Posts Tagged ‘food safety’

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Storing Raw Meat

October 17, 2017

 

Whenever I purchase raw proteins; chicken, fish or meat, I put them in a plastic bag in the store, before slipping them into my own canvas tote. While that may seem to defeat the purpose of bringing your own reusable bag, it keeps any juices and harmful bacteria from leaking and contaminating my bag, and in turn, my other foods. Those bags can harbor lots of nasty germs that can make you sick. It is important to wash your bags regularly to avoid cross-contaminating other foods, especially those fruits and vegetables that don’t get cooked.

Once you get home, be sure to place those foods on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator so any leaks will be contained, and the chance of drips onto other items is limited. This holds true for defrosting animal proteins as well. It is safest to defrost them slowly in the refrigerator, and placing those high-risk items on a plate on the bottom shelf will protect your other foods and food surfaces from contamination.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Washing Produce

April 18, 2016

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The annual produce “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists have been updated, and there are a few changes in rankings. Below are the latest results, and our take on what to do about it to keep you and your family safe from toxins and contamination.

The Dirty Dozen: These are the fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticide contamination, as stated by the Environmental Working Group ( EWG):

  1. Strawberries
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Sweet Bell Peppers
  11. Cherry Tomatoes
  12. Cucumbers

The Clean Fifteen: The following are the groups foods that have the lowest level of pesticide contamination:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Cabbage
  5. Frozen Sweet Peas
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangos
  9. Papaya
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Honeydew Melon
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Cantaloupe
  15. Cauliflower

It is interesting to note that a large portion of the Clean Fifteen are encased in nature’s own packaging which gets peeled and eliminated before consuming.

While the recommendation is to purchase organically grown varieties of the Dirty Dozen, there are also some precautions that can be taken to make the conventional versions safer to eat. These tips are common protocols that should be used on all produce, regardless of the method of farming.

Wash your produce. This may seem like a no-brainer, yet I see people that are sampling unwashed items at the farmer’s markets all the time, and someone once told me that if I wasn’t watching, they wouldn’t bother washing the salad greens at all. Shudder!

Rinse produce under cool running water. Extra sandy items can be soaked in a strainer set into a bowl of water, or a salad spinner, and then rinsed under running water afterwards to rid it of debris. This will help any “sand” settle to the bottom of the bowl, making it easier to rinse off. Harder produce can be brushed with a produce brush to remove excess dirt. While some people add soap, the FDA does not recommend it, citing that it is just adding even more chemicals to the cocktail. A little vinegar or lemon juice has an astringent effect which can aid in the cleaning process naturally. Just be sure to wash the items afterwards to avoid an unpleasant taste.

Be sure to start with clean hands so you don’t end up spreading the bacteria on them to your food.

Even if you are going to peel the produce, wash the outside well before cutting. If there is bacteria or pesticides on the outside, you will draw them through the food on your knife, essentially distributing it throughout the food.  This includes things like lemons and limes, which often get tossed into drinks, rind and all.

Dry it. Gently wipe the produce with a clean towel to dry it and have one more opportunity to wipe off any excess dirt or chemicals.

Avoid bagged salad mixes and commercially cut fruit: Those pre-bagged and pre-cut salads, vegetables and fruit are a great convenience, but with that comes added risk. The more people and machines that touch your food, the more risk of contamination there is. Many food-borne diseases are actually a result of food handling. If you must buy packaged produce, please take extra time to wash it according to the processes outline above.

While rinsing your produce is not a 100% effective in preventing food borne illness, it is the best protection we have to reduce the risks. And in this case, the benefits of eating a plant based diet, and a rainbow of fruit and vegetables drastically out weighs the risks.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Slow Food

December 10, 2014

This is the time of year when we crave slow foods; comforting dishes filled with tender protein and flavorful sauces. It’s time to bust out the slow cooker and make some magic.

Last year at this time, we were novices, fearing that the food would be dried out and overcooked, or raw. Now that we have made friends with our slow cooker, we have a few tips to share to ensure the tastiest and safest outcome.

1.Don’t put raw meat or chicken into the slow cooker. For added flavor and texture, brown the meat on the stovetop before putting it into the cooker.

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2.Don’t add too much liquid. Unlike other methods where high cooking temperatures cause the liquids to evaporate, slow cookers don’t allow the sauce to reduce. If you are using wine, deglaze the pan after sautéing the meat to allow some of the alcohol to burn off; don’t just pour it into the slow cooker, or you might get a harsh flavor.

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3.Start heating the cooker while you are preparing the ingredients. This allows the food to come to a safe temperature more quickly.

4.Slow cookers work by trapping the heat inside the pot over a long period of time. Lifting the lid, however tempting it may be, lets the steam and heat escape, reducing the temperature. To make sure the food is cooked at the specified time, resist the temptation to peek inside.

5.Dairy products ( milk, cream etc. ) are likely to curdle if placed in the slow cooker. If your recipe calls for dairy, add it at the end of the cooking cycle. Coconut milk is non-diary and won’t curdle during prolonged cooking, so it’s safe to put it in right away.

