Safe Preserving: Preserving Mushrooms Safely


Commercial button mushrooms can be safely canned, pickled, frozen or dried.

There are hundreds of different kinds of wild mushrooms in Wisconsin. Some are edible and delicious when prepared, while others are poisonous; but the vast majority are not considered edible because of their small size and poor flavor or texture. Mushrooms grow in a wide variety of habitats, and are important as decay organisms, aiding in the breakdown of logs, leaves, steams and other organic debris — working to recycle essential nutrients in the environment.  There is no test or characteristic to distinguish edible from poisonous mushrooms. The Ohio State University has an informative guide to wild mushrooms. Search Ohioline for ‘Wild Mushrooms HYG-3303′. But consumers are urged to use caution when eating foraged mushrooms.

Mushrooms can be preserved using several techniques, with varied results.

Preserving mushrooms – canning. Select only brightly colored, small to medium-size white button mushrooms (from the market) with short stems, tight veils (unopened caps), and no discoloration. Safe methods have not been established for canning wild mushrooms! Mushrooms, whole or sliced, may be canned in 1/2-pint or pint jars in a pressure canner. See the National Center for Home Food Preservation for an approved recipe, or Wisconsin’s Guide to Canning Vegetables Safely.

Preserving mushrooms – pickling. A tasty treat on any relish or hors d’oeuvres tray is pickled mushrooms. Because mushrooms are low in acid, it is important to use a tested recipe for pickling.  Only commercially grown white button mushrooms can be safely pickled. The recipe for Marinated Whole Mushrooms available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation is safe and delicious.

Preserving mushrooms – freezing. Both wild and commercial mushrooms can be safely frozen, as long as they are edible. Choose mushrooms free from spots and decay. Sort according to size. Wash thoroughly in cold water. Trim off ends of stems. If mushrooms are larger than 1 inch across, slice them or cut them into quarters. Heating is required to preserve mushrooms ‘at their best.’ Either steam or saute mushrooms prior to freezing. Delicate mushrooms such as morels will benefit from a light saute prior to freezing.

Preserving mushrooms – drying. For supreme flavor, try drying mushrooms. Not only is this the easiest way to preserve mushrooms, it also provides you with a real flavor treat. Mushrooms should be dried on a dehydrator, not out-of-doors. Either commercial or edible wild mushrooms can be safely dried. Choose mushrooms free of dirt and decay. Rinse gently and dry. Slice into sections for even drying. Place on a dehydrator tray or rack and dry until brittle or crisp. Mushroom ‘chips’ are a real taste treat.  For a flavor boost, dry mushrooms and grind to a fine powder. Spoon the powder into soups and stews, or add to dough when making fresh pasta.

A comprehensive guide to preserving mushrooms (canning, pickling, freezing, and drying) is available from Oregon State University.

Safe preserving! Barb


Safe & Healthy: Wisconsin Fish Consumption Guidelines

Image courtesy of Wisconsin DNR.

Image courtesy of Wisconsin DNR.

Many individuals in Wisconsin enjoy the chance to relax while fishing. Eating your catch can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. Fish are generally low in unhealthy saturated fats and high in protein. Fish contain vitamins and minerals and are a primary food source for healthy omega-3 fats.  Studies suggest that omega-3 fats may be beneficial during fetal brain and eye development, and eating modest amounts of fish containing these healthy fats may lower the risk of heart disease in adults.  Health experts recommend that fish be included as part of a healthy diet.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources cautions, however, that fish may take in pollutants from their environment and food.  Mercury and PCBs are the contaminants of greatest concern in fish, prompting recommendations that people limit or avoid eating certain species of fish from many waters throughout the nation.

You can get the health benefits of eating Wisconsin’s fish while also reducing potential health risks from unwanted pollutants by following Wisconsin’s fish consumption guidelines. Advise may even be available for your favorite fishing spot through an online tool that lets you select the water that you’ll be fishing.

The following general statewide safe-eating guidelines apply to most of Wisconsin’s inland (non-Great Lakes) waters.

safe eating guidelines

The Wisconsin DNR has other guidelines for 140 waters, including the Great Lakes, where higher levels of mercury in fish require additional precautions. The DNR also offers other resources:

Choose wisely for safe eating – videos

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also offers fish c0nsumption advice in English, Hmong, and Spanish.

