Category Archives: Misc

Fruits and Vegetables

Benefits of Vacuum Blending

Blenders have long been a standard piece of kitchen equipment. They were originally used mostly for making milk shakes of all types. Newer blenders are being made much more powerful than the original ones, so they can break down more dense items such as hard fruits and vegetables and even frozen foods and ice cubes. More recently, the vacuum blender was developed and is steadily gaining popularity. The beauty of vacuum blenders is that they can be used either as a traditional blender or with the vacuum feature. People have become increasingly more interested in health, wellness, and nutrition. As a result, smoothies are now the trend over milk shakes because various fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens can be combined to make healthful drinks. These drinks can be consumed in assorted ways, including being meals in themselves, desserts, and snacks. With more people drinking smoothies on a regular basis, people are realizing that vacuum blending has its advantages when making these healthful drinks. With vacuum blending, air is sucked out of the blender jar before items are processed. There are advantages to this step, including the following:

* Maximized nutrients. It’s well-known that we cannot survive without oxygen. However, exposure to oxygen is often what causes food to lose its freshness and get stale or spoil. Oxidation is what causes apples, bananas, and avocados to turn brown when cut or peeled. When we use a typical high speed blender, oxygen reacts with the ingredients during the blending process, degrading the nutritional value of the food. Some nutrients, especially Vitamins C, A, and E are easily degraded by exposure to air. With a vacuum blender, air (and, of course oxygen) is removed from the blender jar before the food is blended. This prevents oxygen from interacting with the food and its nutrients as it is being blended, maintaining the nutritional value of the ingredients. Therefore, vacuum blended smoothies (and other foods as well) are potentially more nutritious than those prepared in a traditional blender.

* Preserved antioxidants. In a 2021 (48:271-277) issue of the Journal of Plant Biotechnology, researchers compared the effects of vacuum blending and traditional blending on the overall quality and antioxidant properties of apple juice and blueberry juice. The juice was tested after being blended for dissolved oxygen and it was found that over 80% (83% in the apple juice and 86% in the blueberry juice) of the dissolved oxygen had been removed. Comparisons of antioxidant activity between vacuum and traditional blending were made 3, 6, and 12 hours after blending. Antioxidants were well preserved with the vacuum blending with little change in antioxidant activity, whereas significantly more loss occurred with traditional blending. Their comparison confirmed that vacuum blending was associated with superior quality maintenance and antioxidant properties when compared with traditional blending.

* Preserved flavor. With oxygen being removed before food is blended, the food maintains its freshness for a longer period of time. Because of this, vacuum blended food will taste better than when the same food is traditionally blended. The longer the food is stored, the greater the flavor difference will be realized.

* Better texture. Vacuum blended smoothies have a creamy, smooth texture with little, if any foam. Traditional blenders usually cannot achieve such a smooth texture, leaving small bits of food throughout the mixture. Also, they often create a foam on the top of blended food, which is simply the result of mixed-in air.

* No separation over time. Traditionally blended smoothies tend to separate, leaving a watery layer on the bottom of the storage jar in a relatively short amount of time. Vacuum blended smoothies do not separate, leaving the blended food intact until needed.

* Preserved colors. Because oxygen is removed before processing in a vacuum blender, foods that can discolor when exposed to oxygen, such as apples, bananas, and avocados, will not turn brown after being blended. When such foods are processed in a traditional blender, the mixture will tend to turn somewhat brown as the contents interact with the oxygen that was blended with them.

* Extended storage time. Because ingredients are blended in a vacuum, preventing the interaction with oxygen which causes deterioration, smoothies can be made further in advance than with traditional blending. Furthermore, when sealing smoothies in mason jars with a vacuum sealer, by removing air from the jar before storage, the quality of the food can be preserved even longer. This frees up kitchen time, allowing people to batch prepare for a period of time, rather than blending each day.

* Other options. Not only can you make delicious and smooth smoothies with a vacuum blender, but you can also prepare baby food, blended soup, pesto, spreads, tomato sauce and other sauces, pâtés, cake mixes, ice cream, salad dressings, and more.

If you are considering investing in a high-speed blender and are serious about preserving nutrients in your food, it may be wise to consider choosing a high-speed vacuum blender.


About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

Fruits and Vegetables

Food Safety 101

Food Safety 101

Food Safety is Important for Everyone. Prevention is key!
Foodborne illness, also referred to as foodborne infections, foodborne disease, or food poisoning can affect absolutely anyone. Researchers have identified over 250 foodborne diseases, with most of them being caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Foodborne illness can also occur from contamination of chemicals or other toxins in food.

Foodborne illness affects as many as 1 in 6 Americans annually. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year 48 million people get foodborne infections, with 128,000 being hospitalized, and 3,000 dying as a result of their illness. The effects can range anywhere from mild digestive distress to death, and many problems in between. It can result in very serious consequences, so foodborne illness should not be taken lightly. Knowing how to avoid foodborne illness, recognizing the symptoms, and knowing what to do if you do encounter such illness can literally be life-saving. It’s something we should all be aware of, with knowing how to ward off any potential problems cannot be underestimated.

High Risk Populations. Some individuals are more prone to developing foodborne illness, and if they do get sick, their health risks become increased. This includes people with a weakened immune system, such as those undergoing cancer treatment, those who have certain illnesses such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease, those who have had organ transplants, or HIV/AIDS, or are taking certain medications, children under the age of 5, adults 65 years of age and older, and pregnant women.

Some Pathogens That Cause Foodborne Illness

The most common pathogens that cause foodborne illness in the United States are:

* Norovirus. Norovirus is the most common foodborne illness, and it is a very contagious virus. It can arise from consuming food or beverages infected with the virus. However, it can also be spread from person to person, especially when someone is caring for the infected person. Symptoms of norovirus include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and mild fever.

* Salmonella. Salmonella are bacteria live in the intestines of mammals. People usually come in contact with it by eating food that was contaminated by animal feces. Symptoms of a salmonella infection include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.

* Clostridium perfringens. The CDC estimates that this bacterium causes almost 1 million foodborne illnesses in the United States every year. The bacterium produces spores in their inactive forms that can survive heat, dryness, and other environmental conditions. The bacteria become active and multiply when food is kept at an unsafe temperature (between 40-140°F) for an extended period of time. When someone eats the food, C. perfringens produces a toxin that causes diarrhea. Foods typically linked with this type of foodborne illness include poultry (such as turkey and chicken), meats (such as beef and pork), and gravy. Outbreaks of this type of infection tend to happen where large numbers of people are served and keeping food at the proper temperatures is difficult. Such settings include hospitals and school cafeterias, prisons, nursing homes, and large events serving catered food. Most of such outbreaks happen in November and December with many being linked to common holiday foods such as turkey and roast beef.

* Campylobacter. This bacterium causes about 1.5 million illnesses annually in the United States. The infection can happen when people eat raw or undercooked poultry, or something that touched it. It can also be transmitted by eating other foods, including infected seafood, meat, and produce, by having contact with animals, and by drinking untreated water. People usually recover without treatment, but some need antibiotics. Symptoms include diarrhea (often bloody), fever, and stomach cramps. Nausea and vomiting may occur along with the diarrhea. Symptoms often start 2 to 5 days after ingesting the tainted food, and can last about one week. Sometimes complications such as irritable bowel syndrome, temporary paralysis, and arthritis can occur. In those with a weakened immune system, Campylobacter infection can spread to the bloodstream causing a life-threatening infection.

* Staphylococcus aureus (Staph). Food poisoning caused by Staph is a gastrointestinal illness caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by the bacterium. The illness is characterized by a sudden onset of nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Most of those infected will have diarrhea. Symptoms occur quickly, usually within 30 minutes to 8 hours after consuming the item with the Staph toxin. Symptoms last no longer than one day, and severe illness is rare. The illness cannot be passed from one person to another.

About 25% of people and animals have Staph on their skin and in their nose. It usually does not cause illness in healthy people, but Staph makes toxins that can cause food poisoning. Food contaminated with the toxin may not smell bad or look spoiled. Foods that are not cooked after handling are particularly at risk of being contaminated with Staph. Such foods include sliced meats, puddings, pastries, and sandwiches. People who carry Staph on their skin can contaminate food if they don’t wash their hands before working with food. The bacteria themselves are killed by cooking, however, the toxins are not destroyed by the heat and will still be able to cause illness.


Some other pathogens that don’t infect as many people as the most common ones, but their illnesses are more likely to lead to hospitalization include:

* Clostridium botulinum (Botulism). Botulism is a rare, but very serious disease caused by a toxin produced by this bacterium (and also some closely related other types of Clostridium bacteria). The toxin attacks the body’s nervous system, causing difficulty breathing, muscle paralysis, and even death. The toxin can be produced in food, wounds, and even the intestines of infants. Interestingly, the bacteria that make the toxin are found naturally in many places and it is rare for them to make people sick. The bacteria produce spores that help the bacteria survive in the environment. The spores usually do not cause sickness. However, under certain conditions, the spores can grow and make a potent lethal toxin. The conditions that allow the spores to grow and produce toxins include: low or no oxygen (anaerobic) environment, low acid, low sugar, low salt, a specific temperature range, and a certain amount of water. Improperly home-canned, preserved, or fermented foods can provide the right conditions for this to happen. When the foods are eaten, people can become seriously sick, or even die if they don’t get medical attention quickly.

Symptoms of botulism usually start with weakness of the muscles that control the eyes, face, mouth, and throat. The weakness may spread to the neck, arms, torso, and legs. Botulism may also weaken the muscles involved in breathing, which can lead to breathing difficulty and possible death.

* Listeria. Listeriosis is not very common in the United States, but it is the leading cause of death among those infected with foodborne illnesses. It is caused by eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. About 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, with about 260 dying. Mild cases cause gastrointestinal distress, which resolves on its own. However, the bacteria can become invasive in the body, making its way into the blood and even brain. When this happens, it can cause meningitis, miscarriage, and other fatalities. The bacterium is most likely to cause illness in pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems.

Listeria can hide in many foods. In the 1990s, infections were mostly linked to deli meats and hot dogs. Currently, Listeria outbreaks are often linked to dairy products and produce. Recent outbreaks have been traced to soft cheese, celery, sprouts, cantaloupe, and ice cream.

* Escherichia coli (E. coli). Many strains of E. coli are harmless. However, certain strains that can enter the body from contaminated food or water can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, and other illnesses.

* Vibrio. Vibriosis causes about 80,000 infections with 100 deaths in the United States annually. People become infected by eating raw or undercooked seafood, or exposing a wound to seawater. Most infections happen from May through October when water temperatures are warmer.

Vibrio can cause watery diarrhea often accompanied by abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills. The symptoms often occur within 24 hours of ingesting the tainted food, and last about three days. Severe illness is uncommon, and usually occurs in people with a weakened immune system.

The bacteria can cause a skin infection when an open wound is exposed to salt water or brackish water, which is a mixture of fresh and salt water, often found where rivers meet the sea.

Symptoms of Food Poisoning
Most people with a foodborne illness recover without medical treatment. However, those with severe symptoms should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Some common symptoms of foodborne diseases are:

* Nausea
* Vomiting
* Stomach cramps
* Diarrhea

It’s important to note that symptoms may differ from person to person, and may also depend on which pathogen or toxin contaminated the food. Sometimes, symptoms can be very severe, even life-threatening.

Common Food Safety Mistakes
No one intentionally does something to cause foodborne illness among their family and friends. However, some innocent mistakes can cause serious illness when handling food, especially raw meat, fish and poultry. Being aware of simple mistakes that can easily happen can help to prevent serious illness. The following are some common food safety mishaps that can happen when a person is not thinking about food safety.

* Leaving raw meat out of the refrigerator for an extended amount of time. This allows harmful bacteria to breed and can possibly make someone very, very sick. Such a thing can happen when someone is preparing the grill. It’s best to leave the raw animal foods covered and in the refrigerator until everything is ready for cooking or grilling.

* Leaving cooked or raw food uncovered or unrefrigerated beyond safe times, especially when eating outside. This exposes food to insects, debris, viruses, and bacteria, in addition to the food being kept in the temperature danger zone (40°F to 140°F) too long. When left within the danger zone range too long, harmful bacteria can flourish potentially making the food dangerous to eat. Keeping food covered, while keeping hot food hot and cold food cold can go a long way in avoiding foodborne illness. Always put extra food away as soon as possible after serving.

* Not putting leftover foods away in a timely manner. Leftover food should be refrigerated within two hours of being cooked, when dining inside. Note that this is two hours from the time something is cooked, not two hours from when you’re finished eating. This includes take-out foods or leftover foods from dining out that you elect to take home with you. When eating outside on a hot day, the food should be refrigerated within one hour of being cooked. Foods left out for prolonged times may easily allow the growth of potentially harmful bacteria to grow within. Anyone who eats that food later in the day or in the next day or two could possibly become very sick.

* Not properly sanitizing and disinfecting food preparation surfaces and tools. This can accidentally spread unsafe food juices and/or particles on counters, knifes, cutting boards, plates, tongs, and other surfaces or tools used for food preparation and serving.

* Using the same food preparation tools and surfaces for all foods. This can create an environment where bacteria and viruses are not contained to specific areas and are more likely to spread. This is especially true when handling raw, then cooked animal foods along with fresh produce that will be served raw.

* Sitting food out in the sun. This warms the food, increasing the rate at which pathogens can multiply and reduces the time frame for safe food consumption. Being mindful of temperature regulation and the environment prepared food is exposed to, especially when dining outside can go a long way in preventing foodborne illness.

The Importance of Cleanliness

Personal Hygiene
Wash hands and surfaces often! Germs that can cause foodborne illness can live on your skin. Because of that, it’s very important to wash hands often. This is especially important after using the restroom, blowing your nose, touching or scratching a wound, covering your mouth with your hand when you sneeze or cough, working around others who are sick, changing diapers or assisting a child in the bathroom, handling chemicals, brushing your hair, handling money, handling or petting an animal, handling raw meat, seafood, or poultry, chewing tobacco or smoking, eating, using electronic devices, taking out the trash, handling dirty items (no matter what they are), and touching anything that may contaminate your work area or food.

