Slow Cooking, Safe Cooking

Pot of vegetable stew

January is National Slow Cooker Month, a perfect time to try out some new recipes or dig out your favorites. But first, here are some safety tips when using your slow cooker:

  • Thaw first. Always thaw meat or poultry, following safe thawing practices, before placing in a slow cooker.
  • Preheat cooker. If possible, preheat the cooker and add hot liquids.
  • Put vegetables on the bottom or sides. Vegetables cook the slowest, so place them near the heat.
  • Don’t cook on warm. Do not use the warm setting to cook food. This setting keeps food warm; it does not cook it.
  • Keep the lid on. Each time you raise the lid, the temperature drops 10–15 degrees and the cooking process slows by 30 minutes.
  • Check the temperature. Before taking a bite, use a food thermometer. Visit Foodsafety.gov for a chart on safe minimum internal cooking temperatures.
  • Cool properly. Do not leave cooked food in the crock to cool. Place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate.
  • Do not reheat food or leftovers in a slow cooker. Instead, reheat on stove top or microwave (165°F or above) and transfer to slow cooker to keep warm (140°F or above).

Source: USDA Slow Cookers and Food Safety, fsis.usda.gov

Please Pass the Potatoes

Baked potato

Baked potatoes are a popular vegetable dish during the holiday season and throughout the year. However, they become unsafe if you don’t prepare them correctly. Dangerous bacteria may grow in foil-wrapped baked potatoes if left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.

First, don’t foil wrap your potatoes too tightly. This removes all air from the potato. Without air, the bacteria that makes botulism toxin can grow. Even a tiny taste of a food with this toxin can cause paralysis and even death. To prevent illness, remove the foil from baked potatoes right after baking. Then put leftover, unwrapped baked potatoes in the refrigerator right away.

Source: FoodSafetyNews.com, www.foodsafetynews.com

Clean Out Your Refrigerator

Leftovers in refrigerator

November 15: Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day

When in doubt, throw it out! To keep your family safe, keep leftovers for only three to four days in the refrigerator. Label condiments with the date you open them. Below is a list of how long they can last.

  • Olives: 2 weeks
  • Taco Sauce: 1 month
  • Barbeque Sauce: 4 months
  • Ketchup: 6 months
  • Pickles: 1–3 months
  • Soy Sauce: 1 month
  • Horseradish: 3–4 months
  • Mayonnaise: 1–2 months
  • Relish: 9 months
  • Worcestershire Sauce: 1 year
  • Hot sauce: 6 months
  • Mustard: 1 year
  • Salad dressing: 1–3 months
  • Jams/Jelly: 6 months to 1 year

Source: FoodSafety.gov, www.foodsafety.gov

November 29: Throw Out Your Leftovers Day

This is a good reminder to either eat or freeze Thanksgiving leftovers within three to four days. To handle leftovers safely, use the following guidelines:

  1. Refrigerate food within two hours after cooking to keep it safe.
  2. Eat or freeze leftovers within four days.
  3. Use labels or masking tape and a black marker to write dates on food for the refrigerator or freezer. If you label leftovers in the refrigerator with the four-day-later date, you will see right away the last day you can safely eat them.
  4. Use Food Safety Charts, www.foodsafety.gov, to learn how long food can be safely stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
  5. Learn more about leftover food, www.fsis.usda.gov.

Source: UNL, food.unl.edu/november-food-calendar

Home Food Preservation: Apples and Tomatoes

The gardening and preserving season is winding down, but it is never too late to learn about safe home food preservation. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is offering two online food preservation classes in October.

  • Preserve the Taste of Summer: Totally Tomatoes – Learn about canning and freezing tomatoes, salsa, and other tomato products. Canning includes both water bath and pressure canning.
    – Thursday, October 8, 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
    – Monday, October 12, 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.
  • Preserve the Taste of Summer: All About Apples – Learn about canning applesauce and apple pie filling, as well as freezing and drying apples.
    – Thursday, October 22, 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
    – Wednesday, October 28, 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

These fun and interactive classes will benefit both newbies and experienced home preservers. All sessions are one hour and free of charge. Register on the Preserve the Taste of Summer website (extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/preserve-taste-summer).

Don’t Forget about Lunch-box Food Safety

Lunch bag with drink and fruit

Whether you are back to school or work, packing a meal can have some amazing benefits! Packed meals may be lower in calories and provide more essential nutrients, such as fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Packing meals also saves money. It is important to remember lunch-box food safety when packing your meal. Follow these tips to prevent being ill when eating on the go.

  • Keep cold food below 40°F and hot food above 140°F.
  • Use an insulated lunch box. Some food is safe without a cold source, like whole fruits and vegetables, canned meat and fish, and peanut butter.
  • For perishable foods, keep foods cold by including at least two cold sources. Use two frozen gel packs or combine a frozen gel pack with a frozen juice box, fruit cup, or frozen bottled water. Place cold sources on top and bottom of perishable food items, including lunch meats, eggs, cheese, yogurt, and milk.
  • Clean your lunch box or bag regularly to avoid bacteria growing on the sides.

Source: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, www.fsis.usda.gov/

Keep Cool With Cooler Safety

Hot summer days bring outside meals with family or friends. Before you head to the next picnic, it’s important to know how to pack the cooler to keep food at a safe temperature.

