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Washington State University

Food Tips & Info

Food Tips & Info

Freeze Those Herbs
Frozen Canned Foods
Gray Hamburger
Safe Iced Tea Brewing and Handling Guidelines
Storing in Metal Cans
Virgin Olive Oil
Food Safety Tips for pregnant Women, Infants, and Young Children
Salsa Safety
Shelf Life of Canned Foods

Freeze Those Herbs                                                             

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Drying is the traditional method of preserving herbs, but freezing them is becoming popular because it is easy and locks in the flavor.

Some herbs, like dill weed, are best frozen while still on the stalk. Place an entire bunch of dill weed in a freezer bag or container for freezing. When it is frozen, snip off bits as if it were fresh. Sage, rosemary, and thyme also freeze well on the stalk. Whole stalks can be tossed in the cooking pot. Retrieve them before serving.

Alternatively, you can snip leaves from stems, rinse them and dry them thoroughly by spreading them over a cookie sheet overnight. Then freeze them the next day and package later. This keeps leaves from sticking together in clumps and they can be used straight from the freezer.

You can freeze leaves in clumps and simply break off frozen portions when you want to use them. Don’t bother chopping herbs before freezing them. It is easy to chop them when they are frozen.

On the other hand, if you have the time when freezing and want to save time whil cooking, you can dice herbs before freezing an pack them into small containers or freezer bags from which you can scoop them for use.
If you are going to use herbs to flavor stews and soupls, you might want to dice them, add a little water or stock and freeze them in ice cube trays. You can even take the process a step further and freeze ready-to-use mixtures know as boquet garni. Another techinque involves special blends of herbs frozen together, dry and stored so you can simply reach in and extract a pinch, of a measuring-spoon full. Some cooks also freeze herbs in oil or melted butter.

You might want to have froxen herbs in a variety of forms for different uses. However, if you choose to freeze them, you will find that frozen herbs add and extra burst of flavor.

Information from Joanne Austin, WSU Extension Faculty Family Living Skagit County

Frozen Canned Foods                                                          

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During the last cold snap some of my canned foods froze in the camper. Are they OK to eat?

There are two critical questions to ask to determine if frozen canned goods are safe to eat. Is the seal intact or broken? If the seal is broken, has the food thawed?

To test the seal, push on the end of the can or metal lid on top of the jar. If the vacuum seal is intact the lid will not move when it is pressed down. Check the seams carefully on commercially canned foods that have been frozen to make sure there are no openings.

If the seal is intact, the food is safe to eat, even after it thaws. If the seal is broken and the food is frozen, either refrigerate the food and use it as soon as possible or keep it frozen until you plan to eat it.

If canned food has a broken seal and has thawed, the safest approach is to discard the food. The food may have been warm enough for bacteria or mold growth.

A can will often bulge when food is frozen in it. If a can is bulged–and still frozen–keep it frozen in the freezer until ready to use, then thaw in the refrigerator. A can that still bulges after thawing should be discarded.

Be careful even if the bulge disappears after thawing. Look for any obvious signs of spoilage.  Listen for the vacuum-release sound when opening the can. As an extra precaution with low acid food, boil the food 10 minutes before tasting.

Information developed by Carolyn Rude, Retired WSU Extension Faculty – Family Living
March 1997

Gray Hamburger                                                                   

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Why is prepackaged hamburger sometimes red on the outside, but a grayish brown on the inside? It makes me wonder if fresh meat has been added to the outside to make something that didn’t sell look better to the buyer.

The color difference you see occurs naturally. Red meat contains a pigment called oxymyoglobin.  This natural pigment combines with oxygen and changes the color when meat is exposed to air.  This red color is referred to as “bloom.” The inside area of the meat is darker because of lack of oxygen, yet it is just as wholesome as the outer, red area.

Fresh meat in vacuum sealed packages is also dark in color until the surface is exposed to air.  This meat may also have an unusual odor which will disappear after the meat is removed from the package.

Once purchased, fresh ground meat should be used within one to two days for highest quality and safety. If it needs to be stored longer than that, it should be frozen then defrosted in the refrigerator.

