Respiratory Illnesses Put Indoor Air Quality in Focus

The continued high levels of flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses hitting large sections of the country is an urgent reminder of the need for consumers to take steps to improve their indoor air quality this winter.

Portable room air cleaners represent the quickest, most accessible option for consumers who want to improve the indoor air quality in their home. Testing has shown that room air cleaners with HEPA filters have the ability to reduce the level of viruses, bacteria and mold in indoor air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that, when used properly, air cleaners can help reduce airborne pollutants, including viruses.

Indoor air quality has gained prominence as a public health issue during the nearly three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many have made room air cleaners an important part of their plan to reduce the chance of transmission. Almost half (46%) who responded to an AHAM survey conducted in late 2020 said they had taken steps to improve their home’s indoor air quality during the pandemic. Another 16% reported having purchased an air cleaner during the pandemic. Among those who owned a portable air cleaner, 42% reported using it more than they had prior to the pandemic.

In addition to viruses and illness, many consumers also reported being concerned about pollutants like dust, mold and pollen.

Consumers will soon have an easy way to compare the ability of different air cleaner models to remove viruses, bacteria and mold. AHAM’s newest room air cleaner standard, which measures removal of microbiological pollutants, recently received accreditation from the American National Standards Institute. The standard, AHAM-AC-5-2022, will ultimately be added to AHAM’s Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), which assigns numerical ratings based on an air cleaner’s tested performance in a given room size.

AHAM AC-5 was developed over 18 months by a team of public health professionals, engineers and academic researchers.

Room air cleaner use tips

  • Air cleaners should be positioned as close as possible to the center of the room to maximize airflow.
  • Change the air cleaner filter regularly, according to the model’s use and care manual.
  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly to remove pollutants that could potentially be put back into the air.

4 Ways to Save Water With Your Appliances

Water is a necessity, and whether or not you live in an area where the water supply is under stress, every drop counts. Making simple changes at home can quickly add up to big water savings, both in the short and long-term. That can benefit the planet and your water bill. Saving water at home starts with your appliances.

While you may be tempted to not run your appliances at all while trying to save energy and water, using your modern appliances is the more efficient option and will actually use less water than hand-washing dishes or clothes.

Follow these four easy tips to save water when you’re using your dishwasher, clothes washer and refrigerator:

1. Do full loads of laundry and dishes: If you have to do a wash or dishes and the clothes washer or dishwasher aren’t full, change the appliance’s settings to the appropriate-sized cycle to reduce the amount of water used. Load your dishwasher properly to maximize space.

2. Avoid pre-rinsing dishes: Pre-rinsing dishes can use up to 20 gallons of water before your dishwasher is even used, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Compare that to a new ENERGY STAR® dishwasher, which only uses about five gallons of water per cycle. Scrape any food scraps left on plates into the garbage or food waste disposer, and put the dish straight into the dishwasher without rinsing. The dishwasher will do the rest of the work. Modern dishwashers use sensors and powerful jets to direct water where it needs to go.

3. Use your refrigerator to defrost frozen foods overnight: This eliminates the need to use water to defrost frozen food. On average, running the water in your kitchen sink uses 2.2 gallons a minute, according to the EPA.

4. Look for water-saving appliances: Is it time to replace your clothes washer or dishwasher? New ENERGY STAR models of clothes washers and dishwashers use significantly less water than older models. ENERGY STAR clothes washers use approximately 33% less water than non-ENERGY STAR models, and an ENERGY STAR dishwasher can save an average of more than 3,800 gallons of water over its lifespan.


Your Appliance Spring Cleaning Checklist

It’s tough to imagine tackling the various spring cleaning projects around your home without essential cleaning appliances like vacuums, washers and dryers. In fact, some appliances are such a part of the cleaning routine that it’s easy to forget that they need to be cleaned, too. Regular cleaning is also essential to keep your appliances performing their best.

