Category Archives: Food Safety

Be Safe When Using Frozen Foods

hereMany of us use our freezers to put up goodies from the frozvegfresh harvest season. Others use the freezer to put together homemade meals or recipes ready to be cooked or reheated when cooking from scratch just is not on our schedule for the day or week. Freezing prepared foods in advance allows us the satisfaction of homemade meals with the convenience of store-bought ones.

Freezing foods does not improve on poor texture, flavor or quality of foods, so choose your ingredients and products well. The way foods are prepared and packaged for freezing, as well as the temperature of the freezer, will greatly influence how well food will keep in the freezer. Quality in, quality out.

What I would like to emphasize is keeping food safe during thawing and later use out of the freezer. Several options are available for thawing prepared foods. The frozen food can be taken directly from the freezer and immediately placed in the oven for thawing and heating as long as it is in a freezer-to-oven safe container. Some foods are best reheated using a double boiler and can be thawed that way also. Foods that contain fish, meat, eggs or other high protein ingredients should be thawed in the refrigerator or microwave. To ensure the safety of your food, do not allow these potentially hazardous foods to stay in the temperature danger zone (40°F-140°F) for more than 2 hours. Plan ahead because refrigerator thawing can take some time. If you thaw potentially hazardous foods in the microwave, you should go ahead and finish the cooking and not store the thawed food as is.  The cooking can be done in the microwave itself, or using other cooking methods.

Breads, cakes, and cookies without cream fillings that are precooked may be thawed at room temperature. Reheat all prepared foods except non-meat baked goods, sweets and fruits to at least 165°F quickly, within 2 hours. Specifics for different kinds of foods can be found in Freezing Prepared Foods.  Other freezing pointers on thawing, packaging, freezer management, and foods that do not freeze well can be found here.

Planning ahead and freezing prepared foods is a great way to keep homemade food on your dinner table without all of the stress and hassle of last minute preparation. But be sure to keep food safety in mind when it’s time to serve your goodies.

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Pop Quiz: What Time Is It?

dial=gauge pressure cannerDial Gauge Testing Time! As the temperatures warm (or not so much) let that be a reminder it’s the time of year again to get your pressure canner dial gauge tested. Dial gauges need to be tested for accuracy before each canning season or after dropping or banging it.

The manufacturer of your pressure canner is best able to provide you with instruction for inspection/gauge testing. Some companies require that you mail it in to them. You may also ask at a local hardware store or contact your local Cooperative Extension office, as some of them will do gauge testing for some brands of dial gauge pressure canners if they have an agent at that location who is trained to do so. Select your state from the drop-down list on this search tool to locate your county office:  Find Your Local Extension Office.

Also as part of an annual “check-up”, make sure all parts of your pressure canner are in good condition.  If your canner has a rubber gasket, make sure it is flexible and soft, not brittle, sticky or cracked. Check the openings on any small pipes or vent ports to be sure they are clean and clear of any debris.

If you don’t have a pressure canner and are thinking about getting one, then make sure you select a pressure canner that is capable of holding at least 4 quart-size jars upright, on the rack, with a lid that secures airtight. If it is smaller than that, we do not recommend it for home canning using USDA canning procedures.

Whether your pressure canner has not yet been used this season or is new out of the box, it is a good idea to make sure it is working properly before preparing a canner load of jars.  Put several inches of water in your pressure canner, and pressurize it as if canning.  Make sure it gets to the pressure needed and can be maintained there without leaking.  This is a good time to practice de-pressurizing the canner as if it had jars in it and then go through the steps for opening your canner as desired.  Read step-by-step procedures for using pressure canners on the NCHFP website.

IMG_1027This blog post contains a revision of Can Your Vegetables Safely by Dr. Elizabeth Andress.

Simply Soup

tomato vegetable soupThis cold, long winter will be a memorable one for many. Hopefully you made use of your reserve of fresh and preserved foods, but you may have made your way through it all! If you are already thinking about preparing for next year, then you may like the idea of canning soup to bring delicious and nutritious warmth during the coldest days.