Be sure to cook ground beef to 160 degrees Fahrenheit or until the juices run clear and no pink color remains.

Information developed by Carolyn Rude, Retired WSU Extension Faculty – Family Living
March 1997


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Wheather using a boiling water bath canner or a pressure canner, a specific amount of “headspace” must be allowed. Headspace is the space in the jar between the top of the jar and the food or the packing liquid. All USDA approved recipes for home canning give proper headspace measurements. When canning keep a small ruler or hem gauge handy to check headspace as you work.

Too Little Headspace

Food swells and moves arund inside the jar as it is heated during processing. if too little headspace is allowed, swollen, moving food may be forced out of the jar. Besides themess this makes inthe canner, food that ends up on the rim under the lid can precent a seal from forming. Food that lodges around the lid and is not washed away can harbor mold, which in turn can grow its way into the jar and cause a seal failure. Liquid forced out due to too little heaspece causes the liquid level to dip below the level of the food. Food above the liquid can dry out and discolor.

Too Much Headspace

The goal of procesing is to create a sterile environment in the jar and create an air tight seal to protect the product. Too much headspace means an uncecessarily large amount of air in the jar. This air needs to be exhausted during processing to help create the sterile enviroment. When there is too much air, there is not enough processing time to full exhaus the air, thus failing to create the all important sterile environment.

Complete Guide to Home Canning
Ball Blue Book

Safe Iced Tea Brewing and Handling Guidelines              

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Brewed tea is capable of supporting bacterial growth. Tea leaves can become contaminated with bacteria during the growing, harvesting and drying process. Once prepared, brewed tea has often been left at room temperature for hours before ice is added and served.

Tea should be brewed with water hot enough to kill microorganisms. Making “sun tea” by steeping tea bags in containers of water warmed by the sun is higher risk of bacterail growth because the tea is brewed at low temperatures.

Be sure tea servers are cleaned regularly. Do not store brewed tea at room temperature for more than 8 hours. Avoid consuming cloudy tea with an off odor.

Washington State University suggest the following recommendations regarding proper tea preparation:

Guidelines for safe tea brewing and handling:

  • Brew tea with boiling or very hot water (175 degrees F or hotter).
  • After tea is brewed, it is best to refrigerate until served.
  • In commercial establishments, wash, rinse, and sanitize the tea urn or service container daily, including the spigot. At home be sure to wash the tea container between uses.


The Tea Association of the USA, Inc. suggests these steps in making traditional steeped iced tea. This method makes 1 gallon of brewed iced tea from each one ounce tea bag used. (four regular-sized tea bags may be subsituted for the 1-ounce size.)

  • Place one 1-ounce tea bag into a clean sanitized container for each gallon of iced tea desired.
  • Pour one quart of boiling (or greater than 175 degrees F) water for each tea bag used and steep for 3 – 5 minutes. Minimally, tea leaves must be exposed to water at a temperature of 175 degrees F for approximately 5 minutes.
  • Remove tea bag and add 3 quarts of fresh; cold water to yield one gallon of iced tea.
  • Hot tea cooled rapidly may become cloudy due to tannins (released from the steeped tea) precipitating out of solution. One way to avoid cloudiness is to steep tea with very hot water (greater than 175 degrees F) but not boiling and add cool water to the tea concentrate to bring the temperature down gradually before refrigerating or adding ice

Storing in Metal Cans                                                          

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Is it dangerous to store leftover canned food in the refrigerator in the metal can it was purchased in? Is this a safe procedure?

No, the food is safe. It might taste rather tinny after awhile, but it is safe.

It is a question of quality and there is loss in quality. Refrigerating food in opened cans often leads to discoloration. You often see this with foods that are fairly acidic–pineapple or tomato products, for example. Off-flavors can occur when oxygen from the air causes the product to react with the metal in the can.
According the United States Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, the materials used in a particular food can are carefully chosen to withstand the processing that food receives in the plant and to protect it from bacteria, spoilage and loss of moisture and flavor. The can materials are really not designed for refrigerator storage.

It is much better to store opened food in refrigerator containers.

