What’s in your FREEZER?

What’s in your FREEZER?

March is Frozen Food Month.  In fact, the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA),Inc., likes to suggest that there is MEALTIME MAGIC in the FROZEN AISLE.  I could not agree more!

words "March Frozen Food Month" on a plate with fork and folded napkin to left all on a placemat

March is Frozen Food month. Photo Source: with permission from Frozen Food Alliance

Frozen foods are a smart choice.  Frozen foods are always in season, last much longer than their fresh counterparts, are convenient, economical and full of variety.  Plus, frozen foods can be portioned and packaged in ways that don’t leave anything to waste.

A lot has changed since 1925 when Clarence Birdseye was issued U.S. Patent #1,773,079, to freeze fish.  This U.S. Patent marked the beginning of today’s frozen foods industry.  In 1927, he extended the freezing process to quick-freezing meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables.  Birdseye’s initial introduction of 26 frozen foods has morphed to so many frozen products that the NFRA boasts over 3,700+ different choices.  There is something FROZEN for every taste and every budget!

The modern day frozen product is generally supercooled at temperatures below -54°F.  This supercooled fast freezing process produces smallish ice crystals that help foods retain their personal characteristics.  Additionally, a lot of research goes into commercially frozen food’s packaging. Many frozen products can go directly from freezer to microwave, oven or even a pot of boiling water.  Packaging must also consider the constraints of the home freezer knowing that its average temperature is around 0° or a bit below.

Although cold temperatures like 0°F or below puts a temporary hold on many biological processes microorganisms are not always killed off during freezing.  It is important to recognize that proper care must be taken preparing some frozen foods.

In addition, when foods are frozen for extended periods of time or are frozen improperly, freezer burn can begin to develop on the food’s surface. Freezer burn happens when moisture in the outer layers of the food evaporates into the dry freezer air, leaving behind empty pockets in the tissue of the food.  Freezer burn on meat is visible as brownish-white discolorations and on other foods dry, white spots. While it is not harmful to eat, freezer burn can adversely affect the flavor and texture of food.

It is easy to prevent freezer burn.  One can easily reduce the food’s exposure to air through the use of correct wrap before storing food in the freezer. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze.html) has excellent information on how the use of proper packaging materials can protect the flavor, color, moisture content and nutritive value of foods from the arid climate of the freezer.

Frozen food packaging depends on the type of food to be frozen. In general, packaging materials must have certain characteristics:

  • Moisture vapor resistant
  • Durable and leakproof
  • Not become brittle and crack at low temperatures
  • Resistant to oil, grease or water
  • Protect foods from absorption of off flavors or odors
  • Easy to seal
  • Easy to mark (with both content and date)

Additionally, a full freezer is the most energy efficient.

Posting a frozen foods inventory (list) near the freezer and keeping it up to date by listing the foods and dates of freezing is helpful.  Remembering also to rotate foods in the freezer.  An easy acronym for this is FIFOFirst-In, First-Out. In other words, use the food stored the longest before you use the newest.

Moreover, purchase a thermometer if your freezer does not have an automatic temperature display.  A freezer should be maintained at a temperature of 0°F or lower. At higher temperatures, foods lose quality much faster.

Most recently, a woman from North Carolina, Sheila Pulanco Russell, is credited with bringing a lifehack to the masses with her “how to” Facebook posting.  I think it is a good thing to know.  It is called the One Cup Tip. All it entails is putting a cup of water in the freezer, freezing it solid, and then placing a quarter on top of it and leaving it in the freezer.

When you return from an extended out of town trip you know if your power was out. It the quarter is sitting at the bottom of the cup you know your power was off too long and that your frozen food is not safe to eat.  If the coin is in the middle of the cup, the outage was fairly short and your food should be good (frozen foods that still have their crystals are safe to eat and refreeze). If the coin is still on the top, then there was no power outage or just a quick one and all is well. Note: no one wants food poisoning, so if you are in doubt, throw the food out.

Have questions?  Don’t hesitate to call your local county extension agent from the Cooperative Extension office; they’re free!