Different from the vast majority of USDA canning recommendations, our recommendation for IMG_1071Canning Soup allows you to have some choice of vegetables, dried beans or peas, meat, poultry, or seafood. However, that does NOT mean that it is safe to can just any combination and proportions of ingredients, sorry!  For your safety, please regard these key precautions before before getting out your pressure canner (and yes, a pressure canner is required for canning soup):

  • Our recommendation for canning soup does NOT allow you to include noodles or other pasta, rice, flour, cream, milk or other thickening or dairy ingredients.
  • The procedure for canning soup says “Each vegetable should be selected, washed, prepared and cooked as you would for canning a ‘hot pack’ according to USDA directions”, which means that there must be a canning recommendation for each added ingredient. As examples, for this reason we cannot recommend adding cabbage nor cured meats like cured ham to canned soup.
  • It is also very important when canning soup that you “Fill jars halfway with solid mixture.” The reason behind filling the jar 1/2 with solids and 1/2 with liquid is to ensure the safety of the product. Our recommendation for canning soup may have a substantial amount of variability based on which vegetables and/or meats are selected and in what proportions. The 1:1 liquid to solid ratio ensures that a certain rate of heating occurs so Soup filled jars half and halfthat the dangerous bacterial spores of botulinum will be destroyed no matter which ingredients (that are noted in the recommendation as acceptable) you select and prepare as directed. Heat transfers more easily and quickly through liquid than through solids and dense mixtures, so a new canning process time would have to be determined through product testing if you were to increase the solid to liquid ratio.

If you choose to follow canning recommendations from another source, then you are choosing to trust their product testing of their recipe, procedure, and process time — they are responsible for their own product testing and you could certainly contact them if you have questions about their recommendations.

Our canning VegSoup1recommendations are meant to be followed exactly as written, and we unfortunately cannot provide individual testing of homemade recipes. If you are still wondering if you can can your favorite homemade soup recipe at home, please read our Burning Issue: Canning Homemade Soups.  Remember too that once you can soup as recommended, you can add your choice of ingredients AFTER you open the jars and re-heat the soup for serving!

Tips for Gifting your Home-Canned Goodies

Giving home-preserved gifts adds a personal touch, but you do take on the added responsibility of vouching for the safety of the foods you give. As tempting as it may be to impress your recipients with a brand new, never-before-tasted canned creation, your first measure of safety is to use tested recommendations from reliable sources. Instead of experimenting with recipes, get creative with the way you package your home-preserved gifts.

If you use an attractive canning jar of a unique size (12 oz., for example) and you can’t find canning recommendations for that size jar, be sure to use the next biggest size jar that does have canning recommendations (so in the example of the 12 oz. jar, follow the process time listed for pint size jars). Otherwise the product might be under-processed and risk spoilage or causing sickness. Also, be aware that there are lovely jars out in the market place that are NOT recommended for canning. Some jars are intended for other uses, and even if they look like canning jars they may not be tempered to withstand the intense heat of canning or temperature changes that occur in taking jars in and out of canners. (These jars might work well to gift beautiful dried fruits, however!) Our canning recommendations are for use with Mason-type home-canning jars and two-piece lid systems.

Decorative labels are available from jar manufacturers and other companies. As you label your precious products, remember to include the creation date, and consider telling your recipient how long the product will stay “good” (usually one year for best quality with most home-canned foods). If you have room, also include the ingredients (especially if the product contains allergens) and storage instructions like “Store in a cool, dry place and refrigerate after opening.”

If you didn’t already do your canning for gift-giving, then here are a few festive ideas using seasonal ingredients:

Spiced Apple Rings, Apple Butter, Sweet Apple Relish

Citrus Marmalade

Chutneys

Cranberry Sauce, Cranberry Marmalade, Cranberry Conserve

Flavored Vinegars

There are also a few popular holiday gifts that are NOT recommended for home-canning. Don’t risk the health of your loved ones — try the alternative suggestions instead:

Herbed Oil Infusions (try Flavored Vinegar instead –you don’t even need to can it!)

Canned Breads (instead, package dry ingredients and make a tag with baking instructions)

Canned Chocolate/Fudge Sauce (make this Freezer Chocolate Fudge Sauce instead)

This entry was inspired by Resources for Home Food Preservation Gifts by Brian A. Nummer. For more canning-related gift ideas, see Looking for a Gift that Keeps Giving? Try a Dehydrator! and Holiday Gifts for the Home Food Preserver .