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.

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’s 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 and/or download 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, 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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Amber Glass for Canning and More

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.

1 Freshpreserving.com

 

 

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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Edible Landscaping – Landscaping with Taste

Creative landscape made with assorted organic vegetables.

The modern trend is to no longer banish the vegetable garden to the far corner of the back yard.  Rather, homeowners are now putting vegetables and fruit trees or bushes on display as part of an elegant, edible, landscape design.  So while this is a modern trend, an edible landscape is really an ancient practice dating back to medieval monks and ancient Persians growing a rich array of vegetables, flowers, fruits, and herbs for edible, medicinal, and ornamental virtues.  It was also a long practice of English gardens which was reinstated in 2009 by Queen Elizabeth when she had an organic edible landscape installed within the Buckingham Palace Garden which includes heirloom species of beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and other edibles.

While an edible landscape doesn’t need to be as elaborate as the Queen’s, an edible landscape does use attractive, food-producing plants in a well-designed garden plan around the home and/or living area in the same way that ornamental plants are used.  It may also incorporate ornamental plants. As a result, the edible landscape offers fresh, affordable food, a variety of foliage and colors, and sustenance for bees, butterflies, and birds.  As this trend grows, there are a growing number of professional landscape companies getting into the business of helping homeowners plan their landscape to include edibles, courses for certification as agriscaping educators and professionals, and any number of books and online articles providing information.  Interestingly enough, some subdivision developers now offer buyers a choice of either traditional landscaping or agriscaping for their new home.

Design is what separates edible landscaping from traditional vegetable gardening.  Whether ornamental or edible, design should be pleasing to the eye and draw one into the garden to experience it.  Instead of rows of vegetables which lead one away like a highway, the same space can be made very attractive (and edible) by incorporating basic landscaping principles  starting with a center of interest and then curving other plants around it—the same way one would plan an ornamental garden.  Add a few flowers, a trellis for beans/peas or cucumbers, an arbor for grapes, a bench, a bird bath, a fruit or nut tree, garden ornaments and voila!  It’s an ornamental edible landscape!

Planning an edible landscape incorporates the same design values of traditional landscapes. Carol Venolia writing for Mother Earth Living, says start small, choose plants appropriate for your climate zone, and offers the following design tips:

  • Create primary and secondary focal points.
  • Use plantings and hardscaping (such as paths and patios) to define spaces for various uses and experiences.
  • Work consciously with color, texture and seasons of blooming and fruiting when choosing your garden’s palette.
  • Pay attention to how you lead the eye from one part of the garden to another.
  • Except for featured specimen plants, create groupings of plants to avoid a busy, random appearance.
  • Explore the aesthetic potential of plants: Grow vines on arbors; create edible landscape walls with vines and shrubs; espalier fruit trees; use containers as accents; grow decorative borders of edibles.
  • Make plants do double duty by shading your house in summer and admitting sunshine in winter, reducing your home’s energy use.

For inspiration, one need not look far.  Following recent trends, many public gardens have incorporated edible gardens into their landscapes.  One of the best can be found at the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden at the Chicago Botanical Garden.

So whether to save money, provide better-quality food for the family, know what you eat, reduce carbon footprint, involve family, or simply to try something different, edible landscaping is a trend that provides environmental benefits and returns a bit of sanity and security to chaotic times.  However you do it, Happy Gardening!

A few resources for further reading or to help get you started:

Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally by Robert Kourik

Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn by Fritz Haeg et al.

Edible Landscaping: Now You Can Have Your Gorgeous Garden and Eat it Too by Rosalind Creasy

Edible Landscapes (The Seed) by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension et al.

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway

The Incredible Edible Landscape by Carrie Wolfe, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Landscaping with Fruit: Strawberry ground covers, blueberry hedges, grape arbors, and 39 other luscious fruits to make your yard an edible paradise by Lee Reich

Landscaping with Fruits and Vegetables by Fred Hagy

 

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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A Look at 10 Food Trends for 2017

20161229_182918Likely you have noticed that food offerings, recipes, restaurant menus, and grocery products have changed a lot in the last ten years.  Health issues, dietary needs, convenience, consumer awareness, and waste reduction initiatives are just some of the factors that have driven changes in the culinary market.

If you like to keep up with food and nutrition trends or practices, here are some ‘expert’ predictions of what we will likely see more of in 2017. In their ‘crystal bowl’ they see:

Sunflower protein becoming the protein powder mainstay.  Sunflower protein is easier to digest than other protein powders and is soy- and dairy-free making it nearly perfect for any diet.

Watermelon water rivaling coconut water for hydration and antioxidants.  Watermelon water offers a refreshing taste and is packed with lycopene, potassium and natural sugar making it a great post-workout cooler or alternative to alcohol.

Butter making a comeback.  In light of scientific studies that point to the dangers of artificial butters and margarines, butter contains no chemicals and takes less to satisfy the appetite.  In small amounts, butter is now considered a healthy food.

Natural sweeteners replacing sugar.  Honey and natural syrups will take the place of processed sugar in many prepared foods.

Soups rivaling smoothies as the complete meal.  Besides the social element of sitting down and slowly eating soup, soups offer more fiber and whole foods that are often lost in juicing. The soup trend is also touted as part of the minimalism social movement.

Natural fats favored over low-fat.  “Good”, non-saturated fats in small portions like those found in avocados and nuts provide essential nutrients for energy and brain function and are replacing the ‘low-fat’ trend of many years.

Exotic all-fruit concoctions becoming the new dessert.  These new desserts are offering combinations of Asian and Indian fruits that may be new to the American palate and with them come added nutrition, less sugar, and less saturated fat.

Bowls replacing plated meals.  Again, a product of the minimalism movement, bowls offer an entire, simple meal in a single receptacle at home or in fine restaurants—one bowl, one meal.  Recipes and combinations are popping up everywhere.

Mexican, Caribbean, and Filipino cuisines replacing heavy and fat-laden corporate chains.  Authentic food from these regions or in fusion form offer countless, lower-calorie meal ideas for those who want to eat right and not pack on the pounds.

Waste reduction (and waist reduction) becoming the norm.  The food industry is committed to reducing portion sizes and to composting and donating food that otherwise would be waste as everyone ponders sustainability, the environment, and the long-term health of one’s self and the planet.

As trends come and go, it will be fun to look back a year from now and see how many of these predictions came true and how many of them will continue to gain traction.  Most seem like common-sense practices to me.

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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