Heidi Copeland

Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, III

University of Florida IFAS Extension

615 Paul Russell Road

Tallahassee, Florida 32301


(850) 606-5203

The Foundation for The Gator Nation

An Equal Opportunity Institution

For MOST Taxpayers, Federal Income Tax Returns are due on Monday, April 15, 2019

For MOST Taxpayers, Federal Income Tax Returns are due on Monday, April 15, 2019

The Internal Revenue Service has announced that they began taking and processing tax returns beginning January 28, 2019 and refunds to taxpayers will be issued as scheduled.

Nevertheless, many software companies and tax professionals are accepting income tax return information now and promising instant refunds.   KNOW that money being promised comes with a charge. As they say, there is NO free lunch, especially around tax time.

For taxpayers who usually file early in the year and have all of the needed documentation there is no need to wait to file. Taxpayers should file when they are ready to submit a complete and accurate tax return. The IRS strongly encourages people to file their tax returns electronically to minimize errors and for faster refunds.

The filing deadline to submit 2018 tax returns is Monday, April 15, 2019 for most taxpayers. Because of the Patriots’ Day holiday on April 15 in Maine and Massachusetts and the Emancipation Day holiday on April 16 in the District of Columbia, taxpayers who live in Maine or Massachusetts have until April 17, 2019 to file their returns.

Also, because of the change required by Congress in the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, the IRS is required to hold refunds claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until February 15, 2018. The IRS wants taxpayers to be aware it will take several days for these refunds to be released and processed through financial institutions. Factoring in weekends and the President’s Day holiday, the IRS cautions that many affected taxpayers may not have actual access to their income tax refunds until the end of February 2019. The IRS must hold the entire refund — even the portion not associated with the EITC and ACTC.

It is amazing to know that the IRS issues more than 9 out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days.   Choosing e-file and direct deposit for refunds remains the fastest and safest way to file an accurate income tax return and receive a refund. However, it is possible your tax return may require additional review and take longer. Where’s My Refund? has the most up to date information available about your refund. The tool is updated no more than once a day so you do not need to check more often.

Your refund should only be deposited directly into accounts that are in your own name; your spouse’s name or both if it is a joint account. No more than three electronic refunds can be deposited into a single financial account or pre-paid debit card. Taxpayers who exceed the limit will receive an IRS notice and a paper refund.

Whether you file electronically or on paper, direct deposit gives you safe access to your refund faster than a paper check.

IRS logo with Eagle symbol


hand holding fanned out US dollars


Adapted from: https://www.irs.gov/help/ita

4-H Sewing Camp

4-H Sewing Camp

Have you ever read the book Something from Nothing, by Phoebe Gilman?  It is a wonderful story, with a sewing theme, of sewing/creating something beautiful over and over again.   My fervent hope is that the 4-H sewing camp participants feel the same way about all of their creations generated during sewing camp!

Recently, the Tallahassee Chapter of the American Sewing Guild (ASG, part of a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the art and love of sewing) generously volunteered their time, talent, and supplies to enrich the experience of every 4-H sewing camp participant.

The ASG philosophy, coupled with the 4-H history of helping youth “learn by doing” is a good fit. Both organizations focus on teaching new topics and life skills development through experiences thus enhancing self-confidence through skill building.

In today’s world, sewing is seemingly no longer a necessity.  Sewing can even be expensive!   But, can we put a price on self-confidence or creativity, sustainability or even a life skill?

4-H Sewing Campers Photo source: Heidi Copeland

Think of all the things learned while sewing.  Sewing helps teach:

  • Finger dexterity and the development of fine motor skills.
  • The value of patience.
  • Systematic following of directions – both verbal and written.
  • Creativity!
  • Vocabulary as well as techniques.
  • Pride in accomplishment for a job well done!

Moreover, sewing truly integrates science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).  And it is FUN!  Campers:

  • Learned first-hand about fibers (science).
  • Experienced technology using various sewing machines and equipment – some even computer driven.
  • Became adept at trouble shooting their own machine repair (engineering).
  • Artistically bedazzled their creations.
  • Utilized practical applications of many mathematical concepts to measure and sew as well as critical thinking and problem solving.

