Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Food Safety

It may have been mentioned before, I am very diligent about food safety.  Charming Suitor might occasionally call me the food police.  This is usually after I have recklessly and wantonly discarded four day old takeout leftovers that he "was going to eat tomorrow". 

To be fair, we come at food safety from very different places.  He has a cast iron stomach, inherited from Reverend Charming, who can eat two week old pasta with chicken and pronounce it "tingly, but delicious", with no ill effects.  I, as we may have mentioned, have a digestive system only slightly less sensitive than a fifteen year old girl with a breakout on junior prom night.  I have been poisioned by many, but never by myself, and I would like to keep it that way.

But while I am diligent, I am not insane.  I know the difference between a "sell by" date and an "expiration" date.  I believe in trusting my eyes, nose, and mouth, and just because the cottage cheese says four days ago if it isn't fuzzy, doesn't smell off, and tastes good, I will still eat it.

Today I want to talk about the freezer.  Many people think that because food in your freezer is frozen solid that it is automatically protected from bacteria etc.  For a long time I did too, and only discarded food that I knew was really old, or was freezer burnt...and even then more because I knew they would not be delicous, not because I thought they might be harmful.

I have many freezers in my life.  We have the upstairs freezer, for ice and everyday items.  We have the freezer in the downstairs fridge, for stuff like frozen meat and veg to grab for dinner.  And then we have CS's huge chest freezer for large cuts of meat, and bulk items.  And there is the freezer at The Farm, where we spend most weekends.

And that is where the problem starts. Because two out of four weeks when we get to The Farm, our microwave and the bedroom clocks are all blinky.  Meaning at some point since people were last there, the power went out.  But for how long?  Ten seconds?  Ten minutes? Two days?  The minute food in your freezer goes above zero, bacteria can start to grow.  If the power goes out, and then comes back on a day later, your food will refreeze, and you will never know what might be lurking.

Until now.

CS and I went to the Housewares show, and the minute I saw this little beauty, I jumped up and down and clapped like a child.  CS pronounced it "made for you", and I investigated.

Say hello to my leeetle friend!

This, my Chickens, is the Freezcube, and you are gonna want one for every freezer in your life.

The premise is simple.  You put this in your freezer with the small side down overnight, which will freeze the liquids solid, provided your freezer is set cold enough for safety. 

(guess whose wasn't!  THE HORROR!) 

Then you flip it over, so the frozen parts are on top.  Then leave it.  If you check your freezer and any of the liquids have melted into the bottom, you know something has gone awry.  The different colors are labeled based on the number of days you have to consume the contents of your freezer without danger, from 1 day to 14 days to THROW EVERYTHING OUT RIGHT NOW!

The simplest thing in the world, peace of mind.

And while you can get your own Freezcubes at Amazon , they have also sent me a few to give out to some lucky readers!

So, comment below with your own food safety tips, or confessions, or quirks, or any tools you use to keep the contents of your fridge and freezer safe for human consumption, and on Monday I'll let you know who is getting a Freezcube of their very own!

Your in Good Taste,
The Polymath


  1. I always check the ice cubes - if they are no longer individual cubes then I know they melted and refroze. We also segregate items in the deep freeze based on what would happen if they defrosted - knowing the the deep freeze would take longer. Expensive meats, veggies, seafood and ice go in the deep freeze. Soups, those muffins I make and freeze and other items I wouldn't be devasted to lose go in the refrigerator.

  2. Best. Invention. Ever. Right up there with washing your hands for food safety.

  3. Oh wow, that is amazing! I have a really crappy fridge/freezer in my rental so I am constantly messing with the temps. This would be a life saver! My food safety tip is to wash the outside of fruit even when you don't eat the outside of it like cantaloupe. You never know what is lurking on the outside!