Cooler with ice and beverage cans
  • The day before, clean your cooler(s). If it feels warm, allow it to cool down indoors. Consider filling water bottles or milk cartons to freeze overnight to use as ice blocks in your cooler. Ice blocks stay frozen longer than ice cubes or ice packs.
  • Load food straight from the fridge to your cooler. Perishable foods like raw meat, poultry, and fish should be stored in watertight containers or zipped plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping onto other foods. The cooler should always be below 40ºF. A thermometer placed in the cooler will help monitor the temperature inside.
  • Avoid opening the lid, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishable food in a separate cooler. When traveling, place the cooler in the car rather than the hot trunk. Once at your destination, keep your cooler in a shaded area rather than in the hot sun. Placing a blanket, rug or quilt over the cooler will also help keep it cool.

Sources:
Eat right, www.eatright.org
Food Safety and Inspection Service, www.fsis.usda.gov/foodsafety

Making Salad Safely

Salad is a popular summer dish. However, it is also linked with foodborne illness. There are ways to prepare salad safely so that friends and family do not get sick. Salad food safety tips include the following:

  • Wash your hands! Always wash hands before and after preparing any salad ingredient.
  • Don’t rewash lettuce that is already prewashed in the package. This can introduce contaminants that were already eliminated.
  • Use a different knife and cutting board for each ingredient. If you intend to keep salad ingredients separate for people to make their own, you won’t have contaminated all ingredients.
  • Keep salads cold in a refrigerator, in a cooler, or over ice. Don’t leave out at room temperature for more than two hours. Warmer temperatures (40–140 degrees) can cause bacteria to grow on food and promote illness.
  • Make sure salad is served with a utensil and not bare hands. Hands carry viruses and bacteria that can cause illness. It is best to use clean and sanitized salad tongs or forks.
  • Visit Produce Basics (spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/cook/produce-basics) for tips on how to select, store, and wash many types of salad ingredients.

How to Know if a Recipe Is Safe

We see many video and print recipes on social media. How do you know if a recipe is safe to use? Fight Bac, a partnership of organizations devoted to food safety, has these tips to ensure your meals don’t include a side of foodborne illness.

  1. Wash your hands. Up to 99% of people don’t correctly wash their hands when preparing food at home. You should wash your hands for 20 seconds. If you sing “Happy Birthday” twice, that is about 20 seconds.
  2. Cook the food to the correct temperature to ensure it is safe to consume. Poultry should be cooked to 165°F; ground meat to 160°F; steaks, chops, roasts, and fish to 145°F. Cook all other foods to at least 140°F. Check our “How to Use a Food Thermometer” video and handout to learn more about taking the temperature of food, spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/video/use-a-food-thermometer.
  3. Don’t cross contaminate. Cross contamination occurs when foodborne bacteria and viruses spread from one food or surface to another.
    • Wash the cutting board, counter, utensils, and serving plate thoroughly with hot, soapy water immediately after they have touched raw meat, poultry, or fish.
    • Do not rinse raw poultry or meat. Rinsing meat can cause bacteria on the meat to spread through the air.
    • Do not use marinades previously used on raw foods for the cooked product.
  4. Wash fresh produce, unless it’s prewashed salads. This video shows you how to properly wash produce: spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/video/clean-fruits-vegetables.

Sources:

Safe Recipe Guide, www.saferecipeguide.org
Food Safety and Inspection Service, www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/featured-campaign/superbowl/talking-points

Washing Leafy Greens

Leafy greens need to be handled safely just like any other food. Start with washing your hands with soap and water. Cut away any damaged areas on the leaves or stems.

If the label on the leafy greens bag DOES NOT say “prewashed” or “ready to eat,” thoroughly wash the greens under running water just before chopping, cooking, or eating.

Washing greens in water

If the leafy greens label DOES say “prewashed” or “ready to eat,” use the greens without washing. If you wash leafy greens before storing, you can potentially promote bacterial growth and enhance spoilage.

Wash only what you intend to eat. After washing fresh greens, pat dry with paper towels or a fresh clean towel—or use a salad spinner—to help remove excess liquid. Never wash leafy greens with soap, detergent, or bleach because these can leave residues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not recommend using commercial produce washes because these also may leave residues.

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, March 2018, (www.eatright.org/homefoodsafety/four-steps/wash/washing-leafy-greens)

Farmers Market Food Safety

While farmers markets are a great source of fresh produce, here are some tips for keeping those foods safe:

  • Choose produce that is free of bruising and spoiling. Do not purchase if the skin is broken, is slimy, or has soft spots.
  • Go home directly from the market and store produce according to the fruit and vegetable storage guide, spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/video/store-fruits-vegetables. The quality of produce will decrease if left in a vehicle for too long.
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before preparing produce.
  • Wash produce just before use—not before storing. Washing prior to storing will cause the produce to spoil faster. Before use, rinse produce with clean running water. Rub briskly to clean surfaces and dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Spend Smart. Eat Smart.offers more information about cleaning produce, spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/video/clean-fruits-vegetables.
  • Wash reusable grocery totes frequently in the washing machine or by hand with hot, soapy water. Clean all areas where you place your totes, such as the kitchen counter, to reduce the spread of illness-causing microorganisms. Store totes in a clean, dry location, not the trunk of a vehicle.

Sources:

Eat Right, www.eatright.org/homefoodsafety/four-steps/separate/reusable-grocery-tote-safety
University of Minnesota, extension.umn.edu/farmers-markets/shopping-farmers-markets

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