The 4-H Club pledge says, “I pledge … My Head to clearer thinking, My Heart to greater loyalty, My Hands to larger service and My Health to better living for my club, my community, my country, and my world”.  ALL of the campers contributed to a community service project sewing a pillowcase destined for the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend Read a Child to Sleep campaign.  This fostered the idea that empathy, sharing, nurturing relationships and giving is important too.

Sewing certainly did not stop when camp ended.  A budding entrepreneur posted on Facebook she is taking orders for her creations while another camper is helping a local theatre group fashion costumes to obtain her community service hours fulfilling a high school graduation requirement.

There is no better feeling than the pride of accomplishment. Sewing campers learned by doing and while they were at it learned a skills they will carry throughout life.

To find out more about the American Sewing Guild: https://www.asg.org/

To find out more about Leon County 4-H programs: http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu/4h

If you are interested in learning more about 4-H, go to florida4h.org.

Mushrooms Are Popping Up All Over!

Mushrooms Are Popping Up All Over!

Never eat wild mushrooms – many are poisonous.
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District

Here, there, and everywhere!

With all the rain of late, there seems to be an interest in mycology.  You know, the fruiting body of fungi called mushrooms!  Edible mushrooms in particular.

It is not unusual; our subtropical summer weather tends to make some fungi flourish!  Moreover, apparently, there is a bumper crop of fungi this year. Phone calls to the University of Florida IFAS Extension office about eating mushrooms has increased.  Individuals have even brought mushrooms to the office, inquiring if they are of the edible variety.

Our reputation as Extension Agents certainly would be damaged if we did not adhere to a few rules… always read a label, use research-based information, and NEVER tell anyone that a mushroom is edible.  It is not that there are not delicious wild mushrooms out there; a recent July 2017 publication of Microbiology Spectrum estimates millions of species.  However, even the scientists do not agree, as only about 120,000 of them have been described so far. Not all are edible. Some fungi are poisonous to the point of being deadly.

Dr. Matthew Smith, Assistant Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, knows a lot about mycology.  In fact, he also is curator of the UF Fungal Herbarium (FLAS), managed by the UF Department of Plant Pathology at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. The Fungal Herbarium is a valuable resource; its collections have many important aspects, including information about fungi that are deadly poisonous to humans and pets when consumed.

In addition, the UF Fungal Herbarium is participating in a National Science Foundation-funded project to digitize and database as many US macrofungi collections as possible. This project (The Macrofungi Collection Consortium) includes 34 institutions in 24 states. The project began in July 2012 and will aim to capture data for roughly 1.3 million fungal specimens. Persons interested in visiting the fungal herbarium should contact Dr. Matthew Smith, trufflesmith@ufl.edu. 

With that said, there is enough scientific research out there to conclude mushroom identification is indeed difficult. Many mushrooms look similar, but are oh so different!

If you are truly interested in eating what you forage, MAKE time to study with experts!  Mushrooms you plan to eat that are not identified correctly could send you to the emergency room … or worse.  The toxicity of a mushroom varies by how much has been consumed.  Poisoning symptoms range from stomachaches, drowsiness, and confusion to heart, liver, and kidney damage. The symptoms may occur soon after eating a mushroom or can be delayed for six to 24 hours.

Delayed symptoms are common.  Seek help immediately if you think you may have eaten a poisonous mushroom, even if there are no obvious signs of toxicity. Call the Poison Center’s 24-hour emergency hotline at 1-800-222-1222. You will receive immediate, free, and confidential treatment advice from the poison experts.

And if you are determined to make foraging for food a recreational hobby or even want to learn more about what is in your Florida yard, Common Florida Mushrooms by Dr. James Kimbrough, Emeritus Faculty, University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, identifies and describes 268 species of mushrooms found in the Sunshine State.

Most importantly, teach your children to NEVER eat any mushroom picked from the ground. It is indeed better to be SAFE than sorry!


America LOVES Ice Cream!  Help Celebrate National Ice Cream Month

America LOVES Ice Cream! Help Celebrate National Ice Cream Month

Enjoy a scoop of ice cream in honor of National Ice Cream Month.
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan declared July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday in July (July 15, 2018) as National Ice Cream Day! Essentially, the entire month of July is supposed to be celebrated with “appropriate ceremonies and activities” involving ice cream!  Ice cream is both nutritious and delicious – eaten in moderation, of course.