It’s important to check the use and care manual or contact your appliance manufacturer for specific cleaning advice, particularly if you are using a disinfectant. Some disinfectants can damage the interior or exterior of your appliances. (Before you dive into your cleaning routine, it’s useful to understand the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing.)

Here’s a quick checklist of spring cleaning tasks that will keep your home sparkling and your appliances in top shape:

  • Refrigerator coils: The dust, dirt and debris that builds up on your refrigerator coils can make the appliance use more energy to keep what’s inside cool. A coil brush and vacuum will help you with the coil cleaning and removing other dirt that has accumulated behind or under your refrigerator.
  • Clothes dryer: Your interior venting system, or the material that leads from your dryer to your dryer vent, should be cleaned once a year by a qualified service technician. Blockages can lead to longer drying times. Also, check behind your dryer and remove any trapped lint and debris, and remove lint from in and around the drum.
  • Oven and range: It’s much better to do a little bit of cleaning after every use than to wait until you can’t avoid cleaning your oven and range. Spills and built-up residue can hinder your oven’s performance and affect the flavor of the foods you cook. Refer to your oven or range’s use and care manual for specific cleaning instructions, but warm soap and water or vinegar and water are unlikely to damage any finish.
  • Vacuum: Make sure your vacuum is doing its best to keep your floors clean. Change the bag or empty the canister according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, clean the brush roll and replace the belt as needed.
  • Water filter: Replace your refrigerator water filter every six months, or on the schedule recommended by your refrigerator’s use and care manual. It’s extremely important to purchase replacements only from reputable sources to reduce the chances you’ll end up with a counterfeit model.
  • Indoor air:  April showers may bring May flowers, but with those flowers, buds and blossoms come less welcome allergies. The EPA estimates that indoor air may contain double to five times as many pollutants as the air outside. Room air cleaners, vacuums and washing bedding in hot water can help you fight the main indoor allergens: pollen, mold and mildew, animal dander and tobacco smoke. In addition to those pollutants, many people now look to room air cleaners as an important tool for reducing microbiological pollutants like viruses, bacteria and mold. Anyone looking to create a healthier home environment should consider adding a room air cleaner.

Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste at Home

Grocery prices are on the rise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices are 7.4 percent overall in the past 12 months in the agency’s food at home index, with the sharpest increases in meat and seafood. But prices for kitchen staples like milk and eggs are also heading upward, and many people are looking for ways to get the most out of every dollar they spend on food. One of the best ways to save money on food is to reduce the amount of food you waste.

The amount of food you waste might surprise you. A 2020 study by Penn State researchers estimated that the average American household wasted just over 30 percent of its food. That’s a lot of food being bought and not eaten. Food waste is also an environmental issue, as food waste sent to a landfill releases methane, a greenhouse gas, as it breaks down. Food waste accounts for 24% of trash sent to landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Reducing food waste can be a challenge. Life happens. The leftovers get hidden behind something else in the refrigerator (effective refrigerator organization can take care of that), or you forget about the fruit or vegetables in the crisper. Fortunately, the small steps you take to reduce food waste can add up. It’s time to put your appliances to work to help you use every ingredient. Here are some options:

Blend the stems, ends and stalks into a smoothie: The ends of the carrots, celery and other vegetables that didn’t make it into the main dish can be used to add a little more nutrition to your next smoothie. Healthline recommends using parts of produce that aren’t traditionally consumed, like the tops of beets and carrots and fruit and vegetable peels.

Make juice: A juicer makes it easy to make juice from fruits or vegetables that are about to go to waste. But you can use your blender to make juice if you don’t have a juicer. Some blenders even have a “juice” setting. You may have to strain the mixture afterward if you want a thinner juice.

Cook up a pot of soup: You can make soup from any vegetable. Soup is an excellent way to use many leftover ingredients at once. And you can freeze the leftover soup so it doesn’t go to waste.

Overnight oats: Get a jump on tomorrow’s breakfast. Any type of fruit can be used to make overnight oats in your refrigerator.