  4. We just bought a new fridge in February when we realized that our 20-plus-year-old one was no longer keeping food cold enough in the freezer. We suspected this from all the frost forming on everything, and the way that the ice cream sandwiches were obviously thawed and refrozen several times, but we assumed at first that we must have bought them that way. My husband decided to test the temperature in the freezer to be sure, and he built a little computer for the job. I'm very serious. He's an engineer and he likes to do these things. Anyway, he ran a sensor probe into the freezer and recorded temps for a few days. The upshot was that the average temperature in our freezer was 18 degrees, when it should be around zero. The fridge was troublesome too because fruits and veggies were going bad pretty quickly and milk was tasting a little funny faster than it should. Not good. We ordered a new fridge right away because it would cost at least as much to fix the old one. I ended up with the bottom-freezer, French-doored fridge of my dreams! I love it so much. But now we watch it like a hawk to make sure things are always frozen (or chilled) properly. We did the sensor probe thing at first, to make sure it worked right, and then we got little alcohol thermometers with suction cups attached, to put on the inner walls of the fridge and freezer. Now we can tell at a glance whether they are staying at the right temperature. I really love the freezer cube, though. It looks easy and even fun to use.

  5. Just this week, I was having a discussion with a friend regarding chest freezers. My friend invests in large quantities of meat (Half of a cow) and stores it in his chest freezer. Because he doesn't want to lose his investment, he actually has a backup generator for the freezer. I have no need to such a thing since I don't normally purchase a half portion of livestock, but it made me think about what I would do if we lost electricity for a few hours or more. How long is too long without power to the freezer? What a perfect solution! I'm putting it on my wishlist now.
    And of course now I'm freaked out that my freezer isn't cold enough either!

  6. oh my gosh. you have no idea how excited this makes me. aside from the fact that my house is ironically and annoyingly located in what seems to be the south side's largest power-outage target (oops, i'm trying not to sigh so as to avoid power outage due to high winds), i have constant food safety battles with my husband. he swears that even though the blue cheese dressing has a very unappealing tang to it, it's gotta be all right because, well, it's blue cheese and it's supposed to have some 'zip' to it. that's fine; if he wants to spend the next 2 nights on the bathroom floor cursing blue cheese dressing (not his stupidity of course), that's his call. i do have issue, however, when he falsifies when he opened lunch meat, knowing that i'm not going to eat it OR keep it if it's been longer than 5 days. this battle intensifies when it's also food that i feed to my 5-year-old. so, any sort of tricks or gimmicks i use will probably not be any more stringent than your own habits, however, i do confess i have done the egg-floating trick when desperate for huevos rancheros on a sunday morning and not wanting to schlep it out in the snow (it's chicago snow, after all). here is a link to one of the resources i've used for this trick (of course i google this each and every time i need it rather than bookmarking one specific page). thanks for fighting against e-coli, one degree at a time!

  7. I usually don't go past 3 days for leftovers. I don't know that anything will bother my stomach (as I rarely eat anything old anyway), but I get sick thinking about eating something old.

    When I was in college, I left for the weekend and forgot to take the lettuce out of my mini fridge, that was already getting slightly old...but that involved walking down 5 flights of stairs and I was too lazy. I came back and the smell....because I didn't mention there was milk in there too...and other variations of crap...OVER CHRISTMAS BREAK! (Which I happened to be in a horrible wreck the day break started, and came back to school late as well.) So...that, and the time I left noodles in the fridge too long and realized noodles can give off quite a stench when old (which shocked me), I now have a weird fear of even looking at something slightly old.

    Oh? And if I happen to forget something (which I did when I had surgery) and it is rotting too long b/c I can't move...I'll throw out to entire container to avoid "contaminating" my sponge or dishwasher, or nose with the smell. :)

  8. Awesome! Perhaps this will eliminate (or at least justify) my need to go through our freezer and sneak questionable items into the trash. My hubby gets quite upset when I throw away food, so I have to do this when he isn't home AND make sure to not leave it on top of the trash where he might see it...and yet he has NEVER noticed anything missing after one of my freezer purges.

  9. I'm a safety nut when it comes to food. I'm a bit OCD otherwise, but food is the worst. I don't eat anything that is past it's expiration date, and leftovers last for about a day in my house. I have the most sensitive stomach I know, so I'm afraid of eating lots of things!

  10. fantastic invention. I have the same problem - I have the most sensitive stomach and my husband can eat anything at all. the thing I learned in the one food safety class I took was not to cook a baked potato in the foil, but rather to bake it and then wrap it in foil to serve it.