To thoroughly wash your hands, use warm water and soap, and scrub all areas for at least 20 seconds. Rinse hands well and dry with a clean cloth or fresh paper towel.

Utensils and Equipment

Food preparation and serving equipment and utensils should routinely be washed with hot, soapy water (or washed in a dishwasher) after each use. This includes dishes, glassware, pots and pans, cutting boards, preparation knives and serving utensils, reusable straws, lunchboxes, water bottles, and plastic food containers.

Sanitation on a regular basis can be important for preventing foodborne illness, especially if you prepare raw meats, seafood, and/or poultry. Utensils may be placed in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove them with tongs and allow them to cool before being stored.

To sanitize cutting boards, larger equipment, or items that cannot be boiled, prepare a sanitizing solution of one tablespoon of bleach in one gallon of water. Allow items to soak at least 2 minutes, or up to 5 minutes. Remove them from the solution and allow them to air dry. There is no need to rinse them after being sanitized, unless a stronger bleach solution is used. In that case, rinsing with potable water is necessary. Prepare your sanitizing solution fresh, as needed, because it will not keep beyond 24 hours. It is very important to note that bleaches that contain thickening agents, fragrances, or other additives are not considered to be “food grade” and should not be used on food, plates, utensils, or other equipment that will come in contact with food.

When cleaning sinks and all equipment that will be used in food preparation, it’s important to remember that any disinfectants or cleaning agents used in their cleaning (other than the weak sanitizing bleach solution detailed above) must be rinsed very well so all traces of such chemicals are removed after being cleaned. Residues left from such chemicals can be transferred to food during preparation, potentially causing foodborne illness in those who eat the food.

To sanitize kitchen surfaces such as countertops, work tables, refrigerator shelves and door handles, and oven door handles, prepare a bleach solution of 1/3 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water (4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water). Wipe the solution on the surface to be sanitized and allow it to sit for at least one minute before wiping it off with a clean cloth or paper towel.

Important! Do not use bleach on marble, non-stainless steel, aluminum, silver, or chipped enamel. Also, NEVER mix bleach with any other chemicals. Only mix it with water. Be sure to wear gloves, use cloths or sponges that you don’t mind getting bleach on. Wear clothing that would be safe to wear around bleach in case some splashes on you. Make sure you have good ventilation when using bleach products.

Separate to Prevent Cross-Contamination

Biological Contamination. For food safety, it is critically important to keep raw animal products that will be cooked (like raw meat, fish, poultry, and eggs) away from fresh produce or other foods that will be eaten raw. Raw animal products may be contaminated with harmful bacteria that can make us very sick if ingested, even in tiny amounts. Such foods should be kept separate when shopping, bagging, storing, preparing, or working with these foods in any way imaginable.

Using color coded cutting boards and utensils is helpful in preventing biological cross-contamination. Designating a specific color of cutting board to always be used when cutting raw animal foods and another specific color to always be used when preparing raw produce is extremely helpful in preventing such cross-contamination. Washing and also sanitizing your cutting boards and utensils after each use can be extremely helpful in preventing such contamination. Also, never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food, especially raw animal foods. If you must use that same place, wash it in hot soapy water first, and preferably, also treat it with a sanitizing solution before reusing it. Do not reuse a cutting board in this way because some are porous and you may not remove all potential pathogens that are on it.

Also, be sure to also sanitize kitchen counters and work areas after cutting or handling raw animal foods. Even a small amount of raw meat juice splashed on a kitchen counter can be enough to contaminate food that will be consumed raw if it comes in contact with that area. It’s important to be mindful of keeping your work areas and all tools that were used sanitized after working with any raw animal foods and before doing anything else, to prevent possibly harmful cross-contamination.

Chemical Contamination. Chemical contamination happens when food come in contact with chemicals or factors that are not intended to be ingested. The most common causes of such contamination include cleaning products in the food storage or preparation area, and pesticides and herbicides from unwashed fruit and vegetables.

Products such as detergents, sanitizers, and other chemicals you may have in your kitchen are potential contaminants if they come in contact with your food. Such items should always be stored well away from food and food preparation areas. They should be stored in their original labelled containers. Make a point of never storing food in any container that was used for storing chemicals because any residue on the container could possibly leach onto the food. When using chemicals in your food storage and preparation area, always remember to rinse well after cleaning and sanitizing.

When preparing fresh fruits and vegetables, always rinse them well before peeling, cutting, or preparing them in any way. This includes thick-skinned produce that will be peeled and the peel discarded, such as a melon. If a melon is not washed before being cut, any soil, microorganisms, or chemical residues that linger on the outside of the peel can be carried inward to the edible flesh when you cut into it with a knife. This could lead to possible foodborne illness, depending upon what was on the surface. Washing before cutting is critical to preventing such a mishap.

If you are reactive to chemical residues on fresh produce such as apples, and want to remove more residue than simple rinsing with water can do, there is a way to remove most of what was left on the food. Make enough of a solution of 2 cups water to 1 teaspoon of baking soda to completely submerge the food. Place the food in the solution, weighing it down if needed (because some items such as apples will float). Allow the food to soak in the solution for up to 15 minutes. Remove the food from the soaking solution, rinse, then dry well and store them as usual. Wash and rinse your soaking container well to remove any residue. This tactic has been proven scientifically and works well for removing chemical residues from foods. Here is a link to a video I released on this technique…

Physical Contamination
. Raw meat, poultry, and fish may be contaminated with harmful bacteria. Such foods should always be kept separate from other foods, especially those that are already prepared or will be eaten fresh. In the refrigerator, fresh foods or those foods that have already been prepared should be stored on shelves above shelves where any raw animal foods are being kept. The raw animal foods should be kept tightly wrapped to help prevent any fluids from leaking out of their packaging. This protects your fresh or prepared food from possibly being contaminated with any drippings from the raw animal foods. If any leaking does occur, be sure to thoroughly clean and sanitize the refrigerator shelf before placing any other items in that area.

Also, it is important to be mindful of keeping designated cutting boards and utensils for use with raw animal foods and raw produce items. Using color-coded utensils and cutting boards designated for such items is an excellent way to prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact of possible bacteria in your kitchen. Designate a specific color, such as green, for use with fresh fruits and vegetables. Another color, such as red or orange can be designated only to be used when cutting raw meats, fish, and poultry.

Common Allergens.
If someone you prepare food for is reactive to any specific food, then extra care should be taken to avoid cross-contact of that food with other foods when preparing any meal. Using color-coded utensils and cutting boards would be helpful in making sure there is no cross-contamination. Also, use care in keeping the allergen away from other foods in storage, or at least wrap it well, so there is no chance it will spread (in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer) in any way onto other foods nearby.

Some highly sensitive people may even react to the aroma of a specific food. If you have someone you prepare food for who is extremely reactive to something, it may be best not to have that food in the home at all. It’s far better to be safe than sorry!

About Washing Food

Fruits and Vegetables. Fresh produce usually should not be washed until you are ready to use it. When in doubt, check the food label or packaging that it came in. Foods with an inedible peel, such as melons, citrus fruits, and avocados still should be washed before being cut. This is because any soil or germs on the outside of the peel can be carried into the edible flesh with a knife as it pierces the skin. To prevent this, always wash all fruits and vegetables before using them, even if they will be peeled first. The US Food and Drug Administration suggests we use a vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as a cucumber.

Meats, Poultry, Fish. The flesh of meats, poultry, and fish should not be washed before being cooked. If there are bacteria on the surface of such foods, washing them first can spread the bacteria onto clean surfaces in your kitchen, greatly increasing the risk of foodborne illness. For instance, if contaminated poultry is rinsed in a sink, the sink will then harbor the bacteria. If any of the rinsing water splashed on the faucet handles or countertop, you greatly increase the risk of spreading the bacteria on other foods, equipment, kitchen cloths, and/or utensils from being in contact with the splashed water. The only way to prevent this is to never rinse such foods. The only way to kill bacteria that are on fresh animal foods is to cook them to the proper internal temperature.

Food Safety When Cooking

When cooking, it is important to heat foods to the proper minimum internal temperature to be sure any bacteria in or on the food is destroyed. A food thermometer is essential for this task. See the next section to find the proper cooking temperature for the food you are cooking. Remember that those temperatures listed are minimum temperatures for safe cooking. Bringing foods to higher temperatures is perfectly fine and a matter of personal preference.

When you are finished cooking and need to hold the food for a little while before serving, it is important to keep it out of the temperature danger zone of between 40°F (5°C) and 140°F (60°C). Bacteria grows very rapidly when held between 70°F (21°C) and 125°F (52°C). If food is held within this temperature range for 2 hours or longer, it may not be safe to eat. To keep hot foods hot, they can be placed in an oven set on its lowest temperature, which should be above the maximum temperature of the danger zone. To keep cold foods cold, place them in the refrigerator or in an ice chest where they can be covered with ice. Of course, if they are frozen foods such as ice cream or sorbet, hold them in the freezer until needed. If they are frozen foods that were softened, they can be held in the refrigerator. But be aware that they will continue to thaw or soften if they were previously frozen.

Minimum Internal Cooking Temperatures for Food Safety

The only way to kill all bacteria in foods, especially raw meat is to cook it to the proper minimum internal temperature. A food thermometer is essential for ensuring your food has heated internally to the appropriate temperature. The chart below lists these temperatures:

* 145°F for whole beef, pork, lamb, veal, and uncooked fresh, smoked ham that was packaged in a USDA-inspected facility (and not previously opened)
* 145°F for fish and shellfish of any type
* 160°F for all ground meats
* 160°F for eggs
* 165°F for all chicken and poultry (whole or ground)
* 165°F for heating leftovers of any type (including cooked ham)
* 165°F for casseroles

Chilling Food
After a meal is finished, be sure to pack any leftovers in an appropriate container and store them in the refrigerator as soon as possible. To help prevent foodborne illness, all leftovers should be stored in an appropriate way (in the refrigerator or freezer) within two hours of being cooked. Note that this is not two hours after getting up from the dinner table. Being mindful of how long food has been sitting out and adhering to this rule can help to prevent serious illness in anyone who will consume the leftover foods later. This is important because the temperature of our homes falls within the temperature danger zone. Food should be kept within this range for as little time as possible.

If you are dining outside in the sun on a hot day, it is important to put food away within one hour of being cooked, not two. Under these conditions, food will be subjected to warmer temperatures (still within the danger zone) than if they were served indoors. The warmer temperatures outside will invite bacteria to proliferate even faster than indoors. Hence, we need to chill the food sooner when dining outside, to prevent possible foodborne illness later.

Temperature Danger Zone
. The Danger Zone is the temperature range at which bacteria can readily grow and multiply. The range is between 40°F and 140°F (5-60°C), with the most vulnerable range being between 70°F (21°C) and 125°F (52°C). If a food is contaminated with harmful bacteria and left in the Danger Zone temperature range, the bacteria can grow potentially causing foodborne illness in those who consume the food, even if it has been cooked before being eaten. Keeping food out of this temperature range helps to prevent foodborne illness (by limiting the growth of bacteria in the food) in those who handle or consume the food. Food is safest when it is either frozen, chilled, or heated beyond the Danger Zone temperature range. The colder it is, the less likely for bacteria to grow and multiply.

Ideal Temperature for Your Refrigerator and Freezer.
The ideal temperature range for a refrigerator should be above 32°F (0°C) and below 40°F (4°C). This keeps food out of the danger zone, deterring the growth of any bacteria that may be on the food.

Freezers should be kept at 0°F (-18°C) or below.

Thawing Food
Many of us keep food in the freezer for convenience and safe storage. The problem can come when we want to use the food and time is short. Some foods, such as frozen vegetables, can be prepared from a frozen state, while others, such as a frozen casserole, will cook better when thawed first. There are different ways that food can be safely thawed.

* Refrigerator. Thawing in the refrigerator is slow, but a food-safe method. It’s often convenient to transfer food from the freezer to the refrigerator before retiring for the night, when you need to cook it the next day. If you are thawing meat, poultry, or seafood, be sure to place it in a pan or plastic bag so any juices will not drip onto other foods in the refrigerator. Because of the potential risk of cross-contamination with thawing animal foods, it is best to place it on the bottom of the refrigerator so there is no chance of any liquid dripping on something below.

* Cold Water. Place frozen food into a leak-proof plastic bag or container for faster thawing than the refrigerator. Submerge the bagged food in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until it is thawed. Cook the food immediately after thawing.

* Microwave. Food may be thawed in the microwave. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for thawing food in your appliance. It is important to cook meat or poultry immediately after microwave thawing.

No matter which method works best for you in a specific scenario, it’s very important not to simply allow foods to thaw at room temperature. Doing so allows the outer surfaces of the food to be exposed to the Danger Zone (40-140°F or 5-60°C) temperature range. In this range, harmful bacteria can multiply and grow, possibly causing foodborne illness. It is best to avoid this and never allow foods to sit at room temperature for any length of time, whether it has been cooked or not. The general rule of thumb is to not allow any perishable food to sit at room temperature for 2 hours or more, even if it was frozen at the start. There is a risk of foodborne illness when eating such food, even if it is cooked after that time. It’s helpful to plan in advance when using frozen food. If it needs to be thawed first, choose the method that will work best for you, based on your circumstances.

Refreezing Thawed Foods
It is not safe to refreeze any plant-based food that has been out of the freezer and at room temperature for two hours or more. If it is a hot day, you do not have air conditioning, and the house is very warm (especially over 90°F or 32°C), it should not be refrozen if it has been at room temperature for one hour. If the frozen food is an animal-based food (meat, fish, poultry, milk-based, or eggs) or contains animal-based foods (such as a casserole or soup), it should not be refrozen if it has been at room temperature for one hour or more. If the house is very warm, then no animal food should be refrozen. It should be cooked or discarded.