Potato peel chips: You thought those potato peels were destined for the trash or food waste disposer, but 20 minutes in the oven can turn them into a satisfying snack. Use a potato peeler instead of a knife so the peels aren’t too thick. This is a perfect way to get more out of what you have if you’ve recently made mashed potatoes or another recipe that didn’t use the peels.

Make bone broth: Use bones, skin and any leftover meat, fat, gristle or vegetable pieces to make a pot of bone broth. You’ll need your slow cooker or multi-cooker, and possibly your oven. Try this recipe from Old Time Farm. Bone broth is rich in nutrients and may have other health benefits.

Stay organized to reduce food waste

Keeping an organized refrigerator and freezer is another important step in reducing household food waste.

  • Store food in clear containers with labels showing the date they were put into the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Put older foods and opened foods up front.
  • Organize your refrigerator and make a meal plan before you shop.
  • Create “zones” in your freezer for different types of foods.
  • Freeze food in serving-sized portions.
  • Keep what you will be eating next easily accessible.

A few scraps are unavoidable. Put them in the food waste disposer instead of the trash.

3 Quick Tips for Using a Rice Cooker

Rice is an easy to make, easy-to-store dish that compliments just about any main course or forms the base of any number of creative dishes. And while the word “rice” usually is associated with plain white rice first, there are numerous varieties available—brown, black, wild rice (which is not truly rice), basmati, yellow and others. Rice is filling and, when stored properly, can be kept almost indefinitely. Those traits made it a popular item while people stocked their pantries during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rice is popular all over the world. In the U.S., people eat an average of 27 pounds of rice every year. Annual consumption is only slightly lower in Canada, at 23 pounds.

Rice can be cooked on a range, but if you are a frequent consumer of the world’s most popular grain, a rice cooker may be the way to go. Rice cookers are made to take the guesswork out of cooking rice and allow you to prepare it in minutes with minimal effort and cleanup. Using a rice cooker can also free up a burner on the range for other dishes. While it is designed to make cooking rice easy, the rice cooker’s name understates this appliance’s capabilities. Many models are can also cook other foods like vegetables, oatmeal or other grains, and some can work as a steam cooker or slow cooker.

What makes a perfect order or rice? Tastes vary, but AHAM member Zojirushi, which manufactures rice cookers, suggested that it should meet these characteristics, which the manufacturer uses to define the best-tasting rice:

Appearance: Each grain looks plump, not smashed. An overall sheen makes the rice glisten.

Texture: There is a stickiness, but does not clump together. There is elasticity without breaking apart.

Taste: There is a distinctive sweetness unique to rice when chewed. Good rice is not bland.

Even though rice cookers are incredibly easy to use, there are a few easy steps you can take to ensure your rice cooker turns out a perfect order of rice, every time. Zojirushi offers the following tips:

When measuring water, avoid the “knuckle” method: A common way of measuring water when cooking rice involves putting one finger on top of the rice in the pot and adding enough water to reach the first knuckle. Instead, follow the recommendations in your rice cooker’s use and care manual for measuring water. Some include a cup for proper measuring.

Make adjustments for different kinds of rice: The brand and model of rice cooker you use may have different settings for different types of rice, such as brown rice, long grain, jasmine, or for other dishes like porridge or quinoa. If your rice cooker doesn’t have those settings, check with the manufacturer to see what they recommend for cooking different types of rice or other foods.

Wash the rice before you cook it: This is especially important with more starchy varieties, like short and medium-grain rice. This removes debris and starch from the surface of the rice, which can cause the rice to clump together or become gummy during the cooking process.

Fun Facts about Rice

Uncooked white rice will last for years: Don’t worry about that uncooked white rice going bad. It can last between 10 and 30 years, depending on how it is stored. Brown rice, on the other hand, will only last three to six months.

Rice is grown on every continent: While 90 percent of the world’s rice is grown in Asia, rice is grown on every continent except Antarctica.

