Friday, June 27, 2014

Food Safety and Should I Vacuum Package Food at Home


Food Safety and Should I Vacuum Package Food at Home


Food safety appears to be a subject of serious concern to many. Food safety is an issue that consumers too often relate to the food producing industry. They continue to view the use and misuse of agricultural chemicals, pesticides and animal drugs as the major concern. Domestic issues are often not taken seriously enough for the average consumer to decide on measures to improve their own situation. Rarely our domestic food safety issues are considered to be a hazard.

Facts and Figures

Each year, 33 million people in the US alone become ill as a direct result of food borne illness, more than 9000 people die. Food borne illness related deaths comes with a cost of lost wages, insurance claims and medical bills of a staggering 23 billion dollars yearly.

Food Safety at Home

Food safety at home attributes largely to food borne illnesses. The most serious food safety problem in the United States is food borne illness of microbial origin. Microbial spoilage is caused by microorganisms like fungus, yeast and bacteria. They spoil food by growing in it and producing substances that change the color, odor and texture of the food making the food unfit for human consumption.

Something you do not want
Microbial spoilage happens more than often in our own homes. Contact spoilage is a term used when spoiled food comes in direct contact with sound food as a result of direct contact or touching between the food and any contaminated surface. This may be a contaminated chopping board, shelves or unwashed hands. It also includes food to food contact, for example between cooked and raw food. In general spoiled food is identified by smell, (sour milk) but it needs to be noted that not all bad food smells bad. (Salmonella contaminated food does not look or smells bad for example)

The world we live in with its rapid pace of living and our consumption style of living results in many people neglecting food safety standards at home and the social and financial impact it may have.

Reasons of Neglect

A limited commitment to food preparation activities at home. The no time factor.
A lack of knowledge of basic food safety principles, as described in HACCP standards.
Increased interest in convenience and saving time rather than proper food handling and preparation at home are some of the contributing factors of food borne illnesses that may occur due to neglect at home.

Why should I vacuum at home

Vacuum and be safe

Where and how does the vacuum sealer come in play and aid us with these issues on hand. 

First of all we need to ‘really’ understand that a vacuum sealer is not a magic piece of equipment that solves all your food safety issues with the sound of air being sucked out of a vacuum bag. 

What does a vacuum sealer do then?

1. A vacuum sealer saves time and $Money.

2. A vacuum sealer maintains freshness and flavor three to five times longer than conventional storage. (money saving)

3. A vacuum sealer improves texture and appearance of food products.

4. A vacuum sealer disallows foods from drying out (no freezer burn)

5. A vacuum sealer improves marinating times for meats marinated and vacuumed.

6. A vacuum sealer greatly reduces wastage of foods (portion control, money saving).


  • We need to understand that vacuum sealed food still needs to be refrigerated or frozen.
  • We need to ensure hygienic working conditions and food handling procedures.
  • We need to use proper vacuum sealing bags. (Proper sealing)
  • We need to understand that vacuum sealed food left on the kitchen sink is still subject to bacterial activity and spoilage.

Fight it !

When we keep the above into account our food safety will improve and the investment in a quality vacuum sealer is more than worth your money spent.

Studies have shown that there is desire for foods with a fresh taste that are minimally packed and processed, a very encouraging trend. It means that consumers move towards fresh produce, pre-prepare at home, portion pack and vacuum their own prepared meals or parts thereof.

Labor saving pieces of food equipment like food processors and microwave ovens are almost common like a TV in many households.

 A quality vacuum sealer should definitely be part of that list.

Quality Vacuum Sealer

Invest in a quality vacuum sealer: 

By: Marinus Hoogendoorn


Friday, June 20, 2014

How to prepare, Cook and Enjoy White Asparagus


How to prepare, cook and enjoy white asparagus

We all like our food fresh, when it comes to vegetables, storage is very important. Recipes never talk about this part because they give you the ingredients and a cooking description but it is quite unlikely that you use everything you purchase in one go.

It is then also good to know that vegetables do not ‘die’ instantly after harvest, there is an ongoing metabolic activity going on in vegetables after harvest. This includes the intake of oxygen, breaking down of starches and sugars and the release of carbon dioxide, this activity is referred to as ‘respiration rate’.

