Refrigerator Tetris—Where should the food go?

Storing food correctly helps prevent food waste. The refrigerator is the most important kitchen appliance for keeping food safe. Refrigerators should be kept at 40°F or below while the freezer needs to be set at 0°F or below.

Where food is stored in the refrigerator is just as important as keeping it at the correct temperature.

  • Door shelves are good for storing condiments and salad dressings since that is the warmest part of the refrigerator. Do not store eggs or milk here.
  • Sealed crisper drawers provide an optimal storage environment for fruits and vegetables. Vegetables prefer higher humidity and fruits lower humidity, so adjust drawer controls accordingly. This will help the produce last longer.
  • Middle shelves are good places to put ready-to-eat foods like salads, desserts, or leftovers.
  • Lowest shelf is where you should place raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Place them in a sealed container or wrapped securely to prevent meat juices from dripping and contaminating other foods.

Source: USDA, www.fsis.usda.gov.

Keep Your Picnic Safe

Eating outdoors in warm weather increases the chance of food becoming unsafe to eat. Pack only what you need. This will lessen food waste since foods kept out for more than 2 hours (1 hour if 90°+F) should be tossed. Follow these tips to keep food safe:

  • Wash your hands and surfaces before, during, and after handling raw food items. Use paper towels to clean up spills.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw foods separated from cooked foods. Use separate cutting boards for meats and produce.
  • Check temperatures. Use a food thermometer to check the food’s temperature before serving. Watch the food thermometer video, go.iastate.edu/2VJCT3.
  • Keep cold foods cold. Keep cold foods chilled at 40°F or lower. Keep coolers filled with ice. Frozen bottles of water can serve as ice packs. Replace ice frequently if melted.
  • Keep hot foods hot. Keep hot foods hot at 140°F or higher. Wrap and cover foods and place in an insulated warming container until needed.

Learn more about ISU’s food safety programs, go.iastate.edu/MLA6BY

Spring Clean Your Refrigerator

Man spraying cleaning fluid on refrigerator shelves

A well-organized refrigerator helps reduce food waste and save money. You should aim to deep clean your refrigerator every three to four months. Follow these steps to clean and organize your refrigerator:

  1. Remove everything. Throw out food that has spoiled or expired and leftovers more than four days old.
  2. Put perishables, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, and eggs, in a cooler with ice or ice packs to keep cold while cleaning the refrigerator.
  3. Wash all shelves, drawers, and walls with hot soapy water. Rinse with clean, hot water and let air dry. Replace drawers and shelves once they are dry.
  4. Make sure the refrigerator temperature is 40ºF or below, so your food is safe to eat.
  5. Group similar foods together as you put them back in the refrigerator. Label and date all foods.
    • Crisper drawers: Keep fruits and vegetables.
    • Deli drawers: Store deli meats and cheeses.
    • Lowest shelf: Place raw meats on a plate, so they do not drip onto other foods.
    • Back of refrigerator: Keep milk and eggs, so they stay cold.
    • Door: Store sauces and condiments.
  6. Once a year, clean the back and bottom of the fridge. This helps it to operate efficiently.

For more information, watch the Organize Your Fridge video, bit.ly/3CT20lS, on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website.

Can You Outgrow a Food Allergy?

bowls of allergens - nuts, eggs, milk, flour

It appears age may affect a person’s ability to outlast a food allergy. In general, children may outgrow allergies to milk, egg, soy, and wheat. New research also shows that up to 25 percent of children may outgrow their peanut allergy. However, food allergies in adults tend to be lifelong. The most common food allergies for adults are shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, and fish.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include vomiting and diarrhea. These can sometimes be mistaken for the stomach flu or food poisoning. Currently, avoiding the food you are allergic to is the only way to protect against most food allergy reactions. Researchers are exploring treatments and therapies to help manage food allergies.

Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology

Put the Freeze on Spoiled Food

food in freezer

Freezing is quick and easy. It helps preserve the nutritive quality more closely to fresh food than any other food preservation method used today. When freezing foods, the goal is to keep ice crystals as small as possible. Large ice crystals can cause an undesirable soft, mushy texture.

Foods to be frozen must be packaged in a way that protects them from the dry freezer climate and excludes as much air as possible. Ideal containers for freezing must be

  • expandable or sealed with sufficient headspace for expansion;
  • moisture-vapor resistant;
  • durable and leak proof;
  • resistant to cracking and brittleness at low temperatures;
  • resistant to oil, grease, and water;
  • protective of foods from absorption of off flavors and odors; and
  • easy to seal and label.

Avoid using waxed paper, paper or cardboard cartons, any rigid carton with cracks or poorly fitting lid, or re-used plastic dairy containers (e.g., cottage cheese or yogurt containers). These do not resist moisture enough to be suitable for long-term freezer storage.

To learn more about freezing and other food preservation methods, register for Preserve the Taste of Summer 101, https://bit.ly/34pVRjQ.

Take a Tastebud Adventure

Bowl of rice and vegetables

March is National Nutrition Month. This year the focus is “Celebrate a World of Flavors.” While food patterns are influenced by family traditions and ethnic or cultural groups, it is also wonderful to try and explore new foods. Here are four reasons to try new foods.

