Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is here to HELP!

While AnswerLine has been providing information and resources for Iowa consumers with home and family questions for over 40 years, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has been serving Iowans since the early 1900s.  The Mission of ISU Extension and Outreach is to engage citizens through research‐based educational programs and extend the resources of Iowa State University across Iowa. AnswerLine is just one of the entities of extension outreach. Let me introduce you to some of the other resources available to help individuals and families navigate issues that may concern them. 

  1. Stay informed on general ISU Extension and Outreach resources and opportunities through the Extension home page and news feed.
  2. The Iowa 4-H team has at-home learning resources which are publicly available for members and families to use.
  3. Iowa Concern offers free and confidential calls and emails 24/7 to help with stress management, financial issues, legal aid, and crisis resources.
  4. The ISU Horticulture and Home Pest news page offers download publications, how to improve your garden videos, and a Hortline for answers to lawn and garden questions.
  5. Get help with meal planning and food budgeting through the Spend Smart Eat Smart website.
  6. Visit the Beginning Farmer, Women in Ag and Ag Decision Maker websites for updates on programs and helpful resources from the Farm Management team. You can also contact the farm management field specialists with your questions. 
  7. Preserve the Taste of Summer offers a number of publications and resources for safe food preservation techniques.
  8. For great information on home gardens, farmer’s markets and u-pick operations, plant sales, and more or how to become a Master Gardener, the Master Gardener Program site is a must.
  9. When Teens don’t know who to talk to, Teen Line can help with a variety of issues that affect Teens and their families.
  10. Use the ISU Extension Staff Directory when looking for a specific person or persons in a specific area of expertise.  The Contact page offers additional resources and provides a form to send an email with questions, concerns, or suggestions. Ask An Expert is always available for questions; those questions come to AnswerLine where we either answer the query or send it to someone in Extension (Iowa or elsewhere) that can better answer it.

Besides these resources, one can always find help at the ISU Extension and Outreach extension offices located in each of Iowa’s counties, on social media outlets, and the many blogs written by Extension staff on current topics.  At the present time, most ISU Extension and Outreach in-person events throughout the state have been canceled through May 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, ISU Extension and Outreach staff remain committed to serving Iowans during this difficult time; phones and emails are being answered by Extension staff at the county and state levels.  Please check out the resources available that may provide the help you seek and watch for updates on how ISU Extension and Outreach will proceed to serve Iowans after May 31.

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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Steaming Vegetables

Recently an AnswerLine client called with concerns related to the safety of microwaving steam bag vegetables such as those sold under the Birds Eye Steamfresh label. These bags are sold with the vegetables inside as stand-alone products containing just vegetables or with sauces or seasonings. In general, microwaving foods in plastic containers may carry some health risks due to the transmission of BPA and pthalates from the plastic to the food. However, the bags being used for the steamed vegetable products are specifically manufactured for microwave steaming and do not contain BPA or pthalates.  These bags are designed for a one-time use.  If there is any concern, the packages can be opened and the vegetables steamed or prepared by another method.

Whether you purchase the microwave steam bag vegetables or not, there are advantages to steaming vegetables.  Frozen vegetables are usually flash frozen right after picking.  As a result, frozen vegetables may be more nutrient dense than fresh vegetables that have spent time in transit, sitting in a warehouse, or on display at the store. 

Steaming by way of the microwave, stove top, or pressure cooker are healthy ways to cook vegetables to prevent nutrient loss and retain flavor, texture, and color.  Steaming also helps to retain the water-soluble vitamins and minerals that would otherwise leech into cooking water.  Water soluble vitamins are also heat sensitive, so quick cooking times helps to reduce nutrient loss.  Vegetable nutrients along with fiber and phytochemicals, help to lower risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, cancer, and vision loss.

Steam bag vegetables can be used in the same way as any frozen vegetable.  While steam bags do add cost to the vegetables, there definitely is convenience in using the steam bag packaging as there is virtually no clean up involved.  One doesn’t need to be confined to using an entire bag when a smaller amount is needed.  The bag can be opened and a smaller portion taken out and steamed using another method. For additional information on steaming vegetables, check out Cooking Fresh Vegetables by Purdue University.

