ALSO: "SOUP IN A BAG" (see link below for purchasing)


Note: This blog looks much better with Google Chrome.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Wonderbox Oven Safety


Food borne illness is not fun, so let’s review what is necessary for us to be safe, especially while cooking with a heat retention cooking method; i.e., the Wonderbox Oven.

Foods must be cooked at a high enough temperature to kill bacteria, specifically salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria .  These awful food poisoning events cause diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever.  Not fun!

So how do we relate that to Wonderbox Ovens?

ANY cooking method must be hot enough to cook fast enough to keep germs at bay.  Usually we do that by bringing the food to a cooking temperature on our stove, in our oven, or barbeque, etc., and then keep the fuel going for the cooking time required.

However, the Wonderbox oven retains the original heat.  So instead of keeping the food in the oven until done or on low simmer for cooking on top of the stove (there are exceptions but you get the gist), we take that heated food and keep it hot using the thermal properties of the Wonderbox oven filler (styrene pellets or blankets/pillows, etc.).

The key here is RETAIN.  You need to retain that high heat of the food throughout the cooking process to avoid growing bacteria.

To recap: things we need to do while cooking with the Wonderbox Oven

·        Heat the food long enough that the heat is “through and through” the food item, (boiling the water around it from 10 to 15 minutes or so) and, 

·        Be sure that the food stays  hot through the entire cooking process in the Wonderbox Oven, to not only continue cooking the food but to avoid bacteria growth.  (By the way, foods cooked in there need about twice the time of regular cooking methods.)

·        Remember that “how to use” Wonderbox oven websites are out there and that, like all YouTube and Internet cooking/recipe sites online, we must use caution when using new ideas or methods.  Remember that unless someone claims to be a food safety specialist or the food method has been rigorously tested in labs, their ideas may be sound but are subject to opinion just like mine are.  Use common sense.  ”.

Special Notes:

Never remove the styrene pillows or blankets or whatever before the cooking completion time. Never reduce the boiling time just because you think it “should be hot by now”.

AFTER using the Wonderbox Oven

Now that the food is cooked, you need to eat it, keep it hot, or refrigerate it to again avoid bacteria growth.  The food should be eaten within a half-hour or so of Wonderbox oven cooking.  (Breads are an exception.  Remove them from their containers and allow to cool or serve hot). 

If you won’t be eating the meals for over an hour after the food is done, treat it like you would any cooked food in your home.  Keep it hot to avoid bacteria growth, or refrigerate it.  “Hot” means over 140°F.  Refrigerated or kept cold means 40°F or less.

Bro. Durfee was correct.  Large amounts of foods, casseroles and soups or whatever, need to be portioned out in smaller containers before refrigeration, or stirred often after refrigeration begins to make sure the temperature of the food doesn’t stay below 125°F very long.  Sounds like a hassle, but bacteria loves 50° to 125°F. so we need to drop the temperature of our leftovers or “not ready to eat yet” foods quickly to below 40 degrees to avoid bacteria running amok. 

As for me, I tend to keep food on the counter until very warm but not hot or cold, then refrigerate, and I’ve never been too worried about putting a pot of stew in the refrigerator to get cold because I made it too early.  However, this is incorrect food safety methods, so I’ve repented!!! Let’s be safe, not just doing what we’ve always done. J  Plus we teach our children as we prepare food.  Teach them correct principles.

To recap:

1.     After you’ve finished cooking the food in the Wonderbox oven, remove it from the pot of boiling water you’ve cooked it in.

2.    Eat it very soon or bring it back to 140°F until you are ready to eat it.  OR prepare it for refrigeration.  Bread is an exception.

3.    Prepping a food for refrigeration depends on its size and density.  Soups or beans and such can be placed in smaller containers and allowed to cool a bit before placing in the refrigerator, OR place the food/food container into a large bowl with ice water to bring the temperature down quickly.  You are looking for a a cold temp of 40°F or less.

If any of this is confusing, you can ask me more about it, but remember that I am not an expert in food safety.  I’ve placed some good safety websites at the end of this.

Keeping Foods Cold in the Wonderbox Oven

Keeping cold foods cold is also important.  FROZEN packaged foods, ice cream, etc., may be kept in the Wonderbox oven for a few hours, but don’t overload it so there are gaps in the pillow placement.  Refrigerated items, such as milk or fresh meats. may be kept for an hour or so in the Wonderbox oven, but use caution.  By the time you pick up your meats in the meat section, finish shopping around the store, get it through checkout, and place the meat packages into the Wonderbox oven, chances are the temperature of the meat is higher than it should be.  Only use the Wonderbox oven to keep it stable for just long enough to get it to a picnic to be grilled immediately, or home for refrigeration/cooking/freezing. 

Note that placing items like a bowl of potato salad in the wonderbox works great, but only for an hour or less, remembering again that the potato salad may not have been sufficiently cooled in the first place!

Here is an article on food safety from Washington University that has great info.

Cooling Hot Foods

In most cases, prompt cooling and proper refrigeration of foods can hold the number of bacteria down to a safe level.

Small amounts of warm foods may be put into the refrigerator. Speed the cooling of larger quantities of food by putting the food in shallow, uncovered containers.

If you have a large volume of hot food, cool the pan of food in a container of ice water. Stir and replace the ice frequently until the food is warm (about 100°) then refrigerate the food in shallow containers. Set the timer for about 30-45 minutes to remind you to check to see if the food is cooled enough to be refrigerated.

Don't prepare food more than two hours before serving unless you can properly cool it and reheat it.

Don't over pack the refrigerator, for cool air must circulate to keep food safe.

Excellent site on food safety, just this one page is great.

Where to get the Styrene pellets for the Wonderbox pillows?

·        Ask Angie.  She makes them enough to probably have some on hand, plus she gets them locally.  Her email address is: Angie Jerome Her website is:  Thank you Angie!

·        Megan Smith of : She recommends “Foam Factory”.  Megan says:  On the phone I verified (as the rep pulled out a sample to double check) they are the right “teeny tiny” size you want.  They’re sold in 12x12x65″ bags (6 lbs each) and cost $34.99.  By way of comparison, I bought the beads I found where I live for $50 for 14 lbs ($3.60/ lb) so these are more expensive, ($5.83/lb) but the upside is that on orders of more than $75.00 the shipping is FREE!!  This price allows a price for beads (per wonder oven) of about $8.00/ each, though I’d round it up to $9 or $10 to cover any tax.  I’m able to figure this price because the 14# bags I purchased ended up supplying enough beads for 10 wonder ovens per bag.  You’d be looking at being able to fill just under 5 wonder ovens (two pillows each) with these bags.

Megan also has some great recipes for use in the Wonderbox oven.

Other websites I recommend:

Thank you and eat safe!