It is best to purchase clams just before cooking them so there should be little storage to worry about. Clams are purchased alive and must be kept alive. If you do purchase them several hours in advance, they should be kept cool and moist on ice or in the refrigerator. Don’t wrap them in anything airtight; they need oxygen to survive. Just before cooking, scrub them with a stiff brush under cool running water and trim off beards if they have them. If any are open, tap the shell. If they don’t close tightly, discard them. If any don’t open when cooked, discard them. All of the above goes for mussels as well.
Each year just after the spring holidays the Kitchen Shrink gets e-mails asking about storing hard-cooked eggs. According to the American Egg Board’s Eggcyclopedia, hard-cooked eggs should be cooled and refrigerated as soon as they have been cooked. Store them in their shells and use them within one week.
Susan from San Francisco e-mailed the Kitchen Shrink to ask, “Can you recommend fish that are safe to eat and not in danger of being over-fished? I’ve heard that some of my favorites are endangered, but we get conflicting reports.”
Information on seafood does seem to change frequently so I want to remind you that my favorite place to find current updates on seafood safety and sustainability is always the Seafood Watch section at the Monterey Aquarium web site. Just visit www.mbayaq.org and you can select your favorites from the long list of seafood to see if you should be purchasing them and ordering them in restaurants.
I recently got an e-mail from Scott who wrote, “I saw a TV show saying that the expiration date on mayonnaise is not real. . . Is this true? Also are the expiration dates on canned goods like tuna, soup, or tomato products really valid . . .?
I promised to look into it and the most reliable information I found is from the USDA. They say that the sell-by date is there to help the “purchaser to know the time limit to purchase or use the product at its best quality. It is not a safety date. After the date passes, while not of best quality, the product should still be safe for a period of time if handled properly.” Go to the USDA web site for more information and charts giving a time limit on the period of time different foods may be safe beyond the sell-by date.
I was surprised to find out that federal regulations only apply to baby formula and food. According to the USDA, “federal regulations require a “use-by” date on the product label of infant formula and the varieties of baby food under FDA inspection.”
Other dates are not controlled by federal regulations but are determined by the manufacturer. A “sell-by” date tells the store how long to offer the product for sale. A “best if used by” date is based on best flavor as determined by the manufacturer, not a safety date. A “use-by” date is the last date recommended by the manufacturer for use at peak quality.
The safe-use time for products varies. Many things go into the quality and safety of a stored product. Storage temperature is very important; storing in a cool, dry place prolongs product quality. Once opened, the way a product is handled is important. It is essential that you use a clean utensil when you dip into a product. A spoon that has been used for tuna and is then used in mayonnaise reduces the safe life of the mayo to that of an opened can of tuna.
I recently got an e-mail from Alberta saying, “Years ago there was a warning about using too much of a red food dye (#4 if I remember correctly). I never made red velvet cake for my family because of this warning. Since red velvet cake has made a comeback, I would like to know if makers of the cake mixes are using something deemed safer?”
The history of Red Velvet Cake is filled with myths as it goes in and out of fashion. It is thought that it originally got its name from the reddish hue of the cake’s interior caused by the interaction of cocoa, baking soda, and an acid such as buttermilk. Then early in the 20th century a flavorings company decided to add a bottle of their red food coloring to the mix. Its current popularity is the latest mystery in its story. Why has a generation who embraced natural, organic, healthy eating suddenly decided to add a bottle of food coloring to their children’s birthday cakes?
Although they have been looking into the relationship between food additives and hyperactivity, FDA currently permits some food colors including Red numbers 3 and 40, Citrus Red number 2, and cochineal extract or carmine which is considered to be from natural sources. You can go to FDA for more information. I am certain that the makers of cake mixes are using an FDA approved color, but if you are making a homemade cake, you have the option of making any red velvet cake recipe without the food coloring and it will be a delicious, traditional, cocoa cake just not bright red.
Whenever there is a power outage, I get e-mails asking ” what foods can I save and what do I have to discard when my refrigerator has been off for hours?” I thought this would be a good time to remind you that the USDA web site has guidelines to help you decide which foods in your refrigerator and freezer are safe to keep if your power has been off. If you have questions that aren’t answered there, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry hotline at 1-888-674-6854 (1-888-MPHotline) between 10 am and 4 pm EST weekdays or contact Ask Karen, the Food Safety and Inspection Service virtual representative at any time.
It is a good idea to print the information before you need it and store it with the candles and extra batteries. If the food in your refrigerator has been held above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for over 2 hours much of it will need to be discarded. Some of the things that may be kept if the temperature has been above 40 degrees for several hours longer are hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, and Romano, fresh and dried fruit, jelly, relish, barbecue and soy sauce, mustard, ketchup, and olives. The USDA recommends discarding opened Worcestershire sauce, fish and oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, and salad dressings with the exception of oil and vinegar dressing.
Tom e-mailed the Kitchen Shrink that he likes to make homemade sausage but each time he does so they turn out differently. He wondered how he could prevent that from happening. I love to add a variety of seasonings to my burgers as well as to meat mixtures for my homemade sausage. To check the seasonings in any raw ground meat mixtures, I just sauté a small patty of the mixture until it is cooked through and taste it. That way, corrections can be made before the flavor combination is set in cooked burgers or sausages.
Now that summer picnic season is in full swing, I have had several requests for information on safely packing and carrying foods. Whether you are driving miles to a park or the beach or going next door for supper on the deck, the heat is on and you need to keep perishables cool. Here are some food safety tips for a perfect outdoor occasion. For more information on summer food safety call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-MPHotline (674-6854), or go to their web site.
Get Ready: Plan your menu around foods that are not highly perishable. Clean several coolers and put a supply of cold packs or ice in the freezer. Prepare all foods several hours in advance so they can be thoroughly chilled before packing. Be sure to include bottled water and wet cloths or disposable wipes for cleaning hands and surfaces. Pack a thermometer, if you are grilling meat or poultry.
Get Set: Pack all perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into a cooler with ice or freezer packs just before leaving. If you are carrying meat to grill, do not partially cook it in advance. Be sure to keep it in a separate container from the ready-to-eat foods. It is also a good idea to keep drinks in a separate cooler so that the one with the food in it isn’t opened frequently.
Go: Put the coolers in the air-conditioned interior of the car not in the trunk and try to limit the number of times they are opened. When you arrive, find the coolest possible spot for the coolers and cover them with a light-colored blanket to reflect the heat. Don’t unpack the food until everyone is ready to eat. Always wash any plates, utensils, and cutting boards that have been in contact with raw meat or poultry before using them again for cooked food. Don’t save leftovers. Food that has been sitting out for 2 hours or more is not safe; if the temperature is above 90°F reduce that to 1 hour.
Heather recently asked the Kitchen Shrink if it is safe to eat potatoes that were green in places.
If potatoes are exposed to light for a period of time, the toxic alkaloid, solanine, develops just under the skin causing the area to turn green. Not only would this area taste bitter, but it would be dangerous if consumed. However, if all the green areas are removed, the rest of the potato is just fine to cook and eat.
I recently received a post on Facebook saying that I don’t wash my hands enough when handling raw protein foods. I answered that hand washing is a problem when shooting a show because even if the sink is working (not just a set), you run into the problem of touching the handle of the faucet with contaminated hands and noted that for my Second Series we solved the problem by placing a bowl of hot soapy water in the sink. I received a post from Dale with a link to many hands free devices that can really solve the problem both on my set and at home. To see some of the choices, search for hands free or touch free soap dispenser and hands free or touch free faucet adaptor. For information on the importance of hand washing in the kitchen go to Centers for Disease Control.