Steaming is also a great way to prepare frozen vegetables for use in a salad. One should not thaw frozen vegetables and eat them without cooking.  Blanching prior to freezing stops the aging of vegetables but does not necessarily take care of contaminants that may be found in the field such as salmonella, listeria, and E.coli; contaminants can penetrate the tiny cell walls which are broken when the vegetables are blanched.  All vegetables are packaged as ready-to-cook, not as ready-to-eat. Therefore, vegetables should be cooked to 165 degrees for that reason. In most cases this temperature can be reached by steaming the vegetables to tender-crisp and then letting them sit in a closed container for 5 minutes before serving.

Bottom line is that the best cooking method for frozen (and fresh) vegetables is steaming.  If accomplishing that is by using pre-packaged steam bag vegetables, know that it is safe when package directions are followed.  Besides nutrient retention, steamed vegetables will have better flavor and more desirable textures.

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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Food Safety and COVID-19

AnswerLine has been getting lots of calls about food safety and food safety practices during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  With many of us being at home, our TVs provide some entertainment as well as non-stop COVID-19 news and advice from one ‘expert’ to the next.  The messages are very mixed and sometimes downright FALSE.  We at AnswerLine, a part of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, are committed to providing consumers with researched-based information and supporting the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s measures and advice on staying safe during this time.

Here’s answers to some of the questions clients have asked regarding food safety, food packaging, and how to shop for food safely.  Answers to these questions come from the following resources:

1USDA, Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions/Food Safety 
2Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, No Evidence COVID-19 Is Transmitted Through Food and Food Packaging 
3North Carolina State Extension, Covid-19 Food Safety ResourcesSee this site for copies of flyers to share on these topics.

Q:  Can I become sick with COVID-19 from food?
A:   “The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the European Food Safety Authority are in full agreement that there is currently NO evidence that COVID-19 has spread through food or food packaging.  Previous coronavirus epidemics likewise showed no evidence of having been spread through food or packaging.”2  

“Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal (GI) viruses like Norovirus and Hepatitis A that often make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness and not food poisoning, and foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.” 2

As before the pandemic, one needs to vigilantly practice good hygiene such as washing hands and surfaces often and correctly, separating meat from other foods, cooking foods to the correct temperature, and refrigerating foods properly and promptly to keep food supplies safe and prevent food-borne illnesses.

Q:  Do I need to disinfect my produce before I use it?
A:  “Washing produce before eating or using fresh is always a good idea.  It is NOT recommended to wash produce with dish soap or any detergent or to treat produce with a chemical disinfectant.”Washing produce with these products can cause vomiting and diarrhea making consumers otherwise sick.

Some have promoted the use of natural disinfectants like vinegar and water as a safer way to wash fruits and vegetables.  Unlike soaps, detergents and chemicals, vinegar and water will not harm anyone; however, vinegar and water simply offer false security when it comes to COVID-19.  While a few studies have shown that vinegar helps with some viruses and microbes, there is no evidence that it can kill COVID-19.  

Q:  I have heard that the virus lives on surfaces.  Do I need to sanitize or disinfect packaged and canned food items?  Do I need to remove food items from cardboard packaging and store otherwise?
A:  As previously stated, food and food packaging are NOT major sources of virus transmission.  However, laboratory studies have shown that COVID-19 can survive for days on plastic, cardboard, glass, and steel.  Therefore, it is “possible that a person could get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the primary way the virus spreads.”2 Person to person is the most likely means of transmission.

“Handling of food packaging should be followed with handwashing and/or using hand sanitizer.”3 If it offers one more peace of mind to handle items with gloves and to wipe plastic, glass, and cans at home with a disinfectant before storing, there is no harm in doing so as long as it is done safely, items are allowed to dry completely, gloves are disposed of, and hand washing follows.  Cardboard should not be wiped with a disinfectant prior to storage; foods items can be removed and stored appropriately otherwise with the cardboard box disposed of, if that brings more peace of mind.