Four U.S. Regions Produce Most Domestic U.S. Rice: Nearly all of rice produced in the U.S. is grown in four regions – Arkansas Grand Prairie, the Mississippi Delta, the Gulf Coast (Texas and Southwest Louisiana), and the Sacramento Valley in California.

You can make your own rice flour: Rice flour has become a common substitute for wheat flour to make foods gluten-free. You can make your own rice flour at home with a blender or food processor. Try this method from The Frozen Biscuit.

Rice has a lot of variety: That’s an understatement. There are more than 40,000 varieties of rice! Fortunately, for cooking purposes, you can probably break it down to the length of the grain: short, medium or long.

What Home Design Trends Will Continue After COVID?

What changes have you made in your home over the past two years? Maybe you have taken on a full kitchen renovation. Or perhaps the changes are more subtle, like a new chest freezer in the basement, an air cleaner, or a portable kitchen appliance. COVID-19 and the extra time spent at home drove people to reconsider their surroundings and bring in elements aimed at function, health and comfort.

As we look toward life beyond the pandemic, the longer-term effects COVID-19 will have on home design may be starting to emerge. People are looking beyond clearing clutter and the adaptations they made quickly in 2020 to meet the new needs of daily life at home.

“We’ve connected with our homes and families in such a different way now,” says Paula Kennedy, of Timeless Kitchen Designs in Seattle. “Since [the pandemic] has lasted this long, there truly are going to be some long-lasting effects on our homes because of that.”

We spoke with Kennedy and two other certified kitchen and bath designers who are well known for their forecasting and insights into home design—Jamie Gold and Sarah Barnard—who shared their observations of trends over the past two years during the boom in home renovations and improvements, and of what home design trends will continue after COVID.

Indoor air quality

Indoor air quality is now a leading concern for those renovating or remodeling their homes. While a room air cleaner is one easy option, remodelers are taking multiple paths and using a combination of appliances and design to improve their indoor air quality.

“Right now, the DIY is to go get yourself an air cleaner to put in the corner,” Kennedy says. “That’s where they’re all starting. As we do the remodel, that opens the door to talk more about better kitchen ventilation. I’m not just letting them buy the cheapest vent hood anymore. They’re looking for quality light and sound control.”

Barnard says IAQ has long been an interest of her clients, but that has grown as indoor air quality has received more attention as a health issue.

“Our clients are increasingly interested in indoor air quality as more information is shared about its’ importance,” Barnard says. “While ventilation systems like range hoods and air purifiers are crucial to maintaining indoor air quality, they are only one piece of the puzzle. One of the best things you can do to ventilate your home is to open your windows and encourage the flow of fresh air. To encourage the use of open windows, it’s essential to ensure that all windows are functioning correctly, both in mechanics and for the home’s layout.”

Photo courtesy of Jamie Gold

The pandemic created a stronger link between home and health, Gold says. “Safety isn’t just trip hazards,” she says. “It includes air quality, not having viruses and pollutants in the home. In areas where there are a lot of wildfires, you’re at a point where you need air purification as well.”

More food storage

Demand for many appliances skyrocketed during the pandemic as people adapted their home environment to their new way of life. Homeowners quickly added second freezers, especially chest freezers, as they stocked up on groceries.

“People might look at their family’s food needs, and say they want extra capacity,” Gold says. “Or, they like not having to shop as much. They don’t have the same urgency, but might have decided they like the extra capacity.”

That additional food storage can take different forms, whether it is a second refrigerator or freezer, a refrigerator for specific food or drinks, or extra pantry space.

“Most clients keep their old refrigerator and leave it in the basement or a garage and purchase an additional freezer,” Kennedy says. “It’s on my list of questions to ask clients.” The additional food storage can be specialized, too, in the form of smaller, under-counter refrigeration for drinks, snacks or produce. “Less of a luxury and more of a necessity is that extra beverage refrigerator,” Kennedy says. “You’re freeing up more space in the refrigerator for food, and you’re separating the foot traffic. Everything is about spreading people out in the kitchen.”

