Prep and freeze food for later use in oven, slow cooker

When I get home from work some nights, I am exhausted and simply don’t feel like cooking. Any tips on what I can do to still eat healthy those nights without having to go out to eat or spend a lot of time making a meal?

Photo: Getty Images.

On a nonworkday, you could make several meals in advance and then store them in your freezer to defrost at a later date. On a day when you don’t have the time or energy to make a full meal, you’ll have access to quick, easy, nutritious, homemade meal options.

Freezing meals in advance can be helpful anytime you need a ready-to-go meal or when you take a meal to someone in need, said Shannon Carter, an Ohio State University Extension educator with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“Freezer meals can save you time by prepping all the ingredients ahead of time, and then only taking minutes to put in the oven or slow cooker after they are thawed,” she said. “Freezer meals can also save you money because you can purchase ingredients when they are on sale to enjoy them later.”

One way to get started is to plan both the amount and the kinds of meals you want to make in advance and freeze, Carter said in a recent blog post.

“Once you have an idea of what you want to prepare, you can make the entire meal and freeze it, precook a portion of the recipe to freeze, or assemble ingredients to freeze and cook later,” she said.

Here are some other tips from Carter:

  • Use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate as a guide for your menu. Plan a variety of low-fat proteins and dairy along with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Consider avoiding ingredients that don’t freeze well, such as mayonnaise and lettuce.
  • Gather ahead of time all the ingredients and containers for freezing. Freezer bags or cartons work well. Label the bags or containers with a permanent marker before filling. Label with the name of the recipe, date, and instructions for cooking.
  • Lay freezer bags flat in the freezer so they are easier to thaw. Consider placing the freezer bags on a pan or baking sheet until frozen and then stacking them in the freezer, or stand the bags vertically once frozen.
  • Foods kept at zero degrees Fahrenheit are safe indefinitely, although quality might deteriorate after 3–6 months.
  • The safest way to thaw frozen foods is in the refrigerator. A gallon-sized bag of food will usually thaw in the refrigerator in about 24 hours.
  • You can also defrost frozen foods in the microwave and then cook them immediately.
  • When using a slow cooker, completely thaw the food before placing it into the slow cooker. This ensures that the food does not enter the “danger zone,” a range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit at which bacteria grows most rapidly.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Shannon Carter, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

Meal kits and other food delivery services should include a focus on food safety

I’m using a meal kit delivery service for the first time. What do I need to be aware of when ordering, and when the food arrives?

Photo: Getty Images.

Meal kit delivery and food preparation services have grown in popularity in recent years, with revenue in that sector expected to grow to over $10 billion in 2020, up from $1 billion in 2015, according to Statista, Inc., a New York-based market and consumer data firm.

Ease and convenience are some of the factors for that increase, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But, it’s important that safe food handling methods are used when receiving food through a mail delivery service, especially when receiving perishable foods, food safety experts say.

Whether it be a subscription meal kit, mail-ordered food, or groceries delivered to your home from a local grocery store, home-delivered food must be handled properly to ensure food safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a posting this week.

Consumers are advised to research a company and its practices regarding food safety before placing an order. One thing to consider is whether the company offers instructions for safe handling and preparation of the food, including cooking temperature, with each shipment, the CDC said.

It’s also important to research, if possible, how the company deals with food that is delivered at an unsafe temperature. For example, perishable foods—especially meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs—should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. When this happens, the food can enter the “danger zone,” a range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit at which bacteria grows most rapidly.

“It can be difficult for consumers to gather information on the practices and policies of meal delivery services in order to make an informed decision regarding food safety,” said Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

“However, checking the temperature of perishable foods when they are received, cooking raw meat products to the appropriate USDA-recommended internal temperature, and checking the delivery for damage or leaks that can lead to cross-contamination are practices consumers can implement themselves,” she said.

Additionally, the CDC recommends that you:

  • arrange for the food to be delivered when someone is at home so that it can be refrigerated quickly instead of being left outside for extended periods of time.
  • find a safe space for delivery if no one will be at home when the food arrives.Food should be delivered to a cool, shaded, and secure location where pests and rodents can’t access it. Let the company know where you would like them to leave your box.
  • examine both the box and the packaging in which the food was delivered. If you ordered perishable food such as meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, or dairy, look for stickers on the box that say “Keep Refrigerated” or “Keep Frozen.”
  • make sure that the company used insulated packaging and materials such as dry ice or frozen gel packs to keep all of the perishable food cold in transit.
  • refrigerate or freeze your delivery as soon as possible until you are ready to prepare it. Remember, bacteria can multiply rapidly if food is kept in the danger zone between 40 and 140 degreesFahrenheit for more than two hours.

Lastly, use a food thermometer to accurately measure the delivered food’s temperature. If the food is warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, don’t eat it. Instead, contact the company to find out whether they will offer you a replacement since you will not know how long the food has been in the danger zone.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

 Editor: This column was reviewed by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.

Some food allergies really aren’t food allergies

My husband has always assumed he is allergic to strawberries, but it turns out that he’s not allergic at all. He just has an intolerance to them. How common is that?

Milk and eggs are among the most common food allergies. Photo: Getty Images.

Very, it seems.

According to a new study published this week in the journal JAMA Network Open, nearly half of the people who think they have food allergies, really don’t. Instead, many people may suffer from food intolerance or celiac disease, which they may believe to be an allergic reaction to certain foods.

The study, which was done at Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University, was based on a nationally representative survey of over 40,443 adults. According to the study results, 19 percent of adults think they are currently food allergic, although their reported symptoms are inconsistent with a true food allergy—a situation that can trigger a life-threatening reaction.

The study found that only half of adults with a food allergy had a physician-confirmed diagnosis, with fewer than 25 percent having a current epinephrine prescription. Instead, the study authors said that while one in 10 adults have a food allergy, nearly twice as many adults think that they are allergic to foods. But their symptoms may suggest food intolerance or other food-related conditions instead.

According to the study authors, in order to have a true food allergy, respondents had to cite at least one of the following symptoms: hives, swelling of the lip or tongue, difficulty swallowing, chest tightness, trouble breathing, vomiting, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, or low blood pressure. Those who reported having only an itchy mouth or gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea and cramps, were not considered to have a food allergy, because symptoms such as those don’t indicate the body’s immune system reacting to an allergen, the researchers said.

“It is important to see a physician for appropriate testing and diagnosis before completely eliminating foods from the diet,” the researchers said in a written statement. “If a food allergy is confirmed, understanding the management is also critical, including recognizing symptoms of anaphylaxis and how and when to use epinephrine.”

The study authors also found that nearly half of those with a food allergy developed it while an adult. Common foods identified as allergens among U.S. adults are:

  • shellfish, affecting 7.2 million adults
  • milk, affecting 4.7 million adults
  • peanut, affecting 4.5 million adults
  • tree nut, affecting 3 million adults
  • fin fish, affecting 2.2 million adults
  • egg, affecting 2 million adults
  • wheat, affecting 2 million adults
  • soy, affecting 1.5 million adults
  • sesame, affecting .5 million adults

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for OSU Extension.