  1. Gain Appreciation for Other Cultures. Trying foods from other areas of the country or world can give you a greater appreciation and understanding of a different culture. Try nearby restaurants that serve cuisine you’ve never tried before. Go to a specialty grocery store (such as an Asian market or bodega) to buy something to try at home. Cook a new recipe. Explore the USDA Culture and Food website, https://bitly/3AR0Bek.
  2. Expand Your Options. By being adventurous and trying new foods, you’ll increase your meal options. This will help stop meal prep boredom of cooking the same meals or going to the same restaurants.
  3. Improve Nutrition. Eating and enjoying a wider variety of food also means that you’ll get more nutritional variety. This means finding new sources of essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in which your current food patterns may be lower.
  4. Find Common Ground. A common social activity across nearly all cultures is eating. Mealtime is an opportunity for people to gather lowering feelings of loneliness and enhancing happiness.

Food Safety Mythbusters

Blocks saying Facts and Myths

We all do our best to serve our families food that’s safe and healthy. However, do you know all you should know? A few food safety practices that many people believe and follow are actually myths.

Myth: I don’t need to wash fruits or vegetables if I'm going to peel them.

Fact: Because it’s easy to transfer bacteria from the peel or rind when you’re cutting to the inside of your fruits and veggies, it’s important to wash all produce, even if you plan to peel it.

Myth: To get rid of any bacteria on my meat, poultry, or seafood, I should rinse off the juices with water first.

Fact: Rinsing meat, poultry, or seafood with water can increase your chance of foodborne illness by splashing juices and any bacteria they might contain onto your sink and counters. If you choose to rinse for cultural reasons, make sure to clean and disinfect the sink and counters immediately afterward.

Myth: It is OK to wash bagged greens if I want to. There’s no harm!

Fact: Rinsing leafy greens that are ready to eat (those labeled “washed,” “triple washed,” or “ready to eat”) will not enhance safety. In fact, it could increase the risk for cross-contamination. This means harmful bacteria from your hands or kitchen surfaces could find their way onto the greens while washing them.

Source: Home Food Safety Mythbusters, fightbac.org

Safe Food at Potlucks

Table of various foods

Potluck meals are a fun, low-cost way to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. They are also linked with the spread of foodborne illness. Follow these tips to keep food safe:

  • If you or someone in your home has “stomach flu” or symptoms of a foodborne illness, don’t prepare food.
  • Don’t mix salads, such as potato or a tossed lettuce salad, with your bare hands. Use utensils or wear gloves instead.
  • To keep cold foods cold (40°F or lower), remove items from the refrigerator just before leaving home and put them in a cooler with ice or a freezer gel pack. Remove hot food items from the oven or cooktop and place in containers such as insulated bags to keep foods hot (140°F or above).
  • To prevent cross-contamination, cover your car seat with a clean sheet or large towel before placing the food container on it and don’t transport food with animals in your car.

Source: Food Safety: Potluck Parties, bit.ly/3ohLFAl.

Food Safety Tips for Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Roast turkey
  1. Thaw your turkey safely: Plan ahead, since thawing may take days in the refrigerator. Do NOT thaw it on the counter, in a bathtub, on the porch, or in the garage.
  2. Handle your turkey safely: Before touching the turkey, wash your hands for 20 seconds. Do not wash or rinse the turkey. This may spread poultry juice to other foods and lead to foodborne illness. Use a clean cutting board. Wash the board with warm soapy water after use and before preparing the next item.
  3. Cook your turkey safely: Set oven temperature to at least 325°F. Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Find cooking times at USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, bit.ly/3kZeP6D. Use a food thermometer to check in at least two of the thickest parts of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. After cooking, the turkey should rest for 20 minutes to let juices settle.
  4. Chill your turkey safely: Divide leftovers into small portions and refrigerate or freeze within two hours after cooking. Use refrigerated leftovers within 3–4 days and frozen cooked turkey in 2–6 months for best quality. For more Thanksgiving-friendly food safety tips, visit FoodSafety. gov, bit.ly/3A55oqt.

Source: FoodSafety.gov, bit.ly/3A55oqt.

Fall Home Food Preservation

Apples, winter squash, and pumpkin may still be on your home food preservation to-do list.

Jar of canned vegetables
  • Always use tested recipes and procedures. Use publications from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, nchfp.uga.edu/,and ISU Extension and Outreach’s Preserve the Taste of Summer, store.extension.iastate.edu/.
  • Canning apple pie filling requires Clear-Jel. This is the only thickener that holds up to canning. It is not available in stores but you can purchase it online. Do not substitute Instant Clear-Jel or any other thickener for home-canned pie filling.
  • You can pressure-can squash and pumpkin safely if you cut them in cubes. However, you cannot safely puree squash and pumpkin. The density of the pureed squash/pumpkin can prevent adequate heat processing, even in a pressure canner.
  • There are no tested recipes for home-canned pumpkin butter. You can freeze pumpkin butter or store it in the refrigerator.

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