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Playing Food Detective

Oct11

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesHi Amy,

I have some random, unrelated food questions for ya:

1) My son LUUUUUUVVS canned fruit. During the summer I give him fresh fruit, but in the winter I usually resort to canned, and he seems to prefer it. Is there a nutritional difference in canned fruit and fresh fruit? How about frozen fruit? Are there terrible horrible things in the can itself, or that happen to the fruit in the canning process, that are going to do harm to my son?

2) How come my organic milk, in a cardboard milk container, has an expiration date like five billion years from now? The regular, yummy, taken from cows fed steroids and pesticides, in a plastic container, milk expires like a week after I buy it. The organic, in a cardboard container milk lasts like five weeks. Is it the milk itself? Or the container? If it’s the container, why doesn’t ALL milk come in cardboard containers?

3) I don’t drink coffee, but we have a coffee maker for when guests visit. They won’t let me wash the coffee pot with soap and water. I am only allowed to rinse with water. What gives? That just seems gross. They claim the coffee pot tastes like soap if I wash it. Ummmm… How’s it different than me washing your coffee MUG with soap and water?

Thanks!
Food for Thought

1) While many of us may have knee-jerk reactions to canned food vs. fresh in the “fresh is always better!!1!omg” direction, the truth is that nutritionally, there is actually very little difference. In fact, if you’re using canned or frozen fruit in lieu of buying something super out-of-season for the time of year or your part of the country, it can actually be BETTER, since the fruit was preserved at the peak of freshness. The “fresh” fruit that was harvested miles and miles away and shipped to your store has long since started losing nutrients.

There are things to consider though, when choosing canned fruit. If you value organic, most of the major supermarket brands are still using pesticides on their crops. And many canned fruits have been peeled, thus dinging their fiber content. (Though if you’re still peeling fresh fruit for your toddler, no biggie.) If you can find a variety with the peels intact, that’s a nice score. But really, the most important thing to avoid are the fruits canned in syrup or with other additives — ridiculous extra sugar and sodium. We preserved fresh peaches this summer that we’d picked ourselves, though the process we used definitely makes them more of a dessert item than a viable fruit alternative — think honey, light syrup, bourbon — but it is possible to find 100% preserved fruit without the sweetener garbage for everyday use. Just read the labels.

In the end, if your kid prefers canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, go for it, and don’t sweat it. Just be happy he’ll eat them at all.

(Update: commenters below provide info about BPA lining in cans and lids of jars)

2) The expiration date difference between organic and regular milk has nothing to do with the container, or with the milk being “organic.” It’s a different preserving process. Because organic milk producers are fewer and farther between in this country than “traditional” dairies, the milk simply has to travel longer and farther to keep up with the national demand for hormone- or antibiotic-free milk.

Most organic milk is preserved using something called ultrahigh temperature (UHT) processing. The milk is heated to 280 degrees Fahrenheit (138 degrees Celsius) for two to four seconds, killing any bacteria in it. Pasteurization involves heating milk to about 160 degrees F (71 degrees C) for at least 15 seconds, OR to 145 degrees F (63 degrees C) for at least 30 minutes.

The temperature difference means that pasteurization doesn’t kill ALL the bacteria in the milk — you won’t get sick when you drink it fresh, or anything, but the longer it sits on the shelf, the more time the remaining trace bacteria has to regroup and grow and make the milk go bad. UHT, on the other hand, kills EVERYTHING, though it does make the milk taste a little different to our American taste buds who grew up with standard pasteurized milk. (UHT is used pretty much exclusively for milk in Europe.) I’ve grown pretty used to the slightly-sweeter taste of organic milk from the store, though I admit I HUGELY prefer the super-fresh, super-minimally-processed organic milk we can buy at our local farmers’ market. That stuff tastes so good we never have any problem with the shorter shelf-life — it’s gone in a couple days, usually.

3) Your guests are correct. Do not use soap on a coffee maker, either the internal parts or the carafe. It leaves a taste. Sure, you can wash a coffee cup with soap but there’s just so much….well, SCIENCE going on inside a coffee maker that makes it a different animal. The water, heat, chemical makeup of the beans, brewing process, etc. I used to use dish soap occasionally on our carafe (I thought the no-soap thing was an old wives’ tale) and suddenly realized that wow, this coffee tastes TERRIBLE all of a sudden, no matter what I did. The internet claims soap will bind with the oils left behind from the coffee and not rinse away completely, but all I know is that I switched to the recommended cleaning process and it’s really much better.

To clean the carafe, ice cubes, water and a little table salt swished around really does the best job. (If you have a glass carafe, only add ice once it’s cooled.) Though most days I go with plain ol’ water, like your guests recommended. For the coffee maker itself, a solution of one part vinegar to two parts water is recommended about once a month for a coffee maker that sees heavy use — you could probably get away with doing it just once in a blue moon. Brew a full pot using the one-to-two ratio, then turn it off and let it cool in the carafe. Pour the solution out and rinse the carafe in warm water, then brew TWO pots of plain water to fully rinse away the vinegar solution. (If your coffee maker is in really bad shape, repeat the vinegar process again before the rinse cycles.) Ta-da! Your coffee maker is free of hard water residue or old oily build-up and ready to please your biggest coffee-snob friends.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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13 Responses to “Playing Food Detective”

  1. bonnie Oct 11 at 12:44 pm Reply Reply

    While canned fruit may be nutritionally comparable to fresh, almost all cans are lined with BPA. Everyone has switched to BPA free bottles for themselves and their babies, but canned food is probably a much more significant source of exposure. I would avoid cans and look for things jarred in glass, which could end up being costly, or sticking with frozen fruit.