Metabolic activity makes vegetables wither. They dry out with the release of moist and change color. For some vegetables the respiration rate is higher than for others. Asparagus have a very high respiration rate. At refrigeration temperatures it is about five times greater than for onions and potatoes and three times greater than for lettuce and tomatoes. Asparagus are therefore quite perishable and are best consumed within 48 hours of purchase. If you have come across some great looking asparagus and need to store them for one or two days, rap a damp cloth or wet kitchen paper around the base and give them a light vacuum. If you do not have a vacuum sealer, wrap them completely with a damp towel.


To prepare white or green asparagus you need to peel them, the skin of thick green asparagus is quite tough and the skin of white asparagus is not edible and bitter after cooking. Asparagus are brittle and when peeled when held up or in your hand, they can easily be broken.
The best way to peel asparagus is by placing them flat on a chopping board let the tip stick out of the board so you do not have to lift them. A little too much pressure during peeling is enough to break them. Cut about 1 inch from the base and hold them one by one gently by the tip between you thumb and index finger. Using a vegetable peeler carefully peel the skin, which starts just under the tip, from tip to base. 

Personally I like to use a peeler as pictured because the peel does not get stuck too much in the peeler.
When you have peeled them all, place them in a flat shallow pot, add the water, butter, salt and lemon as per the recipe and cover with a piece of cloth. If you want to preserve and use the flavorful asparagus stock later, top the asparagus with the skin peel then the cloth.
Covering asparagus with a piece of cloth ensures they remain under water, asparagus float in water and to ensure even cooking the cloth keeps them below surface. Bring to a boil, when the water boils lower the heat.


Now, depending on the thickness of the asparagus, simmer for 5 to 8 minutes and if you pierce them with a small knife and they feel softened, turn of the heat and leave to stand for 20 minutes. Or until serving time, Asparagus are best kept in their own flavored stock.
The only ‘Classic’ way to eat white asparagus is with bone- ham, Hollandaise sauce and a one (1) minute boiled egg. Variations are boiled potatoes and soft boiled egg. Nice, but wrong.
Below is the most classic of classic recipes to eat white gold.
When you happen to visit a German speaking country or the South of Holland, this is how asparagus are served. 

The recipe
The recipe is for a starter size dish and serves 4


For the asparagus
16 medium sized white asparagus
1 good tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ of a lemon
1 pound bone ham (sliced)
4 eggs

For the sauce
4 egg yolks
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
8 oz unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
  • Cook the asparagus as described above, by peeling them, then place them in a shallow pot, cover with water. Add the butter, salt and lemon.
  • When the asparagus are feeling soft when pierced with a small knife, about 5 to 7 minutes, turn of the heat and leave for 20 minutes or so.
  • The sauce is a bit of the tricky part when you are not familiar with Hollandaise sauce.
  • Melt the butter and keep aside.
  • Bring a small pot of water to a simmering bowl.
  • Place the egg yolks in a mixing bowl with the white wine vinegar. Make sure that the mixing bowl fits nicely on top of the bowl with simmering water.
  • Start whisking the egg yolks until they become fluffy and of yoghurt thickness. This is the tricky part, if the egg yolks become too hot you may end up with scrambled eggs. When you notice that the yolks start to curdle, remove from the heat add a bit of water ½ tbsp. and continue whisking.        
  • When the right consistency is achieved, add the melted butter slowly, (like making mayonnaise)
  • Add so much melted butter until you reach the white part on the bottom of the pan, this is the water from the butter.
  • Season the sauce with a pinch of salt and keep warm.
  • Prepare the eggs by placing them in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, boil for one minute and give them a quick rinse under cold water.
  • Place the ham slices on top of the asparagus and bring back to boil. This to warm the ham and will take about 2 minutes.
  • Remove the ham from the asparagus. Divide the asparagus over 4 individual plates. Arrange the ham slices on the side. Tap the eggs bottom down on the kitchen sink so they stand up straight and place an egg on every plate. Top with the sauce and serve warm.
  • Your guest can now chop the top of the egg and dip an asparagus in the egg.

An absolute delicious experience!

When you love your asparagus this way, here is the good news. Asparagus freeze very well when vacuumed. Buy some extra vacuum and freeze them. Raw and pre- cooked both methods work perfect. 