Additional functionality doesn’t mean luxury is taking a back seat. Wine refrigerators are still the norm in remodels. “Even with modest budgets, they’re getting them,” Kennedy says.

Building in adequate pantry space and visible food storage can also have the benefit of making the cooking process more enjoyable, Barnard says. “I love spacious pantries, intuitively organized for my clients to easily find what they need and quickly identify what is running low,” she says. ”Visible produce storage is also beneficial for ensuring produce is making its way into most meals.”

Kitchen innovations

Gold reports that a two-year trend of ventilation hoods communicating with induction cooktops is continuing. “The range hood adjusts its performance depending on what’s cooking,” Gold says. “Cooking can emit steam, odors and gasses. Having your vent hood know what level to operate at without having to do anything is huge.”

Both Gold and Kennedy say they are fielding more requests for induction cooktops. “I’ve been doing a lot more, both for aging and place and universal design,” Kennedy says. “They’re mostly looking at it from a safety factor.”

While the days of sanitizing every surface are hopefully behind us, Gold and Kennedy say they are seeing more interest in hands-free operation and voice-activated lighting and appliances. “Everyone is so much more aware of germs,” Kennedy says. “Before the pandemic, I had a hard time twisting arms to do a touch faucet or motion sensors. Now, almost every faucet I install is motion.”

Gold envisions a similar trend of voice-operated appliances emerging, though at this point, she says she is hearing about voice operation more than seeing it.

Multi-purpose use

Did your kitchen or bedroom suddenly morph into an office or classroom in 2020? While that shift may not have been intentional, it could have staying power, and some remodelers are now designing with multi-use in mind. “We’re going to see appliances used beyond the kitchen and laundry room as homes become more multi-purpose,” Gold says. “I’m seeing things like side tables with refrigerated drawers, home offices and rec rooms with beverage centers. People are going to be making their spaces do more—more functional, more comfortable for more enjoyment—and appliances are part of that.”

Barnard reports a similar trend. “Many people request additional refrigerators in another area of their homes, like bedrooms or media rooms, for quick access to refreshments,” she says. “Having a wine fridge or even a separate smaller fridge for storing other beverages helps open up space in the main refrigerator for produce and feels like an accessible option for guests to help themselves.”

Calm and quiet spaces

Reducing clutter is often a goal of design, and COVID-19 triggered a surge in the purging of unwanted possessions. “The desire to deal with clutter has not decreased in the least,” Gold says. “You’re even seeing it with some of the streamlined looks of things. I see it going not to the point of stark minimalism, but to the point of ‘what’s comfortable for me.’”

As important as function is the feeling a room creates. That includes elements to reduce noise and offer pleasant visual elements.

“Sinks or prep areas in front of outdoor views make time there feel like a treat,” Barnard says. “People are sometimes hesitant to put art in their kitchens, but it can bring happiness into the space. A kitchen is a great place for unique and beautiful pottery, whether on display or to store produce or kitchen tools.”

What Appliances Have People Purchased During the Pandemic?

People in much of the U.S. have spent far more time at home during the last 18 months, and many have taken steps to make their space a little more comfortable. That includes changes in habits, like cleaning, cooking or organizing more, as well as home improvements and purchasing new appliances.

AHAM surveyed more than 4,000 U.S. residents in December 2020 to find out, among other things, what new appliances they purchased during COVID. Two out of five people surveyed said they had purchased at least two more appliances since the start of the pandemic.

So what appliances have people brought into their homes during COVID? Well, despite some respondents noting that they no longer showered daily and stopped going to the salon in lieu of at-home haircuts, they didn’t let themselves go completely. Personal care appliances topped the list of appliances purchased since the start of the pandemic, with 35% of respondents reporting a purchase.

