Homemade canned preserves 1942.
Photo Credits: UF/IFAS File Photo
In 1795, Napoleon needed a better way to preserve large quantities of food for his troops during the Napoleonic Wars, so his government offered a reward of 12,000 francs for the invention of a new food preservation method. In 1809, Nicolas Appert won that award with his canning technique that used glass containers that were sealed then heated to a set temperature. Peter Durand created the tin canister a year later. These inventions led to the canning materials and processes that are used today to preserve food for people all over the world.
Canned food provides a convenient and often less expensive way to include fruits and vegetables in the diet of many individuals and families. Canned foods are also considered a staple in many pantries because of their shelf life. Commercially canned products may keep the food packed inside at its best quality for 1 to 5 years depending on the type of food. Most home canned foods are able to be stored for up to a year, though there are some exceptions.
Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones
To make the most of canned foods, keep these tips in mind.
Best by or use by dates on commercial products do not indicate safety. They are estimated dates provided by the manufacturer on how long they believe their product would be at its best quality. The exception to this is for infant formula products that are required to have a “Use-By” date and should not be used after that date.
Avoid cans or jars that are not in good condition. Look for dents, swelling or bulging, leaking, rust, cracks in jars or loose lids. If the food has a foul odor or spurts liquid when it’s opened, do not use it. Any of these could indicate the food may have been contaminated or could contain Clostridium botulinum toxins.
A woman canning in the kitchen.
Photo Credits: UF/IFAS File Photo
Store canned foods in a cool, dark and dry space. This will help them to last longer and keep the food inside at its best quality. Keep canned foods in an area that is between 50-70°F.
Use canned foods to fill nutrition gaps. Add a can of vegetables to your dinner menu—a side of green beans or carrots can help balance your plate. Try using a can of fruit as a basis for a dessert. Pineapple and cottage cheese, anyone? If you’re concerned about sodium or sugar in canned foods, look for products marked as low sodium or lite for less sugar. Compare ingredient and nutrition labels of different brands or varieties of a product to find what works best for you.
If you can foods at home, make sure you’re following recipes that have been tested for safety. Follow the guidelines in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, 2015 Revision or find more information at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. You can also contact your local extension office; in Florida, you can find your local office here.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library, How Did We Can?: https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/ipd/canning/timeline-table
U.S. Department of Agriculture, AskUSDA, How long can you keep canned goods?: https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-you-keep-canned-goods
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Food Product Dating: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/food-product-dating/food-product-dating
Dining out with family was the thing to do when we were so busy doing so much outside the home. Now that we’re spending more time at home together, dining in is in again. You can start or continue the “in” thing by taking the pledge to dine-in healthy with your family this December 3rd. Why take this kind of pledge? Keep reading.
FCS Dine In Day
Making and keeping a promise has an upside
Keeping the commitment you made to eat healthy with your family means you get to reap the rewards of actually providing a healthy meal for your family. Additionally, keeping this promise can boost your self-confidence and self-esteem because you know you’re making strides to take care of yourself and your family.
Since dining in is in again, eating healthy with your family December 3rd makes you the admired one to your family and friends. As you dine in together, share praises and compliments as well as healthy foods, and reinforce the feeling of belonging. After providing these trendy experiences often enough, you can begin to enjoy the adoration and respect of others around you. You can be popular.
It’s cherished time
Schedule it. Block off time for it. Show up for it. You and your family are worth it. Start with the pledge on December 3rd. For best success for a healthy lifestyle change, make it a S.M.A.R.T. goal. That’s one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-framed. Here’s an example: Every Tuesday at 6pm, our family will eat a healthy meal together that includes at least two vegetables and a whole grain.
You can keep it safe
- If ventilation indoors is a bit stifling, eat outdoors when you can. Backyards, patios, and porches are great venues for your dining experiences.
- Clean your hands often as you prepare and eat your meal. If you can’t wash for 20 seconds with soap and running water, hand sanitizer is a good backup. Make sure your hands are completely dry after washing or sanitizing.
- Cook foods to the proper temperature. See the Safe Internal Temperature Chart.
- Put leftovers away as quickly as possible.
Tried and true or something new
- Have fun. Try decorating to make your mealtime together special. Let all family members participate.
- Make comfort food. But also try making something you’ve never had before, or try food prepared in a new way.
- Look through the cabinets or in the garage for kitchen equipment you haven’t used in a long time or have forgotten you had. Then use it.
For better health and wellness, make the pledge to Dine In with your family this December 3rd. Now is the time – especially since dining in is in again.
Have you ever taken something out of your pantry or cupboard to find the item teeming with pests? I have and it is NOT a good feeling! Recently, I attempted to use raw almonds I had stored in a sealed plastic bag only to discover worms! Yes, worms! Then, upon careful inspection, a few moths! Not only did it ruin my meal plan, it ruined my appetite for almonds!