However, choosing ice cream can be confusing!  Categorically, ice cream is included in the frozen dessert category of the frozen food industry.  This category of foods comprises groupings such as regular and low-fat ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbets, and other frozen sweet treats.

According to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), FUN ice cream facts include:


  • Regular ice cream is the most popular category of frozen desserts in the U.S.
  • Low-fat ice cream is the second most popular category.
  • The United States eats the second largest amount of ice cream per capita.
  • The average American consumed 13 pounds of ice cream in 2016.
  • Ice cream companies made more than 898 million gallons of regular ice cream in 2015.
  • A typical serving size is ½ cup or a scoop about the size of a tennis ball.

What really is ice cream?  Real ice cream or ice-cream is a frozen sweet made from dairy products, such as milk and cream, combined with flavorings and sweeteners, such as sugar.  American federal labeling standards require ice cream to contain a minimum of 10% milk fat per 1/2 cup serving and 20% total milk solids by weight.  A bit of air is slowly added to this slow-stirred mixture while chilling to prevent large ice crystals from forming.  A term used in processing commercial ice cream is overrun.  Overrun means the liquid dairy mixture, once completely chilled, can have expanded up to double its original volume by the incorporation of air.  The addition of air (although not an ingredient on the label) results in a smoothly textured ice cream free from palpable ice crystals or sandiness.

Overrun (air) helps explain the vast price discrepancy between ice cream brands.  Typically, the more expensive brands generally use more and better quality ingredients and have less overrun, whereas less expensive ice cream brands tend to use the minimum amounts of ingredients required by law and more overrun.  In the U.S., ice cream is sold by volume… hence, the standard serving size of ½ cup.

There are so many variations to the basic ice cream recipe.  When egg yolk solids are added to ice cream, the name has to reflect this.  “Frozen custard” or “French ice cream” or “French custard ice cream” is ice cream with the added egg yolk.

Premium brand ice creams tend to use a higher than standard ice cream recipe with higher fat content and more expensive, better quality ingredients… and less air.

Ice-milk is no longer made.  A 1994 change in rules allows ice milk to be labeled as low-fat ice cream.  Low-fat ice cream, by law, must contain 50% or less fat than a similar food.  Note that the law says nothing about calories.  A light ice cream may be just as high in total calories as ice cream because of the addition of other ingredients.

Frozen yogurt, made from yogurt, is a dairy product, with the addition of various sugars and flavorings.  However, yogurt’s reputation for being low in calories is not always accurate and, unlike ice cream, there are no federal standards of any kind for frozen yogurt.

Gelato is a type of soft frozen dessert containing a relatively small amount of air.  This makes the product dense, rich, and creamy. Gelato can be made with milk, cream, various sugars, and flavoring such as fresh fruit.  In the United States, there is no federal standard definition for gelato set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Are sorbet, sherbet, and sherbert all the same?  Despite the fact that the legal definitions of sherbet and sherbert can be used interchangeably, sherbet/sherbert is a frozen fruit and dairy product that contains anywhere from 1-2 percent milk fat from milk or cream and 2-5 percent total milk solids.  On the other hand, sorbet generally implies a fruit-based frozen dessert with little to no dairy (but may contain egg white).  The term sorbet is an unregulated industry standard.  However, the industry wants them free from surface crustation, brittleness, syrup bleeding, and large ice crystals.

Confused yet?  The frozen dessert market continues to evolve with novelty-frozen inventions made with nondairy to mimic ice cream.  Welcome, delicious dairy-free almond, coconut, cashew and soymilk frozen desserts.  Notice, these products are not called ice cream but non-dairy frozen desserts.  Nevertheless, they are so smooth, creamy, and delicious, you might not even notice.

In 1984, when President Reagan crafted the amusing proclamation to eat ice cream, folks didn’t have SO much to choose from.  You do!  Enjoy a frozen treat but know what you are buying.  Not all frozen treats are in fact ice cream!  When you are reading nutrition labels, it is important to look at the whole picture.  You can learn a lot from a label!