Safe Seafood

We are starting to get a few days of beautiful weather here in Iowa and for me that means firing up the grill! I love to cook food on my grill and one of my favorites is salmon. I have heard from several friends that they are unsure about cooking fish at home and sometimes they are concerned about food safety and seafood. Today I have rounded up some top safety tips related to seafood to help you feel confident cooking fish at home.

  • Choose fish that has been kept at a safe temperature. In Iowa, that often means that fish is frozen when we buy it. Frozen fish is often very high quality and some fish in the fresh case at my store was previously frozen. Fish should smell mild. Flesh should be firm and eyes should be clear on whole fish. When buying frozen fish, choose packages that are free of frost.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw fish and keep raw fish separate from ready-to-eat foods. Clean surfaces and kitchen tools that touched raw fish with hot soapy water.
  • If you plan to eat your fish within two days, you can store it in the refrigerator. If it will be longer before you eat it, store it in the freezer. You can defrost fish in the microwave, but for the best results, thaw fish in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Cook fish to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cooked fish is safe at room temperature for up to two hours unless the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. On very hot days, refrigerate fish within one hour.
  • If you enjoy fishing, put fish you plan to eat in a cooler of ice immediately.

The Food and Drug Administration has a helpful website related to keeping seafood safe. I hope these tips help you feel confident cooking seafood at home. Next week Justine will share some information related to serving seafood to children. Please share your favorite seafood dishes on our social media!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Keeping Food Safe in a Slow Cooker

Slow cooker vegetarian chiliWe often get request for recipes that can be made in a slow cooker. It’s not surprising since you can add the ingredients to the slow cooker, turn it on, and then go about your day while the food cooks. No need to spend a lot of time in the kitchen when you have other things you need to do! Here are some tips to keep food safe when using a slow cooker.

  1. Cook foods using the low or high heat setting. If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time. Do not use the warm setting to cook food. It is designed to keep cooked food hot.
  2. Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. If frozen pieces are used, they will not reach 140°F quick enough and could possibly result in a foodborne illness. If possible, cut the meat into small chunks. The temperature danger zone is between 40°F and 140°. If food is in this temperature zone for more than 2 hours, harmful bacteria may grow to unsafe levels.
  3. Place vegetables on the bottom and near the sides of the slow cooker. Vegetables cook the slowest, so you want them near the heat.
  4. Keep the lid in place. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops 10 to 15 degrees and the cooking process is slowed by 30 minutes.
  5. Place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate. Do not leave cooked food to cool down in the slow cooker.
  6. Reheat food on the stove top or microwave and transfer to a slow cooker to keep warm (140°F or above). Do not reheat food or leftovers in a slow cooker.

For additional information on slow cookers and food safety, visit:

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/appliances-and-thermometers/slow-cookers-and-food-safety/ct_index

http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/safe-meals/slow-cooker-safety/

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Enjoying Seafood in a Land-locked State

ThinkstockPhotos-509809136I have an uncle who worked for years as a sea captain. He is retired now, but has many stories of his time traveling the world on a tanker ship. He often says you should not eat certain seafood unless you are within ‘spitting distance’ of the ocean. Please pardon the picture that might put in your head!

I always found that funny as a child and as an adult I have come to wonder if it is really true. We in Iowa live in a land-locked state, so access to fresh seafood from the ocean is pretty limited. Fresh seafood is very expensive here and by the time it arrives in Iowa it needs to be prepared very quickly to maintain quality and food safety. Most of us don’t have the resources to work with that kind of product. Instead, we make use of frozen options. But is frozen fish really as good as fresh?

Frozen fish is similar to frozen vegetables in that they are frozen immediately upon harvest so the product’s freshness and quality is preserved very well. In fact, wild caught fish is often frozen right on board the ship when it is caught. Fresh seafood that is harvested in this part of the country like catfish and trout may be available fresh at a reasonable price, particularly during certain times of year. However, frozen seafood is a great option year round.

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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What is the Story with Mercury in Fish?

