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Prairie Fare: Accidentally Frozen Canned Food May Be Safe to Eat

We always check that we have all of our groceries out of our vehicle.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“What smells like fruit?” my son asked from the middle row of seats in our van. We were driving down the street one summer day a few years ago.

“Maybe it’s the new air freshener,” I replied.

I picked up the air freshener and gave it a sniff. It didn’t smell like fruit to me.

“I smell oranges in here!” my son exclaimed the next day on the way to a ballgame.

“Is there orange-flavored candy in the van?” I asked him.

I felt around under the seat to see if candy was melting on the carpet. He looked around, too. We didn’t find any food.

“I smell wine in here!” he said the next day as we were driving to another event.

Now I was really surprised, but I could smell it, too. We definitely had no wine in the car.

My husband and I decided to investigate. We followed our noses to the backseat in pursuit of the offensive odor. We removed the seat, where we found a can of formerly frozen orange juice concentrate.

The can had blown its top and the thick orange goo was fermenting and making a bubbling, sticky, stinky mess. The can must have rolled out of a grocery sack deep under the seat into an indentation.

Unfortunately, I think I was the shopper who left it in the van. If I had left the can of frozen juice in a vehicle in January during most North Dakota winters, I’d have no problem.

We learned a valuable grocery shopping lesson to use both in summer and winter. We always check that we have all of our groceries out of our vehicle.

Yes, you need appropriate winter survival kit foods in your vehicle. Be sure you don’t accidentally leave canned goods, bottles or soda pop cans in your vehicle, a camper in storage or garage in the winter, though. A can of pop that has exploded offers quite an opportunity for cleanup.

Is accidentally frozen canned food safe to use? You need to do a little investigating. Check the seams and seals on the cans. Are the seals and seams broken or cracked? Do you know the food’s history? Has it frozen, thawed and refrozen?

Thaw the canned food slowly in a refrigerator on a tray so you can see whether the can is leaking through tiny cracks invisible to the eye. After thawing, is the can bulging? This could indicate spoilage or, worst case, the presence of the toxin that causes botulism, a potentially deadly foodborne illness. Discard bulging cans where no person or animal will consume the contents.

If the seams are intact, the food usually is safe to use and can be stored in the cupboard. However, use it as soon as possible because the quality may not be as good as it was originally. If the frozen canned food has a broken seal and has thawed on its own (in your garage or camper in the spring, for example), discard it.

If you discover jars of food that have accidentally frozen, check them over, too. If the jars of food are cracked or broken, discard them. If the seals have broken and the food has thawed to room temperature, discard the unopened jars of food, too. Be sure to discard the jars where no one will consume the contents.

Here’s a make-ahead casserole recipe from the Canned Food Alliance at http://www.mealtime.org. Make it the night before you need it or first thing in the morning for your evening meal.

Crazy Mixed-up Chicken Pasta Casserole

2 (10.75-ounce) cans cream of mushroom soup

2 c. uncooked elbow macaroni

2 (10-ounce) cans premium chunk breast of chicken, drained (or substitute 2 cups of diced, cooked chicken)

2 c. low-fat or fat-free milk

1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained

1 (7-ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained

1/2 red pepper, coarsely chopped

1/2 green pepper, coarsely chopped

1/2 c. sliced scallions (or substitute chopped onion)

1 1/2 c. shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese

Spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Mix the soup, macaroni, chicken, milk, water chestnuts, mushrooms, peppers, scallions and 1 cup of cheese in the baking dish. Spread evenly and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the mixture. Cover and refrigerate at least eight hours. Heat the oven to 350 F. Uncover the casserole and place it in the oven. Bake for one hour, until hot and bubbly.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 452 calories, 12 grams (g) of fat, 48 g of carbohydrate and 4 g of fiber.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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