Find your vacuum sealer here:

By Marinus Hoogendoorn

Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's Asparagus Season. Time to eat White Gold


It is Asparagus season!!! Time to eat white gold

In fact I am late, my excuses for that but better late than never as the saying goes. In Europe were the seasonal tradition is kept high, the asparagus season starts Mid- April and ends in June, on June 24 to be precise, the feast of John the Baptist.

The timing has a reason as the ground needs to be at a certain temperature before the spears start to grow towards the sun. The spears are covered with soil so they stay white. Long stretches of ‘dyke like’ patched up soil can be seen when you travel through one of touristic asparagus routes set out during the asparagus season in Germany, Belgium and the South of Holland.

The ultra violet of the sun, which makes exposed parts of vegetables green, is not able to oxidize the asparagus skin. White asparagus or white gold as they are also called are the delicious result.

When the ground ‘cracks’ the farmers know that the asparagus is ready for harvest, the ground is carefully removed around that single piece and with a long ‘looks like a screw driver’ tool, the asparagus is then cut from the base underground.

Asparagus harvesters are hawk-eyed buggers, inspecting the stretches of asparagus dykes from the early morning until midday. The moment a crack is spotted, the asparagus is in the bag, quite like salmon fishing with your bare hands.
As said, the season is from Mid-April until the end of June, officially the season last only 9 weeks and that makes asparagus so special. The crowd is drawn from hundreds of miles away, tracking the asparagus routes and buying some of the freshest asparagus straight of the field.

Unlike in the US were asparagus can be found year round, it needs mentioning here that there is a famous asparagus festival in Stockton CA on June 25, Europe keeps the seasonal tradition high and you need to have a look in history to get a better understanding why that is so.

Asparagus most likely came to Germany after the conquest of the Roman Empire using the lavish land to comply with high demands for asparagus in their homeland. When the Roman Empire crumbled the asparagus industry diminished and became virtually unknown, only to be revived in the mid-16th century by monastery monks.

Asparagus were green those years. A cool legend has it that a hailstorm once destroyed a complete harvest and the locals were forced to eat the small remaining part that was left underground. This part, being white, happened to be much tenderer than the green asparagus the people were used to, hence the popularity of the white asparagus. 

Asparagus 'dykes' 
The sprouts were covered with soil to be protected from weather conditions and the tenderer white asparagus was born.
Another tale relates the popularity of asparagus to the fact that is was once a Royal food and who doesn't want to eat royal food that is referred to as white gold.

The word asparagus is probably as old as the road to Rome so to speak. It is said that the word comes from the Persian word for ‘shoot’ which is asparg. The first A was dropped in Europe and Sparg or Spargel became the common mentioning of the vegetable. The British started calling the white gold ‘sparrow grass’ which annoyed some experts who found that such a Royal vegetable should have a classier name and referred to it as Asparagus.

Asparagus grow as a shoot from long horizontal placed strings of the mother plant, placed under ground the shoot works its way up towards the sun and when exposed to sunlight chloroform from the plant oxidizes and the asparagus turns green.

Early days asparagus cover
To prevent this from happening, pots were placed on top of the vegetable to stop the penetration of sunlight. Later farmers found the dyke method a better and easier way to produce the white gold vegetable.

There is still little time left to enjoy asparagus, when you follow the season that is.

In my next blog I will give you some great traditional asparagus recipes to enjoy and how to vacuum and keep asparagus for when the season is over.   

If you like to purchase a vacuum sealer before the next blog, find them here:


By: Marinus Hoogendoorn


Friday, June 6, 2014

Is HACCP only Applicable to Professionals?



In part 1 of this subject, I explained the paper work involved in practicing HACCP professionally. 
If identifying all these critical control points is so important to ensure food safety standards, what happens when all these carefully taken measures are done away with at home?

Well, as a consumer we trust the manufacturer, especially when they have a HACCP logo on their packaging label. When we come home after the purchase, we open the packaging. Maybe we use a part of it, store the balance in the refrigerator and that is it. 

Let us look at this example.  When a manufacturer uses a table model can opener and the internal part of the opener (where the knife is placed) is rusty, this becomes a critical control point by HACCP standards and the manufacturer will be required to rectify this Critical Control Point by replacing the can opener with one made of full stainless steel.

