It’s that time of year when lots of food is made and enjoyed at holiday gatherings. However, sometimes too much food is made and then thrown away before it can be used. About 90 billion pounds of edible food goes uneaten each year in the United States. Yet 1 in 7 Americans struggles to get enough to eat. On average, $370 worth of food per person per year is thrown away. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) breaks this down by types of food:
Grains (bread, pasta): $22 per year
Fruits (apples, bananas, oranges): $45 per year
Proteins (beef, chicken, pork, fish): $140 per year
Vegetables (onions, lettuce, peppers): $66 per year
Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese): $60 per year
Added Fat and Sugar (chips, candy): $37 per year
Total: $370 per year
The main reason food is thrown away is because it spoils before it is eaten. The USDA has created a resource called Let’s Talk Trash. In it they offer tips on how you can put a stop to food waste in your home.
- Plan and Save: Plan your weekly menu. Then look in your pantry, freezer, and fridge to make a list of what you need to buy before grocery shopping. This can help you buy only the food you need and keep money in your pocket.
- Be Organized: Keep your food pantry and refrigerator organized so you can see what needs to be eaten first. Write the dates on food containers so you know what needs to be used first.
- Repurpose and Freeze Extra Food: Reuse leftovers in another recipe. Use leftover taco meat to make a taco pizza. If you chopped up vegetables for a salad, use leftover vegetables to make a vegetable soup. Make a smoothie with overripe fruit. Freeze extra food to enjoy at a later time.
For more tips on reducing food waste, visit Spend Smart. Eat Smart at www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings.
Source: Let’s Talk Trash, www.choosemyplate.gov/lets-talk-trash
There are many recipes on the internet that encourage putting frozen food directly into a slow cooker. This is not safe. The USDA does not recommend the direct from the freezer to slow cooker process because it provides an excellent opportunity for bacteria to grow as the food slowly makes its way through the temperature danger zone.
Instead, take the food out of the freezer at least one night before you want to prepare the meal and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. If you are thawing large pieces of meat, one overnight might not be enough, so plan ahead.
As you are getting ready in the morning, put the food in the slow cooker on high to give it a jump start. Turn it to low before you leave the house. If you forget to turn it on, you will need to throw the food away when you get home because bacteria have had all day to multiply to a level that could make you and your family sick.
USDA “Kitchen Companion” available at
You may be aware of the dangers related to eating raw dough because of the presence of raw eggs and the associated risk with Salmonella. However, did you know that there may be harmful strains of E. coli in flour?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating E. coli O121 outbreaks related to raw flour. General Mills is conducting a voluntary recall on its three brands of flour: Gold Medal, Signature Kitchens, and Gold Medal Wondra. The varieties include unbleached, all-purpose, and self-rising flours. A person doesn’t need to consume the raw flour to become ill. You can become ill if you handle it and forget to wash your hands.
Follow these food safety tips from the FDA when handling flour and raw dough:
- Do not let young children handle “play” clay that is homemade from raw dough.
- Do not eat any raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter, or any other raw dough or batter product that is supposed to be cooked or baked.
- Follow package directions for cooking products containing flour at proper temperatures and for specified times.
- Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with flour and raw dough products.
- Keep foods made with raw flour separate from other foods during preparation to prevent any contamination that may be present from spreading. Be aware that flour may spread easily because of its powdery nature. Follow label directions to chill products containing raw dough promptly after purchase until baked.
For more information, please visit: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm508450.htm
Written by: Joe Hannan, ISU Extension and Outreach Commercial Horticulture Field Specialist
A common misconception among consumers is that organic means “chemical free.” Regardless of the farming system, however, chemicals can be applied to a field. The difference is the type of products that can be applied.
- Conventional Farming – Any pesticide that is approved by the EPA for a particular crop and pest can be applied.
- Organic Farming – Only products that are naturally occurring in the environment can be applied.
EXAMPLE: Pyrethrum is an insecticide derived from mums and can be used in organic farming systems. Manufacturers have found that slightly modifying the chemical structure of pyrethrum, however, increases its effectiveness against insect pests. This modified insecticide cannot be used on organic farms but can be used on conventional farms.
The EPA ensures safety to the environment and to humans through the product label. The label provides the details for how to use a product, including the following:
- what crops it can be used on
- what pests it is effective against
- the rate and the frequency it can be used
Human tolerance to pesticides is derived by research before products are released to market and regulated by the FDA. The label is designed to keep pesticide residues on consumed produce below a threshold that can harm humans. This is why there are often restrictions between product application and when a product can be harvested. It is illegal to sell a product that has not been sprayed according to a pesticide label or if pesticide residue is greater than FDA tolerances. This is true regardless of whether a product is grown organically or conventionally.