  2. Nora Oct 11 at 12:48 pm Reply Reply

    With the coffeemaker, when every once in a while it gets too gross that the rinsing isn’t enough, I stick all the removable parts in the dishwasher, removing the lid of the carafe, the reusable basket, grinder parts, everything. My father-in-law did this once when he was visiting and I was horrified but everything came out so clean it looked brand-new, and there wasn’t any weird taste or anything. We are talking once every few months here.

  3. drew Oct 11 at 12:49 pm Reply Reply

    Don’t forget that if you’re using canned fruit from cans (as opposed to jars), you’ll be getting BPA. Even jars, come to think of it, have BPA on their lids. No perfect solution.

  4. rikki Oct 11 at 2:30 pm Reply Reply

    While I try to stick with fresh or frozen… I’ve recently discovered the plastic jars of fruit by Dole. Though I only get the Harvest Best version (without syrup, etc.). I find they are a nice alternative when fresh isn’t available/possible. As far as I can tell, the plastic the jars are made from is considered safe (for original use anyway, though not meant to be reused repeatedly).

    Just thought I’d share!

  5. tasterspoon Oct 11 at 2:34 pm Reply Reply

    If this link works, here’s a recent (scary) Atlantic Monthly article about BPA.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/food/archive/2010/10/the-dangers-of-a-ubiquitous-food-chemical-new-evidence/63928/

    I understand that Canada has already banned it.
    I’m moving away from cans will probably stick to frozen for out-of-season produce because of the BPA. But apparently it’s everywhere, particularly in heat-printed receipts, so, you know, wear gloves shopping or whatever.

  6. jonquil Oct 11 at 4:05 pm Reply Reply

    “UHT is used pretty much exclusively for milk in Europe”

    I’m not sure where you’re referring to by ‘Europe’ – it’s a very big place with many different countries, but I can assure you that in Western Europe (UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy etc.) fresh milk is as widely available and used as UHT, if not more.  

    In fact, here in France, farmers are super supported by local markets, and pasteurised (let alone UHT) dairy products in general are scorned at…

    …hence my poor American friends experience serious lactose intolerance when they come over here and go nuts over the cheese!

  7. Jaymee Oct 11 at 11:05 pm Reply Reply

    Just to add to the coffee pot cleaning directions that Amy said, you can also add some slices of lemon with the ice/salt mix. It will help removed the coffee stains. That’s how we had to clean the pots when I worked in a restraunt.

    Random bit of information: When I was deployed everyone always complained about the milk tasting funny. People were convinced that they were serving us goat milk, although I knew it wasn’t goat milk because 1) I’ve had goat milk and know what it taste like 2) The bottle said cow’s milk on it. I guess now I know why it tasted different, it must have been pasturized the way they pasturize organic milk. It makes sense since the milk was shipped in to us that it would need a longer expiration date.

  8. Salome Ellen Oct 12 at 2:28 pm Reply Reply

    Long ago when I worked in a restaurant, we would use baking soda (rather than the salt) to clean the carafes. Just rinse well afterward.

  9. Sarah Oct 13 at 11:20 am Reply Reply

    The other side of the BPA debate:
    http://www.stats.org/stories/2010/bpa_debate_apr7_10.html

  10. Cledbo Oct 13 at 7:43 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for posting that Sarah. Every time some food or chemical scare comes out in the media, I am skeptical – this article has confirmed my hunch that BPA-hysteria was a load of BS. There is no way that such a ‘ubiquitous’ food chemical could cause health problems without people all over the world actually presenting with those health problems.
    The advice I stick to, and I urge everyone else to stick to, is to research these issues from multiple, qualified scientific views, not newspaper articles! Journalistic integrity is about as rare as unicorns these days.

  11. Rachel Oct 14 at 7:56 pm Reply Reply

    V. interesting article, Sarah.

    BPA aside, canned food is cooked during the canning process, which does change the food’s chemical composition. It also continues to lose nutritional value as it sits (faster in clear jars exposed to light than opaque cans).

    Amy’s 100% right about frozen food often being better than fresh because it’s picked at it’s peak and processed immediately. Green peas, for instance, lose about half of their vitamin C content within 24-48 hours of being picked. Freezing or cooking immediately stops that nutritional degradation.

    As an aside, UHT milk is labeled as “ultra-pasteurized.”

  12. Jennifer Oct 16 at 10:05 am Reply Reply

    used to work for a giant coffee company, SBUX, and the coffee urns/carafes were always washed out with soapy water or this white powdered chemical stuff, Urnex, that would eat away the coffee stains…funny how customers never complained about the taste being different or bad. I mean the MSDS on Urnex even says to avoid contact with your skin. So it’s probably more harmful than soap?

  13. stacy in europe Oct 22 at 1:08 pm Reply Reply

    I live in Switzerland, and UHT milk is VERY common — I buy it in 6-packs of cartons and keep it in my pantry, so I never run out of milk for my toddler. Of course, in a dairy-loving country like ours — fresh pasteurized milk is of course also readily available. And many farms sell their un-pasteurized milk directly from automated machines.

    No comment on the canned fruit thing, as I haven’t been able to find any here in unsweetened syrup. None. (lame)

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