Small kitchen appliances were the second-most common, with 32% of respondents reporting purchases. Those appliances were likely being put to good use, as nearly half (48%) of respondents reported cooking at home more often during the pandemic. Forty-two percent of them expect to continue cooking at home more after COVID passes.

Here’s the full rundown of the types of appliances people in the U.S. reported purchasing since COVID began:

Personal care appliances (35%):  Electric toothbrushes were the most common personal care appliance purchased, followed by hair dryers, hair clipper/shavers, hair straighteners and hair curlers.

Small kitchen appliances (32%): Coffee makers were the most commonly purchased small kitchen appliance, followed by air fryers, toasters, blenders, slow cookers and toaster ovens.

Vacuum or floor care appliances (22%): Respondents turned to a variety of floor care appliances as they stepped up their cleaning efforts. Upright vacuums were the most popular, with corded stick vacuums, robotic vacuums and cordless stick vacuums following. Respondents also reported bringing home spray mops, canister vacuums and surface steam cleaners.

Major home appliances (19%): Refrigerators and clothes washers were the most popular purchases among those who reported buying a major home appliance. Microwave ovens were close behind, followed by clothes dryers, dishwashers, oven/cooktop or range, freezers and wine refrigerators.

Air treatment appliances (16%): Increased interest in indoor air quality put air cleaners at the top of the list of air treatment appliances purchased since the start of the pandemic. Humidifiers were next, followed by portable fans, portable heaters and portable air conditioners.

In addition, 17% reported purchasing a smart appliance, and 6% said they had purchased a central vacuum system.

Many who responded to AHAM’s survey purchased more than one appliance.

At least 1 appliance: 22%

2+ appliances: 38%
3+ appliances 17%
4+ appliances 6%
5+ appliances 2%
6+ appliances 1%

What appliance purchases have you made during COVID?

Beat the dry winter air with a humidifier

If you need another reason to dislike winter, dry winter air is a good one. It can dry out your nasal passages, which can make it tougher to bounce back from a stuffy nose. The dry air can aggravate asthma symptoms and cause dry skin. Over time, it can also damage your wooden floors and furniture and hurt the health of your houseplants.

Clearly, if you can offset the dry air, you should. And a humidifier is your go-to appliance for balancing out the air in your home as you count the days until spring. If you are shopping for a humidifier, there are a few things to consider while you’re making your choice. We spoke with Lynne Hammell, marketing director at AHAM member Kaz, which manufacturers Vicks and Honeywell brand humidifiers, for guidance.

Size of the room

If you have an idea of where you’re going to primarily use your humidifier, it’s important to know the size of your room. If you buy a humidifier that’s too large for the space, you’ll not only make the room uncomfortably humid, but also create an environment favorable to mold and mildew. Too small, and your humidifier won’t be able to adequately humidify the space. Humidifiers designed for larger spaces will have larger water tanks.

Check the labeling of the humidifier, which should have information about how big a space the model is made for. Know the square footage of your room and choose the model that’s appropriate for the space.

Warm vs. cool

Appliance manufacturers produce humidifiers that can put out either warm or cool humidity. Your choice is largely a matter of personal preference, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a cool-mist humidifier for children who are suffering from colds and the flu. However, both warm and cool-mist humidifiers will increase the humidity in your home.

Filter or no filter?

Filtered and filter-free humidifiers will both humidify the air. A filtered model will remove minerals from water before the water is put into the air. However, the filter will need to be changed regularly, possibly every 1-2 months.

Filter-free models, obviously, don’t require changing filters. But, you may notice an accumulation of minerals, possibly as a fine white dust, on the outside of a filter-free humidifier. However, some models come with demineralization cartridges, which need to be replaced periodically.

You’ll probably also notice a difference in the way filtered and filter-free humidifiers put moisture into the air. Filtered models are evaporative and use a fan to put humidified air into the room. Filter-free models put a visible mist directly into the air.