It is difficult to make generalizations about organic and conventional farming systems’ impact on the environment. For instance, an organic farmer may choose to use pyrethrum to control spotted winged drosophila in raspberries while a conventional farmer may use a modified pyrethrum-type insecticide. The organic farmer would need to spray more often than the conventional farmer but would have less impact on nontarget insects. On the other hand, the conventional farmer would make less trips through the field using less insecticide, water, and fuel. That’s just one example. In Iowa, most fruit and vegetable farmers fall somewhere in between certified organic and conventional by using best practices from both systems.
For more information, visit the following:
Fruits and vegetables come in terrific colors and flavors. Just as their nutritional benefits differ, the way in which you store fresh produce differs too! The required storage temperature and humidity level varies depending on the type of fruit or vegetable. Avoid placing produce in a sealed plastic bag on your countertop. This slows ripening and may increase off-odors and decay. Use the guides below to store your garden bounty.
Store these at room temperature, making sure they are clean, dry, well ventilated, and away from direct sunlight:
- Tomatoes, onions, potatoes, melons, bananas, pumpkins, and winter squash
Ripen these on the counter, then store in the refrigerator:
- Avocado, kiwifruits, peaches, nectarines, pears, and plums
Most other fresh produce keeps best stored in a clean refrigerator at 40°F or below.
- Store fruit in a different refrigerator crisper drawer than vegetables. Fruits give off ethylene gas, which can shorten the storage life of vegetables. Some vegetables give off odors that can be absorbed by fruits and affect their quality.
Source: Amy Peterson and Alice Henneman from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Shake off winter by doing some spring cleaning. It is a great time to target harmful bacteria that can hang out on kitchen surfaces and even in your refrigerator. You can’t see bacteria, but they are everywhere! They especially like moist environments. A clean and dry kitchen protects you and your family from foodborne illness.
- Always clean surfaces with hot, soapy water. After thoroughly washing surfaces with hot, soapy water, sanitize them with a disinfectant kitchen spray or diluted chlorine bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach to 1 quart of water). Let the solution stand on the surface for a few minutes, then blot dry with clean paper towels.
- Disinfect dishcloths often. Launder dishcloths and towels frequently using the hot water cycle of the washing machine. Then be sure they are thoroughly dry.
Rid your refrigerator of spills, bacteria, mold, and mildew. Clean your fridge weekly to kill germs that could contaminate foods. Clean interior surfaces with hot, soapy water. Rinse well with a damp cloth; dry with a clean cloth. Some manufacturers recommend not using chlorine bleach because it can damage seals, gaskets, and linings.
- Clean your kitchen sink drain and disposal. Pour a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water down the drain once or twice per week. Food particles get trapped in the drain and disposal, creating the perfect environment for bacterial growth.
Sources: www.fightbac.org and www.foodsafety.gov
The first step in having safe leftovers is to cook the food safely. Cook the food to the proper temperature by using a food thermometer. Bacteria grow rapidly in the temperature danger zone (40°F to 140°F), so be sure your leftovers are safe by following these steps:
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking or holding it hot.
- Throw away all cooked food that has been at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Cool foods rapidly. To do this, large quantities of food should be cut in smaller pieces first or divided into shallow containers that will aid in cooling.
- Cover leftovers well before refrigerating. This helps keep odors and bacteria out and moisture in.
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 4 months. Although leftovers are safe indefinitely when frozen, quality will deteriorate when stored longer.
For a chart on storage times, visit http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html.
Health inspection records for eating establishments are now easier to find thanks to a new app—HD Scores. The app, available for both iPhone and Android devices, was developed by chef Matthew Eierman and his colleagues. The app displays a map of the user’s area and shows a percentage score for each establishment, based on a scoring algorithm created by HDScores.
HDScores emphasizes cleanliness and factors related to foodborne illness, and it focuses less on issues unrelated to contamination. This means it is possible for an establishment to score an A on their health inspection but receive a lower score on HDScores, like 75 percent, if they have only a few violations but those violations are directly related to foodborne illness risk.
Information on the app is updated frequently, with new inspection scores available within 12 to 24 hours of the health department’s filing. Currently the app contains data for more than 615,000 of the approximately 1.5 million eating establishments across the United States. The app covers the entire state of Iowa. For more information on the app, visit hdscores.com.
Iowa winters bring with them cold, snow, and the occasional loss of power. Try these food safety tips for when your power goes out:
Make sure you have a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. When the power goes out, check your thermometers for safe temperatures: refrigerator below 40°F, and 0°F or lower for freezer.
Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed. When kept closed, a refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours; a full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours; a half-full freezer will hold its temperature for 24 hours.
Freeze water in one-quart plastic storage bags now. These can be used in the refrigerator and freezer to help food stay cold and be a source of fresh water for you to use.
When in doubt, throw it out. Any perishable food that has been above 40°F for two hours or more should be thrown out. Frozen food with ice crystals may be safely refrozen.
Source: Food Poisoning Bulletin