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Storm preparation: How to keep frozen and refrigerated food safe

If you’re preparing for a major storm like Hurricane Irma, stocking up on enough food and water should be part of your plan. And it’s also essential to have a plan to keep your food safe to eat during and in the wake of the storm, especially if you lose power.

Eating food that hasn’t been stored properly can lead to a number of foodborne illnesses. Those can be serious under normal circumstances, but the potential lack of access to medical care during a severe storm makes avoiding illness even more important. Additionally, many foodborne illnesses can cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration. The condition can quickly become life threatening if you don’t have access to sufficient water.

Hurricane season lasts into November, and winter storms blow in soon after. Be prepared to keep your food safe during any serious storm with these important safety tips from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Use a thermometer: Monitor the temperatures in your refrigerator and freezer. Refrigerators should be kept at between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, freezers at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature in the freezer is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, the food is safe to eat or refreeze. Any perishable foods that have been refrigerated and kept at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours should be thrown away. Hint: Look for a thermometer that sends the temperature directly to your mobile device or can be monitored remotely. Otherwise, don’t open the door to check the temperature until the power is back on.
  • Make and store ice: If your freezer can make ice, make as much as you can starting days before the storm is set to arrive. You can use the ice to help keep the food cool if you lose power, or use it in a cooler. You may also freeze containers of water. The ice will help keep food in the freezer cold, and you may also drink the water when it melts if your water supply is cut off. Tip: Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator cold for extended periods. Fifty pounds of dry ice keeps an 18-cubic-foot, fully stocked freezer cold for two days, according to FDA.
  • Move food to the freezer: Leftovers, milk, fresh meat and other foods that can be frozen should be moved from the refrigerator to the freezer. They’ll last longer if the power goes out.
  • Keep coolers handy (and the ice to fill them): Food will stay safe in refrigerators for about four hours after a power outage. Move them to ice-filled coolers if the power is off or is expected to be off for longer.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed: Only open them when necessary when a power outage is a possibility, even if you haven’t lost power. This will help keep the temperatures in both down.
  • Keep the freezer full: A full freezer will keep food frozen for about 48 hours if it isn’t opened. That time is cut in half, to 24 hours, if the freezer is only half-full.

What to keep, what to toss

The CDC offers these tips to help you decide what is safe to eat and what should be discarded:

  • Any food that has come into contact with flood or storm water should be thrown away. This includes containers with screw caps, snap lids, crimped caps,twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and home canned foods.
  • Throw away any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture.
  • Thawed food that still contains ice crystals may be eaten or refrozen.
  • Throw away any canned foods that are bulging, opened or damaged. Cans that have come into contact with flood or storm water should be washed in a solution of 1 cup bleach and 5 gallons of water.
  • Never use potentially contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash your hands, wash or prepare food or prepare baby formula.

Never rely on a food’s smell or taste to determine whether it’s safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out.

Expert Dishwasher Tips to Make Your Dishes Shine

 

Over their more than 130-year history, dishwashers have radically altered the post-meal ritual of “doing the dishes.” Besides taking most of the work out of scrubbing and drying, dishwashers use far less water than it takes to do the work by hand. They also sanitize dishes and can even rinse away food allergens.

Loading and unloading the dishwasher is part of the kitchen routine, and many dishwasher users habitually select the same cycles and settings every time they wash the dishes. That’s okay if you generally wash the same number of dishes that require the same level of cleaning. But if your needs change—say you need to wash pots instead of dishes, or you’re cleaning up after a particularly messy meal—taking advantage of different cycles can help save you time, effort and energy. Your dishwasher can most likely handle most food-related messes — they’re tested to deal with the worst.

Navigating the seemingly endless options of dishwasher models and features can be daunting, and it helps to have a guide. We reached out to Carolyn Forte, Good Housekeeping’s director of home appliances, cleaning products and textiles and a longtime friend of AHAM, who has worked with hundreds of dishwashers over the course of her career.

Cycles

Most dishwashers come with a variety of cycles to allow you to adjust the level of wash depending on what you’re washing, and how much cleaning is needed.

  • Rinse: Appropriate for very light cleaning jobs
  • Quick: These may range from a half hour to about an hour, Forte says. They’re made to tackle lighter cleaning jobs.
  • Normal: For your day-to-day, average dish needs
  • Pots and pans: For larger, perhaps more heavily soiled cookware

On many models, you’ll also find specialized cycles, like anti-bacterial, sani-rinse and others.