Managing Leftovers

* Always practice the 2x2x4 Rule when dealing with leftover cooked food. This is a good rule to remember when storing leftover food of any type. In brief, here is what this means. The first 2 represents 2 hours. This means that all leftover foods should be refrigerated within 2 hours of being done cooking (NOT two hours after you are finished eating). The second 2 represents inches. When placing hot or warm leftover foods in the refrigerator, try not to have them over 2 inches thick. It takes a long time to chill such foods at the core. The thicker it is, the longer it will take to cool down. Limiting the thickness to no more than 2 inches will allow it to cool down faster, helping to avoid foodborne illness from that food. The last number represents 4 days. As a general rule of thumb, use leftovers within 4 days. Of course there are exceptions to this rule and you should let common sense be your guide. Here is a video I released explaining this guideline for handling and using leftover foods…

* Be sure to discard any perishable food that was left out at room temperature for 2 hours or more. Discard any perishable food if it was left out for 1 hour or more when the temperature was above 90°F (32°C).

* If you enjoy a meal out at a restaurant and take any leftover food with you, place it in the refrigerator immediately when you get home, as long as it is within the two-hour time frame of having been served the food. If it has been longer than two hours that the food has been at room temperature, it is best to throw it away. Bacteria readily grow at room temperature and food that has been sitting out for longer than two hours may not be suitable for consumption. Eating it may result in serious foodborne illness, and it’s not worth taking a chance.

* When reheating leftover food, always be sure to bring it to an internal temperature of at least 165°F (74°C). This helps to ensure that any harmful bacteria in the food have been destroyed by the heat.

* Be sure to use leftover food within 3 to 4 days of initial preparation, unless you know for a fact that it has a longer shelf-life.

* An easy and convenient way to use up leftovers is to take them to work for lunch the next day. If that’s not an option, you could have them for supper the next evening. If they aren’t enough for a complete meal, add a side dish to balance out the meal. A cooked vegetable or a side salad will often be enough to make the meal complete.

* If possible, reinvent the leftovers into a whole new dish for the next evening’s supper. Including them in casseroles, soups, wraps, hash, a rice dish, or even a pasta dish are possibilities based on what you’re working with. Try to prepare enough for one meal, rather than having a large amount leftover, once again. It’s best to eat up leftovers in a short time rather than keeping them going by always including them in new foods, over and over.

* If having your leftovers the next day is not an option, they could be frozen to have later as a lunch at work or a fast, easy supper when time is short.

* If you really don’t enjoy having leftover food, try to prevent them in the first place. Limit the amount of food you prepare to what you anticipate being able to eat in one sitting. Depending upon what you are cooking, that can be hard at times, but it’s well worth the effort rather than throwing away good, edible food.

* If you find that your refrigerator is becoming clogged with leftover foods, make a commitment to finish them up that day. Have a leftover buffet for supper, and make it an “all you can eat” night, if needed.

* Leftover vegetables can be frozen to be used later when making homemade stock. Freeze leftover vegetables the day they are made for the best quality.


Product Dating When Shopping and at Home
“Use By” or “Best By” Dates. These terms are often used interchangeably. They indicate a date when the flavor or appearance of a product may start to deteriorate and not be at its best. However, the food is usually still safe to eat after this date. To enjoy your food at its best, it’s helpful to notice these dates on items when shopping, and choose the one with the date farthest into the future. This is particularly helpful when you are stocking your pantry with extra items that won’t be used right away.

When you get home, be sure to arrange your food items so those with the nearest “Use By” or “Best By” date will be easily accessible and first in line to be used. This way you’ll pick up and use those items first, always ensuring that your pantry items will be fresh and at their best.

Another way to help rotate your food is by using the “FIFO” (first in, first out) method of rotation. Using the oldest of a particular type of item when reaching for food to prepare is an easy and excellent way to help rotate your food supply, ensuring that nothing sits forever forgotten on the shelf.

Expiration Dates. An expiration date is different from the “Best By” or “Use By” dates. The expiration date indicates a date when the product, usually a dairy or meat item, will most likely be spoiled. There may be some leeway with this date regarding spoilage of any one food, but you should probably discard any foods that are past their expiration date. Some foods may not smell bad nor taste bad when they reach this point, but that doesn’t mean that they are free of harmful bacteria. It’s better to be safe than sorry regarding foodborne illness. When in doubt, throw it out!


Tips When Grocery Shopping

* If you intend to run errands during the same outing when grocery shopping, if possible try to make the grocery store your last stop. This is especially important if the weather is warm. The car can get extremely hot when closed up during warmer months. If you have no choice but to leave groceries in a hot car for a little while, bring either a cooler bag or ice chest (complete with ice or cooling agents of some type) with you and place the cold food in there. This will help prevent or at least slow down the growth of any harmful pathogens on the food before you get them stored properly at home.

* Before selecting perishable foods at the grocery store, be sure to double-check the expiration dates, especially on dairy and raw animal products. Be sure there is enough leeway before they expire so you can enjoy them as intended and not discard them because you suddenly realized they are too old to eat.

* When bagging groceries, be sure to bag any raw meat, fish, or poultry items separately. It is especially important not to package them with any foods that will be eaten fresh, such as fruits or salad vegetables. It’s helpful to double bag fresh animal foods so no juices can accidentally drip onto other items in your cart, car, or in your kitchen. Any bacteria on the packaging can get onto foods or other items within the same bag infecting them, possibly causing foodborne illness later.

* When you enter the store, make a point of wiping down the grocery cart handle with sanitizing wipes. Many stores supply the wipes for customers to use as desired. Doing so can help to reduce the transmission of germs from person to person. It can also help to prevent the spread of germs on food that we may handle in the store, such as when we’re sorting through cucumbers to find one we want to buy.

* When using your own reusable grocery bags, make a point of washing them weekly. They come in contact with many different surfaces and food items during any one shopping trip. They can pick up and harbor bacteria that can be transmitted to new items the next time they are used. It is wonderful for the planet to use such bags, but we need to take responsibility to keep them clean, if for nothing else than our own protection.

* Beware of purchasing food in deeply dented cans. Cans with deep dents (like ones your finger can fit into) may have damaged seams that can allow bacteria to enter the can, which can make the contents unsafe to eat. Also, if a can appears to be bulging from within, it could be a sign of botulism, a deadly bacterium growing inside the can. Avoid such cans at all cost. If you find one in your pantry, do NOT eat the food. Discard it immediately.

* If you expect to be in the grocery store for a while, such as when you have a long list of items to buy, try to select your frozen items, cold foods, and raw animal foods last. That will help to keep them from getting warm in your cart as you shop.

* Never buy meat or poultry in packaging that is torn or leaking. If you spot such a package, point it out to meat department personnel in the store.

* Do not buy any food past the “Best by,” or expiration date.

* If you notice a food that is close to the “Sell by” date, it should still be OK to eat. This is the date that tells grocers when a food item needs to be removed from the shelf. It is usually still fine to eat at that point, but it is assumed that the food will be eaten soon thereafter. If you notice a “Sell by” date is close to the current date and you want to buy that food item, it is fine to buy as long as you plan to consume it within a few days. If you need to keep it beyond that, it is best to choose something else.

Tips When Eating Out
There is no absolute way you can guarantee your food is safe when eating out. However, there are some steps you can take to help protect yourself.

* Be picky about where you eat. Check local reviews online on resources like Yelp and Google Reviews. If people have complained about being served undercooked food or getting sick after eating somewhere, it’s a good signal to eat elsewhere.

* Local health inspections are public information and should be available online, depending on your state. Do an internet search to find such information regarding local restaurants in your area. Choose those that have received high ratings from their local inspectors.

* Once you are in a restaurant, look around. Does it look clean? Do the floors have a lot of debris on them? Are tables being wiped down appropriately after patrons? Is the staff wearing clean uniforms? Appearance can tell you a lot!

* Once you are served, check your food. Hot food should be hot, not just barely warm. Food that has been cooked in advance and held warm may or may not have been held at the proper temperature to deter the growth of bacteria. The same goes for cold food. Cold food should be cold, and not room temperature. Again, bacteria can readily grow at room temperature, so the food may not be safe to eat if it was held at room temperature for an extended period of time.

* If you see that a food, particularly meat, fish, or poultry, was not cooked completely. Don’t eat it. Tell your server that the food is raw inside and needs to be cooked more. If you feel like something just isn’t right with any food on your plate, don’t eat it. Discuss the issue with your server and ask that the chef make it right or serve you something else.

* If you believe you got sick from food eaten in a restaurant, report it to your local health department.

* If you want to take leftover food home with you, bear in mind that it should be refrigerated within 2 hours of when the food was prepared. If the food is exposed to high temperatures, like in a hot car or at a picnic, the food should be refrigerated within one hour of being served. If you cannot chill your leftover food down in a timely way, it’s best to not take it home. It’s better to have it thrown out than take a chance on getting seriously ill over it. If you can chill your foods within a reasonable time frame, be sure to eat the leftovers within 3 or 4 days. Throw them away after that.

* Be observant when at a restaurant where you can see the food handlers. Are they wearing gloves or using utensils instead of their hands when handling food? Does anyone appear to be sick? Has anyone been coughing over the food they are preparing? Does the food appear to be kept at appropriate temperatures? If you see any possible means for contracting foodborne illness, it may be best to eat elsewhere.

* Many restaurants will post their inspection scores in plain view for patrons to see. Look for their certificate of inspection. If the restaurant has a poor score, it may be best to eat elsewhere.


Tips When Preparing Food at Home
* Be careful not to use too much of any chemical or sanitizer when cleaning at home. Follow the manufacturer’s suggestions on how to properly use a chemical. Be sure to rinse the area and all tools, utensils, and your hands very well after use.

* Always wash your hands well before and after handling food.

* Only use food-safe storage containers when packing up any extra food. Never pack food in a container that was used for a chemical or any non-food item. Any residue in the container could contaminate your food.

* Marinate meat, fish and poultry in a covered dish in the refrigerator.

* It never hurts to use your nose when opening a closed container. Aroma can tell us a lot about if a food is fresh or not. For instance, we often smell a jug of milk when we open it. The aroma can tell us if that milk has spoiled.

* Clean out your refrigerator at least once a week. Go through the foods in your refrigerator and toss out anything that has seen better days and is no longer fit to eat.

* Any raw poultry or ground meats should be discarded if they have been in the refrigerator for more than 1 or 2 days. If any raw meats are off color or smell bad, they should absolutely not be eaten. Wrap them well and discard them. Disinfect the area in the refrigerator where they were, along with the container(s) they were in.

* Inspect cooked leftovers, especially if they have been in the refrigerator for more than 4 days. They may be fine, but if they are starting to look or smell “off” then it’s best to toss them. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

* Rinse fresh produce with clean, cool water right before cutting or preparing it for a meal. This includes rinsing produce that will be peeled. This is because of the possibility of carrying any soil or bacteria that is on the surface inward to the part that will be eaten when something is peeled, cut, or sliced with a knife.

* Use a food thermometer to help ensure food has been cooked to the proper temperature. If it is not up to the proper temperature, cook or bake it longer, as needed.

* Keep foods at the proper temperature when you’re not able to serve them right away. Cold foods should be kept below 40°F. Hot foods should be kept above 140°F. An oven set at its lowest temperature setting will usually work for holding hot foods until serving time. When in doubt with cold foods, place them in the refrigerator or freezer until they can be served.

* When serving food buffet-style, keep hot food hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers, and/or warming trays. Keep cold food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice, or use small serving trays and replace them often, while keeping the extras in the refrigerator.

* When preparing or serving food, never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food of any type. Always use a clean plate or cutting board that is reserved for use only with cooked food.

* Do not leave food out at room temperature for an extended period of time. It should be refrigerated within 2 hours of being finished cooking, and one hour if the temperature is very warm, such as 90°F.


Food safety is something we don’t always focus on when shopping, storing, or handling food at home. When reading all the dos and don’ts in this article, it can seem daunting and make a novice ready to throw his or her hands in the air and resolve to never fix food at home. However, the principals are not hard, especially when you consider how pathogens can be spread from place to place and allowed to grow and multiply when the conditions are right. Learning this information to the point where practicing good food safety measures becomes habit rather than effort can literally be life-saving. It’s well worth the effort to be mindful of such things until they become second-nature to you. After a while, instincts will take over and you won’t have to labor over what to do when. It will be time well spent and you’ll be glad you did in the long run!


About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.


Reducing Salt Intake

Reducing Salt Intake

The words “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably, which leads to confusion with some people. They are not the same thing. “Salt,” also called table salt, is sodium chloride. Sodium chloride is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. One teaspoon of table salt contains about 2,400 mg of sodium. Sodium is a chemical element that we need in small amounts for normal muscle and nerve functions, for helping to keep our body fluids in balance, and more. Many foods in their natural state contain small amounts of sodium.

We all need a little sodium from our foods. In the body, sodium aids in the conduction of nerve impulses, contraction and relaxation of muscles, blood clotting, maintaining a normal heart rhythm, and maintaining the proper balance of water and minerals in our body fluids, both inside and outside of cells. It is estimated that we need about 500 mg of sodium each day for these vital functions. We can easily get that amount from fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, grains, nuts, meats, and seafood in their natural state without adding any salt to our foods.

Sources of Excess Salt in the Diet
The problem comes about when we add salt (sodium chloride) to our foods. This added salt can come from the salt shaker at the table, sauces added to flavor foods, seasonings added while food is cooking, boxed foods with prepackaged seasonings, processed meats and assorted foods with flavorings already added, eggs, soups (especially canned soups), breads, sandwiches, snack foods (such as chips, pretzels, popcorn, snack mixes, and crackers), dairy products (especially cheese), pizza, canned foods, and even commercial beverages.

It is very easy to overdo when using the salt shaker, especially since salt enhances the flavor of foods. Our taste buds quickly adjust to the enhanced flavors so that we expect it any time we eat those same foods. If we’re not careful, over time we can find ourselves slowly increasing the amount of salt that we add to foods because our acquired taste for it can increase our demand for salt. This makes table salt somewhat addictive.

Furthermore, many people rely on processed foods for most of their meals. Such foods have a lot of salt already added to them, not only for flavor, but also as a binder, stabilizer, and a preservative. Bacteria cannot survive in a high salt environment. The high level of salt in processed foods also acts as an addictive agent, often bringing us to crave more of those foods. So we often eat them regularly, much to the delight of the food manufacturers. Hence, most processed foods are high in salt for a number of reasons. Most Americans eat at least 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt a day, which comes to about 3,400 mg of sodium. This amount is way more than our bodies need, and can often lead to health concerns.