Practicing HACCP at Home                                                                   

When we have the same issue at home, there is no more issue. Because 
nobody realizes or notices that some rust in a can opener is actually not too good for you and your family.
Surely we all hold the health of our family at heart. Practicing full HACCP at home is unthinkable. We simply do not do that. 
Practicing good hygiene and keeping some of the HACCP principles in mind is however a good idea.

Re-packing is a good practice, when you use part of a product from a can, you will not be able to close the can again. If that is the case place the balance content of the used can in a vacuum pouch and vacuum. 
If it is liquid (soup for example), you can freeze the balance in the pouch and vacuum after freezing.


Most if not all of products available in the market can be treated this way. Products bought in jars, cans and other types of packaging. The products do not only stay in better condition but their shelf life is prolonged and they will not be subjected to hazardous bacteria that accumulate on the inside of jar lids and lids of half opened cans anymore. 
When you pre- prepare foods before vacuuming, ensure that your work station is clean and that you do not mix raw and cooked food products. Clean chopping boards and utensils before use and when you switch from meat to fish to fruit to vegetables. Best is to use dedicated chopping boards but not everyone does or can do that.  

Find your Vacuum Sealer

Keep your vacuum sealer clean especially the seal strip. It is likely you do not use the vacuum sealer everyday and it is therefore important that hazardous bacteria have no accumulation opportunities during storage of the machine.
Applying HACCP principles will help you to achieve better home cooking practices. Your vacuum sealer is a perfect tool and aids you again.

The question was:

Is HACCP applicable at home? Yes it is, nobody expects you to fill in all the forms like manufacturers are required to do. The main principle of HACCP is food safety and that is something that can be achieved. 

By: Marinus Hoogendoorn

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Is HACCP only Applicable to Professionals


What is HACCP
HACCP means, the Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points.
It is a system designed to improve manufacturing standards in food safety, hygiene and traceability. HACCP is a system of prevention and not meant to check on finished products. We can actually split the abbreviation HACCP into half.
Hazard Analysis means, to analyze what the hazards are, and Critical Control Points means, identifying where the hazards occur and take preventive measures to avoid future occurrences.

Practicing HACCP in food manufacturing
Practicing HACCP involves an extensive flow of paper work, starting at the very beginning of the manufacturing process until the product is ready for packing. HACCP is designed to detect shortcomings in the manufacturing process that may have been practiced without the knowledge of the manufacturer.
Practice is, every single step an ingredient goes through during manufacturing is recorded and must be accounted for. If during HACCP inspection by external inspectors the manufacturer fails to explain the absence of record of one of the steps, that step becomes a critical control point to be rectified.

Required steps to follow                           

An easier understanding is made with a practical example. 

Let’s say you manufacture tomato sauce and you use canned tomatoes as an ingredient. You are not responsible for the manufacturing of the tomatoes but you are responsible for the purchases you make buying cans of tomatoes from a by you chosen trusted supplier. Your HACCP record must therefore show:

1. Brand and supplier of the tomatoes

2. Delivery date

3. The date when you used the tomatoes (if not the total delivery, then how much of it)

4. In which production batch you used the tomatoes and when (a batch number must show that)

5. What you made with the tomatoes (in this example tomato sauce)

6. Identification of packing (retail or direct end user e.g. restaurant)

7. Where the batch went to and when (your customer)

Every step of the procedure has a form and personnel responsible have to record the required information on the forms. every form has again a number of details that needs recording. From your storekeeper until customer service that received the order of purchase.


The whole objective is to make a product traceable with this paperwork and for an external auditor to be able, provided all parties involved follow the HACCP system, to actually quickly find the source of an unwanted occurrence. 
This means that when a person becomes ill from eating a pizza in a restaurant with your tomato sauce on it, the source and when and how this happened can quickly be found to curb the possible recurrences of the mishap.
Many, often too many steps in the food supply chain are not traceable. HACCP makes food production safer and with that more people are getting a better understanding of good manufacturing practices.
In part two of this subject I have a look as to how we can apply HACCP in home cooking and the function of a vacuum sealer in the HACCP process.  

By: Marinus Hoogendoorn