  11. I don't know if this qualifies as any of the above but after purchasing out first chest freezer this year I have become slightly obsessed with the additional purchase of a generator. I am slightly paranoid that we will once again have freak summer weather and be left without power for days at a time. I perish the thought of possibly having to throw out my stockpile of frozen foods!

  12. I often have to slap week old pork out of FH's hands before he can get it down. He has an ironclad stomach as well, but there can be other "unsavory" side effects from past due foods!

  13. Ok, now I am paranoid. And, off to check the temperature in my freezer...

  14. My husband also has a cast iron stomach...we always fight over how old the leftovers are and I sneak things into the trash. I've started writing dates on packages that go into the freezer because I never remember how long it's been in there. We're in a rental with an old refrigerator which makes me worry. The freezercube is an amazing idea and my family's getting them for their birthdays.

  15. I'm with you....after 3 days in the fridge it gets pitched.

    And I've had to throw out many a thing in my garage freezer when I've opened it to not only see icicles formed from the ceiling, I also see my ice cream has been thawed and refrozen...ick!

  16. That would come in handy last year when the power was out for days. I have an industrial freezer that is supposed to keep food good for a few days before it goes bad, but I just didn't want to chance it. I ended up tossing everything. Such a waste! Now I'm hesitant to keep too much in the freezer in case I'm away again and lose power.

  17. I'm with you regarding food safety. Luckily leftovers are eaten up fairly quickly around here. If I don't eat them, hubby will. He, too, has a cast iron stomach. Last summer our electricity went out for 2 days. After 24 hours I put everything from it in cooler with lots of ice. The next time our eletricity went out we bought a generator. In Park Ridge, we had over 3 days in July w/o power. I've also taped our freezer shut when we go on vacation to make sure it stays shut... Paranoia...

  18. If I have to think about whether something is still good to eat or I can't remember when I bought it, then it gets tossed out. Except for ice cream. Never seems to make it to the point where I would question if it was still good to eat.

  19. I store my breastmilk in our garage chest freezer and while it's only there for the occasion I decide to have 2 to 3 glasses of wine instead of 1. It'd be nice to know the milk kept temperature. I assume it's ok, satiates his thirst for it, and gives me the occasional needed break, it's still just nice to know my 15 month old is also getting nutrients that didn't die out. Would love to win for peace of mind! :)

  20. I think this is such a smart idea. I also use the ice cube method mentioned above, but I don't have ice cubes in all of my freezers! When I open a jar of pasta sauce I write the date on the lid with a sharpie. Then I know exactly how long that jar has been sitting in my fridge... often the sad answer is WAY too long!

  21. My exbf's dad did not throw ANYTHING out. Ever. We'd find jars of Peanut Butter in the cupboard that was 4 years old. Canned food that was 6 years old (missing the labels so it was Mystery Canned Food!) He was one who assumed if you put something in the freezer, it preserved it forever. Needless to say, we didn't eat at his house often unless it was fresh food.

  22. That is one of my biggest food safety fears also. We have a freezer in a shed outside and I am always wondering how we would figure out if the power went out and then came back on. These things are brilliant. I must have one.

  23. After I open a bag of frozen food and don't use it all, I transfer it to a freezers bag. Sealing it with a clip just doesn't suffice

  24. My 80+ year old parents so need this. They have a vary large case freezer that they keep completely full, but most of the time forget about the contents in the bottom half (and they also suffer from power outages and sometime just a tripped circuit that can go a day or two before it's noticed). Dad is famous for serving a roast and after everyone at dinner comments on how delicious it was he proudly announces that it had been in the freezer for four years. The worst ever? Just last week I found a picnic roast in the bottom from 1996 (no lie).

  25. I love this invention! Something that I do to keep track of items in the freezer: I label the date that they were placed in the freezer, and I also note how many days before the expiration date there were before freezing. That way I know how fast I need to use it after defrosting. I'm not sure if that is scientifically sound, but it makes me feel better!

  26. That might just be the coolest thing I've ever seen. We recently moved into my in-laws house while they are traveling this year. The first thing I did was throw out 4 boxes of pantry items that had expired and I slowly made my way through the freezer. Luckily my MIL uses a FoodSaver system and had dated most of the items, so I knew exactly which ones to toss right away.