Different types of salt contain varying amounts of sodium per teaspoon, with fine Kosher salt and black salt having the least amount. According to, one-fourth teaspoon of generic table salt contains 589.5 mg of sodium, or 39% of the recommended maximum amount of sodium. This mere amount of table salt still contains more than we really need metabolically. AND that doesn’t account for the sodium we get from foods in their natural state. People who use any salt at all will most likely consume more than that one-fourth teaspoon in any one day. Hence, for the sake of our health, we should make a conscious effort to try to bring our salt intake down.

Symptoms of Too Much Salt in the Diet
Signs that we have eaten too much salt can occur quickly after a meal, like increased thirst. This is a sign of dehydration, with the body signaling us to drink more fluids. Other symptoms of having eaten too much salt include swollen feet or hands, headache (in some cases), and a rise in blood pressure. These symptoms may or may not be prolonged since the kidneys are always working to balance the sodium and fluid levels in the body. However, if you continually overeat salt, the kidneys may not be able to eliminate all the excess sodium and it may start to build up in the body. This leads to the serious health risks associated with too much salt intake.

Health Risks Associated with a High Sodium Diet
Too much sodium in the diet can lead to a variety of serious health conditions. Here are some examples.

Hypertension, Heart Disease and Stroke. When we consume too much sodium (whether it’s from salt added at the table or in cooking, from restaurant foods, or from processed foods), the kidneys are forced to work very hard to keep the proper balance of fluids and electrolytes in the blood. They will retain water to dilute the excess sodium in the blood. This increases the amount of extracellular fluid and the volume of blood in the bloodstream. The increased blood volume forces the heart to work harder and increases pressure on the blood vessels. Over time, this extra work and pressure can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, and even stroke, eventually leading to heart failure.

Kidney Disease and Kidney Stones. Besides being a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure is also a risk factor for kidney disease. With prolonged high sodium intake and increased blood pressure, the kidneys gradually lose their ability to excrete excess sodium. A study reported in the October 2014 issue of the American Journal of Hypertension found that patients with chronic kidney disease who had intakes of sodium greater than 4,600 mg a day experienced progression of their disease.

Many scientific studies have shown that there is a relationship between a high salt intake and increased calcium excretion through the kidneys. The amount of calcium that your body loses through the urine increases with the amount of salt you eat. The blood level of calcium needs to remain relatively constant. So, when the kidneys call for more calcium because of a high salt intake, calcium is leached from the bones to meet the need at the moment and keep the blood calcium level stable. This can be a contributing factor in the development of weakened bones at any age. Calcium is a major component of kidney stones and such stones are more likely to form when the kidneys are forced to process increased calcium due to increased salt intake. Limiting salt intake has been shown to reduce the formation of kidney stones, while also reducing the excretion of calcium through the urine, thus causing less leaching of calcium from bones. Therefore, to help reduce your risk of developing kidney disease, weakened bones, and kidney stones, it is important to keep your salt intake as low as possible. Focusing on unprocessed, unsalted foods can be valuable in this endeavor.

Calcium, Sodium, and Bone Loss. The body must maintain a stable amount of calcium in the blood for muscle contraction, proper functioning of many enzymes, blood clotting, and maintaining a normal heart rhythm. Our bones serve as a source of calcium reserves and we withdraw from our reserves as needed to maintain a stable blood calcium level. If we do not get enough calcium from our foods, calcium is released from the bones to maintain blood levels of this critical mineral. This, in turn, can weaken bones if a low blood calcium level occurs recurrently, or over a prolonged period of time. To maintain a normal level of calcium in blood without weakening bones, we should consume at least 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium a day.

When we eat a lot of salt, the more calcium will be excreted in the urine. In a study reported in the August 2014 issue of the Journal of Bone Metabolism, 86 Korean postmenopausal women were evaluated for their sodium and calcium intake vs excretion. The rate of osteoporosis among Korean women over age 50 is substantially higher than the rate among American women in that same age group. The subjects consumed an average of 3,466 mg of sodium and 813 mg of calcium daily. Researchers found there was a positive association between sodium and calcium intake and their excretion of those same elements after a 24-hour period. This means the more sodium they took in, the more sodium and calcium they excreted. The women were found to be at an increased risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis due to their high sodium intake. The researchers concluded that excessive sodium intake assessed by 24-hour urine specimen is associated with high calcium excretion in urine. High calcium excretion is also related to increasing bone resorption marker (which indicates that bone is being broken down).

Stomach Cancer. People have used salt as a means of preserving food for about 5,000 years. In recent times, technologies in food preservation have been developed that call for far less salt. Nevertheless, excessive dietary salt remains a common practice, despite recommendations to reduce our sodium intake. Gastric cancer is found around the world and dietary factors, including salt intake, are considered to be causative. In a 2014 issue of the journal Cancer Treatment and Research, researchers examined a number of published studies and found that salt intake along with a stomach bacterial infection of Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) played a role in the development of gastric cancer. A comprehensive meta-analysis of long-term studies found a strong effect of total salt intake and salt-rich foods on the risk of gastric cancer in the general population. Researchers found evidence that supports the possibility of a substantial reduction in cancer with reduced salt intake.

H. pylori is a type of bacteria that can infect the stomach. This often happens during childhood and we usually have no idea that we are infected with the bacteria. It is a common cause of stomach (peptic) ulcers. Researchers estimate that more than half the people in the world may be infected with H. pylori. Most people are not aware they are infected unless they start developing symptoms of a peptic ulcer (a sore on the lining of the stomach) or a duodenal ulcer (an ulcer in the first part of the small intestine). Such symptoms include: an ache or burning pain in the stomach, stomach pain that is worse when the stomach is empty, nausea, loss of appetite, frequent burping, bloating, and unexplained weight loss.

In a study published in the May 14, 2009 issue of the World Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers reviewed the results from studies on the relationship between salt or salted food intake and stomach cancer risk. Most studies indicated that the average salt intake in each population group was closely correlated with deaths from gastric cancer. They found a moderate direct relationship between higher salt or salted food consumption and gastric cancer risk. Furthermore, salt intake was correlated with infection of the bacteria H. pylori. They speculated there was a possible relationship between the bacterial infection and high salt intake leading to gastric cancer. They concluded that limiting salt and salted food intake was a practical strategy for preventing gastric cancer. This includes reducing your intake of foods preserved by salting, such as salted fish and meats, and pickled vegetables.

In recent years, stomach cancer has declined in the United States, while it is much more common in some other parts of the world, such as East Asia. Stomach cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the world. It is believed that the rates have declined in the United States because there has been a decrease in the number of people infected with the H. pylori bacteria.

To lower your risk of developing stomach cancer, in addition to reducing your salt and salty food intake, eat more fresh fruits (especially citrus fruits) and raw vegetables. Such foods appear to reduce the risk of stomach cancer.

Dietary Sodium Recommendations

Americans consume an average of over 3,400 mg of sodium each day. That’s roughly equivalent to 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt. While the American Heart Association recommends we consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day (1 teaspoon of salt), ideally we should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day (a little less than 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt). This is still more sodium than the body actually needs. When we purchase already prepared foods, salted or brined foods, or those that were prepackaged by food manufacturers, it is impossible to tell how much salt or sodium is in the food unless there is a nutrition label we can examine. Food manufacturers know that Americans love their salty foods, so they don’t hold back when using salt in the preparation of their foods, unless the food is labeled as being low in sodium. Even then it may contain more sodium than if you prepared a similar food yourself at home. This is why reducing your intake of already prepared foods and making your own meals with fresh foods can be so monumental in reducing your sodium intake. The body only needs about 500 mg (or less) of sodium a day. Eating plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and unsalted whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and peas can provide that amount without any added salt.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults consume no more than 5 grams of salt (just under 1 teaspoon) per day. This amount of salt provides 1,938 mg of sodium (almost four times what the body actually needs). This is the maximum amount recommended by the WHO. We can actually get by with no added salt whatsoever, or eating little to no processed foods with added salt in them.

To help in determining how much sodium you are ingesting, the following information was provided online by the Ashchi Heart and Vascular Center located in Jacksonville, Florida.

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of table salt:

* 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium

* 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium

* 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium

* 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium

Here are some terms that may be helpful when examining food labels:

* Salt/Sodium-Free: Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving

* Very Low Sodium: 35 mg or less per serving

* Low Sodium: 140 mg or less per serving

* Reduced Sodium: At least 25 percent less sodium per serving than the usual sodium level

* Light in Sodium or Lightly Salted: At least 50 percent less sodium than the regular product

* No-Salt-Added or Unsalted: No salt was added during processing, but these products may not be salt/sodium-free unless stated

The Importance of Potassium
Potassium and sodium are both electrolytes that play an important role in maintaining fluid balance and blood volume. The body needs more potassium (roughly 2600 to 3400 mg per day for adults) than sodium (about 500 mg) to function normally, maintaining a healthy blood pressure and blood volume.

Unfortunately, the standard American diet is very imbalanced in these critical electrolytes, providing an overabundance of sodium with little potassium. For good health, it should be the other way around, with an overabundance of potassium with little sodium. Potassium is abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables, but it can also be found in some legumes, whole grains, meats, and milk products. Unfortunately, many Americans do not eat many fresh fruits and vegetables, while making processed and refined foods their mainstay. This leads to a big imbalance of potassium and sodium in the body, with far more sodium intake than potassium. This imbalance often leads to many of the chronic problems that plague modern society, including hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and increased risk of kidney disease and kidney stones, among others. Taking potassium supplements will not correct the problem because such supplements usually only contain up to 99 mg per tablet, and they may not be the correct form of potassium that the body actually needs. The most effective way to balance these two very important electrolytes is to include fresh fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed foods in your diet while minimizing your intake of refined and processed foods, restaurant fare, and table salt.

Tips and Ideas for Reducing Salt in the Diet

* Take the salt shaker off the table. If you find the food on your plate needs more flavor, try to add more herbs or spices that were used in preparation of that food, rather than salt.

* Celery naturally contains some sodium and has a somewhat salty flavor. Using celery in food preparation instead of salt can add some salty flavor without adding refined salt. Because it is not isolated and refined, the sodium in celery does not have the detrimental effects that refined salt does.

* Be aware of the amount of sodium you’re eating. Of course, we’re not going to have exact numbers, but examine your foods to be aware of where your sodium is coming from and roughly how much sodium you’re eating. If you eat a lot of processed foods, check the nutrition labels and make note of how much sodium is in one serving. Remember to add in the sodium from any salt you deliberately add to foods. Keep a tally during the day and check it out at the end of the day. The result may surprise you.

* Strive to eat more whole, fresh, unprocessed foods. Such foods will contain naturally occurring sodium in them. To get an idea of how much sodium they contain, use which is a free online diet tracking tool.

* If you opt to add salt to food while cooking or at the table, try to estimate how much you add and include that in your end of the day tally so you can track your sodium intake. Awareness is important. If you know where your sodium is coming from, you’ll know what to reduce.

* Strive to season foods without adding salt, or add as little salt as possible. Herbs, spices, lemon or lime juices, salt-free seasonings, onions, garlic, and ginger are excellent ways to bring flavor to foods without adding any salt.

* If you enjoy processed foods, try to reduce your portion size and complement the meal with added fresh or frozen foods without any added salt.

* Roughly 75 percent of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods, not from the salt shaker at the table. Cutting back on such foods and preparing your own meals will very likely reduce your sodium intake (unless you go wild with the salt shaker).

* Remember that salad dressings and condiments usually contain added salt. Check the labels and make note of how much sodium you’ve added to your foods through these items. Choose low sodium or no added salt versions when possible.

* Be careful not to trade your favorite salty snacks for ones that are loaded with added sugars and fats. They are no better for you and won’t help your health in any way.

* When shopping, choose canned goods with no added salt in them, or at least the low sodium variety, if possible.

* If you use soy sauce, be sure to shop for a low- or (preferably) no-sodium option.

* Try snacking on fresh fruit or vegetable sticks (like carrots, celery, bell peppers, or even cucumbers) rather than salty options like chips, pretzels, crackers, or popcorn.

* When making your own recipes, try adding celery in place of some of the salt. Celery has a somewhat salty flavor to it. Yes, it does contain sodium, but the sodium in celery is bound to an array of other minerals, making it a healthy addition to the diet. Replacing some salt with celery gives food a bit of a salty flavor while adding important minerals to the diet. Furthermore, the sodium from celery would be far less than an equivalent amount of flavor from added table salt.

* Beware of canned soups. They are usually very high in sodium. Choose lower sodium versions, when possible. If that’s not an option, reduce your serving size to cut the sodium per serving.

* Be aware that pizza is high in sodium. The dough itself, cheese, and added toppings such as pepperoni or sausage and all high in sodium. The sauce may even be high in sodium. So, even if you probably don’t add salt to your pizza, be aware that pizza in itself is usually very high in sodium. If you don’t want to give up pizza, try to eat less of it at one time. Add a large salad with a salt-free dressing to help balance it out and fill you up. Choose fresh fruit for dessert.

* When including nuts in your meals or snacks, choose salt-free varieties instead of salted versions.

* Be aware that restaurant foods (whether fast-food or dine-in) are usually high in salt. Try to limit your intake as much as possible or have smaller portions. When dining in, you could ask the server to request the chef add less salt (or even no salt) to the foods during preparation, if possible.

* Read labels! Even foods labeled as “reduced-sodium” may still contain a lot of sodium. They may have 25 percent less sodium than the full-seasoned version, but even the reduced selection may still be relatively high in sodium. Awareness is key!

* If you’re a meat, poultry, or seafood eater, choose fresh cuts rather than cured, salted, smoked, or versions that have been processed in any way. Such options are very high in sodium and will quickly take your sodium intake beyond any limits you set for yourself.

* When buying meats or poultry, check to see if it was injected with any type of saline or basting solution for flavor. Frozen turkeys have often been treated in this way, even if we’re not aware of it. Read the labels if you’re not sure. Such injected solutions may add a nice flavor to your foods, but a lot of that flavor comes from the added salt.

* Eat more fresh or frozen vegetables that were prepared without any sauces or flavorings. If needed, add your own seasonings at home.