Maintenance and care

All humidifiers, whether warm or cool, filtered or filter-free, require regular cleaning and maintenance. Before you buy, take a look at the models you’re considering and think about how easy they might be to clean. Do they have detachable parts that can be placed in a dishwasher? Are there narrow openings that might be difficult to clean? You’ll need to wipe down the inside of the tank regularly, so make sure the humidifier you choose has an opening large enough to reach inside. Keep

The cleaning process will vary depending on the model, but in general, it’s a two-step process that involves descaling and disinfecting. Descaling breaks down any minerals that may have accumulated on the humidifier. Disinfecting will kill any germs that have built up. You’ll need bleach for disinfecting, vinegar for descaling, plus a cloth or brush. Follow the cleaning instructions in your humidifier’s use and care manual.

Keeping the humidifier clean is even more important if you’re using it to ease a cold, allergies or asthma, as a dirty dehumidifier can put contaminants back into the air.

It’s a humidifier, not a diffuser

People sometimes confuse humidifiers with essential oil diffusers. Never put anything but water into a humidifier. Oils or other substances can damage the humidifier’s tank and mechanical parts. Diffusers, which tend to be much smaller than humidifiers, and are designed to accommodate oils.

Craving jerky? Here’s how to make your own

Jerky. It’s that time-honored, protein packed snack synonymous with hikers, hunters and the great outdoors. But, it’s also a go-to everyday snack for many who are looking for a filling, flavorful protein boost and by people looking for easily stored, quick snacks while saving on freezer, counter and refrigerator space.

Whether your taste leans more toward cracked pepper, teriyaki or more exotic flavors, your jerky journey starts with a food dehydrator. While shopping, think about how and how often you’ll be using the dehydrator. Some things to consider are

  • Size: How much food will you dry at once? Where will the dehydrator be stored?
  • Number of shelves or racks you’ll need in the dehydrator
  • Visibility: Some models are clear to give you a view of the food during the dehydration process

Dehydrators offer various temperature settings. Most operate between 90 and 160 degrees F. And if you don’t have a dehydrator, some ranges even have a dehydration setting. You can also dehydrate foods in your oven, though you should check your range’s use and care manual for specific temperature suggestions.

Once you have chosen a dehydrator, it’s time to get to work making jerky. Dehydrating meat and other foods can be a bit labor-intensive on the front end, but that will save time later. “There’s a lot of prep work, a lot of slicing that needs to be done to get the product ready to dehydrate,” said Nancy Becker, a home economist with AHAM member National Presto, which manufactures food dehydrators. But that work saves time later, Becker says. “You can just take it right out of the jar and eat it.”

Like all cooking, the jerky-making process starts with safety. Dehydration won’t necessarily bring the meat to 165 degrees, the temperature necessary to kill bacteria. Plan on cooking your meat to 165 either before or after dehydration. Since you’ll most likely be marinating your jerky, Becker suggests boiling the meat in the marinade.

Any type of meat or fish can be made into jerky. Dehydrators are popular for preserving game meat. If you’re buying a cut of beef, choose a leaner cut or ask your butcher to recommend a good cut of lean meat. Trim away any visible fat. Beef, however, will still contain some marbling that can contribute to rancidity, Becker says.

Will Wagner, a jerky-making veteran of 20 years, author of the cookbook “Jerkyholic,” favors eye of round for making beef jerky. “It’s inexpensive and there’s not a lot of fat,” he says. Beginning jerky makers will probably find most of the ingredients for a basic marinade – salt, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, garlic – already in their kitchen, Wagner says. When you’re ready to experiment, try incorporating different flavors. Wagner prefers spicy jerky, flavored with peppers like Carolina reaper and habenero. “That really kicks it up and makes it interesting,” he says. His current favorite is Habanero Tabasco jerky (recipe below). He also recommends Dos Pepper Jerky, which combines ground  black and lemon pepper for a spicy kick, and The Best Homemade Jerky, which incorporates habaneros, Wworcestershire sauce, sea salt, onion powder and black pepper.