On the bright side, it forced me to clean out my pantry. I emptied the shelves. I took EVERYTHING out and inspected both the shelving and the food packages/containers. I removed the shelves, vacuumed all the cracks and crevices, washed everything down and used a fan to ensure dry, future pest-free storage. I was lucky; my infestation was limited to a bag of raw almonds purchased a few weeks prior.
Inspect all pantry items before putting them away to eliminate pests. Photo source: Heidi Copeland
However, I learned that almonds could be the harbinger of a moth. And, as you probably know, moths do not actually start out as a moth but as an egg. In nature, the moth lays an egg and the egg hatches to a larva (caterpillar). Upon maturation, the larva forms its pupa (cocoon) and from the pupa emerges the adult moth, only to start the whole cycle over again! Mating and egg laying begin almost immediately after adults emerge from the pupa.
Raw almonds have NOT been heat treated, thus it is pretty common for the product to contain perhaps an element of surprise. (Note: Eating this product with the worm intact hurts nothing other than our psyche!) Although I am certain my moth was an almond moth, the Indianmeal moth has an attraction for the same pheromone (scent). Thus, after buying food, it is extremely important that ALL pantry goods be examined carefully to eliminate the next generation of adults that can fly and contribute to an infestation. EDIS publication EENY-026 Indianmeal Moth is a great publication with pictures of common hiding places. Moths in particular can be found among tree nuts, grains, cereals, spices, herbs, pasta, starches, flour, and even pet foods.
However, pantry pests are not limited to moths. EDIS publication ENY-213 Pantry and Stored Food Pests has pictures and information of the many species of stored food pests found at various times in food pantries. In fact, there is hardly a food item in the kitchen or food pantry that can escape being infested by some pest if it remains unused and exposed in some dark corner or drawer long enough.
To kill insects in infested foods, place food in an oven at 130 degrees F for 30 minutes or in the freezer at 0 degrees F for four days. If freezing, place the food item in a tightly sealed plastic bag to limit condensation on the product, which can lead to mold growth. Defrost the item in the plastic bag and use the product as soon as possible.
During Covid-19, and now hurricane season, consumers have been encouraged to have food on hand for weeks at a time. Now is a good time to take stock of the pantry and learn how to use the FIFO – first in, first out – system of product rotation. FIFO simply encourages prioritization and the use of stored items, so the oldest products are used first.
The presence of stored food pests is not an indication of uncleanliness, since an insect may be brought home in purchased food or on purchased food packages. However, it is important when purchasing any food product, to inspect your purchase to ensure you do not bring home an insect. Even one insect left alone long enough can cause an infestation.
Deep regret and guilt are feelings I experience every time I throw something away in my pantry or refrigerator that I have not quite exhausted. What stays? What goes? Does an expiration date really tell you the WHOLE story?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), under the jurisdiction of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), manufacturers put dates on food products to let retail stores and consumers know how long their products are expected to be their best quality. Except for infant formula, product dating is not required by Federal regulations.
“Best By” date refers to product quality, not safety. Photo source: UF/IFAS NW District
BEST apparently has many interpretations. Food items only need to be labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and in compliance with FSIS regulations.
Many factors determine these quality dates. Additionally, manufacturers and retailers follow strict procedures in the manufacturing, distribution, and storage of food products. However, there is no strict rule to dictate what BEST practices need to be followed once the food leaves the distribution chain and enters, most specifically, our homes. Because of this, food product dating errs on the side of caution.
It has been suggested that date labeling on food products results in consumer confusion and can result in the extraordinary amount of waste at both the retail and consumer level (>30%). Thus, it is important that consumers understand the dates applied to food are for quality, not for safety. The USDA even recognizes that food products are safe to consume past the date on the label, and, regardless of the date, consumers should evaluate the quality of the food product prior to its consumption.
However, it is up to the consumer to understand the significance of product dates and handle food products appropriately.
- “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
- A“Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
- “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality (it is not a safety date except when used on infant formula).
- “Freeze-By”date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
- Can codes are a type of closed dating which enables the tracking of product in interstate commerce. These codes also enable manufacturers to rotate their stock and locate their products in the event of a recall. Can codes appear as a series of letters and/or numbers and refer to the date the product was canned. The codes are not meant for the consumer to interpret as a “Best if Used By” date.
Canned goods must exhibit a code or the date of canning. Cans may also display “open” or calendar dates. Usually these are “Best if Used By” dates for peak quality. Discard cans that are dented, rusted, or swollen. High-acid canned foods (e.g. tomatoes and fruits) will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months; low-acid canned foods (e.g. meats and vegetables) will keep for two to five years.
Additional information on food canning and the handling of canned foods may be found at Shelf-Stable Food Safety.
