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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Kitchen Safety: Hot Stuff

Ovens and stoves are very useful tools in the kitchen. My oven and stove are two of my best friends; we roast veggies and meats together, we make soups together, and we sometimes even make sweets together! Even in all the fun of cooking and baking, it is important to stay safe and follow these tips on cooking safety.

1. Stick around when the stove and oven are on. Be sure to keep an eye on whatever it is you’re cooking to prevent it from boiling over, burning, or catching fire. The leading cause of kitchen fires is unattended cooking.
2. When handling hot pans, always use potholders to avoid burns. Handles hanging over the edge of the stove can be grabbed by children or knocked off accidentally. Turn all handles on pots away from you to avoid accidental spills and burns.
3. Keep all utensils away from the oven and stovetop when it is on. This includes mixing spoons, dishtowels, potholders, and paper products, that way you can avoid accidental burns or fires.
4. Turn off the stovetop and oven when you are finished using them. Once you’re done cooking and ready to enjoy your food, double check that all the stove burners have been turned off, and that the oven is no longer on. Make sure all utensils or other flammable objects are safely away from any hot surface. It never hurts to double, even triple check this step!


We hope you have learned a tip or two during our kitchen safety blog series to help keep you safe while you spend time cooking.

Written by Annie Contrady, ISU Dietetic Intern

Kitchen Safety: Knife Safety

You may remember from last week’s blog, I love prepping meals at home! I often make recipes that require quite a bit of cutting and chopping, especially when using fresh meats and produce. Knife accidents are common in household kitchens, but can be avoided if you use some good habits.

  • Always pick up knives by the handle. Never touch the blade, even when it is dull.
  • Choose the correct size knife for the task that you are doing. For instance, if you’re cutting a strawberry, use a small knife like a paring knife. If you’re cutting large cuts of meat into smaller pieces, then a larger, sharp knife would be the best choice. It is most important to choose a knife that feels comfortable and controlled in your hand.
  • Cut food items away from the body and always use a flat surface. Cutting foods away from the body decreases the chances of an accident. Cut food on a flat surface (such as a cutting board), so it stays in one place. Do not hold food in your hand while you cut it. Be sure to keep it on the cutting board at all times to avoid having your knife slip and hurt you.
  • Wash knives immediately after use. Do not place knives in a sink of soapy water to soak with other dishes. Be sure to take caution when cleaning the knife blade and let the knife air dry. When not in use, store knives safely. Knives are safe in a shield or in a drawer where the blade will not rub against other tools that could dull or damage the blade. Most importantly, keep them out of the way of kitchen traffic or reach of small children.

Next week, the last blog in our kitchen safety series will be on fire safety.

Written by Annie Contrady, ISU Dietetic Intern

Kitchen Safety: Getting Started

Cooking at home is becoming more and more popular, which is great because it usually means healthier food and money saved! I love prepping my own meals at home. It’s a chance to make something new and delicious while controlling what I want to go in it. A home kitchen can be a wonderful spot to explore recipes, try out new skills, and even spend more time with your family and friends; however, kitchens can easily become a spot for accidents if you are not taking the correct safety precautions. Here are some quick tips to get you started and keep you safe while cooking.

1. Wash your hands. Having clean hands is one of the best techniques to prevent foodborne illness and contamination. This Wash Your Hands poster gives a great example of how to correctly wash your hands. Also, if you have long hair, be sure to tie it back before washing your hands to keep it away from your face and out of the food.
2. Have a clean work area and clean tools. Having a clean area can cut down on the chances of food contamination and keep you organized. Who wants to work in a dirty kitchen anyway? Be sure that all equipment you use, such as knives, cutting boards, bowls, and other tools are clean and dry before use. Also, keep all cabinet doors and drawers closed to avoid injury and spills.
3. Wash and check your ingredients. If you’re using fresh fruits and vegetables, be sure to wash them thoroughly with cool, running water, being sure to remove all signs of dirt. Also, check them over for signs of spoilage. If you see soft spots, mold, or other signs of spoilage, be sure to throw out the piece of food to avoid food borne illness.
4. Keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Cold foods should be kept below 40°F and hot foods should be kept at 140°F or above. This helps to keep ingredients from spoiling. This means that if you need a cold ingredient, such as milk, only take it out of the fridge when you need it, and be sure to put it back when you are done.

Next week, I will share the second blog in our kitchen safety series with tips on knife safety.

Written by Annie Contrady, ISU Dietetic Intern

Learn from our Mistakes

Most cooks have tried a recipe that did not turn out how they planned. Sometimes it’s a cake that collapses on the counter, other times it’s a roast that ended up raw in the middle. The best thing to do when this happens is to try to learn from the mistake, so it does not happen again. We have rounded up a few common mistakes people make with slow cookers to try to help you avoid them in your kitchen.

  1. Be sure your slow cooker is working properly. It is critical that your slow cooker get to the right temperature to avoid problems with food safety. If you’re like me, you may have your grandmother’s old slow cooker. The good news is – you can test it. Just fill your slow cooker halfway with water and turn it on. It needs to heat to at least 170 degrees within two hours. You can test it with a food thermometer. If after two hours, the water is cooler than 170 degrees, your slow cooker is likely not heating your food fast enough and should not be used.
  2. Prep ahead the smart way. It is helpful to prep ingredients ahead so you can drop them into your slow cooker in the morning. However, do not mix raw meat and other ingredients together in advance. The safest approach is to keep meat separate from other ingredients until you are ready to cook.
  3. Cook foods to their usual safe temperatures. This helpful guide shows safe temperatures for meat, poultry, casseroles and more. You can measure temperatures using a food thermometer. Once foods reach a safe temperature, you can hold them in the slow cooker at or above 140 degrees.

Follow these simple tips to make safe and tasty meals in your slow cooker. Happy slow cooking from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team!

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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Easter Egg Safety

For many, Easter is a time to decorate eggs for the egg hunt. I remember gathering around the kitchen table with my siblings decorating eggs by writing names and sticking on the decals. The next morning my parents hid the eggs the first time, then after the first kids got up and found the eggs, we re-hid them for the next group.

My own children and nieces and nephews continue this fun family tradition. Eggs are still relatively inexpensive and the basic dye kit only costs around $2. We have fun dyeing the eggs as well as hunting for them. These days, however, you do need to pay attention to food safety principles. The inside of an egg, once considered sterile, is now known to occasionally harbor Salmonella. Salmonella can cause an intestinal infection, so it is important to cook eggs to inactivate the bacteria, and then keep them cold.

The Egg Board recommends this method: place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan; add tap water to cover at least 1 inch above eggs; cover pan, place on burner and bring to a boil. Upon boiling, remove the pan from the burner; allow large eggs to set for 15 minutes (12 minutes for medium eggs, 18 minutes for extra large eggs); then place in ice cold water until completely cooled. This last step prevents the yolks from turning green by keeping the sulfur produced during the cooking process from adhering to the iron in the yolk and forming a green deposit.

Hard-cooked eggs can also be contaminated after cooking. The following steps will help keep hard-cooked eggs safe when coloring and hiding them. Don’t color or hide cracked eggs. If you plan to eat colored eggs, be sure to use food coloring or specially made food-grade egg dyes. Once eggs are colored, remember to keep them refrigerated in their cartons. Eggs out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours should be discarded. When hiding eggs, carefully place them in areas safe from contact with pets, wild animals, birds, reptiles, insects or lawn chemicals.

-pointers by Peggy

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