If you haven’t chosen a marinade or seasoning, now is the time to get creative. You are bound only by your meat-loving imagination, but here are a few ideas to stimulate your creativity, and appetite:

Harissa Jerky (Beef Jerky Hub): The mixture is meant to emulate harissa, a sweet, spicy paste common in North Africa.

Habanero Tabasco Jerky (Jerkyholic): A spicy recipe that combines tabasco habanero sauce with Worcestershire, black pepper, garlic and smoked paprika.

Spicy Maple Siracha Beef Jerky (The Kitchn):  Sweet, savory and spicy flavors unite.

When slicing the meat into strips, Becker recommends either cutting while frozen meat is partially thawed or putting fresh meat into the freezer to make it firmer. “It will slice much better,” she says. However, wait until it is fully thawed to put it into the dehydrator. How long you marinate the meat depends on the recipe, but it’s common to marinate meat overnight or even longer.

Your dehydrator’s use and care manual will provide specifics on how long the drying process will take. That will also depend on the thickness of the cut and the amount in the dehydrator. “The best way to determine whether it is done is to take the strip and bend it,” Becker says. “You want it to crack a little bit, but not completely break.”

Storing jerky: Jerky doesn’t last forever. Jerky can be kept at room temperature in a sealed container for two weeks, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia. It should be kept in the refrigerator or freezer if you plan on storing it for longer periods, Becker says.

Jerky is great, but sometimes, you want to add more plants to your diet. You can use your dehydrator on fruits and vegetables, too. Dried fruit makes a great snack, and vegetables can be rehydrated to use in recipes. A few things to know:

  • They’re going to shrink. “What astonishes most people is when you load the dehydrator, it looks like you have a tremendous amount of food,” Becker says. “When you’re done, it looks like you have a snack.” Fruits and vegetables with a high water content will be much smaller once they are dehydrated.
  • Some fruits, like bananas and apples, brown quickly after they are sliced. “If you don’t want those color changes, you have to pre-treat them,” Becker says. She recommends dipping them in pineapple or lemon juice after slicing. “If you’re going to store them for a few months, it will minimize those color changes.”

Do you have an exotic or unique jerky recipe? Share it in the comments below.

Want to save energy? It might be time to Flip Your Fridge!

It’s easy to take your refrigerator for granted. It’s quiet and always there when you need it. With an average lifespan of 10-14 years, it is a reliable and essential part of your home.  And you probably don’t think much about replacing it, until it breaks.

There’s a good reason to replace it before then, especially if your refrigerator is older. Like most appliances, refrigerators have become more efficient over time. Replacing yours can save energy, reduce your carbon footprint, and lower your monthly electricity bill.

A refrigerator that is 15 years old or older uses twice as much energy as a new ENERGY STAR model. Depending on the model you’re replacing, making the switch to a new ENERGY STAR refrigerator could reduce your carbon footprint by 8,200 pounds, and save you as much as $260 over the next five years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Use the DOE’s Flip Your Fridge calculator to figure out how much you will save. You’ll need to know how much you’re paying per kilowatt hour for electricity, but don’t worry if you aren’t sure. The calculator includes a guide showing average utility prices in each state.

July 4th is coming up, and plenty of retailers will be running sales on appliances. Take advantage of this chance to Flip Your Fridge, and start saving.

Making the switch: Many retailers will haul away your old refrigerator as part of the deal. If they don’t, be sure to recycle your old refrigerator so that the refrigerant and foam can be disposed of properly, further reducing carbon pollution. Find a refrigerator or freezer recycling program.

And you may want to think twice before keeping your older refrigerator running in your garage or basement. Depending on the age of the older refrigerator, you could be driving up your energy use unnecessarily. Consider putting a new, smaller unit elsewhere in your home—not in the garage, where fluctuation temperatures can force the refrigerator to work harder to keep the contents cold, using even more energy.