Information developed by Carolyn Rude, Retired WSU Extension Faculty – Family Living
March 1997

Virgin Olive Oil                                                                    

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What does it mean when on a bottle of olive oil it says, Extra Virgin, Fine Virgin oil?

Extra Virgin oil comes from the first cold pressing, without heat or further refining. The best, hand-picked olives are used. It is low in acidity and is for use in salad dressing and uncooked dishes.

Fine Virgin oil is good for everyday use and better for cooking than extra-virgin since it has a higher smoke point and can be safely heated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it suitable for sauteing and frying. Another designation of virgin olive oil fit for human consumption is Semi Fine Virgin olive oil (or Ordinary Virgin olive oil), but it is not widely distributed on the consumer market.

The color of olive oil may vary from pale gold to jade green, but color is not a reliable sign of quality or intensity of flavor.

The oil keeps well in cool, dark, airtight, dry shelf storage for up to a year. Do not store in plastic containers as this may alter the taste. The oil also can be refrigerated, however it will be thick and difficult to pour at refrigerator temperature.

On the average, 100 pounds of olives will produce 13 to 15 pounds of edible oil.

This information comes from Iowa State University and the International Olive Oil Council.

Information developed by Carolyn Rude, Retired WSU Extension Faculty – Family Living
March 1997


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Parents, please be careful…

Chickens, rabbits and other animals may carry Salmonella and other pathogens that may be transmitted to humans. Even on healthy animals, harmful bacteria may be present in the feces and on the fur and feathers. To protect yourself and your children:

  • After handling animals wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Always wash hands before preparing food or eating.
  • Supervise small children carefully to avoid hand to mouth contamination.


*Information about raising animals, including 4-H programs, can also be obtained from the Washington State University Whatcom County Extension Office.

Safety for Pregnant Women, Infants, & Young Children  

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You’re more likely to get foodborne illness when you’re pregnant. That’s because your immune system isn’t as strong. The symptoms (such as nausea and diarrhea may be sevre and your unborn child could even be harmed. this could lead to miscarriage or still birth.

Once your baby arrives, food safety will still be important. Infants and young children are more likely to get foodborne illness until their immune system develops (at about 3 years of age).

Some foods are more likely to be contaminated with harmful bacteria. Pregnant women and young children should avoid these foods:

  • Rare ground beef
  • Uncooked hot dogs and lunch meat
  • Lox (cold-smoked fish)
  • Raw milk and raw milk cheese (such as queso fresco)
  • Soft cheeses (such as feta, Brie, Camembert, roquefort
  • Unpasturized apple cider/juice
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Bean sprouts


Safe Choices: Thorough heating kills bacteria and makes these foods safe to eat.

  • Ground beef
    Cook to 165 degrees F. When you eat at restaurants, send pink hamburgers back for more cooking.
  • Hot dogs and lunch meat
    Put hot dogs in a pan of boiling water. Cover with lid. Boil 5 to 7 minutes.
    Avoid commercially packaged or deli lunch meat unless it’s heated thoroughly. Use a meat thermometer. to heat chucnks to 160 degree F before slicing.
  • Smoking fish
    Hot smoked fish is safe to eat. Instructions for smoking fish safely at home are available at your county Extension Office. Avoid cold-smoked fish (Lox).
  • Cheeses
    These cheeses are safe to eat: cottage cheese, hard cheese (such as Cheddar), processed cheese, and cream cheese.
    Read labels and choose pasteurized (heated) milk and cheese made from it.
    If you make homemade queso fresco ( a white Mexican-style cheese), use pasteurized milk. (Instructions for making this cheese are available at your county Extension Office.)
  • Apple juice/cider
    Read labels and buy pasterurized (heated) juice. Don’t assume that the juice you buy at roadside stands has been pasteurized. heat it in a pan on the stove until bubbles appear.
  • Sprouts
    Until a way is found to make sprouts safe to eat, use lettuce (well washed) instead of alfalfa sprouts. Cook bean sprouts thoroughly.

Keep it Safe!

Handle food safely when you’re pregnant or feeding young children. Remember the three C’s…
Keep it CLEAN!

