UFOs and Aliens Invade My Freezer

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Yesterday I cleaned out the refrigerator, including the freezer. Especially the freezer.  It was definitely time for a spring cleaning. A while back I had organized the shelves by food type.  Seems I am the only member of this family who reads labels.  Nothing was where it should have been.  Plus, I had a UFO (unidentified frozen object) with no identification on it whatsoever and little to distinguish it by sight alone (My first mistake.)  There was only one option.

Defrost.

I placed the bag in the sink to thaw (my second mistake) and went about my business. It felt a bit like choosing a grab bag at a carnival.

Hours later, when the hoarfrost had melted away and the contents of the bag were visible, I still had no clue.  I gingerly opened the bag and sniffed.  Nothing.  A finger poke led to the “aha” moment.

Roasted bell pepper strips.  Late in the season when we were dismantling the garden, and the remaining peppers had all been green.  I roasted them in the oven, then preserved them for future use by freezing.  6 months had gone by.  I googled a freezer storage chart to discover that frozen cooked vegetables are best within 2 to 3 months.  Should I use them or throw them away?  Such a dilemma.

I haven’t mastered the art of canning yet; the freezer is still the best way for me to preserve food.  I decided it was time to learn how to use the freezer safely and more efficiently.

Snickerdoodle cookie dough balls or alien space creatures?  Looking a little frosty there.  Did I make them in September?

Snickerdoodle cookie dough balls or alien space creatures? Looking a little frosty there.

A few helpful tips:

1.  Obviously, it’s important to label and date all freezer bags and containers even if you think you’ll be using them soon–as I must have done when I chucked those peppers into cold storage.

2. Leave as little air as possible in all freezer containers.  Push extra air out of bags before sealing and always use freezer safe containers that fit the amount of food being frozen.  I’m guilty, guilty, guilty.

3. Cool hot foods quickly before freezing them by placing the pan of hot food in a large container filled with ice or cold water, stirring to keep the cold circulating. The sink works well for this purpose.

4.  Place food items in the coldest part of the freezer.  Keep them away from the door until they’re completely frozen.

5.  The best and safest way to thaw foods is in the refrigerator.  Foods can also be defrosted in the microwave.  Only muffins, breads, and other baked goods can safely be thawed at room temperature.  Oops.  I’ve been living dangerously it appears.

So, let’s see.  I baked the cookies.  Sam will let me know if they’re past their prime. Hey, it won’t kill him, and it’s worth a shot.  And we’ll see what I can come up with for those peppers.  Got any ideas for me?

Who could find anything here?

BEFORE: Who could find anything here?

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AFTER: Much better. Let’s give this organization thing another go.

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Rice: Proceed With Caution

Due to the tremendous interest in Monday’s post on arsenic in rice, I felt it needed a follow-up.  There’s a rumor going around that organic rice has no arsenic.

I wondered about this too–but thought it odd that Consumer Reports wouldn’t have noted that in their findings. That would have been a simple way to deal with the problem, right?Just eat organic.  The truth of the matter is somewhat different.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration weighs in on this issue in an FAQ section about arsenic in rice on their website:

Do organic foods have less arsenic than non-organic foods? 

The FDA is unaware of any data that shows a difference in the amount of arsenic found in organic rice vs. non-organic rice. Because arsenic is naturally found in the soil and water, it is absorbed by plants regardless of whether they are grown under conventional or organic farming practices.

Currently, there is no federal maximum on arsenic in food. The FDA said it hopes to complete its assessment by the end of the year to set science-based limits.

That said, based on the current data, the FDA is not recommending changes by consumers regarding their consumption of rice and rice products.  They encourage consumers to eat a varied diet that includes other types of grains for the best possible nutrition.

From what I have read, however, there are no long term studies of low doses of arsenic. That would be something well worth knowing.

And because young children and infants are quite vulnerable the American Academy of Pediatrics has this to say:

While additional research, including the results of the ongoing FDA study, will be needed to provide detailed recommendations, the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that at the individual level, offering children a variety of foods, including products made from oats and wheat, will decrease children’s exposure to arsenic derived from rice. In addition, if parents raise questions about arsenic in juice products, they can be reminded that it is not necessary to offer children any juice in a well-balanced, healthy diet; and that for years the AAP has recommended limited intake of all sweet beverages, including juice.

Another finding is that rice grown in California has lower levels of arsenic overall than rice grown in south-central states where arsenic was used as a pesticide in the cotton fields.

Personally, when I buy rice in the future, I’ll purchase it from an environmentally conscious California based company from the San Joaquin Valley–Lundberg Family Farms.  They’ll be implementing a 3 year arsenic testing plan to not only measure levels of arsenic in their rice but also to determine what that means for the health of the consumer.  That’s means something to me.

There are no absolutes at this point.  I’d like to hear what other families plan on doing.  What do you think?

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Rice

Rice.  It has a dark side.

And we’re not talking black or red varieties.  All rice–even that paragon of virtue, brown, has a skeleton in it’s closet.

It’s the carcinogen, arsenic.  Rice is especially good at absorbing arsenic from the soil and the water it’s grown in.  In tests by Consumer Reports, many common rice products contain concerning levels of arsenic including:  rice baby cereal, rice crackers, pasta, cereal and drinks.

Here I’ve been encouraging everyone to eat brown rice as opposed to white.  Well, turns out that  brown rice has higher levels of arsenic than white–even with all of its other nutritional advantages.  Arsenic tends to concentrate in the outer layers of the grain–much of which gets “polished” away when producing white rice.

And what about our kids?  Should you be concerned?

I would.

According to Consumer Reports, if a baby eats rice cereal twice a day, which is very common, her risk of cancer doubles. Kids should have no more than about one serving of rice or rice pasta a week–and the serving size is pretty small.  Given that we have lots of grain alternatives this seems easy enough to do. Check with your pediatrician if you’re not sure.

These are the things that I plan on doing:

1.     Move over rice and make room for other tasty, delicious grains.  We’ve been experimenting with other types of grains for a while now.  Farro, millet, quinoa, barley and bulgur all make regular appearances at our table.  They’ve made credible understudies for rice, but now we can give them a starring role.  Try them and see what you think.

2.     Consume less rice and fewer rice products.  Especially if you eat more than two or three servings of rice each week  These include rice drinks, rice cakes (I have to admit I keep a bag of these in the car at all times for impromptu snacks) and rice cereals.  And, of course, rice itself–especially brown!

3.     Reduce arsenic content by cooking rice differently.  Consumer Reports recommends rinsing rice thoroughly before cooking.  Also, use a 6 to 1 ratio of water to rice and drain excess water after cooking.  You can rinse away up to 30% of the arsenic in this way.

Lots of other things have arsenic too–like fruits and vegetables and even our drinking water.  We can’t stop eating and drinking everything.  But we can and should be cautious.   Consumer Reports is a well-respected source, and I will definitely be making some changes in my family’s rice consumption.

To learn more about arsenic and how you can decrease your child’s exposure, check out the website of the Environmental Working Group.

Ease up on the rice cakes, Robin.