* Choose rice and pasta in the dry forms when shopping and avoid those with added flavorings or seasonings. The added seasonings will usually be very high in sodium.

* Be aware that “instant” foods (such as sauces, mixed, or preseasoned foods) are often flavored with a lot of salt. If you choose such foods, be sure to read the labels so you are aware of their sodium content. If possible, choose low- or no-salt versions. If they are not available, try to use less of it at any one meal, to help reduce your sodium intake.

* Always taste the food on your plate first before adding salt to it. It’s easy to develop a habit of adding salt to food every time you sit down to a meal, without even taking your first bite. Give the chef some credit and taste your food first before reaching for the salt shaker.

* Remember that items like ketchup, mayonnaise, pickles, soy sauce, and mustard can be high in salt. Read the label to check what you have. Use less if needed to keep in line with your goals.

* When reducing salt intake, remember that it takes time to retrain the taste buds. Do whatever is right for you, but reducing it gradually may be easier than cutting it out all at once.

* Experiment with salt-free seasoning blends or adding more select herbs or spices to foods that you cook. Sometimes adding a little more of your non-salt seasonings to a dish can be enough to make it flavorful without adding salt.

* Try roasting vegetables to bring out their flavor. Season them with garlic, onions, and/or your favorite herbs and spices, while leaving salt off the list.

* When having a burger, try leaving off salty toppings like bacon, cheese, or barbeque sauce. Add lettuce and tomato, or have a side salad instead.

* Eggs themselves don’t have a huge amount of sodium, about 62 mg per egg. But, it’s rare to cook an egg just plain. We often add salt, cheese, bacon, sausage, ham, or milk (when scrambling). Those items all have their fair share of sodium in them. So, it’s wise to automatically think of eggs and egg dishes as being high in sodium. To help balance it out, add less of the salty ingredients mentioned, and more bell peppers, onions, or other items that you also enjoy in your omelets or with your eggs.

* When shopping for seasonings, avoid those with added salt, like celery salt or garlic salt. Choose dried celery flakes, garlic powder, or granulated garlic instead.

* Become familiar with food items that you enjoy that may be naturally high in sodium yet don’t taste salty. Examples include cottage cheese, hard cheeses, and other milk products.

* Assorted herbs and spices can be used instead of salt when we’re making our own foods. Different flavorings work well with different foods. It may take some experimentation to learn which flavorings and combinations of them are agreeable with you and your family, but it’s well worth the effort. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institute of Health has a .pdf document you can print out that includes a lot of suggestions. Here is the link to the document:

Examples of Commercial Salt-Free Spice Blends

Bragg Organic Sprinkle Seasoning.
Ingredients: Rosemary, minced onion, minced garlic, granulated onion, dehydrated garlic, thyme, dried red bell pepper, dried carrot, dried tomato, black pepper, basil, extra virgin olive oil, dried parsley, dried tarragon, dehydrated lemon peel, dehydrated orange peel, apple cider vinegar, celery seed, dill seed, oregano, savory, sage, ground ginger, coriander, bay leaf, turmeric

* It is suggested for sprinkling on veggies, salads, fish, tempeh, poultry, popcorn, and more.

* Pros: All ingredients are organic and non-GMO. It also contains no additives, fillers, gluten, or preservatives.

* Cons: This blend contains oil and vinegar, both ingredients that some people prefer to omit from their diets for specific health reasons.

Dash (used to be Mrs. Dash) Original Seasoning Blend. Ingredients: Dried onion, spices (black pepper, parsley, celery seed, basil, bay, marjoram, oregano, savory, thyme, mustard, cumin, rosemary, cayenne pepper, coriander), dried garlic, dried carrots, dried orange peel, dried tomato, lemon juice powder, citric acid, oil of lemon

* It is suggested for chicken, burgers, eggs, vegetables, rice/vegetable mixtures, sauces, soups, and salads.

* Pros: This is a brand that has been available for many years (under the original name of Mrs. Dash), so it should be found at most grocery stores. Also, it contains no MSG.

* Cons: The blend contains lemon juice powder, which may or may not be a concern for some people. Manufacturers are allowed to omit ingredients that are in very small amounts. If the same lemon juice powder was used in this blend that was included in the Watkin’s brand listed below, rice maltodextrin may be in this blend, even though it may be in a very small amount. That may or may not be a concern for some people. Also, this mixture contains citric acid, which is often made from GMO corn. This may be a concern for some people who are trying to omit citric acid (or any source of a GMO product) from their diet.

Kinder’s No Salt Seasoning, Garlic & Herb. Ingredients: Potassium chloride, dehydrated garlic, spices, cane sugar, dehydrated onion, mushroom powder, maltodextrin, citric acid, yeast extract, sunflower oil, paprika, lemon juice concentrate, natural flavor

* This blend is suggested for chicken, pork, and seafood.

* Pros: It is sold at Walmart, so this brand should be readily available to many people.

* Cons: This spice blend contains potassium chloride, which may cause health problems in some people. It does not contain a list of the specific spices that are in the blend. This may cause a problem for some people, especially if they are reactive to certain spices. A complete disclosure of the spices in the blend would also be helpful for allowing chefs to be able to judge what foods it would flavor appropriately. Another ingredient that wasn’t found in other seasoning blends that is in this mixture is cane sugar. Many people are opting to avoid added sugars in their diet, so this ingredient may be unwelcomed in many kitchens. Maltodextrin, citric acid, yeast extract, and natural flavor are other ingredients that many people are deliberately avoiding for assorted health reasons. Furthermore, the lemon juice concentrate may have unwanted hidden ingredients that were not disclosed. In terms of ingredients, this blend has many strikes against it.

Lawry’s Salt-Free 17 Seasoning. Ingredients: Spices (including black pepper, celery seed, turmeric), garlic, onion, carrot, citric acid, toasted sesame seed, orange peel, red bell pepper, corn starch, and lemon peel

*  It is suggested for use on pasta, seafood, poultry, and beef.

* Pros: Lawry’s is a brand that most grocery stores carry, so this blend should be readily accessible. Also, it contains no MSG or artificial flavors.

* Cons: From the wording on the label, “Spices (including…),” it appears that some of their spice ingredients may not have been disclosed. This may be a problem for some people who are reactive to specific spices. Also, it contains citric acid and corn starch, which are commonly made from GMO corn. If you are avoiding genetically modified foods, this product should not be used.

McCormick Salt-Free Vegetable Seasoning
. Ingredients: Onion, garlic, spices (Including black pepper, thyme, basil), red bell pepper, tomato, corn maltodextrin, modified corn starch, sunflower oil, vinegar, parsley, citric acid, natural flavor and extractives of turmeric

* It is suggested for use on vegetables, salads, chicken, fish, eggs, rice, pasta, and vegetable dips.

* Pros: It is gluten-free.

* Cons: From the wording on the label, “Spices (including…),” it appears that some of their spice ingredients may not have been disclosed. This may be a problem for some people who are reactive to specific spices. Note that this blend contains corn, oil, vinegar, citric acid, and natural flavor. These are ingredients that some people prefer to omit from their diets for specific health reasons. If you fall into this category, this blend would not be your best option.

Simply Organic Spice Right Everyday Blends All-Purpose Salt-Free. Ingredients: Onion, garlic, black pepper, tomato, bell pepper, carrot, orange peel, celery, sage, rice concentrate, cumin, thyme, oregano, rosemary

* It is suggested for use on salads, side dishes, main dishes, and more.

* For Clarification Purposes: The only (very slightly) questionable ingredient in this blend is the “rice concentrate” and it’s really a matter of terminology. Rice concentrate is the fiber and silica portion of the outer layer of rice. It may also be called “rice hull.” It does not contain any of the rice kernel itself. It is used as an anti-caking agent to replace the synthetic silicon dioxide that is often used for this purpose. It is considered to be a clean label, natural, organic ingredient.

* Pros: All ingredients are organic, vegan, non-GMO, and Kosher.

* Cons: None.

Watkins Organic All-Purpose Seasoning Salt-Free. Ingredients: Dehydrated onion*, organic spices (black pepper*, parsley*, celery seed*, basil*, bay leaf*, marjoram*, oregano*, savory*, thyme*, cayenne pepper*, coriander*, cumin*, mustard*, rosemary*), dehydrated garlic*, dehydrated carrot*, dehydrated orange peel*, dehydrated tomato*, lemon juice powder* (rice maltodextrin*, lemon juice concentrate*, lemon oil*), citric acid. *Certified organic ingredients

* It is suggested for use on chicken, beef, vegetables, salads, or any favorite dish.

* Pros: All (except one) ingredients are certified as being organic. The blend is non-GMO Project Verified and kosher.

* Cons: The blend contains rice maltodextrin, an additive made from processed rice starch. Although this ingredient is considered to be safe by the food industry, it may or may not be an issue for some people. Also, the blend contains (not organic) citric acid, which may be a problem for some people. Avoid this blend if either of these additives are problems for you.

Samples of Homemade Salt-Free Spice Blends

No Salt Cajun Seasoning
2 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp ground black pepper
¾ tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp paprika
Makes about 10 tablespoons

Salt-Free All-Purpose Seasoning Mix
2 Tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 Tbsp mustard powder
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
Makes about 5 tablespoons

Italian Seasoning
3 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp dried marjoram
2 Tbsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried sage
Makes 1/2 cup

Ranch Seasoning
2 Tbsp dried parsley
2 tsp dill weed
2 Tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp onion flakes
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp dried chives
1 tsp dried oregano
Pulse in a food processor until everything is combined. Makes about 7 tablespoons.

Curry Seasoning
3 Tbsp coriander
2 Tbsp cumin
2 Tbsp turmeric
1 tsp dried ground ginger
1 tsp dried mustard powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp red chili flakes
Combine well. Makes about 9 tablespoons.

Taco Seasoning
5 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp paprika
3 Tbsp cumin
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Makes about 3/4 cup

Pumpkin Spice
4 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp dried ground ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
Makes about 1/3 cup

Chili Seasoning Mix
½ cup chili powder
¼ cup garlic powder
¼ cup cumin
3 Tbsp onion powder
2 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp dried thyme (optional)
Makes 1-1/2 cups of mix. One-fourth cup of mixture is equivalent to 1 packet of chili seasoning.

Herbs de Provence Mix
½ cup dried thyme
¼ cup dried marjoram
2 Tbsp rosemary leaf
2 Tbsp savory
1 tsp dried lavender flowers (optional)
2 tsp dried orange zest (optional)
1 tsp ground dried fennel
Lightly pulse the lavender flowers and orange zest in a food processor. Combine with the remaining ingredients. Makes about 1 cup.

Homemade Mrs. Dash
3 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried marjoram
1 Tbsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1 Tbsp dried savory
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp dried sage
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp dried lemon zest (optional)
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Makes about 3/4 cup

All-Purpose Seasoning
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1-1/2 tsp dried basil
1-1/2 tsp dried parsley
1-1/4 tsp dried savory
1-1/4 tsp ground thyme
1 tsp ground mace
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried sage
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Makes about 4-1/2 tablespoons


Salt-Free Recipe Links

Ginger-Marinated Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

Roasted Potatoes with Garlic and Herbs

Tomato Basil Bruschetta

White Bean Dip

Fresh Fruit Kebabs


Rice and Beans Salad

Southwestern Vegan Bowl

Apple-Fennel Slaw

Salad Greens with Squash

Roasted Squash with Wild Rice and Cranberry

Chicken Stir-Fry with Eggplant, Basil, and Ginger

Mediterranean-Style Grilled Salmon

Nectarine Chicken Salad

Low Sodium Overnight Spiced Oatmeal with Cranberries

Low Sodium Chicken Noodle Soup

Low Sodium Spaghetti Sauce

Black Bean Chili



About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

Dried Herbs and Spices

Using and Storing Dried Herbs and Spices

Using and Storing Dried Herbs and Spices

First, let’s distinguish the difference between herbs and spices. Herbs are the leafy part of plants. Spices are the dried seeds, bark, fruit, or ground roots of a plant. Such items are commonly used to add a wide array of flavors to foods of all sorts. Different cultures commonly use specific herbs or spices in their cuisine. Rarely will anyone use all the different herbs and spices that nature has to offer. Anyone who cooks at all will usually keep a specific supply of dried herbs and spices on hand so they are readily available whenever they are needed. We often keep them on the spice rack without thought of their age and if they should be replaced. We simply use them until they are gone, then get another bottle from the store when needed.

The problem with that is the fact that they do age over time and lose their flavor. If dampness got into the bottle, they may clump together and even spoil. This can happen if the bottles are opened and the contents are measured over a pot of boiling water or cooking food that is releasing steam. If we close that bottle up right away, the moisture is locked in and the herb or spice will soak it up, causing it to age, and possibly clump together or even spoil.

Most bottled herbs and spices will come with a “Best By” date stamped somewhere on the container, but we often don’t think to check the date to be sure our supply is still fresh. Or, maybe we grew the herb, dried it ourselves, and didn’t think to label the container with the harvest or packed date and also our own “Use By” date to ensure it is fresh.

So, it’s VERY easy to have an accumulation of outdated herbs and spices in our pantry and not give it any thought until we use them and discover they have not given any flavor to our food. Here are some tips to keep in mind to help you ensure your supply of herbs and spices are still flavorful.

Tips for Testing Freshness

  • Look at the color of your dried herb or spice. Is it still vibrant and colorful, or is it dull and faded? Old herbs and spices tend to lose their color over time. If the color has faded, the herb is probably old and the flavor has most likely dwindled.
  • Crush or rub some between your fingers then smell the herb or spice. Does it smell strong like it should? If the aroma is weak or musty, it is likely too old and will not lend much flavor when used in cooking. If it still smells good, but just not as strong as it should, you can still use it, but use more than the recipe calls for. Add some, let it cook for a little while, then taste the food. If it needs more flavor, add more of what you have available. When this is the case, it’s a good idea to write it down on your grocery list so it can be replaced soon.
  • Taste a small amount of the herb or spice. If there is no flavor or tastes stale, it’s old and not worth using because it will not give any flavor to your food.
  • Have you found that the herb or spice is clumpy? Chances are that moisture has made its way into the container and the flavor may be reduced or “off” some. Taste it to test its flavor. If it still tastes like it should, it’s still OK to use in your food.
  • This may sound obvious, but it’s important to replace the cap securely after using a dried herb or spice. Loose caps can allow air and moisture to enter the container, aging the contents reducing their shelf life. Also, a loose cap can lead to accidental spillage of the contents, sometimes directly into the pot of cooking food! That’s not a good moment and one that can easily be avoided by being sure the cap is securely placed on the jar or container before returning it to the storage area.