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling food – especially after using the toilet or changing your child’s diapers.
  • Scrub hands well after handling eggs and raw meet, poultry and seafood, too.
  • Wash counters, cutting boards, and utensils after handling these foods, too. Wipe with diluted bleach (1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in a quart of water).
  • Keep uncooked meats and poultry away from ready-to-eat foods. Package them in plastic bags at the grocery store.
  • Wash vegetables and fruits well in clean water. Use a brush (or your hands) to scrub them.


COOK it well!

  • Cook meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs thoroughly.
  • Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees F.


COOL it soon!

  • Keep hot food HOT and cold food COLD.
  • Don’t leave cooked foods (like baked beans, meat, poultry, casseroles, pasta and potato salads) sitting at room temperature longer than 2 to 3 hours.
  • Cool big pots of soups and stews quickly by refrigerating them in shallow pans.

Developed by Carolyn Raab, Oregon State University Extension Foods & Nutrition Specialist

Salsa Safety                                                                          

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When canning salsa use only recipes provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or your county Cooperative Extension office. DO NOT use recipes printed before 1988.
To be safe, all water-bath canned salsa MUST include the addition of vinegar or lemon juice.
Use ONLY the amounts of each vegetable listed in the salsa recipe, however:

  • You may change one variety or peppers for another to suit your taste.
  • DO NOT increase the total amount of peppers.
  • Spices, such as cilantro and oregano may be changed for milder or stronger flavors.
  • DO NOT change the amount of onion or garlic.
  • Tomatillos or green tomatoes may be subsituted for tomatoes in any recipe.
  • DO NOT water-bath peppers, they must be pressure canned.

If a USDA or Cooperative Extension salsa recipe has not bee used, a pressure canner MUST be used instead of water-bath canning. The salsa should be hot packed into pint or half-pint jars. DO NOT use quart jars. Process in a pressure canner 35 minutes at 10 pounds pressure, if using a weighted gauge or 11 pounds pressure with a dial gauge.
Untested salsa recipes may also be frozen or eaten fresh.

Pepper Hotness Scale

Rating Varieties
Santaka, Thai, Chiltepin
Piquin, Cayenne, Tabasco
Yellow Wax Hot, Serrano
Jalapeno, Mrasol
Hungarian Wax, Cascabel
Poblano (green or red), Ancho
Anageim (green or red), Sweet Gypsy
R-Naky, Mexi-Bell, Cherry
Mild Bells, Sweet Banana, Pimento

DO NOT increase the total amount of peppers in any canning recipe. However, you may substitute one variety of peppers for another to suit you taste.

Shelf Life of Canned Foods                                                 

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I would like to know the age of the canned foods I purchase. Were they canned one or five years ago? Are there so many preservatives in these foods that they last years and years? Shouldn’t we be able to understand those code numbers on the cans?

Codes vary from one food packer or processor to the next. Some foods have an easily recognized packing date imprinted on the top. Most, however, have their own code. There is little incentive for companies to change a system that is working well for them; especially, if they get few complaints from consumers.

Many companies have a toll-free number you can call to inquire about the code, or ask other questions. If you don’t see the number on the label, remove it and see if its on the back of the label. Or, call directory assistance for toll free numbers at 1(800) 555-1212. Give the company’s name. This may be different from the brand name.

With one particular company, the first line of the code refers to specifics about the product. The second line, for example 31554, deals with packing. The first number, three, cites the last digit of the year it was packed, in this case 1993. The 155 uses the Julian calendar (commonly used by packers) to indicate the one-hundred and fifty-fifth day of the year. The final 4 indicated the packing shift.

All preservatives must be listed on the label. In canned foods, preservatives are used to maintain quality. The canning process keeps it safe. If a product is correctly processed, it should remain safe until opened or the seal is broken. The U.S. Army has found that canned meats, vegetables and jam were in “excellent states of preservation” after 46 years. However, long storage is not recommended. For high quality (versus safety), the broadest guideline given by the U.S.D.A. is to use high-acid canned food (fruits, tomatoes and pickled products) in 18 to 24 months, and low-acid (meats and vegetables) in two to five years.

Information developed by Carolyn Rude, Retired WSU Extension Faculty – Family Living
March 1997

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