Q:  Should I store my groceries someplace other than my pantry, refrigerator, or freezer?
A:  “It is NOT recommended to store groceries outside of the home, in cars or garages.”3

Q:  How can I minimize my risk at the store?
A:  “Use hand sanitizer when entering stores and wash hands and/or use sanitizer when leaving. Bring your own disinfecting wipes and use on cart and basket handles and card readers. Maintain social distancing as much as possible while shopping and give others at least 6 ft of space. Avoid touching surfaces or items unnecessarily (touch only items that you will buy) and avoid touching your mouth, nose or face.”3 To avoid touching produce with your bare hands use a produce bag to pick up items and place into a clean bag or use the same bag if you are getting a single item; avoid touching multiple items when making produce selections.  Discard all plastic bags at home and wash your hands after discarding. 

If your store permits the use of recyclable bags, make sure to follow these guidelines each and every time they are used during this time of caution.  Many stores are not permitting their use presently.

Lastly, the best food safety protection for ALL is for everyone to be responsible and avoid shopping if experiencing a cough, runny nose, or fever—symptoms of any virus.  And always seek responsible, researched-based information for as a friend’s father advised, “Misinformation is worse than no information at all!”

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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Shopping Like a Food Safety Expert – UPDATE

About a year and half ago, I wrote a blog on keeping food safe while shopping at the grocery store and getting it home safely.  In the blog, washing reusable grocery bags was included with advice from the USDA stating that reusable bags should be laundered at least one a month or immediately if soiled.

Since that blog, laundering of reusable bags has come into the lime light following a non-scientific study done by a tv station in Albuquerque, NM that is now circulating on social media.  This group contended that the bags they tested were heavily infested with bacteria that might be considered fecal contaminants.  The fact that reusable bags can be dirty is not a new story.   At study by scientists at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University in 2011 confirmed such when they found that half of the bags tested in their study carried coliform bacteria with a small percentage exhibiting E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination.

While there are pros and cons to using reusable bags, cleanliness is of upmost importance.  Here are some tips from Good Housekeeping on how to launder the various types of reusable bags:

Canvas Bags – toss into the washing machine with hot water and detergent, dry in the drier.

Recycled Plastic or Polyproplylene Bags – wash by hand in warm soapy water and line or air dry; pay attention to inner- and outer-seams.

Insulated Bags – since insulated bags are usually used for raw meats, dairy products, and some produce, these bags need to be cleaned after each use with a disinfecting wipe and allowed to air dry completely before storing. If there was leakage of any kind, the bag should be turned inside out exposing the liner, washed with hot, soapy water and air dry.

Nylon Bags – flip them inside out; wash them by hand or on the gentle washing cycle in warm soapy water, and air dry.

In addition to these tips, I also like to dry my bags in the sunshine if possible. When was the last time you cleaned your reusable grocery bags?

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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Buttercream Frosting

For some reason there has been a lot of discussion surrounding different types of frostings in the office recently. I have been recommending Buttercream frosting recipes to both family members and callers.

There are seven different types of Buttercream Frosting. The ingredients used are similar, but the way each is prepared is different.

Traditional Buttercream is fluffy and creamy, easy to make, and requires no cooking. It is a great base for adding flavoring and it holds color very well if you want to tint your frosting. This frosting is safe to be out at room temperature but it does not hold up as well in very warm temperatures. Once the butter starts to melt, the structure collapses.

Flour Buttercream, also known as Ermine Buttercream is not as sweet as Traditional Buttercream and it holds up a lot better in warm temperatures because of it’s pudding type cooked base. It is made by cooking together flour, sugar and milk then letting it cool completely before mixing it together with beaten butter.

German Buttercream is similar to Ermine Buttercream but it uses a custard type base instead of a pudding type. It turns out to be more like a whipped cream icing. This type of buttercream has eggs in it so it must be kept cool.

French Buttercream is rich and creamy. It is made by heating a sugar syrup until it reaches soft ball stage then whipping it into beaten pasteurized egg yolks and soft  butter. It will have a yellow tint to it due to the egg yolks but is easy to spread and makes a great filling between layers.