  27. Liz L, I'm the same way! As soon as I open anything that goes in the freezer, I put it in a freezer bag. I also portion things out the same way. And there is no greater defense against food poisoning than simply washing your hands, and cleaning the entire surface after you've handled raw meat or eggs.

  28. This invention is so cool! I have two freezers, one upstairs connected to the fridge, and one downstairs for surplus items. However, we rarely lose power, so I don't have to worry about that. Like you, I throw out old constantly and clean my fridge. I also am very anal about using different cutting boards for meats and produce.

  29. I am like you, Stacey, if I look at something questionable, it is all over, so I have a pretty strict 3-day rule. If something has been in the fridge more than 3-days, it is probably in the trash.

  30. Leftovers generally have a two day rule in my house. But my worst is milk. The date on the top is it. If the milk is still there on that day, it gets poured down the sink. It may be fine, but to me it is bad. Same for meat. It may have the sell by date on it, and it may be fine, but I can smell the ruin - out it goes. Must get better about the freezer ... there's no telling what's lurking in the bottom, or how long it's been there.

  31. What a delightful little invention! I have been leery of my freezer lately - especially living in Florida and the heat wave that's started early :( I honestly had no idea about the freezer bacteria issue until now!
    Overall, I play food police with our fridge - I regularly wipe down my produce bins for fear that if something turns the germs will stick around longer than the item that went back and attack everything else.

  32. Food Safety Rules #1 and #2 -
    Hot Water. Soap.
    Food Safety Rule # 3 -
    Wash your Hands
    Food Safety Rule #4 -
    If it smells funky, don't bother, no matter WHAT the expiration/sell by/etc tells you.
    Food Safety Rule #5 -
    Clean your tools between use (and between products)
    Food Safety Rule #6 -
    Wash your Hands!!!!
    Food Safety Rule #7 -
    Did I mention Wash your Hands?

  33. This is brilliant, particularly for the situation you describe (power outages, which are so rampant here in the Midwest!)

    I don't have any clever food safety tricks, other than washing my hands and wiping down counters. I will say that in our house, I have the guts of iron and my husband doesn't, but I trust his instincts for self-preservation.

  34. I have to admit this is pretty timely for a conversation that happened between my husband and I last night as I was measuring some feta cheese.

    ME: Oh, crap, this cheese is bad.
    DH: Why?
    ME: Cause it has blue chunks in it.
    DH: Yes but they are supposed to be there.
    ME: Oh... no no no it's not bleu cheese it's feta
    DH: Oops, I ate it for lunch and it was fine.


    If only the freezy thing could tell me when my feta had gone bad.

    It's not supposed to be blue, right?

  35. What will they think of next?! My boyfriend has the cast iron stomach - he pronounces most leftovers, regardless of their time spent in the fridge/freezer, "fine, as long as you heat it all the way through".....I am not so okay with this.

    So funny that you would post this today - I was just visiting my parents and my dad made a production of checking to be sure the milk was still fresh - because even if the date says it's fine, if it smells off at all he won't drink it. 30 seconds later I had to stop him from accidentally eating a piece of bread with a mold spot on it that he hadn't seen. :/

  36. I haven't thought about the power going out, but I keep a spreadsheet of everything in my chest freezer in the basement, along with the date I put it in there. I always think I'll remember what's there and I never do, so this way, I do pretty good inventory management.

    I also think I'll remember what the leftovers are that I put in the upstairs freezer. But I don't. Which is why my husband blesshisheart got me a label maker. I love my label maker.

  37. Genius!

    I with I would have knows about these awhile ago. Even though I am firmly implanted right in the middle of a big city, my neighborhood has been losing power like cah-razy. The power company gives us some stories about old infrastructure, overloaded cables, blah blah...and then after four days proudly announces that they've made a miracle fix.

    Five weeks later? Power out again. Six days this time.

    Luckily, since those two major incidents there have only been small outages. I've still tossed and replaced all of the food in the fridge/freezer about 5 times in the past year. Makes for good organization, but my pocketbook is starting to scream. Last time I ate some chicken anyway, just to show that I wasn't giving in. it tasted fine, and I didn't die, but I still didn't feel awesome about it.