Stay safe and healthy! Barb


Safe & Healthy: New Egg Marketing Rules

eggs2A new egg sales law, Act 245, signed by Governor Scott Walker allows small-scale egg producers to more easily sell eggs in the marketplace. Act 245 exempts small-scale egg producers who sell eggs directly from the farm to consumers, at farmers’ markets, and on egg sales routes, from having to acquire a food processing plant license for egg collection and packing activities.  Small-scale producers are those with 150 birds or fewer.

“Even though the new law allows small-scale producers to sell their eggs without a food processing plant license, they still are required to have a mobile retail food establishment license to sell their eggs at farmers’ markets and on egg sales routes,”  said Dr. Steve Ingham, administrator of DATCP’s Division of Food Safety. “They still have to meet some basic food safety requirements.”

If, however, the eggs are pre-sold, perhaps through subscription, and taken to a market for delivery, are delivered to a buyer’s home, or other location for drop-off, no license is necessary. In other words, if the producer knows who they sold those eggs to when they are packing up to leave the farm, this is a pre-sale and no mobile retail license is required.  If the producer packs eggs to sell to anyone at the farmer’s market or sell door-to-door, the sale has not yet occurred and a mobile retail license would be required.

A mobile retail license for a single jurisdiction, such as Bayfield County, will be issued by the county, and the county will conduct all inspections. If the mobile retail unit will operate in multiple jurisdictions, such as Ashland, Bayfield, and Iron counties, then the operator will get a statewide mobile retail license from DATCP ( or 608-224-4923).

Egg producers covered by this law must adhere to the following conditions:

  • Eggs must be sold directly to the consumer, not to a wholesaler or distributor.
  • The number of egg-laying birds in the egg producer’s flock must not exceed 150.
  • Eggs can be sold from the farm where the eggs were laid, at a Wisconsin farmers’ market, or on an egg sales route.
  • Eggs must be packaged in a carton that is labeled with the producer’s name and address, the date the eggs were packed into the carton, a sell-by date within 30 days, and a statement indicating that the eggs in the package are ungraded and uninspected.
  • Packaged eggs must be kept (on the farm, and during transport and holding up until the time of sale) at a temperature no higher than 41°F.

“The timing of this Act should make it easier for small egg producers to take advantage of the upcoming farm market season,” Ingham said. Farmers seeking more information should contact the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection by email or 608-224-4923.

Stay food safe! Barb

Safe & Healthy: Food Safety at the Market

Shopping at a farmer’s market is a great way to get locally-grown, fresh fruit, vegetables, farmersmktand other foods for you and your family. Guidelines are available to help vendors and consumers ensure that the market experience is enjoyable and food-safe.

Vendors. North Carolina has developed a curriculum to educate farmers’ market managers and vendors about measures to minimize food safety risks. The program is titled Good Farmers’ Market Practices. The 3 modules to the training materials can be downloaded from the web site: Food Safety Principles, Personnel Health & Hygiene, and Food Sampling. Information on rules which govern processing and sale of foods at farmers’ markets is available from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.

Consumers.  Food safety is also important for consumers visiting a farmers’ market. The Food and Drug Administration offers tips for a food-safe experience:


  • Before and after preparing fresh produce, wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. We don’t recommend washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes.
  • Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first. Any bacteria present on the outside of items like melons can be transferred to the inside when you cut or peel them.
  • Be sure to refrigerate cut or peeled fruits and vegetables within two hours after preparation.

Juices and Cider

Check to see whether the juice or cider has been treated (pasteurized) to kill harmful bacteria. Pregnant women, children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems should drink only pasteurized or treated juice.

Milk and Cheeses

  • Don’t buy milk at a farmer’s market unless you can confirm that it has been pasteurized. Raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms, such as Salmonella, pathogenic E. coli, and Listeria, that can pose serious health risks to you and your family.
  • Pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for illness caused by Listeria. One source for this bacteria is soft cheese made from unpasteurized milk. If you buy soft cheese (including feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, queso blanco, queso fresco, and panela), check the label to make sure that it’s made from pasteurized or treated milk.


  • Make sure that eggs are properly chilled at the market. The FDA requires that untreated shell eggs must be stored and displayed at 41°F or cooler.
  • Before buying eggs, open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and the shells are not cracked.