Italian Buttercream is similar to French Buttercream but you pour boiling syrup of sugar and water over pasteurized egg whites instead of just the yolks. This buttercream is best the day it is made.

Swiss Buttercream uses egg whites and sugar to create a warm mixture that is then whipped into frosting. You will want to make sure your sugar/egg white mixture is cool before adding your butter or the butter will melt. This buttercream is soft and fluffy and spreads nicely for filling layers and icing.

The seventh type of buttercream is Vegan Buttercream. You can substitute a vegan butter spread for the shortening but some spreads will produce a softer frosting so you may need to experiment with how much liquid to add if you are using a vegan spread.

I enjoy the ease and safety of the Traditional Buttercream but occasionally it is fun to experiment with some of the other styles.

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

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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Royal Icing Made Safe

Cookie decorating is a popular and fun holiday activity for many families. Royal Icing is often the chosen frosting for decorating as it dries quickly and hard and it is easy for nearly anyone to achieve decorating success! Traditionally made from egg whites and powdered (confectioners’) sugar, it is an easy icing to prepare but should NOT be made with raw egg whites.

It is a well-known fact that eggs may contain a bacteria, Salmonella Enteritidis (SE), that can cause foodborne illness. Researchers say that if present, the SE is usually found in the yolk, but they can’t rule out the possibility of SE in egg whites. To eliminate risk and ensure food safety, one should replace the raw egg white with lightly cooked egg whites, use pasteurized egg whites, or meringue powder when making Royal Icing.

Lightly Cooked Egg Whites. Use the following method provided by South Dakota State University which can be used for Royal Icing and other frosting recipes calling for raw egg whites: In a heavy saucepan, the top of a double boiler or a metal bowl placed over water in a saucepan, stir together the egg whites and sugar from the recipe (at least 2 tablespoons sugar per white), water (1 teaspoon per white) and cream of tartar (1/8 teaspoon per each 2 whites). Cook over low heat or simmering water, beating constantly with a portable mixer at low speed, until the whites reach 160° F. Pour into a large bowl. Beat on high speed until the whites stand in soft peaks. Proceed with the recipe. Note that you must use sugar to keep the whites from coagulating too rapidly. Test with a thermometer as there is no visual clue to doneness. If you use an unlined aluminum saucepan, eliminate the cream of tartar or the two will react and create an unattractive gray meringue.

Meringue Powder. Meringue powder is available in specialty stores wherever cake decorating equipment is sold. Meringue powder is composed of cornstarch, dried egg whites, sugar, citric acid and some stabilizers. It’s perfect for making royal icing. Follow the instructions on the package to rehydrate and use.

Pasteurized Egg Whites. Pasteurized egg whites are of two types—pasteurized in-shell eggs or liquid pasteurized egg whites. Pasteurized in-shell eggs are available at some grocery stores. Shells of such eggs are stamped with a red or blue “P” in a circle. Whites of pasteurized shell eggs may appear slightly cloudy compared to fresh eggs. Liquid pasteurized egg whites are found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store in a milk-like carton usually near the regular eggs. According to the FDA, both of these products are safe to consume raw. Use these two products like raw whites is the recipe.

Keep unused icing covered at all times with a damp cloth or tightly wrapped to prevent drying and caking. For longer keeping time, store in the refrigerator for up to three days or freezer for up to three months. In addition to preventing food borne illnesses, refrigeration seems to help with separating. (If separation occurs–yellowish liquid on the bottom—just remix.).

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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“Joy of Cooking” Rolls Out a New Edition

A new edition of America’s favorite, classic cookbook, Joy of Cooking, rolled off the press on November 12. This edition was nine years in the making under the guide of John Becker and wife, Megan Scott. John Becker is the great grandson of Irma Rombauer, the original author of Joy of Cooking. I look forward to getting a copy of the new edition.