- Bar Codes on Food Packages are commonly referred to as Universal Product Codes (UPC) and are a type of code that appears on packages as black lines of varying widths above a series of numbers. The UPC is not required by regulation, but manufacturers print them on most product labels because scanners at supermarkets can “read” them quickly to record the price at checkout.
UPCs are also used by stores and manufacturers for inventory purposes and marketing information. When read by a computer, a UPC can reveal such specific information as the manufacturer’s name, product name, size of product, and price. The numbers are not used to identify recalled products.
- Dates on Egg Cartons can indicate either a “Sell-By” or “Expiration” (EXP) date. It is not a federal regulation, but may be required, as defined by the egg laws in the state where the eggs are marketed. Some state egg laws do not allow the use of a “sell-by” date.
Many eggs reach stores only a few days after the hen lays them. Egg cartons with the USDA grade shield on them must display the “pack date” (the day that the eggs were washed, graded, and placed in the carton). This number is a three-digit code that represents the consecutive day of the year starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365. When a “sell-by” date appears on a carton bearing the USDA grade shield, the code date may not exceed 30 days from the date of pack.
In the United States, after purchasing eggs, it is recommended to refrigerate them in their original carton and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door due to loss of coolness from repeated opening of the door.
The restaurant industry standard, first-in, first-out (FIFO), is also a quick and easy way for the consumer to keep track of their food freshness. FIFO simply means to use food in order of freshness dates. Following the FIFO principle ensures foods with the shortest shelf-life get used first (a permanent marker can help, too).
Throwing something away takes little effort. However, knowing what to keep takes more than a discriminating eye and a keen sense of smell. The Kitchen Companion is a great downloadable resource and reference guide for consumers who are attempting to reduce their own kitchen waste without regret and guilt.
Learn how to be safe, not sorry, without the regret of being wasteful with food products in your home.
A friend of mine recently shared with me a few recipes for what is known as “cooler corn.” As the name implies, it’s a way of cooking a large amount of corn on the cob all at once inside a cooler, thereby saving time and grill and/or stove space.
At first I was intrigued. I had never heard of this cooking method before and my own personal curiosity was piqued. However, as a certified food safety instructor, I was also immediately horrified. As I reviewed several recipes for this “perfect way to make corn for a crowd,” I became increasingly alarmed. There were so many proper food safety practices violated, it nearly turned my stomach.
Cooking food in a cooler is an unsafe cooking method. Coolers are not designed to withstand the high temperatures required for cooking and cannot adequately hold foods at safe temperatures for prolonged periods of time.
For the record: Cooking corn in a cooler is UNSAFE. The safest ways to cook corn are in a stockpot on the stove, in the oven, or on a grill.
Here are the top four reasons this cooking method is not a good food safety practice:
Cooking food in a cooler is an unsafe cooking method. Coolers are not designed to withstand the high temperatures required for cooking and cannot adequately hold foods at safe temperatures for prolonged periods of time. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy, UF/IFAS Extension)
1. Coolers are not designed to be used for cooking. The plastic used in coolers is not meant to withstand continued exposure to boiling water and will start to degrade over time. The plastic can also be easily scratched or gouged, providing the perfect place for foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella and E.coli to hide and grow. Think of the other things coolers are used for: storing fish or game after fishing or hunting, keeping drinks cold, storing raw meat or poultry for a picnic, etc. There are so many other opportunities to contaminate the cooler before it is used for cooking corn, even thorough cleaning and sanitation may not be enough to eliminate pathogens. Always keep cooking utensils and tools CLEAN to reduce your risk of foodborne illness.
But what about the boiling water? Won’t that kill any pathogens? Well, yes and no. See #4 below.
And NO, having a cooler dedicated only to cooking corn will not solve all the problems stated above. The bottom line is COOLERS ARE NOT SAFE TO COOK FOOD IN.
2. One of the conveniences of this method, as celebrated in the various recipes, is that people can just reach into the cooler and grab a perfectly cooked ear or two whenever the mood strikes. Allowing people to reach in and grab food like this – especially with their bare hands – is a very unsafe practice. People may forget to wash their hands properly before reaching in, thereby adding dirt and bacteria to the water and thus the food. This type of “germ-sharing” is called cross-contamination and is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness. Always keep things SEPARATE. This includes keeping raw food separate from cooked food, using separate utensils for each food, and reducing or eliminating bare hand contact with food.
3. Stacking dozens of ears of corn in a container and submerging them in boiling water does not ensure that all of the corn will be cooked evenly. The ones in the middle may not be cooked all the way through and there may also be temperature fluctuations in different areas of the cooler because of the way the food is stacked. There may be hot, warm, and cool spots, which can lower the overall temperature to an unsafe level and promote the growth of pathogens. Always COOK foods to the proper minimum internal temperature. In the case of corn, this is 135 degrees F. This can be measured by inserting a properly calibrated food thermometer between two cooked ears of corn and waiting until the needle stops moving.
