idea. Here is their explanation.
“In general, you are correct — it is NOT safe to add flour/corn flour or any other thickening agents to just any canning recipe. Thickening agents slow the ability of heat to penetrate throughout the product. Heat must be distributed evenly and at a high enough temperature in order to destroy mold, yeast, and bacteria. In low-acid foods (vegetables and meats for example), there is a risk of causing botulism if the product is not heated properly in the canner. Adding a thickener to a tested recipe and then processing it for the same amount of time as tested without a thickener would risk under-processing of that product, and in turn, would risk causing food poisoning/spoilage.”
There are a couple of recipes that do include flour on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. “In the particular case of the Pickled Corn Relish, the recipe was tested with the flour paste thickener as part of the ingredients and approved by the thermal process authority providing that recipe. That is why we can recommend adding this particular flour paste to this particular recipe. As you can see from looking over the ingredients list, there is a large portion of vinegar in this recipe, which does play an important role in the safety of pickled foods and does also influence the margin of safety for adding the thickening agent. There also is not that much thickening that occurs; the resulting brine in this product is still quite watery, so it’s not excessive thickening. The amount recommended should not be increased, however, and it should be incorporated just as described. We do not know the effects of adding the same flour paste to other recipes, however, so we would not recommend using it in other canning recipes.’
Please resist the temptation to add a thickener not listed in a recipe. Keep your family safe. You can always easily thicken canned apples or other fruits for use in a pie. You may see some new thickeners on the market but for now, Clear Jel is the only recommended thickener for use in pie fillings.
I recently noticed the new Ball amber mason jars on a store shelf. Since Ball has sold the blue and green collection jars in recent years, I didn’t think too much about it at first glance–likely thinking, another colored canning jar. However, these jars are not to be dismissed as just another decorative, colored canning jar.
Amber glass blocks 99% of UV rays providing excellent protection for preserved foods and allowing them to be shelf stable for up to 18 months1. This is important because UV rays can sometimes change the components of contents by photo-oxidation. This is the phenomena that causes beer to go “skunky.” Amber also offers superior blue light protection; light of any kind has a photochemical affect on food and bacteria. By blocking harmful food-damaging UV rays and light, amber makes it possible to store foods in lighter areas or even the counter top without loss of flavor, color, or nutrients.
Thus amber is ideal for canning jars. Besides home canning, amber jars are great for storing bulk foods, baking ingredients, oils, herbs, spices, coffee, tea, or any food item that looses quality due to UV rays. And given the natural qualities of glass, no harmful chemicals leach into the products stored in the jars as can be the case with plastic containers.
The Ball jars are conveniently wide-mouthed and available in 16-, 32-, and 64-oz sizes. Presently they are available in cases of four, making them more costly than regular canning jars. When used with proper canning lids and bands, they are safe for canning in hot water bath or pressure canners.
Before we know it, school will be back in session. We spend a lot of time and money preparing kids for school. School supplies, new clothing, and new backpacks are on sale this time of year. There is another consideration when preparing for a new school year. Your child may be one that takes his or her lunch to school.
This is a great time to stock up on small zipper bags to pack lunches as well as small containers, a small thermos, and plastic silverware. Keeping your kitchen well stocked makes it easier to pack a quick lunch. Consider packing lunches the night before to keep the morning less chaotic.
Many of us consider the start of another school year a good time to start new healthy habits. You may want to try one or more of the following ideas this year.
- Plan to spend time with your child discussing likes and dislikes.
- Be sure to stock the kitchen with the things you will need to pack a lunch. Consider a new lunch box to make carrying a lunch to school more special.
- Plan menus ahead. You can plan menus for the month, plan some special occasion lunches, or plan a list of menus that you can cycle through over time.
- Children that help prepare meals often eat better. Allow your child to choose what they want to eat and ask them to help pack the lunch.
- Offer healthy foods as choices for lunches. Remember to model healthy choices for your child.
- Occasionally pack a surprise for your child. A note, sticker, new pencil can make lunch feel special.
- Remember to pack only as much food as your child can eat during the short time he or she has for lunch at school. A half sandwich is best for younger children. Small amounts of raw vegetables or fruit are best.
- Check with your school so you know what the rules are for allergens like peanut butter. Protect all the students by following those rules.
Remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Preheat the thermos with hot or cold water before adding your hot or cold food. Separate dry, crisp food from moist food. Let the child assemble the cheese and crackers or sandwich that has a moist filling during lunch. Prepackaged foods in individual servings may be convenient but are often more expensive than making your own prepackaged foods. Package some foods in advance and they will remain safe for days. Think nuts, crackers, or dried foods.
