The Food Court On This Web Site
Little known hints for keeping food fresh longer and preparing it better.
January 2009. We are in the process of re-assembling this web site. Please excuse broken links.
Major Food Topics
Don't Waste the Orange Juice Calcium (1/04)
Don't Let Cans Freeze (12/02)
Soggy Bake Sale (8/01)
Keep Freezer Chest Shaded (8/01)
Don't Buy Freezer Full of Meat (3/00)
Take Apart Kitchenware For Cleaning (3/00)
Spread Out the Apples (12/99)
Ice Packs Must Be Frozen Solid
Refrigerate Meat to Keep Longer
Slow Roasting is Better
Go to articles on other subjects.
Don't Thaw and Refreeze Food Repeatedly (9/08)
Some of you macho guys might try this. If you don't want to prepare that entire frozen steak or fish filet all at once, you might saw off a chunk and put the rest back in the freezer without thawing. Yes, using a carpenter's crosscut saw or ripsaw. Or for frozen hot dogs or chicken breasts stuck together, split one or a few off using hammer and chisel.
Don't Waste the Orange Juice Calcium (1/04)
Some of you buy the calcium fortified orange juice at the supermarket. If you do, be sure to shake the carton or bottle before pouring each glassful. Otherwise the calcium settles to the bottom and you don't receive the benefits. You may have noticed an orangish paste or crud at the bottom of the box or bottle after the last serving has been poured. That is the calcium additive (actually white but dyed by the juice), left behind.
Don't Let Canned Goods Freeze (12/02)
If canned goods freeze, the cans will burst and let bacteria in to spoil the food. Sometimes the can still looks OK but a crack may have occurred in one of the seams.
Boy Scouts and others who hold charity food drives should not do them in freezing weather.
If you must evacuate your home in winter, or even if going on vacation, move the canned goods to the place least likely to freeze if there is a power failure. If you have a basement, that is usually the best place. Put the canned goods in the middle of the floor, inside a box is OK, and cover them with layers of blankets.
Bake Sale Items Get Soggy In Sunlight (8/01)
Often bake sale items in Saran Wrap or Ziploc bags get soggy when left sitting in the sun. The sun's heat is increased inside the plastic wrapping(1) and moisture inside the cake or cookie comes to the surface and evaporates. When a cloud passes overhead, the baked goods cool down and moisture condenses on the underside of the plastic. Then it drips back onto the surface of the cake or cookie and makes it soggy.
We do not have an easy solution to this except to try to keep the baked goods in shade. Leaving the food unwrapped is not the solution, flies will come and also the breath of nearby persons with colds will contaminate the food.
We also noticed yard sale items in Ziploc bags (jigsaw puzzles) getting soggy for the same reason.
(1) The greenhouse effect, which is too lengthy and technical to discuss here.
Don't Let Sun Shine Into Freezer Chest (8/01)
This is for all store managers and restaurant owners.
Do not let the sun shine into freezer chests including those with sliding glass panels. This may mean putting the freezer away from windows and glass doors in the room. This may mean keeping blinds or drapes drawn more than you might want.
The ice cream or meat or other food items will heat up(1) even when the air inside the freezer is zero degrees. This causes ice cream to develop a rubbery crust as just the layer nearest the cardboard carton thaws and refreezes. Meat develops a skinlike layer as just the surface thaws and refreezes.
Even freezer chests with no glass panels should not be in the sun. The sun will heat up the metal surfaces and frame, the heat will eventually migrate inward, and the refrigeration unit has to do more work and consume more electricity.
(1) Sunlight contains heat rays (infra-red) which might not heat up the zero degree air inside the freezer immediatly but does heat up the surface of objects that are illuminated. The warmed up objects then heat up the air inside the freezer producing what we refer to as the greenhouse effect.
One Bad Apple Can Spoil the Whole Bagful (12/99)
As soon as you bring home that bag of apples, open the bag and spread out the apples on the shelf. This is especially important if the apples were purchased from a discount store or are really ripe.
Apples that are bruised or cut give off vapors (ethylene gas) that cause other apples in a confined space such as in a "poly" bag to also rot and fast. By spreading out the apples, if one is injured, the ethylene gas dissipates rather than hover around the other apples.