4. One blog post about the wonders of Cooler Corn stated, “You can leave the corn in there for quite a while after it’s done cooking to keep the ears warm. Since the temperature naturally drops over time, the corn doesn’t get mushy.” When I read this, my mind screamed, “DANGER!” in flashing red letters.
Boiling water is a good sanitizer. However, a lot of what makes it effective for killing pathogens has to do with proper contact time with surfaces AT THE APPROPRIATE TEMPERATURE. Most coolers are not designed to keep boiling water that hot (212 degrees F) for any significant period of time. Even quality coolers will not hold the temperature long enough to ensure proper sanitation and elimination of pathogens.
One of the most important food safety principles is keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot. To ensure the safety of food, it is important to keep cold foods below 41 degrees F and hot foods above 135 degrees F.
Now think about ears of corn submerged in water for a prolonged period of time, as the water slowly cools. After a while, that water will no longer be able to keep those ears of corn above 135 degrees F. They will basically be sitting in a soup of tepid water at the most favorable temperature for pathogens to grow. The longer the corn sits in that water, the higher the risk of foodborne illness. Always properly CHILL foods to keep them at a safe temperature, below 41 degrees F. The flip side of this coin is to also ensure hot food stays hot, above 135 degrees F.
Cooking for large groups can be a challenge, especially when kitchen space is limited. (Check out the UF/IFAS Extension fact sheet “Food Safety at Tailgating” for more food safety tips when cooking out.) However, it is never a good idea to sacrifice food safety for convenience. Always follow proper food safety practices, no matter the situation, and remember the 4 principles of safe food: CLEAN. SEPARATE. COOK. CHILL.
UF/IFAS in an Equal Opportunity Institution.
Credit: Photo by JÉSHOOTS from Canva Free Images
Watermelon is a tasty treat so celebrating watermelons in August sounds like a great reason to break out all the delicious and healthy watermelon recipes I’ve been saving—like this one for Watermelon Limeade.
Did you know that eating watermelon provides your body with Vitamins A, B6, C and potassium? Red watermelons are also a good source of lycopene. A two-cup serving of watermelon only has 80 calories but can provide 6% of your daily value of potassium, 8% of Vitamin A, 25% of Vitamin C and more!
Watermelons are also completely edible, from the fleshy center part all the way out to the green rind. The rind is typically cooked or pickled before being eaten and Watermelon Rind Pickles are popular here in the Southeast. Ninety percent of watermelons sold in stores are seedless, but if you do get a seeded watermelon, the seeds can be cooked and eaten too! They are usually sprouted and roasted or dried first.
Photo Credit: UF/IFAS File Photo
Buying a whole watermelon versus one that’s pre-cut can be a better value, but you’ll want to make sure you select a ripe melon. There’s an old wives’ tale about thumping the watermelon but the best way to choose is by picking it up and looking at it. Here’s what you’re checking for:
- Look for a watermelon that doesn’t have any bruises, cuts, or dents. Some scratches are normal.
- Check for a buttery or creamy yellow spot. This is an indicator of where the watermelon rested on the ground while it ripened.
- The watermelon should be heavy considering the size. It is 92% water!
When you are preparing your watermelon, make sure to wash it before cutting into it. Use cool running water, scrub it with a produce brush, then dry it with a clean paper towel or cloth towel. Many people skip this step since it’s heavy and can be bulky but it’s an important part of maintaining your food’s safety. If you don’t wash your watermelon before cutting into it, you could be transferring bacteria from the outside of the melon to the inner flesh. Be sure your hands and any knives, utensils and cutting boards you will be using are clean as well.
An uncut watermelon can be stored outside of the refrigerator for a week if it wasn’t previously chilled. Once it has been cut open, it will need to be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated—you’ll want to enjoy it within a week.
When you think about eating watermelon, I bet the first image that comes to mind is eating a plain slice right from the fruit. And that’s great! Just keep in mind that watermelon can be made into drinks, added to salads, frozen into popsicles, incorporated in a stir-fry or slaw or even grilled!
Now, back to those recipes… here’s one for Watermelon Rind Pickles if you want to enjoy them right away (these will only keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator) and this is one for canning Watermelon Rind Pickles so you have them year-round! And if you want more, try the recipe section at the Produce for Better Health Foundation or the National Watermelon Promotion Board. Celebrate watermelons this August by trying a new recipe or two with this amazing fruit!
National Watermelon Promotion Board. Frequently Asked Questions: https://www.watermelon.org/watermelon-101/facts-faqs/
National Watermelon Promotion Board, Nutrition: https://www.watermelon.org/nutrition/nutrient-profile/
Produce for Better Health Foundation, Top 10 Ways to Enjoy Watermelon: https://fruitsandveggies.org/stories/top-10-ways-enjoy-watermelon/