Prairie Fare: What would you do if your canned food froze?

Julie Garden-Robinson
NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist

I sat in the auditorium waiting to listen to a band concert for the first time in about a year.

The students walked onto the stage carrying their instruments. All were wearing special masks that allowed them to play trumpets, clarinets and even flutes.

As a flutist myself, I wasn’t quite sure I could play wearing a mask.

Being in a sparsely populated, socially distanced auditorium and listening to a concert played by masked teenagers was a new experience. However, this seemed more “normal” than watching a livestream at home a mile from the school. They all left the building with a cookie in a plastic bag as a treat.

The next day I was on a Zoom call talking with colleagues from around the U.S., including Southern states that had weather emergencies recently. One person talked about frozen pipes and water raining in her house as a result of the extremely cold weather and storms.

Another talked about having no electricity for days.

Then I went online and read some of the questions posted by members of a Facebook group. A couple of people were talking about unintentionally frozen canned foods left in a garage.

We are touched by many challenges and even full-fledged disasters in our lives. The ongoing pandemic situation has disrupted our lives. Blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding can affect electricity and food safety.

Here are some scenarios to ponder in case you need to cope with a food-related issue after a weather emergency. This information is based on recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Question 1: Your electricity went out and you have a refrigerator full of perishable food. How long will the refrigerator keep food safe if you keep the refrigerator door closed?

  • A) 2 hours.
  • B) 4 hours.
  • C) 6 hours.
  • D) 8 hours.

Question 2: Two-part question: During a power outage, how many hours will a full freezer hold the temperature at a safe level if the freezer is kept tightly closed? How many hours will a half-full freezer hold the temperature at a safe temperature level if the freezer is kept tightly closed?

  • A) 48 hours; 24 hours.
  • B) 36 hours; 18 hours.
  • C) 24 hours; 12 hours.
  • D) 16 hours; 6 hours.

Question 3: Which of these is an indication that thawed, formerly frozen meat is safe to refreeze?

  • A) The temperature of the food is 60 F.
  • B) The temperature of the food is 55 F.
  • C) The temperature of the food is 45 F.
  • D) The temperature of the food is 40 F or lower and the food has ice crystals.

Question 4: A flood has occurred and you are checking whether your food stored in your flooded basement pantry is safe to eat. Which of these foods would not be considered safe to salvage and use if the product came in contact with floodwater? (Mark all that apply)

  • A) Foods with screw caps.
  • B) Foods with pull tops.
  • C) Foods with crimped tops.
  • D) Foods with snap lids.

Question 5: You are about to sanitize your metal pans and glass dishes that were touched by floodwaters. You wash the containers in soapy water, rinse and then proceed to sanitize them. What is the correct concentration for sanitizing the items, according to the USDA?

  • A) 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach per quart of water.
  • B) 1 teaspoon of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water.
  • C) 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water.
  • D) 1 teaspoon of unscented chlorine bleach per two gallons of water.

Question 6: Essay question: You accidentally left some canned goods in your garage, and you found the cans swollen and the contents solidly frozen. What should you do?

Here are the answers: 1. B; 2. A; 3. D; 4. A, B, C, D; 5. C; 6. Inspect the cans. If the seams of the can are rusted or burst, throw the cans away in a place where no human or animal will consume the food. Do not taste the contents. If the cans are swollen and the can damage was caused by the freezing, place the cans in the refrigerator to thaw. If the product looks and/or smells normal, thoroughly cook the contents right away by boiling for 10 to 20 minutes. Products then can be refrigerated or frozen for later use.

See https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food for more recipes and food safety information.

See https://tinyurl.com/apvpru9z for more information from the USDA about food safety during emergencies.

Spring is on the way, and that often means organizing and cleaning kitchen cupboards and appliances. Check your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer for some ingredients to make this delicious main dish meal.

Cilantro Lime Steak Fajitas

Cilantro Lime Marinade

  • 1 c. cilantro, chopped.
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic, minced.
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil.
  • 2 tsp. dried onions.
  • 3 limes, zest and juice.

Fajitas

  • 1 1/2 lb. flank steak, trimmed (or other beef steak).
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced.
  • 3 bell peppers, sliced.

Seasoning for vegetables

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil.
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder.
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder.
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder.
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin.
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika.

To make the marinade, add cilantro, garlic, onions and olive oil to a bowl. Zest the limes, squeeze juice into mix and whisk together. Add the steak to a zip-top plastic bag, pour cilantro mix over the steak and seal the bag. Turn the bag repeatedly to make sure the steak is covered evenly with marinade. Place in refrigerator to marinate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Take meat out of refrigerator 30 minutes prior to cooking. Slice onions and pepper and add to a bowl with all the vegetable seasoning; mix well. Using a large sheet pan, lay the steak in the middle and spread vegetables around the beef. Cook for 13 minutes, then broil on high for two minutes. After broiling, remove from oven and allow to rest for five minutes before slicing. When slicing, cut against the grain. Serve with whole-grain tortillas and your favorite fajita toppings.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 350 calories, 19 grams (g) fat, 33 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber and 75 milligrams sodium.

Check your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer for some ingredients to make this delicious main dish meal.