It is OK to put the apples in the refrigerator but for now I am going to suggest not putting them in the vegetable drawer or "hydrator", these locations are small confined spaces.
Keeping the Picnic Basket Cool (8/98)
In a Nutshell:
If you use cold packs they must be frozen solid.
Items that need to be coldest go in the center.
(joke) What travels faster, heat or cold?
(answer) Heat, because you can catch cold!
Technically, cold does not travel at all. Only heat travels. Colder means a lesser amount of heat, or more correctly a lesser amount of thermal energy. When I say "the cold from the ice pack soaks in", I really mean heat is "absorbed" or "neutralized" as it comes the other way towards the ice pack.
Q: Why does the ice pack have to be frozen solid?
A: The temperature of the ice pack is not what cools the picnic basket. It is the gradual change from solid to liquid (melting) that produces the cooling. As we all know, ice melts (or water freezes) at 32 degrees F (0 degrees C). If a (pure) ice pack is completely solid at 10 degrees (F) and left on a table at room temperature, the surface of the ice quickly (in a few minutes) rises to 32 degrees and the interior temperature rises to near 32 degrees. Then as the ice melts it stays at 32 degrees which may take a few hours. After the ice is completely melted the water quickly rises to room temperature. If you did not freeze the ice pack solid, you don't get the several hours of 32 degrees as the ice melts. Instead all you get is the few minutes' quick rise back to room temperature.
Q: How do they get those cold packs to be colder than ice?
A: The liquid inside the cold pack is not pure water but rather has salt or other chemicals added. Those of us who live in colder climates know that salt is poured on the road to make snow melt faster. What actually happens is that a little sunlight warms up the road surface and when the snow begins to melt, then salt water with a melting point well below 32 degrees commingles with the rest of the snow. A typical mixture inside the cold pack melts/freezes at 20 degrees F instead of 32. Then as it melts inside your picnic basket, it hovers around 20 degrees. (Items not up against the ice pack won't be that cold but will be kept colder compared to being cooled by plain ice.)
Q: Why is the cold pack filled with gel instead of plain liquid?
A: To prevent loss of the liquid formula and making of a mess if the bag is accidentally punctured. At one time cold packs were metal cans. But the cans were much more expensive to manufacture so they switched to plastic bags.
Q: Can I make my own cold packs that are colder than ice rather than buy them from the store?
A: Yes. But I don't know the correct amount of salt to add. If you put in too much salt, the freezing point of the mixture will be lowered so much that your refrigerator freezer compartment won't be able to freeze it solid. A bag of salt water that is zero degrees (F) and still liquid has far less cooling power for your picnic basket than a bag of plain water frozen solid at 31 degrees. In fact if the water inside the bag is fully liquid, it has almost no cooling power at all, as we described above. Another advantage of the gel filled packs is that they are quite flat and easier to pack as opposed to a bag full of water you make yourself that is round, bulby, and awkward.
Q: What causes homemade ice cream to fail?
A: Salt getting into the ice cream mixture lowers the freezing point so the salt and crushed ice mixture outside the freezing chamber is no longer able to make the ice cream solidify. Therefore you must not pack ice around the inner chamber so high that salt dust and salt water from the melting ice seeps inside. (At college many years ago my professor hosted a class party and I saw this happen, salt water was sloshing around almost to the level of the inner chamber's lid.) Also an incorrect recipe may have too low a freezing point.
About 30 years ago, Consumer Reports magazine recommended against the purchase of cold packs suggesting that you make your own using pure water.
Don't Buy Freezer Full of Meat
We do not recommend signing a contract to buy large quantities of meat. In fact we don't recommend buying large quantities of meat from a grocery store either.
Frozen food stored for long periods of time often suffers "freezer burn". This is the gradual dehydration that occurs leaving the meat dry and tough when it is finally thawed and cooked.
More important, you would lose a lot of meat if there is a power failure.
March 28, 2000 -- Dateline NBC ran a story on overpriced meat, freezers, and other merchandise. One company was named, Colerado Prime, but there are others engaged in scams also. In the report, the company sold freezers for much more than a nearly identical model in a local store. The meat, too, costed much more than comparable meat in the supermarket. One thing pointed out by the reporter was that the meat salesman couldn't (or wouldn't) give the customer a price list.