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6.Don’t leave raw food sitting in the cooker set on a timer to turn on after you leave the house. The food can start to spoil before the cooker starts. Place the food into the slow cooker when you are ready to begin  the cooking process.  Chickpeas and other beans can be used as a vegetarian protein, and don’t need to be sautéed first. If using canned beans, add them towards the end of the cook time so they don’t get mushy.

7. Fattier meats often withstand the slow cooker better than leaner ones. Think chicken thighs on the bone, vs. boneless, skinless breasts for a more tender and juicy outcome. Fish and seafood are more delicate, and not good choices.

8. Smaller pieces of protein will cook faster than a large piece of meat, so if time is of the essence, or you need to leave the house for a long period, gauge what is best based on how much time you have available to cook.2117900485

9. Be creative! Many recipes which require cooking in the oven or on the stovetop in a sauce can be interpreted for the slow cooker. It may take longer, but you can leave it unattended safely, and get the mess out the way early!

10. Enjoy!

photos: Glasshouse Images

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Unrecipe of the Week: Balsamic Marinade

July 22, 2013

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It’s grilling season, and marinades help lock in moisture and add flavor to foods.

Whether you are tossing meat, chicken or vegetables on the barbeque, or cooking in the oven, this unrecipe will become a staple in your repertoire.

Balsamic Marinade:

Combine ½ cup balsamic vinegar, juice of 2 lemons, ½ cup olive oil, a big dollop or two of Dijon mustard, a couple of minced garlic cloves, and salt and pepper. Whisk to blend. Pour over meat or chicken and allow it to marinate for several hours or overnight. Vegetables should be marinated for a very short time, to avoid getting soggy.

Kitchen tip:

Never pour leftover marinade that the raw meat has been soaking in over cooked food. Once the food has been put on the grill, use a clean plate to remove it to avoid contamination.

Bringing the leftover marinade to a full boil for a couple of minutes will kill any bacteria and allow the sauce to be safely used. Cooking it for 5 or 10 minutes will allow the liquid to reduce, and give you a slightly thicker consistency for a finishing sauce.

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photo: Glasshouse Images

 

Organic Panic?

September 5, 2012

Health researchers at Stanford University released a study this week casting doubt on the advantages of organic meats and produce. While they concluded that most fruits and vegetables labeled organic were not more nutritious than the conventional versions, the jury is still out on whether or not spending extra for organic products is worth it.

Conventional varieties tested did have more pesticide residue on them, but the levels fall within the allowable limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The question lies in whether or not these levels are in fact safe for humans long term.

Many of the key motivators for buying organic foods are the stringent rules governing the farming of these items.

Organic chicken and pork were found to less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The study also found that organic milk contained higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to the heart. Organic produce also had higher levels of phosphorous, and phenols, believed to help prevent cancer.

Organic foods also have less environmental impact than large-scale conventional farming techniques.

More specific studies have found some added benefits to going organic.  A Washington State University study done in 2010 found organic strawberries contained higher levels of vitamin C than their conventionally counterparts.

Three other studies published last year, from Columbia University, The University of California Berkley and Mount Sinai Hospital, showed that children whose mothers ate organically during pregnancy had a higher I.Q. than those whose mother was exposed to higher levels of pesticides.

While this news is likely to spark controversy among farmers and nutrition experts alike, the facts are still somewhat inconclusive.

For children, pregnant women and those with impaired immune systems, the benefits may still out weigh the expense of purchasing organically grown food.

The choice, as always, belongs to the consumer.

photos:Glasshouse Images

Waste Case

March 25, 2012

As food prices soar and more people in the world go hungry, I am more conscious than ever of the amount of food that gets thrown out each week.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the average American household throws out between $500 and $2,000 worth of food per year.

I suspect the waste in my household is even greater.

I admit to being a freshness fanatic, and rarely a day goes by that I do not hit at least one market to purchase groceries. Even with a “ buy as needed” attitude, there is a ridiculous amount of waste in our kitchen.

I set out to do a little research as to how long food can be kept before it goes bad, and I had a few surprises. Foods last longer in the refrigerator than I assumed, and the freezer does not extend food life indefinitely, as I had been previously told. Here are a few common foods, and their shelf life both refrigerated and frozen:

Food Refrigerator Freezer
Hot dogs; opened 1 week 1-2 months
Deli lunchmeat; freshly sliced or from an open package 3-5 days* although the deli manager at Whole Foods recommends 3 days only 1-2 months
Ground meats; raw 1-2 days 3-4 months
Raw poultry 1-2 days 9months for pieces/12 months if whole
Red meat; raw 3-5 days 4-6 months for chops / 6-12 months for steaks + roasts
Soups and Stews 3-4 days 2-3 months frozen
Hard cheese 3-4 weeks Not recommended
Soft cheese 1 week Not recommended
Ice cream 1-2 months
Mayo 2 months once opened Not recommended
Cooked leftovers 3-4 days Varies
Butter 1 month Up to 9 months
Milk 1 week Not recommended
Eggs 3 weeks Not recommended

This week, I am committed to reducing our family’s food waste. While I may not be comfortable keeping things around as long as this chart dictates as safe, I will be more cognizant of recycling our leftovers quickly into healthy and tasty dishes that we can consume, instead of toss.

Stay tuned for this week’s adventures as I blog about how I reduce food waste creatively.

Join the conversation, and post some of your ideas in the comment section.

photo: Glasshouse Images


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