General Storage Life of Herbs and Spices

While dried herbs and spices usually don’t spoil, they do lose their strength over time. Here is a general guideline for their shelf life.

  • Whole spices and seeds should keep for 3 to 4 years.
  • Ground spices should keep for 2 to 3 years.
  • Dried leafy herbs should keep well for 1 to 3 years.
  • Dried seasoning blends usually keep well for 1 to 2 years.

Despite the above information, it is generally recommended that we replace dried herbs and spices every 6 months to 1 year. This is reasonable since we don’t know how long the bottled seasonings were on the store shelf before we purchased them. Unless we check the “Best By” date on the bottle, we have no idea how old they are. Replacing them on a regular basis helps to ensure that we’re adding fresh and flavorful seasonings to our food.

Storage Tips for Keeping Dried Herbs and Spices

In general, there are five factors that cause dried herbs and spices to age and lose their flavor. Those factors are: air (more precisely, oxygen), moisture, heat, light, and time. Keeping your dried flavorings away from these five factors can work together to help preserve your seasonings. The following tips can help.

  • Keep them in a cool, dry, dark location, away from heat. Many people store herbs and spices that they reach for regularly in a spice rack or cabinet above the stove. This is not the best idea because heat from the stove and steam from cooking food will rise and warm that storage area which can cause the seasonings to age faster than they should. It’s best to store them away from the stove or oven so they are not subjected to the heat and moisture released in that area.
  • If you purchase items in bulk, add some to a small bottle for easy use from your spice cabinet. The rest may be stored in its original package. Add an oxygen absorber to the original bag if you have them, and squeeze out as much air as possible, then seal the bag. If possible, place that bag in an airtight container with a tight-fitting lid and store that in a cool, dry, dark location away from sunlight and heat. Alternatively, you could store extra dried herbs in a glass mason jar with a sealable lid. Place an oxygen absorber in the jar and remove as much air as possible, and store it appropriately. Refill your small bottle as needed, while keeping your bulk supply cool, dry, and away from sunlight and oxygen, if possible.
  • Some resources suggest keeping spices from the red pepper family refrigerated to extend their freshness and flavor. Such spices include paprika, cayenne, and chili powder.
  • When you measure dried herbs and spices, be sure to use a dry spoon! Using a wet or even damp spoon will carry moisture into the container, potentially shortening the shelf life of your herb or spice. Again, don’t measure near or over a source of steam, such as the pot of cooking food you’re about to season.
  • When you buy new herbs and spices, be sure to rotate your flavorings accordingly, using the oldest ones first. It is helpful to label the bottles and packaging with the purchase date to help remind you which items are the oldest. If you grew your own herbs, it’s helpful to label their container with a harvest or packaging date after they were dried. It’s also helpful to label your containers with a discard date, which would serve as a reminder when they should be replaced for the best tasting flavorings possible.
  • If you grow your own herbs, be sure they are completely dry before storing them. This is essential for keeping them properly for the longest possible shelf life, without inviting mold or spoilage along the way. Test them by rubbing a little between your fingers. They should be lightly crispy. Also, if they feel somewhat cool to the touch, they most likely still contain some moisture and should be dried longer.
  • If you grew your own herbs, it is helpful to know that storing the dried leaves whole helps to preserve their essential oils, which is what provides their aroma and flavor. The oils are held in small cells within the leaves. When the leaves are crushed, those small cells are broken open, exposing them to air. The air causes the essential oils to exit the leaf, causing the aroma and flavor to dwindle faster than it would if the leaf was stored whole. Waiting to crush the leaves until they are needed helps to preserve their valuable oils.

Tips for Using Herbs and Spices

  • If possible, try growing herbs that you use most often. Growing them outdoors during the warmer months is a wonderful way to keep your own supply of fresh herbs. During the colder, winter months, try growing a pot of your favorite herb(s) indoors. There’s nothing better than being able to snip off some freshly grown herbs that you grew yourself!
  • Remember that the flavor of dried herbs is stronger and more concentrated than that of fresh herbs. The general rule of thumb when using a dried herb is to use one-third the amount of fresh herb that is called for in a recipe. Example: If a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley, use 1 tablespoon of dried parsley flakes.
  • Whole spices keep their fragrance and flavor much longer than ground spices. If possible, get a spice grinder and shop for whole spices. Grind them as needed for the best flavor possible.
  • Add dried herbs early in the cooking process. This allows them time to rehydrate and release their flavors into the food over time.
  • Add fresh herbs late in the cooking process. This will preserve their delicate flavors and add a little extra color to the dish. If appropriate, use a little more of your fresh herb as an attractive garnish for your dish.
  • When using spices, remember that they can add a powerful punch of flavor. It’s best to add a little at a time, allow it to cook some, then taste. Add more if needed. It’s much easier to add more than to mask the flavor of too much of a specific spice in a food.
  • Toasting spices before adding them to a dish can help to enhance their flavor. Simply put your dried spices into a dry skillet on medium heat. Stir them until they become aromatic. Be careful not to burn them in the process since that could ruin the flavor! When they are aromatic, use them in your dish.

With a little thoughtfulness and planning, we can enjoy the many flavors of herbs and spices readily available to us, either through commercial markets or from our own gardens. We just need to remember to store them properly and rotate or renew our supply when needed.



About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.


Onions 101 – Why They Make Us Cry and How to Minimize It

Why Our Eyes Tear When Cutting Onions
And How to Prevent or Minimize It

Why Do Onions Make Our Eyes Tear?

When onions are growing, they use sulfur from the soil to create a compound that can easily turn into a gas. This helps deter insects and animals from feeding on them. When we cut into an onion, the cell walls are damaged. This releases the sulfur compound and enzymes that react, releasing a gas (syn-propanethial-S-oxide) into the air. When the gas comes in contact with the water in our eyes, it is converted into sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid is what causes the eyes to sting, burn, and release tears. White, yellow and red onions have higher concentrations of the enzymes needed to create this gas. Sweet onions and green onions (scallions) have lower concentrations.

Our eyes have nerves that detect anything that’s potentially harmful. When our eyes react to the sulfuric acid, they release tears to try to flush it out. Some people are more sensitive to the gas and sulfuric acid than others. So, some people will tear more when cutting onions than others. But it’s helpful to know that onions pose no serious threat to the health of our eyes.

How to Reduce Tearing When Cutting an Onion
(1) First, place the onion in the freezer for 30 minutes or in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before cutting it. Why chill an onion? The optimal temperature for the onion enzymes to do their job of protecting the bulb from predatory damage is 104°F. Our normal body temperature isn’t far from that. So, chilling the onion prior to cutting, takes it far below its optimal temperature, reducing its ability to cause tearing when cut.

(2) Refrain from cutting the root end until last, if at all. The root end of the bulb contains the highest concentration of the compound that cause tearing. So, when we cut the onion top first, peel it, then cut from the stem end downward, we’re minimizing the release of the enzyme that causes the tearing.

(3) Sweet onions have less of the sulfur compound in them, which means that cutting them will be less likely to make your eyes tear. If a sweet onion will work in your recipe, considering switching to the sweeter variety as an alternative.

(4) Another alternative would be to buy frozen, pre-chopped onions. This would save the time and possible agony of cutting fresh onions for cooking. If fresh onion is needed, consider using green onions (scallions), Spring onions, or sweet onions, rather than yellow, red, or white onions.

(5) When all else fails, invest in a pair of goggles to protect your eyes. Onion goggles, swimming goggles, or laboratory/safety goggles are all options to consider. Remember to consider the size of your head and if you routinely wear glasses when buying any goggles.



About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

Herbs and Spices

Glass 101 – Why Switch From Plastic to Glass Food Jars or Containers AND Ways to Use Them

From Plastic to Glass Food Containers
Why Switch, and Ways to Use Them

Why switch to glass food containers?

There is a growing trend with people moving away from using plastic in the kitchen. This includes plastic wrap, plastic bags, plastic utensils, and plastic containers for storing, freezing, heating food, and eating. There are many reasons for this trend including:

* The desire to be more earth-friendly with less waste. Plastic waste is littering the planet in insurmountable amounts. Switching to glass helps to reduce potential plastic waste and is ultimately recyclable, even when broken. Also, the production and reuse of glass products creates less pollution in the environment than does the production of plastics.

* Avoiding chemicals that may be in or released from plastics that could leach into foods. Plastics are made from assorted chemicals, some of which are endocrine disrupting chemicals such as Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates. These chemicals can affect the brain, hormone system, reproductive system, and may also increase the risk of getting cancer. Furthermore, many such chemicals have not been completely tested for their health effects. Research has shown that some of these chemicals can leach into foods and beverages, in addition to possibly contaminating air, creating hazardous dust, and getting onto our hands. Glass does not leach chemicals into food or liquids, nor into the air or surfaces it comes in contact with.

* Durability. Glass lasts longer than plastic, unless of course, it gets broken. Also, plastic containers can melt or get warped when in contact with hot food, whereas most glass can tolerate hot to warm food without being damaged. Also, plastic wears out, becomes scratched or cracked, and breaks down much faster than glass, possibly causing chemicals to leach into the contents of the plastic container.

* Functionality. Glass has more potential uses than plastic containers, and may be reused indefinitely. Plastic containers wear out over time and may develop odors, scratches, a greasy film, and/or cracks.

* Glass is easier to clean. It will not absorb grease nor stain like plastic.

* Odor control.  Glass does not absorb odors, whereas plastic can.

* Glass is microwavable.  Most glass may be used in the microwave, whereas most plastics should not be microwaved. When plastic containers are microwaved, they may soften or melt. Also, the heat from the contents may cause plastic containers to leach chemicals into the contents of the container.

* Oven use. Most glass intended for kitchen use may be used in the oven, whereas plastic may not be used in the oven.

* Flavor. Glass preserves flavor better than plastic and won’t impart its own flavor into food, like plastic can, especially with prolonged storage.

* Glass containers are reusable for a much longer time than plastic containers. When purchasing items like tomato sauce, pickles, jelly, jam, beverages, nut butters, or anything that may be packaged in a glass jar or container, opt for glass packaging rather than plastic, if possible. It will help to reduce waste and the glass containers can be reused at home for many different purposes in the kitchen and around the house.

Uses for Glass Jars and Containers

There are many ways to reuse cleaned out food jars of all sizes and shapes, in addition to using canning mason jars for applications other than preserving food. For instance, glass jars can be used in any of the following creative ways:

* Sort and store assorted hardware such as nuts, bolts, screws and nails in separate jars.

* Store vegetables cut in advance for salads or meal preparation in jars.

* Use a lidded jar as a beverage glass at home or “to go.”

* Use a glass jar for drinking a smoothie at home or “to go.”

* Store small craft or sewing items such as pins, buttons, ribbons, or small tools in a jar.

* Use a jar as a pencil holder. Place pencils, pens, crayons, and/or markers in a jar on a desk.

* Store paper clips in a jar.

* Package your own prepared foods such as a “to-go” lunch in a jar.

* Make (and serve) a layered salad in a jar.

* Store leftover liquid items in a jar in the refrigerator. Examples include soups, sauces, beverages, or baby formula.

* Store leftover foods such as cooked rice, mashed potatoes, vegetables, cooked beans, tuna salad, cut fruit, etc. in a jar.

* Store pre-measured baking ingredients in jars. When you want to measure ingredients in advance to shorten meal prep time, measure baking ingredients in advance and store them in clean, dry food jars.

* Use a jar as a simple vase for cut flowers or a decorative floral arrangement with artificial flowers.

* Use a glass jar as a small vessel for rooting plant cuttings.

* Store extra dried herbs or spices in small glass jars with lids.

* Store extra dry foods such as beans, rice, pasta, flour, nuts, and seeds in jars.

* Store and mix homemade salad dressing in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.

* Use a jar as a container for homemade cake, brownie, bar, quick bread, and cookie mixes. Decorate the jar and give it as a gift.

* Make a homemade luminary in a jar.

* Make homemade candles in jars. Decorate and give them as gifts.

* Make a homemade terrarium in a decorative jar.

* Make and store homemade cosmetics in small jars with tight-fitting lids.

* Pack a homemade first-aid kit in a small jar for traveling.

* Store extra matches in a jar for safe keeping.

* Make painted or decorated jars for gift giving.

* Make a decorative, colorful sand art in a jar for your home or gifting.

* Make a decorative holder for a tea light with a pretty jar.

* Make flavored oils or vinegars in jars.

* Make overnight oats in a jar.

* Make a mini planter (such as for one flower bulb) with a decorative jar.

* Make a citronella candle in a jar for keeping mosquitoes away when you’re outside on a summer evening. Simply put the lid on the jar when it’s not being used.

* Store cotton balls and cotton swabs in a jar in the bathroom.

*  Use a glass jar for an easy piggy bank for saving extra change at the end of the day.

* Make a homemade, reusable soap dispenser by putting a pump in the top of a glass jar.

* Freeze food in jars, such as chopped bell peppers or onions, leftover soup in individual servings, or easy to-go lunches made in advance.

* Store extra garden seeds in the freezer in a glass jar.

* Make a decorative table centerpiece with a pretty jar.

* Store extra hair care items such as hair ties, bows, bobby pins and hair barrettes in jars.

* Use a jar as a toothbrush holder in the bathroom.

* Store extra combs in a glass jar.

* Use a small jar as a toothpick holder.

* Decorate a small glass jar to be used as a small planter for succulents.

* Make and serve a parfait in a tall jar.

* Carry “to go” snacks in a jar.

* Store makeup brushes in a jar.

* Store extra granola in a jar so it keeps fresh.

* Make a bug catching jar for children.

* Store extra candy in a jar after the bag/container is opened.

* Organize extra pantry items by placing dry food in jars, especially after the original packaging has been opened.

