Salvaging scorched food
Q: I just heard that we don't need licenses anymore to sell homemade food. Is that true? A: The state recently passed a new Cottage Industry Act that makes it easier for some homemade foods to be sold, but there are strict limitations. One is that only certain low-risk foods made at home may be sold. These include jam and jelly, cakes, cookies and breads, flavored vinegar or dry mixes. The business cannot make more than $15,000 a year in gross income. You have to keep records to be able to prove your income if the state asks. The foods cannot be sold online, over the phone or wholesale through a restaurant or store. The foods must be labeled with the ingredients, including the standard allergy warnings, the weight of the product, the name and address of the producer, and must include a statement that the food was "made in a cottage-food operation that is not subject to Florida's food-safety regulations." If you're already operating a licensed food business, you can't just become an unlicensed business. You still have to meet all your local regulations regarding licensing, as well as safe food handling and storage. And you will still be subject to inspections if there are any complaints about your product.For information, call the Hillsborough County Small Business Information Center at (813) 914-4028. Q: I just found an old clipping that says to remove burnt flavor from scorched foods we can put a piece of charcoal into the food for a few seconds to soak up the burnt flavor. How long should I leave the charcoal in a pan of spaghetti sauce? A: Well, it's true that charcoal is used as an absorbent. It is what's in a lot of filters. But just putting a piece of charcoal into a pot of sauce is no guarantee that it will cure burnt food. For one thing, most charcoal these days is made of pressed briquettes. They are not the same as a piece of naturally charred wood. One problem is that most charcoal is made to catch fire easily. A lot of it has some kind of starter fluid or chemical added. You do not want to put starter fluid into your food. Also, the structure of the briquette won't have the same porosity. That means that your sauce is not going to all be filtered through the charcoal the way water can move through a charcoal filter. So, while the charcoal might absorb some of the burnt or scorched molecules in a pan of sauce, just sitting in there for a few seconds or minutes is not likely to be enough to catch all of them. And it's likely to absorb as much of the flavoring as it is the scorched flavor. The best thing to do when you realize a food is scorching is to take the pot off the heat and immediately set it in a pan or sink of cold water. That will chill the pot and stop further cooking. Then gently pour the food into a clean pan, taking care to not pour out any of the burnt part. Don't scrape any of the stuck food off the bottom of the pan. Usually what you pour off will taste fine — certainly much better than charcoal. If there's still a bit of smoky flavor, you can add smoky barbeque sauce or caramelized onions to enhance the good side of smoky.
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietician and health agent at the Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.