Answer Man

Thawed meat can be refrozen IF...

Refrozen meat may lose quality when you finally cook it.
Refrozen meat may lose quality when you finally cook it.

Q: Please settle a small family debate that has me concerned. My daughter-in-law occasionally refreezes meat that she has unthawed. She says it’s perfectly safe and that my son’s family has never become ill. My mother taught me never to refreeze thawed food because of the food poisoning risk, so I never do. Who is right?

Dorothy Matthews, of O’Fallon

A: Allow me to offer both of you some food for thought: As long as you closely observe certain strict guidelines, you can refreeze thawed meat safely, say dietitians at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You may experience a loss in quality when you finally cook and eat it, but at least you won’t lose any family members prematurely.

According to the department, any food you take from the freezer — including beef, pork, poultry, fish and seafood — can be refrozen IF you allowed it to thaw in the refrigerator and, of course, if it hasn’t spoiled already. (That’s when it gets that slimy, sticky look or even starts to sport a green tint as you might usually find in Eno Camino’s fridge in “The Duplex” comic strip.) After you unthaw it a second time, you may find the flavor less than stellar because of moisture loss, but at least you didn’t have to throw out a $20 roast because your dinner plans changed.

If you buy previously frozen meat at a supermarket, you can refreeze it as long as it has been handled properly. However, under most other circumstances, you should not refreeze. For example, items that have been unthawed in the microwave or under cold or hot running water should never go back in the freezer. Do not refreeze any foods left outside the refrigerator for more than two hours — and only one hour if the temperature is above 90. And never allow food to thaw on the kitchen counter unless you’d like a heaping helping of microorganisms to go along with that Thanksgiving turkey and cranberries, for example.

Remember, freezing does not kill those nasty bugs. It merely puts them in sort of a state of suspended animation, and, unless foods are properly cooked, they’ll lie in wait to do their dirty work. Instead, freeze foods as quickly as possible after coming home from the store, and label and date them for later reference. For a handy reference guide to food storage time limits, try www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html.

Q: Apparently the Halloween pranksters are out already because here in the Signal Hill area I have four blue spruce trees with branches removed as far as they could reach. I hope that they can be saved, and I’m wondering what you would recommend to try to make this happen. There were quite a few branches removed and I’ve picked up the mess, but I’m wondering if I should be putting some type of a treatment on the branches. They cut them off at the trunk or pretty close to it — pretty carelessly in some cases, where they were ripped off. The trees range from about 10 to 30 feet tall. There are four of them, and they’re very important trees to me, because they were difficult to grow and they prevent erosion here on the hillside.

R.R., of Belleville

A: Good news: If your trees were disco fans, you might hear them singing the Gloria Gaynor anthem, “I Will Survive.” While they might not be as aesthetically pleasing to your eyes, your trees have a couple of built-in fail-safe mechanisms that may help keep them thriving — and you don’t have to lift a finger.

At least, that’s the hope of Charles Giedeman, the BND’s botanical expert.

“He’s probably not going to lose them as long as they didn’t damage the roots or anything that way,” Giedeman told me Tuesday. “Trees in nature — your pine and spruce — usually will lose their lower branches as they mature, so that would be a natural thing that would happen to them anyway.”

But even if these branches are removed prematurely, Mother Nature has a trick or two up her sleeve. Giedeman hopes the vandals were sloppy enough to have left an inch or so of stub sticking out from the trunk. While these might look ugly, they actually will help the trees’ survival chances.

“Those little nubs eventually will decay because there’s nothing to support them,” he said. “There won’t be any buds that will break out from them, but this will keep the decay from invading into the trunk. If you don’t cut off a branch flush against the trunk, there will be a chemical barrier that will prevent decay from entering it. That’s kind of a safety thing in nature that protects a tree if a branch breaks off.”

Yet even if your goblins cut the branches down to the trunk and injured the bark a little, your trees likely will withstand the trauma.

“There’s nothing you can do anyway,” Giedeman said. “I would worry about it with a hardwood tree like an oak or hickory or maple, but I wouldn’t worry about it with a spruce.”

There are two things you should NOT do, he says. First, do not spread extra fertilizer in the thought that more nutrients will fortify the trees.

“It may upset the fungi that’s in the soil that’s been growing there for quite a while and that would kill the fungi.”

Second, you needn’t apply anything to the stubs. Giedeman knows that when people cut themselves, their first reaction often is to run for the Bactine or Neosporin. Don’t waste your time or money on your trees.

“Don’t put the goop on,” he said. “In some cases, it actually will speed up the decay.”

Instead, if you want to (and still have them), take some of the needles and other remnants from the cut branches and spread them around the trees’ drip line — the circle where water from rain, etc., would normally fall around the tree’s canopy. Then cross your fingers and hope ol’ Gloria was right.

Today’s trivia

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom as the first woman killed in the line of duty during World War II. Name the well-known actress.

Answer to Monday’s trivia: For at least 500 years, India was plagued by bands of professional assassins who became known as Thugs, a term derived from a Hindi word for “deceiver.” As early as 1356, reports arose of these criminals working to gain the confidence of unsuspecting travelers only to strangle the victims and make off with their valuables in acts known as Thuggee or tuggee. By the mid-19th century, these accounts were widely reported, thus introducing the word “thug” into the English language. One major difference, however: The Indian words are pronounced “Toog” and “TOOgee.”

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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