  • Make sure that the meat is properly chilled at the market. Meat should be kept in closed coolers with adequate amounts of ice to maintain cool temperatures.
  • Bring an insulated bag or cooler with you to the market to keep meat cool on the way home.
  • Be sure to keep meat separate from your other purchases, so that the juices from raw meat (which may contain harmful bacteria) do not come in contact with produce and other ready-to-eat foods.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has developed a powerpoint program to help consumers select safe, healthy produce at the farmers’ market. The program is available online: Food Safety and Selection at the Farmers’ Market.

Stay food safe, Barb

Safe Preserving: Time to Get Ready (and testing canner lids)

canning_foods07.jpgThe summer food preservation season will be here before we know it so it’s a good time to UW_Whitewaterstart getting ready. The National Center for Home Food Preservation offers tips for getting equipment ready for the season.

  • A pressure canner is essential for canning low-acid vegetables, meats, fish, and poultry. Two basic types are available. One has a dial gauge to indicate the pressure inside the canner; the other has a metal weighted gauge. Dial gauges must be tested for accuracy before each canning season.  Check the rubber gasket if your canner has one; it should be flexible and soft, not brittle, sticky or cracked. Also make sure any small pipes or ventports with openings are clean and open all the way through.
  • A boiling water canner is needed for canning other foods such as fruits, pickles, jellies and jams. The canner should be deep enough to allow at least one to two inches of water to boil over the tops of the jars. Both types of canners should have a rack in the bottom to keep jars off the bottom of the canner.
  • Inventory your jars and decide if you need to buy new jars this year. Inspect those you have for nicks, cracks or chips, especially around the top sealing edge. Nicks can prevent lids from sealing. Very old jars can weaken with age and repeated use; they break under pressure and heat.
  • Purchase new flat lids. Used lids should be thrown away. The screw bands are re-usable if they are not bent, dented or rusted.

A final must is reliable, up-to-date canning instructions. The Recipes link on the Safe & Healthy site has links to resources from the University of Wisconsin Extension and other reliable sources.

Dial gauge canners must be tested each year for accuracy. Ordering information and a how-to guide is available for the Presto Testing Unit. County offices should plan now to send master dial gauges to Presto for calibration. A sample letter is available. canner-check1

Remember, the Presto gauge testers are designed to be used only with lids from: Presto, Maid of Honor, Magic Seal, and National canners.

Interested in learning, or reviewing, how to test a dial gauge canner? There is a blog post and a link to a video to help you review.

Happy Spring…Safe Preserving! Barb

Safe & Healthy: Scientific Status of Organic Foods

Image courtesy of the Institute of Food Technologists

Image courtesy of the Institute of Food Technologists

The growth of the organic foods industry in the United States has been dramatic since the late 1990′s. It is estimated that organic sales increased by nearly 20% annually between 1997 and 2005, with consumer sales reaching $13.8 billion in 2005. While initial organic food production primarily involved small farms and local distribution of fresh produce, today’s organic food system is a complex combination of small and large food producers, local and global distribution networks, and a wide variety of products, including fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and processed foods. A scientific status summary has been published by the Institute of Food Technologists which reviews the current state of the organic foods industry.

Organic practices. Organic production can be defined as an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony. U.S. regulations require that organic foods are grown without synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, modern genetic engineering techniques (including genetically modified crops), chemical fertilizers, or sewage sludge.

USDA-Organic-SealLabeling. The USDA has established standards for labeling of foods with the USDA organic seal. All foods labeled with the USDA organic seal must come from a certified farm or handling operation. All products labeled as “100% organic” must contain only organically produced ingredients; products labeled as “organic” must contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients. The other 5% of ingredients may come from the National List of Approved Substances. Products containing 100% and 95% organic ingredients may use the USDA organic seal. Products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients can be labeled “made with organic ingredients” and list up to 3 of those ingredients on the principal display panel; however, such products may not use the USDA organic seal. Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may only list which ingredients are organic on the information panel.