Meat Will Keep Longer With Proper Care
In a Nutshell:
Meat to be eaten within three days should be put in the coldest corner of the refrigerator.
Meat to be kept for several weeks should be frozen, but if you thaw it, do your best to cook and eat it within three days.
You can get away with refreezing meat once, but meat refrozen twice will have a noticeable poorer texture.
If meat comes from the store wrapped in plastic, don't unwrap it. If it comes wrapped in paper, re-wrap it in plastic that is not "freezer wrap".
(Article by Jeanne Lesem, Moneysworth Magazine, Jan 1979, page 9)
"Millions of dollars are lost annually because consumers don't understand why meat spoils or how to prevent it.", says Professor Richard J. Epley, a university meat specialist.
Epley says you can easily double the shelf life (keep time) of fresh meat by setting the refrigerator temperature at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, putting the meat in the coldest section, and leaving it in the original store wrapping unopened, until you are ready to cook it.
In a telephone interview, the University of Minnesota meat expert also said that frozen raw meat that has been thawed can be refrozen safely without first cooking it if a few precautions are observed.
Refreezing is safe if the unwanted thawing took place in the refrigerator at about 32 degrees F. and the meat stayed under 38 degrees all the while and the refreezing is done within two days. If you suffered a power failure, most likely these conditions will be met by the time the power comes back.
"Only the taste quality suffers from this treatment.", Epley said. "Each time you thaw it, the meat loses moisture. It becomes a little tenderer because ice crystals break the meat cells, but the tenderizing effect is counterbalanced by the moisture lost during thawing."
You wouldn't want to thaw and re-freeze meat three or four times trying to make up your mind night after night whether to serve it, he was quoted as saying, because too much quality would be lost.
In the professor's view, the long standing practice of opening up the meat package and rewrapping the meat loosely in waxed paper sometimes does more harm then good. The meat may become contaminated with bacteria from the air, your hands, and/or the counter top.
In addition, loose rewrapping dries out the meat's surface and allows it to absorb odors from other foods.
For safety and better quality retention, Epley recommends leaving the original wrapping from the store intact if it is transparent plastic. The plastic used nowadays let oxygen in and prevent moisture from escaping.
However, if the meat came from the store wrapped in paper, it should be wrapped again with plastic wrap. But do not use "freezer wrap" which is not porous enough.
All fresh raw meat contains some surface bacteria put there during slicing and packing. Low temperatures slow down bacterial growth.
Color is a good clue to the safety of raw beef, even ground beef, Professor Epley says. Cutting or grinding exposes the meat fibers to oxygeh which turns the meat bright red on the surface while the inside remains purplish red. After a few hours, ground beef takes on a bright red surface, a brown layer just below, and a purplish red core.The brown layer is due to oxygen infiltration and is harmless. If the meat is left out in the open, the purplish core will also turn bright red in about an hour.
After more time passes, the meat becomes brownish red throughout. It should be cooked well done but before charring the surface. The taste will be noticeably inferior to fresher meat.
Epley said that meat that looks green or yellow or iridescent (green or yellow only when viewed at certain angles) should be thrown out. Today there are conflicting reports. I would say for now (5/03) that iridescence should be just one of the deciding factors among others (smell, texture) for discarding meat and then only if the iridescence is very noticeable.
(subject to availability)
Loading the Deep Freezer
Don't have the food packages resting directly on the bottom of the freezer, lay them on thin slats leaving air spaces. Also use thin upright slats to keep the food packages from touching the freezer sides. The "cold circulates better" when you provide these long narrow air spaces.
You cannot reduce the time it takes to do roast beef or stuffed turkey by raising the oven temperature. You will burn the outside while the inside or stuffing is still cold.
It takes time for the heat to "soak into" the middle.
It is better to roast at slightly less than the suggested temperature (say 50 degrees less) and let it cook longer.
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All articles here (c) Copyright 1998-2009, Allan W. Jayne, Jr. unless otherwise noted or other origin stated.
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