- Author: Maria Murrietta
The UC Master Gardener volunteer program serves the citizens in San Luis Obispo County to help them flourish and maximize their success in the garden. Master Gardeners work to maintain the Garden of the Seven Sisters in San Luis Obispo, a hands-on educational facility that also provided the local community with over 1,100 lbs of fresh produce in 2019, through donations to the SLO County Food Bank Coalition.
It takes a lot of people and a variety of resources to run the Garden the Seven Sisters which provides science-based learning opportunities that focus on sustainable garden practices.
For example, in 2019, our 90 Certified Master Gardener volunteers achieved the following:
- Over 5,000 hours of work and completed 1100 hours of continuing education.
- 500 people consulted Helpline for garden information and advice
- 1,000 people attended our monthly Advice to Grow By workshops
- 350 people attended the Fall Festival
- 100 people attended the Lunchtime in the Garden, many of whom were seeing the garden for the first time
- Master Gardeners facilitated 18 additional speaking engagements, and staffed 10 information tables at community events and festivals
- Our new class of 2020 includes 32 new trainees who are currently completing 54 hours of educational training to become certified Master Gardeners.
All these efforts and accomplishments would not be possible without the generous support of the SLO County community.
Save the Date: June 5th is World Environmental Day and the Big Dig Day. This is the day to Dig Deep and support the programs you care about. We invite you to support the programs and services that enrich our county.
Every dollar counts. Your donation of just $15 to the Master Gardener Program of SLO County could help us purchase soil and seeds for the donation plot.
By Carol Michael UCCE Master Food Preserver
As we “shelter at home” and go through our stored food, I want to know if I can safely serve a jar of homemade pickles preserved in 2012? When should I throw food out? Craig R., Atascadero, CA
That's a great question! According to University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, storage life for home canned pickles is 1 year. Practicing proper hygiene, good food safety techniques, and using research tested recipes will help prevent spoilage and foodborne illness in home preserved foods.
Sight is usually the best way to tell if your pickles have gone bad. If the top of the lid on the jar is rounded and dome shaped instead of flat across, you don't hear the normal pop when you open the jar, or if anything is brown or black (besides the added spices) your pickles are unsafe to eat. This is true of any home preserved food no matter the age.
When should food be thrown out? It's happened to all of us: you're looking for something in the freezer or pantry and discover food that has been forgotten. Is it still good? Chances are it is!
The length of time food is frozen does not affect its safety. Food can be kept frozen indefinitely. Food stored in the freezer for months (see recommended freezer times chart) may be dry or not taste as good, but it should be safe to eat. So if you find a package of ground beef that has been in the freezer more than a few months, don't throw it out. Use it to make chili or tacos. The seasonings and additional ingredients can make up for loss of flavor and moisture.
What about the foods in your pantry? Most shelf-stable foods are safe for quite a while. In fact, commercially canned food will last for years, if the can itself is in good condition (no rust, dents, or swelling). Packaged foods (cereal, pasta, cookies) will be safe past the ‘best by' date, although they may eventually become stale or develop off flavors. You'll know when you open the package if the food has lost quality. Most dated food refers to quality, not safety. Before you throw out food from your pantry or freezer, check it out. It may be just fine!
The following resources may help decide how long to keep foods in your home:
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension's Food Storage for Safety and Quality chart
By Carol Michael UCCE Master Food Preserver
How can we tell if canned/frozen/packaged food is still good to eat? What do the package dates tell us? Joanne F., Arroyo Grande, CA
Almost everyone can relate to these timely questions. At the earliest mention of “shelter at home,” I inventoried our food reserves, and purchased items needed to feed my household until normalcy returned. Who would think social distancing might stretch out longer?
Did you over buy food when the “shelter at home” requirement was made? If yes, it may be time to consider inventorying what's in your pantry and freezer.
The safety and quality of commercially canned food relies mostly storage conditions you control. Here are some things to consider:
- Store canned food in a cool, clean, dark, dry place where temperatures are below 85°F (between 50-70°F is best) but not freezing.
- Rotate foods so oldest is used first.
- If the can is in good shape (no rust, deep dents, swelling), the contents should be safe to eat, although the taste, texture and nutritional value of the food can diminish over time.
- Home canned foods should be used within 1 year of preparation.
NEVER TASTE OR USE food from containers that show signs of contamination: leaking, bulging, or badly dented cans; cracked jars or jars with loose or bulging lids; canned food with a foul odor; milky liquids surrounding vegetables that should be clear; or any container that spurts liquid when you open it.