Choosing the right cycle

Your use and care manual will offer a description of the capabilities of each cycle. “If you have lightly soiled dishes, normal or quick wash should be fine,” Forte says. “If you have stuff that’s baked or dried on or it’s after a normal meal, you should do an auto cycle. If you have really baked-on stuff or cookware, go for the pots and pans cycle. Know what you’re putting in and use the features to get the best clean.”

Racks

While you’ll still find plenty of models with two racks, some manufacturers have added third racks to handle certain types of dishes and flatware. “One area dishwashers have distinguished themselves is racks,” Forte says. “You’ll find folding racks, clips to hold plastic lids, special jets for water bottles. If you do wash those, they’re also very helpful.”

Smart and connected features

Like many other appliances, dishwashers are steadily incorporating smart and connected features that offer functions like remote operability and repair diagnosis. Forte has worked with models that allow users to start or stop the dishwasher with their mobile device, and others that report when something in they cycle has gone wrong, like a blocked spray arm. Some models offer leak alerts and may even shut off when a leak is detected. Voice controls are also arriving. “Were seeing dishwashers that are Alexa-enabled,” Forte says. “You can start and stop it remotely.”

Get the best wash

Now that you know about dishwasher features, it’s time to talk technique. How can you minimize the dishwasher headaches like dishes that don’t quite get clean, cups that flip over and collect water, and dishes being knocked around during the cycle? How you load the dishes matters. “Some people are meticulous, some don’t care,” Forte says. “You have to load it right. If the water can’t reach it, it won’t get clean. Look at what the manual recommends. Make sure nothing is blocking anything else.”

  • Pots and pans should go on the bottom, upside down, Forte says. “Make sure they aren’t blocking each other.
  • Bowls can go on the bottom or top.
  • Glasses should go on the top rack. “Rest them against the tines, don’t put them over the tines,” Forte says. “It can put spots on the glasses or stress the glass.”
  • Spoons should be placed alternately up and down in the flatware basket. If you have a grid over the basked, they can all be placed with the handles facing down.

More dishwashing tips

“Make sure you use enough detergent, but not more than you need,” Forte says. “If you have hard water, you might need more detergent.” And you might not have realized that your dishwasher needs to be cleaned once in a while, too. Clean the filter regularly to dislodge any food waste. Look for detergent specially made to clean dishwashers, and follow the instructions in your use and care manual.

Induction introduction: A primer on induction cooking

When induction cooking first hit the scene, induction was considered a high-end appliance feature. Now, with more models hitting the market, it’s within reach for just about anyone interested in making the switch to induction.

In case you want to give induction cooking a try without installing a full cooktop, portable, one-burner induction appliances or even hybrid surfaces are available.

While the percentage of electric surface cooking units and electric ranges that include induction is still relatively small, it has risen steadily in recent years. According to AHAM factory shipment data, 15 percent of electric surface units included induction in 2016, up from 8 percent in 2010.

The difference: Unlike gas and electric ranges, induction ranges use a magnetic field to transfer heat directly into the pan. Neither the burner nor the air around the burner are heated, meaning what you’re cooking heats up faster. But only the pan, and what’s in it, will get hot. Not having hot burners reduces the potential that nearby materials can ignite while cooking, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Also, it’s unlikely that the burners will be accidentally turned on, since they won’t heat without the proper cookware on the burner, the NFPA says.

You may need to buy new cookware. Induction burners will only work with cookware made of magnetic metals, such as iron or stainless steel.

Hint: The cookware package will normally state which type of range the cookware can be used with—gas, electric or induction. Cookware with a flat bottom will get you the best results.

Induction also offers more precise temperature control. You can even cook delicate items like dairy or chocolate for long periods, without worrying about fluctuations in temperature. It will take some practice, though, as induction cooking gets you to your desired temperature faster than gas or electric. Water, for example, will boil in about half the time. You’ll need to get used to the faster heating times.

The design of induction ranges, and the fact that they don’t get hot during cooking, can also lend itself to easier cleaning. Since the burners don’t heat up, spills aren’t going to burn onto the cooktop. (Though gas and electric ovens are easy to clean, if you do it right.)

Thanks to AHAM member Viking Range for the information on induction cooking.