ThinkstockPhotos-512452568You may have heard on the news that we should be concerned about mercury in fish.  Nearly all fish contain traces of mercury. Mercury is found naturally in aquatic environments. It is absorbed by fish and can accumulate in their bodies, especially in larger fish and fish that live longer. Too much mercury can be harmful for humans, especially for an unborn baby or a growing, developing child. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend that pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and children avoid certain types of fish high in mercury and limit weekly seafood consumption to less than 12 ounces. Most Americans consume well below this guideline.

Many commonly eaten fish like shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish are low in mercury.

Large fish that tend to be higher in mercury include: shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.

You can eat fish and avoid dangerous amounts of mercury by choosing from the lower mercury options. If you would like to learn more about healthy seafood choices, visit the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Fish and Shellfish website.

Written by: Frances Armstead, dietetic intern and Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Knives 101

Chef mincing bell peppers with knifeA sharp kitchen knife is a good investment. Good knives make cooking easier and most importantly, sharp knives are safer than dull ones. A sharp knife is going to do what you expect it to do. It will slide smoothly through foods and not slip or get caught. When knives slip, that’s when cuts tend to happen.

You do not have to spend a lot of money to get a sharp knife. If you purchase a knife at a discount store for five or ten dollars it will likely stay sharp for six months to a year. At this price point, you would likely replace the knife when it got dull. If you are looking to spend a little more money for a heavier duty knife in the fifteen to thirty dollar range, you can also purchase a knife sharpener for around $20. With regular sharpening every few months, you can keep a knife in good condition for many years.

Sharpness isn’t the only concern when dealing with knives. There are a few safety principles that every cook should know to stay safe around knives.

S – Securely hold your knife. Grip the top of the blade firmly between your thumb and forefinger. Cut things on a flat surface like a cutting board. Do not cut things while you hold them in your hand.

A – Anchor all cutting boards to ensure they don’t slip. If your cutting board easily slides on the counter, put a damp cloth underneath it, this will help it grip.

F – Fingertips should be curled back. Hold foods with fingertips tucked under away from the knife.

E – Eyes on the knife! When using a knife, try to avoid distractions and keep your eyes on what you’re doing. It is also a good idea to keep knives where they are clearly visible, for example, do not put a knife in a sink full of dirty dishes where someone may not know it is there.

T – Take your time. Don’t rush with a knife.

Y – Yield to falling knives. If a knife slips out of your hand or falls from the counter, let it drop. Do not attempt to catch it. This is why it is a good idea to wear closed toe shoes in the kitchen.

There is no reason to fear knives or cooking. Knife safety is as simple as following a few basic rules.

Credit: Utah State University Extension Tips for Teaching Knife Skills

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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5 Steps for Safe Produce

washing lettuceIowa and 15 other states have had an outbreak of cyclospora the past month. In Iowa and Nebraska the cases were linked to restaurant salads.

Does this mean you shouldn’t eat fresh produce and salads because there is a chance you might get sick? No, but you do need to take some precautions to avoid foodborne illness:

  1. Wash your hands and the produce before you eat it. Even fruits like oranges, bananas, and melons, which have thick peels that will not be eaten, need to be washed.
  2. Wash produce under running water and drain it rather than washing it in a container of water. Dr. Cathy Strohbehn, from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, says, “Give it a shower rather than a bath.”  This increases the likelihood of washing away potential contaminants.
  3. Wash all food contact surfaces like cutting boards, colanders, or countertops to make sure they are clean and sanitary so that contaminants won’t be introduced to the produce.
  4. Check the label of packaged produce.  If it says ‘ready to eat’ you don’t’ have to wash it again, according to Dr. Strohbehn. Rewashing washed product labeled as ‘ready to eat’ may pose more risks due to the possibility of recontamination.
  5. Look for good quality produce — no mold, bruises, or shriveling.