* Marinate meat in a jar. It would be much easier to clean than a plastic bag, or would save trashing the bag after it was used.

* Store painting supplies in jars. Larger jars can be used for storing paint brushes. Smaller jars can be used to store small amounts of extra paint.

* Display small vacation souvenirs in a jar for a decorative memoir.

The uses for glass jars of any size and shape are only limited to your imagination. So, start saving them when any store-bought food item is finished and you’ll have enough containers for all sorts of uses before you know it!



Glass Bakeware

Glass 101 – About the Types of Glass Used in the Kitchen

About the Types of Glass Used in the Kitchen
Soda-Lime vs Tempered vs Borosilicate Glass

There is a growing trend to move away from plastic food containers and metal bakeware, and there are many good reasons for doing so. However, the more we explore this option, the more it can become confusing. There are different types of glassware available. So, the question remains…Which one is best for me? This article explores the different types of glassware available today, so that you can make an informed decision on what type of glassware is best for you.

About the Different Types of Glass for Kitchen Use
Not all glass is created equal. However, each type has its own advantages and potential drawbacks. Which type of glass is best to buy will depend on your intended use for the item itself. The following should help you when shopping for glass items for your kitchen.

Components of Glass. All types of glass contain silicon dioxide, boron trioxide, sodium oxide, and aluminum oxide. However, the proportions of each chemical vary between glass types. The chemical composition affects the strength and melting points of glass. There are three types of glass that can be found in the kitchen: Soda-lime, tempered, and borosilicate glass.

About the Annealing Process. Annealing is a process of heating and cooling glass at a controlled rate during manufacturing. This step improves the glass’ durability and helps to reduce internal stresses that could cause breakage when the glass is heated and cooled during normal use. Annealed glass may be referred to as non-tempered glass or float glass. Annealed glass is not as strong as tempered glass. When annealed glass gets broken, it breaks into sharp, jagged pieces that could hurt someone nearby. When tempered glass gets broken, it breaks into small, smooth, relatively harmless pieces.

Since annealed glass does not go through extensive processing, it is cheaper to make than tempered glass. Annealed glass has optimal versatility for the manufacturer, so it can be crafted in many styles and designs, allowing it to be customized in many ways.

Soda-Lime Glass
Soda-lime glass is the most common type of glass. It may also be referred to as “soda-lime-silica glass” and may also be referred to as “annealed glass” since it is put through the annealing process. This glass is usually used for windowpanes, light bulbs, and glass containers like bottles and jars for beverages, food, and some commodities. Mason jars are made of soda-lime, annealed glass. Because of its chemical makeup, soda-lime glass is not as strong as other types of glass and will break easily when subjected to being bumped, or sudden extreme temperature changes (also known as thermal shock). While any glass can break with extreme sudden temperature changes or mechanical bumps, soda-lime glass will break the easiest under such conditions. It is relatively inexpensive to make, so it would be the preferred glass to manufacture. About ninety percent of manufactured glass is soda-lime glass. Soda-lime glass does not contain as much silicone dioxide (69%) as does borosilicate glass (80.6%).

Soda-lime glass is smooth and nonporous, allowing it to be easily cleaned. It resists chemicals in water solutions, so they will not contaminate the contents nor affect the flavor of anything stored in the glass. However, soda-lime glass does not tolerate very high temperatures, sudden temperature changes, or being bumped mechanically without cracking, chipping or breaking. For example, it can break when exposed to a sudden temperature change, such as when pouring very hot liquid into a cool glass.

Tempered Glass
Tempered glass is soda-lime glass that has been specially treated to make it stronger and more durable. In the manufacturing process, soda-lime glass is subjected to extremely high temperatures, followed by a few seconds of a high-pressure cooling technique called quenching. Tempered glass can also be created through chemical treatment causing the glass to compress. However, the chemical process is expensive and not used very often. When tempered glass shatters, it breaks into small pieces, making it less likely to cause injury than when untempered soda-lime glass shatters.

Tempered glass is very durable and resists smudges, allowing for easy removal of fingerprints. It is much harder and stronger than untempered soda-lime glass, and can tolerate temperatures up to 470°F. However, despite its strength, tempered glass should not be subjected to sudden extreme temperature changes, which could cause it to shatter. An example would be removing a glass bakeware dish with food in it from a 450°F oven and placing it on a cold marble slab or countertop. After removing a hot glass baking dish from the oven, place it on dry hot pads, towels or trivets that will absorb the warmth of the dish rather than shocking it with a much cooler temperature. A lot of glass bakeware is currently made from tempered soda-lime glass.

Borosilicate Glass
In addition to the other components, borosilicate glass contains boron trioxide. This ingredient makes the glass very strong so it is unlikely to crack when exposed to extreme temperature changes. It is also very resistant to chemical corrosion. Therefore, borosilicate glass is harder, stronger, and more durable than soda-lime glass, tempered or not. This type of glass is used in some bakeware since it can tolerate extreme temperature changes far better than tempered soda-lime glass. It is also used in pipelines, sealed-beam headlights, and laboratory equipment. Interestingly, borosilicate glass is more likely to break when dropped than tempered soda-lime glass. When it breaks, it shatters into large sharp pieces that can cause serious injury to anyone nearby.

So, the question remains…Which brand is made of which type of glass, and which type of glassware is best for me?

You will need to be the judge on which type of glass bakeware is best for you, based on your personal needs, applications, and habits. The following information gives insight to some of the common brands of glass bakeware currently on the market.

Pyrex (World Kitchen) Glassware
Many of us own Pyrex glassware. The company was established in 1915 and originally made its glassware products with borosilicate glass. In recent years, corporate changes took place and newer products have since been made with tempered soda-lime glass. As a consumer, you can easily determine which type of glass your glassware is made from by looking at the brand name. If it is spelled in all capital letters (PYREX), it was made with borosilicate glass. If it is spelled in all small letters (pyrex), it was made with tempered soda-lime glass. Any newer borosilicate PYREX glassware is currently being made in Europe.

Anchor Hocking Glassware
This brand of glass bakeware is made of tempered soda-lime glass.

Libby Glassware
Libby glass bakeware is made of tempered soda-lime glass.

1790 Brand Glassware
This brand of glassware is made of borosilicate glass.

Amazon Basics Glass Bakeware
This brand of glassware is made of borosilicate glass.

OXO Glass Bakeware
This brand of glassware is made of borosilicate glass.

How to Minimize the Risk of Breakage
Glass bakeware comes with instructions for use and care. We should all read the paperwork that comes with such things, and follow the instructions carefully. But many times, the paperwork gets tossed aside and never read. So, here are some general tips for the safe use of glass bakeware.

* Avoid extreme changes in temperature, such as taking glassware directly from the freezer to a hot oven, or from a hot oven to the sink. Care should also be used when placing a frozen glassware item into the microwave.

* Do not add liquid to hot glassware. Allow it to cool down first.

* Do not place hot glass bakeware on cold or wet surfaces, countertops, or stovetops. Instead, place them on a dry towel or hot pads, wooden cutting board, cooling rack, or trivets designed for hot glass items.

* Do not put hot glassware into the refrigerator or freezer. Allow it to cool down first.

* Do not use glassware on the stovetop, under a broiler, or in a toaster oven.

* Do not heat empty glassware.

* Always preheat the oven first before placing glassware (WITH FOOD IN IT) in the oven.

* Don’t use glassware to microwave popcorn or heat food that is in browning wrappers.

* When heating cheese, oil, or butter in glassware in the microwave, don’t overheat it. Heat it only for the minimum time needed.

* Allow glass bakeware to cool completely before immersing it in water.

* Use care not to bump, poke, or scratch glass bakeware with utensils of any type.

* Do not use glass bakeware that has any chips, cracks or other damage, which can cause them to suddenly shatter.

* Do not microwave nearly empty glassware. Be sure it has ample food in it to absorb the heat generated by the radiation from the microwave.




Oregano 101 – The Basics


Oregano 101 – The Basics

About Oregano
Oregano is a perennial herb that grows into a small shrub with multi-branched stems, with small, oval, grayish-green leaves. As the plant matures, it produces small white or pink flowers that are edible.

Oregano is an herb in the mint family. It is a close “cousin” to marjoram. Oregano is native to the Mediterranean region and western Asia. People have used it for thousands of years for both culinary and medicinal uses. Ancient Greeks and Romans associated oregano with joy and happiness, and used it at both weddings and funerals. The couple to be married was adorned with wreaths or garlands of oregano to ensure long years of love and happiness. Graves were planted with oregano to help the deceased find peace and tranquility in the next life.

Ancient Greeks discovered the plant had medicinal properties and used it to treat a variety of ailments. Oregano eventually was taken to China where it was prescribed to relieve fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, and itchy skin. In the middle ages, people used oregano to treat rheumatism, toothache, indigestion, and cough. Later, oregano was consumed throughout Europe and Northern Africa where it was used to flavor meats, fish, and even wine. Oregano was hardly known in the United States before World War II. Soldiers discovered the herb during the Italian Campaign and brought the herb to the United States, with suggested ways to use it. Its popularity in America has grown ever since.

Oregano is very popular in Mediterranean cuisines, especially Greek and Italian foods. The leaves have a distinct aroma with a warm, slightly bitter flavor. The intensity of the flavor of oregano can vary among the different varieties. Also, growing conditions (season, climate, and soil) affect the flavor of oregano, so it can vary from a mild to intense, biting flavor.

Nutrition and Health Benefits
Even though we don’t eat a lot of oregano at any one time, the herb has an impressive list of compounds known to have disease prevention and health promoting properties.

Antibacterial and Antifungal Properties. Thymol, one of the noteworthy compounds in oregano is known to have antibacterial and antifungal properties. In a 2019 study, thymol and carvacrol, another important compound found in oregano essential oil, were found to prevent various strains of Staphylococcus aureus from developing in meat and dairy products, suggesting it could be used to deter bacterial growth in food. Researchers tested the antimicrobial effects of oregano oil against an array of microbes and found it to be effective against eleven different strains of bacteria.

Oregano is also an excellent source of Vitamin C, which is well-known for its antioxidant properties and help in warding off infections.

Antioxidants. Oregano is rich in antioxidant compounds, including Vitamin A, carotenes, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin. It has been rated to be a plant among the highest with antioxidant benefits. These compounds protect us from dangerous free radical molecules that play a role in aging and various disease processes. Animal studies suggest that oregano extract may reduce inflammation associated with autoimmune arthritis, allergic asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Promotes Healthy Digestion. Oregano stimulates the release of gastric juices, promoting healthy digestion and movement of intestinal contents.

Source of Important Minerals. Oregano is an excellent source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Potassium, an important electrolyte in cellular and body fluids, is well-known for helping to control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese functions as a co-factor in the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is well-known for helping to prevent anemia, while magnesium and calcium are essential for healthy bones.

How to Select Oregano
Dried oregano is available in just about any grocery store you can name. Fresh oregano is found in the refrigerated produce section of many grocery stores. Many people prefer the flavor of fresh oregano over dried. Also, fresh oregano is richer in essential oils, and vitamins and minerals than its dried counterpart.

When shopping for fresh oregano, select those with a vibrant green color and a firm stem. There should be no mold, discoloration or yellowing.  They should not look wilted.

How to Store Oregano
Do not wash fresh oregano until you are ready to use it. The excess moisture could invite decay.

There are different ways fresh oregano can be stored…

(1) Store fresh oregano in the refrigerator in the original clamshell container it came in. Stored this way, it will keep for a few days.

(2) Store fresh oregano in the refrigerator, in a zip-lock bag. Like the plastic clamshell container, fresh herbs kept this way will have a tendency to dry out and should be used within three days.

(3) Store fresh oregano loosely wrapped, jelly roll style, in a slightly damp paper towel or cloth, placed loosely in a plastic bag, and kept in the refrigerator. When stored this way, it may keep for up to one week.

(4) Fresh oregano may also be kept like fresh cut flowers, standing up, cut side down, in a glass with a little water. Cover loosely with a plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator. Change the water every day or two. Try to use oregano kept this way within one week.

Store dried oregano in an airtight container in a cool, dry, place, away from a heat source and light. For best flavor, use it within six months.

How to Freeze Oregano
First, wash and dry your fresh oregano sprigs. Remove the leaves from the stems and place them loosely in a freezer bag. Remove as much air from the bag as you can. Try to place it somewhere in the freezer where the leaves won’t get crushed. Use within one year.

Fresh oregano may also be frozen in ice cubes. Wash and remove the leaves from stems. Place a measured amount of leaves in ice cube trays. Fill with water and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer bag or container. To use, simply add however many cubes you need to soups, sauces, stews, or marinades. Use your cubes within one year.

How to Dry Oregano
Like storing and freezing fresh oregano, there are different ways it can be dried.

(1) Wash and dry the fresh oregano on the stems. Tie the stems toward the cut side, and hang them upside down to dry in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight. The area should have plenty of ventilation. Once dried, the bundle can be placed in a bag or container and stored away from light and heat. Use within six months for best flavor. To save space, the leaves can easily be removed from the stems before being stored.

(2) Wash and dry the fresh oregano on the stems. Place the oregano, stems and all, in a clean paper bag that is large enough so the stems won’t be overly crowded. Close the paper bag by folding over the top. Lay the bag on its side in a cool, dry place. Two or three times a day, gently shake the bag to keep any branches from sticking together and turn the bag over. Check it periodically for dryness, starting after a week or so. When they are completely dry, remove the leaves from the stems and place them in an airtight container. Store it in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Use within six months for best flavor.

(3) Fresh oregano may also be dried in a dehydrator. Wash and pat the stems and leaves dry. Place the stems on a mesh dehydrator sheet and follow the manufacturer’s directions for drying your herbs. The usual temperature for drying herbs is as low as possible, about 95°F. Allow them to dehydrate until they are crispy and completely dry. Remove the leaves from the stems and transfer them to an airtight container. As with the other methods, store it in a cool, dry place away from a heat source and light. Use within six months for best flavor.

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Oregano
* Add dried oregano at the beginning of cooking to allow it to rehydrate and the flavor to be released. Add fresh oregano at the end of cooking so the flavor will remain in your food.