According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, infant formula is the only product required by Federal regulations to have a “use by” date. Manufacturer's will use dates and labeling to let retailers know when to pull items from grocery shelves and for consumers to know when the quality or freshness of a product will lessen. These dates DO NOT indicate food safety.
- "Best if Used By/Before" dateindicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality.
- "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for inventory management.
- “Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
- “Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality.
Find a comprehensive food storage guide here: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/store/UGA_foodstorage_2011.pdf or use the USDA FoodKeeper App. It's free to download or access the information from your computer at https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/foodkeeper-app
For more information contact the UCCE Master Food Preserver helpline at 805-781-1429 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Carol Michael UCCE Master Food Preserver
Are there special precautions I need to take when buying groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic? Jack M., Nipomo, CA
Shopping for and handling groceries during COVID-19 is new to all of us.Grocery stores have taken important steps to minimize your risks while shopping for food. Decide if you wish to shop in person, or pre-order your groceries for curbside pickup or delivery. Pre-orders for pick-up or delivery reduces your exposure, decreases store traffic, and prevents exposing others if you are unwell.
If you must visit the grocery store, remember these tips:
- Use hand sanitizer when entering and leaving the store.
- Use disinfectant wipes for your cart, basket and the card reader.
- Minimize the amount of shopping time by using a list.
- Maintain social distance of at least 6 ft. from others.
- Touch only what you will buy. Consider using hand sanitizer before and after touching produce.
- Avoid unnecessarily touching surfaces and don't touch your mouth, nose, eyes or face while shopping.
After unpacking your groceries, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. There is currently no information that indicates that the virus has spread because of contaminated food or food packaging material.
Washing produce before eating it during this pandemic remains as important as ever. You should rinse your produce under CLEAN RUNNING WATER ONLY. Use a vegetable brush to clean thick skinned produce like potatoes, beets, carrots, and melons to remove as much dirt as possible. You do not need to use any special cleaners, washes, soap, or other products to clean produce. These products are not meant to be consumed and can be DANGEROUS!
Remember to practice the four basic steps to food safety:
- Clean-wash your hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils and produce before preparing and eating food.
- Separate-keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood from ready to eat foods.
- Chill-Keep perishable food refrigerated below 41°F. Perishable food should not be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Heat-Foods should be cooked to the right temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure its heated to a safe level.
For more information on Food Safety Guidance and COVID-19 go to our website at:https://ucanr.edu/sites/SLO/files/322022.pdf and the UC ANR publications catalog at https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/1901.pdf
- Author: Noni Todd
By Carol Michael, UCCE Master Food Preserver
We had little rain in February. Drought can increase risk for wildfires. What can I do to keep food safe during planned or unplanned power outages? Debbie V., Paso Robles
Regional power outages can result from earthquakes, wildfires, or power shutdowns to prevent fires. Transformer failures, vehicle accidents involving power poles, even bird interactions with power lines are other causes. Power outages can be large, affecting multiple communities, or they can be small as when an old freezer quits working on the weekend and the nearest appliance dealer is 25 miles away.
Regardless of the cause, the feeling of panic is the same. How long will my refrigerated and frozen food be safe? What can I do to keep food safe? It is important to prepare yourself before an outage occurs. First, keep an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer to help you know and safely set the temperature of your appliance before an outage, and once power has been restored. This will help you determine if your food is safe. Your refrigerator should be set at 40˚F or below and your freezer at 0˚F or below. Then remember USDA's 4-hour rule. Your refrigerator will keep food safe for up to 4 hours during a power outage. After 4 hours without power, discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers. Never taste foods to determine their safety! You often cannot see, smell, or taste bacteria and viruses in food that can make you ill.
A full freezer will keep frozen food at a safe temperature for up to 2 full days(or only one day) if it's less full. Keeping several containers of clean drinking water in the freezer on a regular basis will help keep food cold in your freezer, refrigerator, or in a cooler when power is out, and they provide backup drinking water in case your water supply is compromised.
As soon as power is restored, check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer. If the power was out for less than 4 hours and you've kept the door closed, your food should be safe. Check the thermometer to make sure. Refer to www.Foodsafety.gov and www.fda.gov for more information about food safety during power outages. It's important to remember “When in Doubt, Throw it Out!”