I was first introduced to Joy of Cooking in my junior food science class at the University of Nebraska where I was a consumer science (then home economics) major. My instructor called it the ‘kitchen bible’ telling us that anyone could learn to cook using Joy as their guide. It had all the recipes one would ever need in addition to being a culinary reference with its “About” sections. So in addition to purchasing our course textbook, we were required to also purchase a copy of Joy of Cooking. While I don’t remember, it was likely the 5th edition published in 1964 by Irma’s named successor and daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker. In the many years since, my paperback copy of that edition has been lost.

The cookbook began eighty-eight years ago when Irma Rombauer, a German immigrant and recent widow, needed a means to support her family during the Great Depression. To do so, she compiled her favorite recipes, wrote a cookbook, and self-published it in November 1931. She enlisted the help of a St Louis, MO company that printed labels for shoe companies and Listerine mouthwash to print her book, a first for the company. She paid $3000 to print 3000 copies of the Joy of Cooking: A compilation of Reliable Recipes for a Casual Culinary Chat. The book was illustrated by Rombauer’s daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker.

As the 3000 copies began to dwindle, a commercial printer was sought and with it came, a second edition in 1936. This edition expanded to 640 pages and set a new style for writing recipes—a conversational style, later known as the “action method.” Instead of listing ingredients and following with instructions, ingredients were interspersed with directions appearing as they were needed. This edition became popular quickly prompting six printings and selling 52, 151 copies by 1942.

A third edition was rolled out in 1943 and included a collection of recipes that could be prepared in less than 30 minutes using canned and frozen foods. This edition also included information intended to help readers deal with wartime rationing. Once again sales were phenomenal with nearly 620,000 copies sold by 1946. As the WWII came to an end, an update was made to the 1943 edition in 1946 with the elimination of the rationing information and the addition of more quick recipes.

The newly released edition is the 9th edition of the cookbook and marks the first update in 13 years. Joy has remained a family project passing from Irma to her daughter Marion, to Marion’s son, Ethan Becker, and now to Ethan’s son, John and his wife, Megan Scott. Through the various editions, Joy has remained a mainstay of American home cooking by adapting and evolving to the popular tastes and trends of Americans yet remaining basic. Marketing of the 2019 edition touts ingredients from the wider world and chapters on sous vide, fermentation, and cooking with both traditional and electric pressure cookers. John and Megan developed more than 600 new recipes for this edition with a focus on international, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free recipes and tweaked many of the classics of former cookbooks. Lastly, this edition includes information about food history and science.

Indications are that this new book will be more than a collection of recipes; it should also be a fascinating read. For anyone who loves reading cookbooks as I do, I think this just might be the one for me to have and perhaps share as a holiday gift, too.

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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‘Home-Canned’ Cakes and Breads for Gift Giving – A Big NO

The holidays are just around the corner and homemade food gifts are often part of the giving and receiving. One can look in magazines or online to find countless ideas for foods to give and ways to dress them up for giving. While many of these suggestions are safe and cute at the same time, some are not and one needs to be wary of them. One that I find particularly disturbing is the advocating of ‘home canned’ cakes and breads in jars.

Instructions for these “special” gifts involve preparing a favorite cake or quick bread recipe and baking it in a pint canning jar. Once the cake or bread is done, the steaming jars are taken out of the oven and a canning lid is immediately popped on. As the cake or bread cools, the lid seals creating a vacuum. Many recipes claim that these products can be stored safely on the shelf from a year to indefinitely. While the pictures look attractive and the gift might be unique, these products are NOT SHELF SAFE as the recipes and instructions indicate. There is NO canning involved and this technique IS NOT RECOMMENDED. If someone gives you a home canned cake or bread in a jar, assume it is unsafe to eat and discard it in a manner that not even animals will consume it. Here’s why . . .

Many cake and quick bread recipes often have little or no acid resulting in a pH range above 4.6, a pH level that will support the growth of pathogenic organisms that cause foodborne illnesses. Of greatest concern is the microorganism Clostridium botulinum (botulism) growing in the jars. Conditions inside the jar are ripe for hazardous bacterium given that cake and bread recipes may include fruits, liquids, or vegetables which increase moisture content AND the practice does not remove all the oxygen from the jar. The two factors create a rich environment for microorganisms to thrive.