Pointers from

Peggy Signature

Is it Still Good? Tossing Food that has Expired

On New Year’s Eve my husband and I invited some friends over to celebrate. My husband requested that I make chili and white chicken chili for the gathering and offered to help me in the kitchen! We made some other appetizers too, so needed some space in the refrigerator to store all the food. While trying to make space in the refrigerator, my husband started looking at the dates on various bottles and containers, such as a partially eaten bottle of barbeque sauce, and tossed out the old ones. Soon I started looking at dates on the spices I was using. I wasn’t concerned about the spices going bad but that over time their flavor would deteriorate. I decided it was time I get rid of some of the old ones (like the ground ginger I’m sure I moved with us to our current house almost four years ago!) and purchase new ones.

Deciding what needs to go and what is still okay to eat can be confusing when it comes to certain foods like spices and canned foods. And the different dates printed on food containers don’t help much. Some say “sell –by” others say “best if used by”. So if I buy or use the food after these dates, is it a food safety concern or will the food just not be as fresh? The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does a good job explaining the dating on food containers. Something I learned while reading thru this information is that, except for infant formula, product dating is not generally required by federal regulations. Some states have requirements, while others have none. However, even though it isn’t required everywhere, many food manufacturers do put dates on their products. Below is what some of the dates mean:

  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

These codes are used more for food quality, not food safety.  As far as safety is concerned, perishable foods like meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs are the most vulnerable. We recommend you eat food by the “use-by date”. Before I taught my husband, he thought you could use the ‘smell test’ to tell if something was safe to eat. However, you can’t see, smell, or taste bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses.  If you aren’t going to be able to use a food before the “use-by” date, freeze it.

For eggs, always purchase them before the “sell-by” date on the carton. When you get home, refrigerate the eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator (on a shelf towards the back), in the original container. Use the eggs within 3 to 5 weeks of when you purchased them.

So what about canned goods and other non-perishable items? High-acid foods such as tomatoes will have the best quality if used within 12 to 18 months. Low-acid foods such as meat, fish, or vegetables will retain the best quality if used within 2-5 years. This is if the can remains in good condition and is stored in a cool, clean, dry place. Use the FIFO method to be sure to use up the oldest cans first. FIFO stands for first in, first out. So when putting away groceries, place the recently purchased items behind the existing food. Home-canned foods should be used within one year for best quality.

As far as ground spices and herbs, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says they keep for about one year. One way to tell if they are fresh and will have good flavor is if when you open them you can smell their aroma. If you can’t, it’s time to replace (so it was time to get rid of my ground ginger!). Keep dried spices and herbs in a cool, dark, dry place.

 

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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October is National Pork Month

The past couple of weeks when looking thru grocery ads, I’ve noticed some good deals on pork. This is likely related to this summer’s drought. With high feed costs, many farmers are selling their pigs so they don’t have to purchase so much feed. This means there is a lot of supply. However, in an ad this week, I noticed it said ‘Celebrate National Pork Month’. Therefore, many grocery stores are also likely putting pork on sale to highlight National Pork Month.

So now is the time to buy pork and put it in your freezers. I recently bought a boneless pork loin and had the grocery store cut it into smaller portions that would be enough for my family for a meal. The pork loin was $1.79/pound. The loin I purchased was 8.4 pounds, so the total cost was $15.04. I had it cut  into fourths so it cost me $3.76 per package.  I made roasted pork loin with apples one evening and put the rest of the packages in the freezer for later use.

When purchasing pork, look for the words ‘loin’ and ‘round’ in the name for the leanest cuts. However, tenderloin is more expensive so for lower cost look for pork loin. If a cut has visible fat, be sure to trim it off. When cooking pork, whole cuts like chops and roasts can be safely cooked to in internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit . Ground pork, like other ground meats, should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

From Spend Smart. Eat Smart. try Garden Pork Sauté. http://recipes.extension.iastate.edu/2010/07/26/garden-pork-saute/

What recipes do you like to use pork in?

Tailgating … as American as Apple Pie

Tailgating is as American as apple pie, but unless you want some time on the sidelines, take care when planning a party in a parking lot. Last year I tail gatecringed a few times as I observed food sitting out 3-4 hours before a football game started and then the same food was brought out again after the game for snacking!

