Germ patrol

November 2, 2009

applesinpailHave you noticed all the ‘green’ fruit and vegetable washes in the produce department lately? It seems that many companies are hoping to capitalize on our fears about H1N1 and food contamination.

But do we really need to buy these products?

I asked members of the Ontario Home Economics Association for their take on this matter and I got a range of responses. Despite the fact that each respondent used different words, none of them recommended using fruit and vegetable washes.

“The Canadian Produce Marketing Agency (CPMA) website  recommends washing with water,” pointed out Mary Carver. “I have received some consumer comments (complaints) that produce can have  a soapy flavour after using a vegetable wash.”

Here’s the official word from Health Canada on washing and preparing veggies safely:

• Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under fresh, cool, running water, even if you plan to peel them. This helps prevent the spread of any bacteria that may be present. (This is a general safety tip that may not always apply. For example, you do not need to wash a banana before peeling it.
• Use a clean produce brush to scrub items that have firm surfaces (e.g., oranges, melons, potatoes, carrots, etc.). It is not necessary to use produce cleansers to wash fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Ready-to-eat, bagged, pre-washed leafy greens do not need to be washed again before eating. However, pre-cut or pre-washed leafy greens sold in open bags or containers should be washed before eating.
• Place peeled or cut fruits and vegetables on/into a separate clean plate or container to prevent them from becoming cross-contaminated.
• Refrigerate fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours of peeling or cutting them. Discard any cut fruits and vegetables that have been left at room temperature for more than two hours.

What’s your personal take on washing produce? Do you buy vegetable and fruit washes? Or, are you like one woman I know who scrubs every carrot and apple she can with a stiff bristled brush?

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Cheese storage tips

September 2, 2009

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During the Canadian National Exhibition I was invited by the Dairy Farmers of Canada to come and visit their All you Need is Cheese experiential kitchen and tasting area. Besides getting to eat a whole lotta cheese made with Canadian milk, I also got a chance to interview DFC spokesperson Anne-Marie Shubin who told me that the number one question people ask her is “how should I store cheese?”

Well, if you’re one of those curious people, here are Anne Marie’s tips for storing cheese:

1. Resist over-buying. Once cheese is cut it won’t get better with age and freezing cheese always diminishes its texture.
2. Wrap soft cheeses, which have living rinds, first in parchment paper or foil and then in plastic so that there is some oxygen available to keep the rind alive.
3. Wrap firm cheeses in plastic wrap and change the wrap frequently so that mold growth is discouraged.
4. If you discover a few millimetres of mold growing on your cheese, it’s perfectly safe to cut it off; however, before cutting it up to eat, clean your cutting board and knife and discard the wrappings.
5. Always wrap blue cheeses well and store them in separately from other cheeses to prevent their pungency from changing the flavour of the other cheeses in your refrigerator.
6. It’s safe to bring cheese to room temperature before you serve it but make sure it is wrapped so that the surface doesn’t dehydrate.
7. If cheese has been at room temperature for 3 hours or more, it should be discarded.

How many kinds of cheese do you usually have on hand at one time? Is there one kind of cheese that you simply have to have at all times?


Jewelry dilemmas

August 31, 2009

jewelryIf you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll know that love has been in the air at our Test Kitchen. Not only did Amy get married on Saturday, but the lovely and capable Sabrina got engaged recently, too.

All this excitement led us to a discussion about our jewelry. While I usually stash my wedding ring in my pocket or next to my computer keyboard while I’m cooking, Sabrina is keeping her gorgeous new Mark Lash ring in a ramekin or on a pastry tip to keep it away from gooey dough.

The folks who inspect commercial and restaurant kitchens for health compliance recommend that no one in the kitchen wear rings, watches, bracelets or even earrings and nose rings that could transfer bacteria to food. For me, taking off my wedding ring when I cook comes not only from my concern about hygiene but also from my desire to keep my ring in good shape and prevent my finger from getting a moisture rash.

Do you take your rings off when you’re cooking? If so, where do you stash them for safekeeping?


BBQ Time: Calibrate your thermometer

April 23, 2009

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Don’t you hate it when you find out that because you weren’t properly informed you wasted money?  I’ve long been a fan of metal probe-style instant read thermometers. As I’ve written before, they help you to cook meat not only safely but also to the perfect level of doneness. I knew these thermometers need to be tested frequently (especially after being dropped) but whenever I found one to be on the fritz, displaying a temperature out of whack with normal  temperature standards, I threw it away.

At an average of $15 each, that means that over the last few years, I’ve thrown out well over $100 worth of instant read thermometers!  That’s money I could have spent on dinner out at a nice restaurant, a facial, bonbons, beer or some other necessity of life. (Or, I guess I could have saved it,  but whatever.). 

Essentially that cash went into my trash can and then into land fill since almost all instant read thermometers can be calibrated. I learned this info when I took a safe food handling course on Sunday and I’ve been mad at myself ever since for not knowing that these tools are easily adjusted.

As I got over the initial embarrassing sting of how I’ve wasted money, I realized that if one person doesn’t know about something, there are likely others who aren’t informed either. So, today, just in time for grilling season, I’m going to teach you how to check your instant read thermometer for accuracy and how to fix it if it fails the test. 

  • Step One – Testing:  Fill a glass with equal parts cold water and ice cubes to make an ice slush mixture. Insert the instant read probe into the centre of the mixture being sure not to touch the sides or bottom of the glass. If the thermometer does not read 0 degrees celsius (or 32 degrees fahrenheit) move on to step two.  Otherwise, clean the probe and put it away.
  • Step Two – Calibrating: Turn the thermometer so that the face is away from you. On the underside of the thermometer, look for the nut that attaches the probe to the casing that holds the face. Use a small adjustable wrench to turn this nut gently. Retest the temperature and readjust the nut until you get the appropriate reading. Note:  Many models have a wrench built right into the same holder that keeps the probe clean and protected!

Did you know how to test and calibrate an instant read thermometer before reading today’s post?  Or, am I the only one who didn’t know how to do this task?

NB: If you need info about how to use an instant read thermometer, check out this post from last spring.


Worth Replacing: Cutting boards

October 6, 2008

Usually the items featured here as being ‘worth replacing’ are the kind of thing that I would replace if they were destroyed. Today, I present something that should be replaced frequently so that no one’s health is destroyed. A subtle but important topical distinction.

An article I read last week from a newsletter written for people who work in food processing reminds me of an important fact: damaged, scratched cutting boards can hold bacteria even after normal washing. So, I want to encourage all of you to do two things this week:

1. Examine your home cutting boards and replace any badly scratched ones.
2. Buy some bleach and a spray bottle then put the bleach and some water in the bottle. Use this cheap and effective cleaner often to clean your cutting boards.

And, since I’m at it, remember to change your dishcloths daily and to bleach your dish brush (if you use one) frequently, too.

This message was brought to you by someone who cares.

I just bought these four new cutting boards to replace ones that were looking too well worn in our test kitchen. When was the last time you replaced your cutting board?