One other consideration outside of food safety, is the jar itself. Regardless of the brand of the jar, jars can break or explode due to temperature fluctuations when the oven doors is opened or the jars removed from the oven. The glass used for Ball and Kerr canning jars is not tempered for oven use and is not meant to be used as bakeware.

Commercially prepared breads and cakes made in jars are safe. Companies use additives, preservatives, and processing methods to ensure the safety of the finished product that are not available for home recipes. Avoid purchasing canned breads or cakes in glass jars at bake sales or farmer’s markets unless they meet all labeling requirements for commercial foods. Currently there are no reliable or safe recipes for home baking and sealing breads or cakes in canning jars and storing them at room temperature for any length of time.

To date, there are no documented cases of botulism resulting from cake or bread in a jar. However, experts warn that it is an accident waiting to happen. Imagine how you would feel if you were the one who gave a gift that made someone incapacitated for life or worse.

If special breads or cakes are to be part of holiday giving, consider alternatives of baking and freezing, giving the recipient the opportunity to choose when they wish to use it. Most cakes and breads freeze well. Or create a “mix” by assembling the dry ingredients into a jar and attaching directions for preparing and baking. Attach a “use by date” on the label as some ingredients will loose their effectiveness, harden, or cake. Generally one month is appropriate. Also include a list of ingredients for those who have food allergies or dietary issues.

For additional information on gift foods to be weary of, check out Is Your Homemade Food Gift Safe to Eat? by the University of Minnesota. Be sure your homemade holiday food gift is memorable, not haunting.

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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Safe Edible Cookie Dough

Edible Cookie Dough Peanut Butter Bites

An interesting question came from an AnswerLine friend. This person had received a recipe for making homemade cookie dough ice cream. Being aware that raw flour should not be consumed, this friend was delighted to find directions in the recipe for supposedly making the flour used in the cookie dough safe by baking the flour in a preheated 350F oven for 5 minutes on a sheet pan. Question: Did this really make the flour safe so that the cookie dough was safe to eat in the ice cream?

Since edible cookie dough is now such a popular trend, there are several internet sites that suggest the same or similar DIY methods to eliminate possible pathogens found in flour. However, none of the sites are researched based. While it makes sense that heating flour in an oven could eliminate the potential food safety issue, there is no research-based DIY directions for consumers to support that theory. Food safety experts advise against any of these DIY methods as there is NO guarantee that the flour will reach the desired 160F needed to eliminate food contaminates for an appropriate amount of time. Further, baking flour could possibly denature the protein strands in the flour resulting in a less desirable product.

Flour is classified as a minimally processed agricultural ingredient and is not a ready-to-eat product. Through the growing process, wheat can come into contact with harmful bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella via wild animal waste. If pathogens get into the wheat plant, they stay with the seed head in the milling process. When flour is used in baked products, the baking temperatures will generally inactivate any pathogens in the flour. However, harmful bacteria remain active in uncooked flour and when ingested will cause illness or worse.

So if one desires edible cookie dough, what are the options for safe “flours?” There are a couple of easy options:

Purchase commercially processed heat-treated flour. Heat-treated wheat flour is not generally available at our local supermarkets. Page House is one such brand and is available online. It is, however, a bit pricey.

Substitute oatmeal or oat flour. Flour is used in dough to add structure, not flavor. Oatmeal or oat flour is a good replacement as it is not dangerous to eat raw. Oat flour tends to also be a bit pricey but can easily be made by pulsing oatmeal in a blender or food processor. (Two cups of oatmeal will yield about 1 ½ cups of oat flour.) In the process of making oatmeal, the oat grain is heated to stabilize the oat groats and then it is steamed to flatten into oatmeal thus oatmeal is classified as a ready-to-eat product.

The other ingredient in cookie dough that can render cookie dough unsafe is eggs. Pasteurized eggs or no eggs at is the way to go. Peanut butter can also be used to replace eggs.

Here are two recipes that I make with my ‘edible-cookie-dough-lovin’ grand kids.