Here are a few tips on what to serve and how to keep your next tailgate safe…

What to Serve

The safest foods are prepackaged such as sandwiches or cookies, or other  items in food-grade plastic bags or film wrap. This minimizes the number of people who handle the food. Dry foods or those high in sugar are also usually safe. These might include breads, rolls, cakes (without cream filling), fresh fruits and vegetables, cookies, and crackers.

Be cautious with high-protein foods like meat, milk, lunch meat, hot dogs, vegetables, and salads. Dishes with potatoes or rice, custards, puddings, cream pies, gravies, and stuffing are safer served at home.

Here’s a sample menu with recipes from our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. collection:

Cooler Tips

  • Foods cooked ahead of time need to be cooked far enough in advance that they have time to thoroughly chill in the refrigerator before you leave home.
  • Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40°F.
  • Pack food from the refrigerator right into the cooler.
  • Use a separate cooler for drinks so the one containing perishable food won’t be constantly opened and closed.
  • Keep the cooler in the air-conditioned car on the way to the game and then in the shade and don’t open the lid too often.
  • If you bring hot, take-out food, fried chicken or barbecued beef, pizza, or burgers, eat it within two hours of purchase.

Keep it Clean

Washing hands is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of disease-causing bacteria. Port-a-pots and eating are a bad combination.

  • Hands should be washed with soap after using the restroom and water before handling food.
  • A hand washing site can be set up at any tailgate party by placing water in a beverage container.
  • If you have electricity you could heat water in a coffee pot or put a pan with water on the grill to heat.
  • Be sure to bring soap and paper towels.

 

Serving Grilled Food

Serve hot, grilled foods immediately. Do not partially grill extra hamburgers to use later. Once you begin cooking hamburgers by any method, cook them until completely done to assure that bacteria are destroyed. Ground meat should be cooked to 160°F so using a thermometer is important. Put cooked food on clean plates and don’t reuse plates that were used to hold raw meat or poultry.

If some of your guests will come later, leave their portions in the cooler until they arrive and then grill them. Perishable foods should be eaten within two hours, or one hour if the outside temperature is above 90°F. Remember to keep cold foods cold (below 40°F) and hot foods hot (over 140°F).

Leftovers

Plan realistically so you don’t have lots of leftovers.

  • Place leftover foods in the cooler soon after grilling or serving.
  • Any food left outside for more than 2 hours (or one hour if the temperature if over 90°F) should be discarded.
  • If there is still ice in the cooler when you get home, the leftovers are okay to eat.

What are you planning to serve at your next tailgate? How will you transport food to the game?

Heating it up…Summer Barbecues

When barbecuing, you need to follow food safety rules and also cook meat to a temperature that will kill bacteria, if you want to avoid getting sick.  Here are some rules I keep in mind:

    • Keep everything clean. This means utensils and platters (don’t put cooked burgers on the same platter you had the raw ones on). It also means keeping hands clean. If you are cooking and eating away from home, find out if there’s a place to wash your hands. (Is there soap and water in that outhouse?) If not, bring water, soap and paper towels from home.

 

    • Cook meat thoroughly. The only way to tell for sure is with a thermometer. It sounds weird, but I keep an instant read thermometer in my car…and you can’t believe how many times I’ve had to pull it out. My Dad counts on me always having it with me when he’s smoking or cooking meats. Below is a chart with the recommended temperatures. You might want to clip it out and put it with your grill equipment.

 

SAFE MINIMUM INTERNAL TEMPERATURES

Whole poultry, poultry breasts, ground poultry: 165°F

Ground beef and pork: 160°F

Beef, veal, and lamb (steaks, roasts and chops):

Medium rare 145°F

Medium 160°F

Cuts of pork, ham: 145°F

You can find more information at Foodsafety.gov.

Here’s to a summer of fun, safe, and delicious meals!

-contributed by Renee

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