With a little planning, you can make this school year a healthy one for your child. You may even improve your own lunches, too.
It seems that the tomato plants are finally bearing fruit and we are starting to get tomato canning calls at AnswerLine. Callers are sometimes confused about canning times and recipes.
It can be hard for callers to understand that we recommend using only safe, tested canning recipes. The National Center for Home Food Preservation, the Ball Company, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach are great resources for these recipes. We do not recommend old family recipes or recipes from random places on the internet. Those recipes were not tested to ensure you would preserve a safe product. Sometimes callers want to extrapolate canning times from one recipe to another. The canning times really differ between methods for tomatoes. If you skin, core, and cook the tomatoes before placing in the jars, the canning time is 45 minutes for quart jars in a boiling water bath canner. If you merely skin and core tomatoes and pack them into jars with no added liquid, the processing time in a boiling water bath canner is 85 minutes. The differences in canning times reflect the rate of heat transfer inside the jar. For a denser product, the canning time increases.
I spoke with a caller for a long time yesterday explaining that if she were using a tested recipe, the exact processing time and method of preparing the tomatoes would be included in the recipe. If she is asking about the correct processing time, and comparing several recipes, then the recipe she was looking at was likely not a tested recipe.
We want you to use a tested recipe, exactly as written. We want to help you keep your family safe while you are preserving food this summer.
Remember that you can take a canning class through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The class, Preserve the Taste of Summer, begins with an online section. Get started today.
Cucumbers and other vegetables are coming on strong at the present time and AnswerLine has been fielding lots of questions from clients who find themselves “in a pickle” with their pickling project. While we are grateful for the calls, we would like everyone’s adventures with pickles to be a success. So here’s some of the tips we share as we try to help clients avoid getting into “a pickle.”
Use high quality vegetables and fruits and varieties intended for pickling. Immature salad or slicing cucumber do not make good quality pickles nor do Burpless cucumbers because they have a tough skin that my inhibit brine absorption and also contain enzymes that could cause pickles to soften.
Pickle within 24 hrs of picking. Fresh and firm is always best.
Wash cucumbers well and remove stem end. Soil can harbor bacteria that can cause spoilage or softening. Of special consideration is the area around the blossom stem. Blossoms contain enzymes that can cause softening so always remove a 1/16-in slice from the blossom end.
Use a tested recipe and follow the directions exactly. A tested recipe from a reliable source is a MUST. Great sources include: National Center for Home Food Preservation, USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, Extension publications, Ball Canning Book (recent editions), Ball website , Mrs. Wages, and So Easy to Preserve by University of Gerogia.
Use commercially prepared 5 percent acetic acid vinegar. The level of acidity is important to both the flavor and safety of the product.
Use a canning or pickling salt. Always used the amount and type of salt specified. Salt draws moisture and natural sugars from the vegetables, creating lactic acid which prevents spoiling.
Use soft water. Hard water interferes with curing and causes discoloration of pickles. Soft water is recommended. Soft water can be made by boiling water for 15 minutes, allowing to set for 24 hours, and carefully pouring off the clear water without disturbing any sediment.
Use white sugar. Only use brown sugar or a non-nutritive sweetener if the recipe specifies.
Use clean, fresh, insect-free spices and herbs. Fresh dill is preferred for better flavor; 1 to 3 teaspoons dill seed can be substituted for one head fresh dill.
Avoid firming agents. Firming agents (alum, food-grade lime, calcium chloride) for
crisp pickles are not needed if high quality ingredients and the most current preservation methods are used. The safest way for making crisper pickles is soaking cucumbers in ice water for 4 to 5 hours prior to pickling.
Use stainless steel, glass, or enamel-ware for pickling liquids. Copper, brass, iron, pewter, aluminum, and galvanized pans and utensils may react with the acids and salts to produce undesirable changes in color, flavor, or even form toxic compounds.
Use sterilized standard canning jars and two-pieces lids. Sterile jars must be used for all pickled products processed in a boiling water canner for less than 10 minutes. Oven sterilization is not recommended.
Process in a boiling water canner per recipe times with adjustment for altitude if necessary. All pickle products must be heat processed in a boiling water (water maintained at 212F) canner to destroy yeast, mold, and bacteria that cause spoilage, inactivate enzymes that might effect the product’s color, flavor, or texture, and insure a good airtight seal. Exceptions are recipes intended for refrigerated “enjoy now” pickles or recipes acceptable for low-temperature pasteurization.
Spoilage or poor quality pickles can result from improper processing, unsanitary techniques, or when poor quality or incorrect ingredients are used. For more information about specific pickle problems, recipes, and detailed information, download the ISU Extension and Outreach publication Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Pickles .