* Some varieties of oregano can be spicier than others. Italian oregano is sweeter and milder in flavor. Greek and Mexican oregano is hotter and spicier in flavor.

* If your pizza is lacking that “classic” pizza flavor, sprinkle it with a little dried oregano. Oregano is the herb that makes pizza taste like pizza.

* Try adding oregano to tomato-based pasta dishes, omelets, breads, roasted potatoes, kebabs, chicken, and lentils.

* Add a little sprinkle of dried oregano leaves to a green salad for a spicy flavor.

* If a recipe calls for fresh oregano and all you have is dried (or vice versa), here’s the conversion rate: 1 part of dried oregano = 3 parts of fresh. Example: 1 teaspoon of dried oregano = 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of fresh oregano.

* If you’re making your own fresh dinner rolls, finely mince a few tablespoons of fresh oregano leaves, and knead it directly in the dough for fresh herb rolls.

* Try adding some fresh, chopped oregano leaves to a pot of beans during the last 15 minutes of cooking for an earthy oregano flavor.

* Make a robust, savory pesto using fresh oregano instead of basil leaves. Serve a little on a green salad, toss it with roasted vegetables, or brush it on your favorite bread.

* For a simple and satisfying salad, sprinkle oregano on sliced tomato and mozzarella cheese. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.

* If you elect to use oregano oil on your skin, be sure to dilute it with a carrier oil.

Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Oregano
Basil, capers, cayenne, cilantro, cumin, marjoram, pepper (black), salt

Foods That Go Well with Oregano
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Beans (in general), beef, chicken, chickpeas, eggs, fish (and other seafood), lamb, pork, tahini, turkey, veal

Vegetables: Bell peppers, chiles, eggplant, endive, fennel, garlic, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, scallions, squash (summer and winter), tomatoes and tomato sauce, vegetables (roasted, stir-fried), zucchini

Fruits: Citrus (in general), lemons, olives, orange

Grains and Grain Products: Corn, grains (in general), pasta, rice

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Cheese (i.e., feta, soft, white)

Other Foods: Mustard (Dijon), oil (esp. olive)

Oregano has been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Chili, Greek cuisine, Italian cuisine, kebabs, marinades, Mediterranean cuisines, Mexican cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisines, pasta dishes, pizza, salad dressings, salads (esp. Greek), sauces (esp. pasta, pizza, tomato), soups (esp. minestrone, spinach, tomato, yogurt), Southwest American cuisine, stews, stuffings

Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Oregano
Add oregano to any of the following combinations…

Cannellini beans + zucchini
Feta cheese + tomatoes [in salads]
Garlic + lemon [in salad dressings]
Lemon juice + olive oil [in marinades]

Recipe Links
Chimichurri Sauce

Fast, Fresh Grape Tomato Salad

Cajun spice Mix

Greek Lemon Chicken and Potatoes

Daddy Eddie’s Roast Pork, Puerto Rican-Style

Homemade Pizza Sauce

Herbs de Provence

Absolutely Fabulous Greek/House Salad

Oregano Recipes

Grilled Yellow Squash and Zucchini Pasta Salad

Orange, Radicchio, and Oregano Salad

Grilled Potato Salad

Tagliatelle with Fresh Oregano Pesto



Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.


About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.


Spearmint (Mint) 101 – The Basics


Spearmint 101 – The Basics

About Spearmint
When someone uses the general term, “mint,” they are usually referring to spearmint, Mentha spicata. This same perennial herb has also been called garden mint, lamb’s mint, Our Lady’s mint, spire mint, and sage of Bethlehem.

Spearmint is native to the Mediterranean region, where it has long been a popular herb used as both food and medicine. In ancient times, mint was known as an herb of hospitality. The leaves were used to clean and scent tables and floors. It has been stuffed in pillows and mattresses and scattered on floors to cover odors and deter pests and rodents. Mint was also used with other herbs in tombs as an aromatic. The Romans brought mint to Europe. Mint was carried to America by early English settlers who used it medicinally, to make tea, and as an aromatic for the body and home.

Nutrition and Health Benefits
Mint is rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and folate, along with the trace minerals manganese and iron. It also contains some calcium and magnesium.

Digestive Upsets. Mint tea has been used to help relieve nausea, cramping, and indigestion.

Respiratory Problems. Inhaling steam scented with mint has been used to help relieve respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis.

Antibacterial Agent. Spearmint is added to many toothpastes and mouthwashes. In addition to freshening the breath, spearmint has been found to contain antimicrobial properties that can help kill harmful bacteria in the mouth. Furthermore, research has shown that spearmint essential oil can help destroy harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and Listeria, that cause foodborne illnesses.

Lowers Blood Sugar. Animal studies have shown that spearmint tea may help to lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. Human studies in this area are lacking, but the animal studies that have been conducted are promising.

Reduces Stress. In many countries, spearmint tea is commonly used to induce relaxation and reduce stress. Animal studies have shown that spearmint tea does, in fact, produce such an effect. The menthol in the leaves may be responsible for this effect. So, if you’re feeling stressed, enjoy a cup of mint tea! Furthermore, mint aromatherapy has been used to help ease mental sluggishness and agitation.

Relieves Arthritis. Animal and human studies have found that spearmint can help relieve arthritis pain. People who drank spearmint tea twice a day for 16 weeks had reduced stiffness, pain, and physical disability from arthritis of the knee.

How to Select Spearmint
Look for fresh mint leaves that are bright green and not wilted. If possible, smell them. Their aroma will clue you into their degree of freshness. If they have no aroma, they’re not fresh. If your bunch of leaves was tied together with a twist tie or rubber band, remove it when you get it home.

How to Store Fresh Spearmint
Fresh spearmint is delicate and can bruise easily. If it was purchased in a closed plastic container, store it dry in the refrigerator, in that same container until you’re ready to use it. Wait to wash it until you’re ready to use it.

If your mint leaves were bundled, they may be stored in a couple different ways. First, you can store them like cut flowers, in the refrigerator. Place the stems, cut side down in a glass or jar with a small amount of water. Cover them loosely with a plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator. Change the water every day or two.

Another way to store fresh mint leaves would be to spread them out on a SLIGHTLY damp paper towel or cloth. Roll the towel or cloth like a jelly-roll and place that loosely in a plastic bag. Store it in the refrigerator. Try to use your stored fresh mint within a week.

How to Preserve Mint
Freeze. Fresh mint may be washed, removed from stems, chopped, then frozen in ice cube trays with water. Transfer the frozen cubes to a freezer bag or container and use them when you want to add mint flavor to cold beverages or any cooked dish calling for mint.

Fresh mint may also be washed, dried, then frozen whole in an airtight plastic bag. This mint would be best used in pesto, sauce, or jelly.

Dry. There are several ways that fresh mint leaves can be dried.

(1) Wash the mint leaves while still on the stems. Carefully dry the leaves, then remove the stems. Place the leaves on a baking tray in a single layer. Be sure the leaves are completely dry before proceeding. Place the tray in a warm oven at its lowest temperature or 180°F until the leaves are dry. It may take two hours or longer. Watch them carefully so they do not burn. Allow them to cool completely, then store them in an airtight container. The dried leaves may be left whole or crumbled. If crumbled, sift them through a screen to remove any remaining stems.

(2) Fresh mint leaves may also be dried in a dehydrator. Prepare the leaves as detailed above and lay them in a single layer on a mesh dehydrator tray. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for the recommended temperature and length of time to dry the leaves.

(3) Yet another way to dry fresh spearmint would be to wash and dry the leaves completely. They may be removed from the stems or left on. Place them in a paper bag and close the bag by folding over the top edges. Lay the bag on its side and shake the bag to disburse the leaves so they’re not in a big clump. Place the bag away from a heat source and sunlight. Two or three times a day, shake the bag and turn it over to “toss” the leaves around, then lay it on its side again. Continue to do this until the leaves are completely dry. This may take a week or more. Once dry, remove the leaves from the stems, if not already done and transfer them to an airtight container.

After your dried mint leaves have been placed in their storage container, check the container after a few days to be sure there is no moisture inside. This would indicate that the leaves were not completely dry, and will invite decay. If moisture is found, remove the leaves and dry them again.

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Spearmint
* Recipes that call for “mint” generally mean spearmint, so the two terms are usually interchangeable.

* For a quick dessert or snack, combine sliced strawberries, mint leaves, and yogurt.

* Make an easy mint tea by placing 5 to 10 torn mint leaves in a mug. Muddle (smash) them just a bit with a wooden spoon. Pour hot (not boiling) water over the leaves and allow them to steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Removing the leaves is optional. Enjoy!

* To make mint tea using dried leaves, steep 1 teaspoon of dried leaves in a cup of hot water for about three minutes. Strain and enjoy!

* Add 3 or 4 fresh mint leaves to your favorite chocolate or berry smoothie.

* Make a delicious strawberry salad that can be eaten as it is, used as a topping for a green salad, or as a topping for your favorite bread along with some goat or ricotta cheese. Combine 2 cups of sliced strawberries with 10 to 20 chopped fresh mint leaves, an equal number of chopped fresh basil leaves, and 3 to 4 tablespoons of your favorite balsamic vinegar. Enjoy!

* Dress up diced watermelon with equal parts of chopped fresh mint and basil leaves, some feta cheese, and a sprinkle of sea salt.

* Add fresh mint leaves to plain or sparkling water for a nice refresher. Better yet, freeze mint leaves with water in ice cube trays. Cool your water with mint ice cubes.

* When ingesting spearmint, use only dried or fresh leaves. Use spearmint essential oil for aromatherapy or dilute it in a carrier oil when massaging it on the body.

* Add fresh mint leaves to a mixed fruit salad to make it extra special.

* Make a simple refreshing sachet by placing some dried mint leaves in a small square of fabric or cheesecloth. Tie the ends together and place it in drawers, closets, shoes, or anywhere you want to freshen with the aroma of mint.

* Here’s a fun activity if you like mint-chocolate. Wash and dry fresh mint leaves. One at a time, dip each leaf in your favorite melted chocolate. Place the leaves on a wax paper-lined dish. When all the leaves have been dipped, place the dish in the refrigerator until the chocolate has hardened. Enjoy!

* Try adding finely chopped mint leaves to your favorite chocolate pudding or ice cream.

* If you only have dried spearmint and need fresh, or vice versa, here’s the conversion rate: 1 part of dried mint = 3 parts of fresh. Example: 1 teaspoon of dried mint is equivalent to 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint.

* When adding fresh spearmint to a cooked dish, add it toward the end of cooking, or when cooking is finished, for best flavor. When adding dried spearmint to a cooked dish, add it early during cooking so it will have time to rehydrate and release its flavor.

Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Spearmint
Basil, cardamom, cilantro, coriander, dill, lemongrass, lovage, parsley

Foods That Go Well with Spearmint
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans (esp. black, green, white), bean shoots, beef, cashews, chicken, chickpeas, lamb, lentils, lima beans, peanuts, peas, pine nuts, pistachios, pork, salmon (and other seafood), turkey, veal

Vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chiles, chives, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, garlic, ginger, jicama, kale, lettuce, marinated vegetables, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, radishes, scallions, shallots, spinach, squash (winter and summer), tomatoes, zucchini

Fruits: Apples, berries (esp. blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), citrus fruits (in general), coconut, figs, fruits (in general, dried and fresh), grapefruit, grapes and grape juice, lemon, lime, mangoes (green), melon (esp. honeydew), olives, oranges and orange juice, papaya (esp. green), peaches, pears, pineapple, watermelon

Grains and Grain Products: Barley, corn, couscous, grains (in general), millet, noodles (Asian, esp. rice), pasta, quinoa, rice, wheat berries

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Cheese (i.e., feta, ricotta), coconut milk, cream, yogurt

Other Foods: Bourbon, chocolate, gin, rum, sugar (esp. brown), vinegar (esp. balsamic, white wine)

Spearmint has been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Asian cuisines, beverages (juleps, lassis, lemonades, mojitos, teas), cakes, candies, chutneys, curries, desserts, frostings, ice cream, Indian cuisine, jellies and jams, Mediterranean cuisines, Middle Eastern cuisine, Moroccan cuisine, pestos, pies, pilafs, raitas, risotto, salads (bean, fruit, grain, green, Thai, vegetables), salsas, sauces, soups, Southeast Asian cuisines, stuffings, tabbouleh, teas, Vietnamese cuisines

Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Spearmint
Add spearmint to any of the following combinations…

Artichokes + chiles
Balsamic vinegar + berries
Balsamic vinegar + peaches + ricotta cheese
Bell peppers + chiles + garlic + papaya + pineapple
Cardamom + ginger + lemon
Chiles + cilantro + garlic + olive oil + vinegar
Chiles + lemon + shallots + sugar
Citrus + zucchini
Cucumber + yogurt
Feta cheese + lentils
Feta cheese + peas + rice
Lemon + strawberries
Olive oil + white beans + white wine vinegar

Recipe Links
20 Recipes That Use Fresh Mint

50 Ways to Cook with Fresh, Fragrant Mint

20 Recipes for Mint Lovers

14 Recipes That Freshen Up Dinner with Mint

Thai Ground Beef Recipe with Mint, Carrots, and Peppers

Spiced Beef Stew with Carrots and Mint

63 Fresh Mint Recipes to Help You Use Up That Bumper Crop

Middle Eastern Tomato Salad

27 Fresh Recipes for Leftover Mint

18 Recipes for Leftover Mint


Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.


About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

Banana-Strawberry Nice Cream

Banana-Strawberry Nice Cream

Here’s a simple recipe for a refreshing, healthful dessert. It makes a lot, so it can easily feed two people for a nice, light dessert or snack. To see a video demonstration on how to make this delicious mixture, watch below!


Banana-Strawberry Nice Cream
Makes 2 Servings

1 Frozen banana
4 Large strawberries, fresh or frozen
10 Red grapes, fresh or frozen
2 to 4 Tbsp Extra creamy oat milk OR coconut milk

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth, thick and creamy. Add more milk (of choice) to make it softer, if needed. Enjoy!

Tip: If using all frozen fruit, more milk may be needed to help it blend up and become creamy. If using some fresh fruit, less milk can be used to make it a creamy texture. Add more milk, and maybe even some veggies of choice, and make this into a delicious smoothie!


About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.