Nutrition and food safety. Organically produced fruits and vegetables possess fewer pesticide residues and lower nitrate levels than do conventional fruits and vegetables. In some cases, organic foods may have higher levels of plant secondary metabolites; this may be beneficial with respect to suspected antioxidants such as polyphenolic compounds, but also may be of potential health concern when considering naturally occurring toxins. Some studies have suggested potential increased microbiological hazards from organic produce or animal products due to the prohibition of antimicrobial use, yet other studies have not reached the same conclusion. Bacterial isolates from food animals raised organically appear to show less resistance to antimicrobial agents than those from food animals raised conventionally. On balance, there are no proven nutritional or food safety differences between organically produced foods and ingredients or those produced using conventional agricultural practices. Any food component exerts a health risk or benefit on a dose-related basis, and data do not yet exist to ascertain whether the differences in the levels of such chemicals between organic foods and conventional foods are of biological significance.

Other blog posts  have featured information on whether you should choose organic produce and on agricultural biotechnology (growing of genetically modified crops). Other resources include:

Stay safe and healthy! Barb

Safe Preserving: Yeah! for canned fruits and vegetables

fruit_vege2The majority of Americans do not consume enough fruits and vegetables. In fact, only 33% of Americans consume the recommended amount of fruits and only 27% consume the recommended amount of vegetables. A new study shows that canned fruits and vegetables can help bridge the dietary gap.

Popular media often emphasizes the point that only fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy, and many consumers believe this, but a new study by researchers from Michigan State University goes a long way to debunking this myth. Led by Dr. Steven Miller, assistant professor at Michigan State University’s Center for Economic Analysis, researchers looked at both the potential nutritional benefits and the economic benefits of consuming canned food.  In terms of nutritional benefits, researchers found that canned fruits and vegetables may well be just as healthy or healthier than their fresh counterparts. For example, canned tomatoes actually contain higher amounts of lycopene and B vitamins than fresh tomatoes. And the canning process makes fiber in beans and other vegetables more soluble to the human body.  While food processors and home canners may add sugar or salt to flavor canned fruits or vegetables, these ingredients are optional, and fruits and vegetables may be safely canned without them. Increasingly, processors are opting to manufacture fruits canned with little or no added sugar or fruit packed in juice, and vegetable processors are offering a greater variety of no-salt added products.

Also, the study determined that canned fruits and vegetables can stretch food budgets. Canned foods cost up to 50% less than frozen, and 20% less than fresh, and canned foods are much less likely to be wasted. Furthermore, when people live in areas with limited access to fresh produce, canned foods can fill this nutritional void.

And, canned fruits and vegetables may be safer to eat than fresh or frozen, a real plus. The heat used in canning is designed to destroy pathogens and spoilage organisms that can make people sick or harm product quality.

So  next time you open a jar of home-canned applesauce or green beans, or you take the can opener to a commercially canned fruit or vegetable product, you can feel good knowing that you are feeding your family food that is healthy for them.

Safe (and healthy) preserving! Barb

Safe Preserving: Time to Think of the Garden

With the snow melting, it’s time to start thinking of the summer garden. There are some excellent resources shared on a recent webinar Planning for a Successful Gardening Year. garden

Gardening resources

Print copies of these and many other resources are available from the Learning Store.

Another good source of information is the Wisconsin Master Gardener program. This dedicated group of county Extension educators and community volunteers shares their expertise for successful gardening year round. On Wednesday, May 7, 10-11 am, there will be an open Q&A session related to home and community gardening. Ask your questions- and as long as time allows UW-Extension will answer! More information is available on the People & Plants website.

Composing information 
A discussion of successful gardening often involves questions related to composting. This is one area where food safety matters!

Backyard composting (Washington State University)

Construction of home compost units (University of Florida)

How to build a compost bin (University of Missouri)

Preventing E. coli from garden to plate (Colorado State University)

Happy gardening! Barb

Safe & Healthy: Agricultural Biotechnology

One of the more controversial techniques in agriculture is biotechnology. At its essence, corn_fieldbiotechnology is the use of genetic tools to develop crop plants and farm animals with special traits; the introduction of herbicide resistance into agronomic crops is a good example.  Selective breeding of crop plants and farm animals is far from new. Farmers over the millennia have employed crossbreeding to modify various characteristics of plants and animals. Over the past 20 years, scientists simply discovered a way to do this faster and more precisely and we call this biotechnology.