Peanut Butter Bites
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup add-ins (chocolate chips, raisins, dried fruit,
peanuts, chia seeds, M&’s, etc)
1 cup old fashioned oats
½ cup ground flax seed
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine all ingredients. Roll into balls.
Store in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Edible Cookie Dough
½ cup butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
1 ½ homemade oat flour (see above)
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup add-ins (chocolate chips, peanut butter chips,
M&M’s, raisins, nuts, Reece’s pieces, etc)
Cream sugars, vanilla, and milk until fluffy. Add in oat flour and salt. Mix until all is incorporated. Stir in add-ins. Shape into balls. Serve immediately or store in refrigerator for up to a week. 

Enjoy cookie dough, but do it safely!

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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Salsa – Questions and Answers

As summer gardens gradually come to an end, salsa is a great way to use up those last tomatoes, peppers/chilies, onions, and herbs. With it comes lots of questions to AnswerLine regarding how to make it safely. This blog will attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

I made up my own recipe for salsa or got one from a friend. Can you tell me how long to process it? It is important to use a tested or researched based recipe when canning homemade salsa. The reason being, the ratio of low acid vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic) to acid (lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar) has not been tested in a non-research based recipe. Recipes that have been tested will have enough acid to prevent the growth of the botulism bacteria and provide a safe product that everyone can enjoy straight from the canning jar. (Source: Homemade Salsa is a Science, Not an Art, Michigan State University)

Where do I find safe recipes for canning salsa? Creating a safe product that can be processed and stored on a shelf means having the correct proportion of acid to low acid vegetables to prevent the growth of botulism bacteria. The best way to ensure that the salsa is safe is to always follow a tested or researched based recipe. These recipes can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Land Grand University publications or blogs, The USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, and So Easy to Preserve.

Can I make my own salsa recipe? Creating your own recipe is a possibility. However, instead of guessing at the processing time, freeze it or make just enough to be eaten fresh. Another alternative is to follow a tested recipe using the exact ingredients and processing procedure; when ready to use, add the black beans, corn, or any other ingredient that should not be used in a home canned salsa recipe. Tested recipes can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, and Preserve the Taste of Summer Canning: Salsa.

Can I add more cilantro to my canned salsa than the recipe includes? Cilantro is best added to fresh salsa. It is not usually included in cooked recipes. Cilantro loses its fresh flavor when cooked and becomes dark and soft in the mixture. As mentioned in creating your own salsa, cilantro could be added at the time of using the canned salsa.

Do I have to use canning salt? Canning salt is recommended and should definitely be used with vegetable and pickle canning. However, in a pinch, one could get by with iodized or table salt with salsa. The product will be safe but one may detect a metallic or bitter flavor which may not be disguised by the spices or herbs used in the salsa. Also, table salt usually has an added anti-caking ingredient which may cause a slight cloudiness.

Can I substitute peppers? One should never increase the total volume of peppers in a recipe. However, substituting one variety of a pepper for another is perfectly fine.

Must I use the suggested spices? Spices are the only safe ingredient you may change in a tested recipe to adjust for flavor.

Does it matter what kind of onion I use? Like peppers, one should not increase the amount of onion specified in a tested recipe. However, red, yellow, or white onions may be substituted for each other.

Is it okay to use a different size jar? The size of the jar can also affect the safety of the product. It is not okay to use a larger jar size. Tested recipes have been developed and tested for a given jar size based upon the jar size, contents, and amount of time needed to reach and maintain the safe temperature during both processing and cool-down time while still maintaining the integrity of the product. It is possible to use a smaller jar size without reducing the time specified for the larger jar.  Doing so will ensure food safety but the product will likely be overcooked. Pint jars are specified in all tested salsa recipes.

Do I have to acidify my salsa? Salsas typically combine low acid foods (onions, peppers) and acid foods (tomatoes, fruits).  Adding the recommended amount of acid in the form of vinegar, bottled lemon juice or bottled lime juice is essential to produce salsas that can be safely processed in a boiling water canner.

For more information on preserving homemade salsa, check out Preserve the Taste of Summer Canning: Salsa.

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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