Why biotechnology? Introduction of precise segments of genetic information into living organisms is the hallmark of modern biotechnology. Consider this analogy: if each unit of information in the genetic code of a wheat plant is represented by just one letter, it would take 1,700 books of 1,000 pages each (or 1.7 million pages) to describe the genetic information in each wheat plant.  Traditional techniques of plant breeding combine the genetic information of one wheat plant (all 1.7 million pages) with another wheat plant (another 1.7 million pages) in hopes of producing a better off-spring with a new trait, for example increased cold resistance.  Through biotechnology we insert discrete segments of genetic information into the genome of a plant, animal, or microorganism. In the wheat-plant example, biotechnology allows a scientist to replace just one segment in the 1.7 million pages of information in the wheat genome. We often refer to the product of such gene manipulation as a genetically modified organism or GMO. 

Food safety concerns. The US government and agencies such as the National Science Foundation have long held the belief that plants and other organisms produced using genetic engineering techniques posed no new or different risks to human health or the environment than those produced using other breeding methods. A new review (March 2014) of research dealing with genetically modified organisms, a review of 1783 scientific records published between 2002 and 2012,  provides extensive reassurance of the safety of these organisms. This review is published in the journal Critical Reviews in Biotechnology.

Nonetheless, genetically modified crops produced using biotechnology are specifically regulated by governments and may not be marketed until they have successfully passed a rigorous pre-market safety evaluation. On a case-by-case basis, it is determined if the new trait introduced into a crop is cause for safety concerns.

The U.S. is the largest producer of genetically modified crops.  A study by the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University suggested that 60% to 70% of processed foods on U.S. grocery shelves have genetically modified ingredients. The most common genetically modified foods are soybeans, corn (maize), cotton, and rapeseed (canola) oil. That means many foods made in the U.S. containing corn or high-fructose corn syrup, foods made with soybeans, and foods made with cottonseed and canola oils could have genetically modified ingredients.

A review of the safety of genetically engineered foods, authored by Dr. Carl Winter, a food safety specialist at the University of California-Davis is available: Safety of genetically engineered food

The American Council on Science and Health also has produced a new video highlighting biotechnology.

Stay safe and healthy! Barb

Safe & Healthy: Salmonella

Image courtesy of BBC News.

Image courtesy of BBC News.

Every year, Salmonella is estimated to cause about 1.2 million illnesses in the United States, with about 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths – the top bacterial cause of foodborne hospitalizations and deathsSalmonella germs have been known to cause illness for over 100 years. They were discovered by an American scientist named Salmon, for whom they are named.

Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. Salmonellosis, the illness caused by the bacteria, usually lasts 4 to 7 days. Although, most persons recover without treatment, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

Take care in the summer! Salmonellosis is more common in the summer than winter. Perhaps because we are more often eating outside of our homes at picnics and parties, cooking on the grill, or visiting local farms, it’s more important than ever in the summer to be Food Safe!

Image courtesy of the CDC.

Image courtesy of the CDC.

Because foods of animal origin may be contaminated with Salmonella, people should not eat raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, or meat. Raw eggs may be unrecognized in some foods, such as homemade Hollandaise sauce, Caesar and other homemade salad dressings, homemade ice cream, homemade mayonnaise, cookie dough, and frostings. Poultry and meat, including hamburgers, should be well-cooked, not pink in the middle. Persons also should not consume raw or unpasteurized milk or other dairy products. Produce should be thoroughly rinsed with clean water before peeling or eating.

The Centers for Disease Control offers these quick tips for preventing illness from Salmonella.

  • Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs, or raw (unpasteurized) milk. NEW temperature cooking charts are available.
  • If you are served undercooked meat, poultry or eggs in a restaurant or at a party, don’t hesitate to send it back to the kitchen or the grill for further cooking.
  • Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry. For extra cleanliness, follow up cleaning of work surfaces and kitchen utensils with a sanitizing rinse in a dilute bleach solution: 1 teaspoon bleach per quart of water. Allow to air dry.
  • Rinse all fresh produce with clean water (no soap!) before eating or preparing. For netted melons like cantaloupe, rinse a whole melon in a dilute bleach solution before slicing or carving.
  • Wash hands after touching pets or farm animals. Outbreaks of salmonellosis have been reported due to contact with turtles and other reptiles, birds (including waterfowl), baby chicks, and pets.
  • Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released new data showing the scope of Salmonella in the United States, 1968-2011.

Be food safe, Barb

Safe and Healthy: Preserving Food at Home is part of the University of Wisconsin-Extension For Your Information Network. Protected by Akismet. Blogging software based on WordPress.
© Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy