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This time of year, people seem to come up with the craziest ideas on things to do with corn-on-the-cob. And then they post them on the internet. These ideas always get me thinking about the food safety of these procedures.
One of the latest is dishwasher corn. The concept is blanching corn-on-the-cob to be frozen in the dishwasher.
I first heard about this from “Risky or Not?” This is one of my favorite food safety podcasts. It is produced by our own Professor Benjamin Chapman from NC State and Dr. Don Schaffner from Rutgers University. Both are Extension Food Safety specialists. They start the pod cast by saying “this is a bad idea” and “silly”.
But is it unsafe?
They started their evaluation of this process thinking about the Jet Dry product that is added to most dishwashers to eliminate spots on dishes. Checking this out, the product is a surfactant and does not seem to cause any concerns or risks if consumed.
Then they looked at the actual process of blanching to determine if it could be accomplished in a dishwasher. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) recommends blanching vegetables that will be frozen. Blanching involves placing vegetables in boiling water or steam for a specified amount of time and then cooling them quickly before freezing. Blanching stops the enzymatic activity that decays vegetables. These enzymes can survive freezing temperatures and continue the decaying process even though the food is frozen.
Dishwasher “blanching” may not get hot enough to deactivate these enzymes. Vegetables that are frozen without sufficient blanching are safe to eat, but may have “off” colors, textures and flavors.
The specialists conclude the podcast saying “overall it’s a bad idea” but food safety-wise it is NOT RISKY. They also wonder why someone would want to do this? Especially when there is the possibility of the corn tasting like soap or Jet Dry or not being blanched well enough to produce a good frozen product in the end.
A research-tested recipe for freezing corn-on-the cob from the NCHFP says to select tender and freshly-gathered corn. Husk and trim the ears and remove the silks and wash.
The corn-on-the cob should then be placed in boiling water for 7-11 minutes based on the size of the ears. An important part of blanching is to chill the blanched food immediately in cold water and ice. With corn-on-the cob it is very important to make sure the cob is completely cold before putting them into the freezer. This will help prevent a “cobby” taste to your final product.
There are also posts about the cooking corn-on-the-cob in the husks. Dr. Schaffner says it’s his favorite way to cook corn. He uses 3 minutes per ear in the microwave and pulls the husks off after cooking. This is not a food safety risk but it might be a burn risk. Be very careful when using the method as the corn coming out of the microwave is very hot.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension agrees with Schaffner and has published that corn can be microwaved in the husk. For the best flavor they recommend removing the outer husks letting the inner husks remain. After microwaving, pull the husks downward to remove them along with the silk.
If the thought of cooking in the husks turns you off (or you don’t mind husking the corn) Michigan State University Extension offers these instructions for microwaving corn-on-the-cob: wrap each husked and cleaned ear in damp paper towel. Place ears on a microwave safe plate or directly on the glass plate in the microwave. Heat on high for two to six minutes. Cooking time will depend on the microwave power and how many ears you are microwaving at once. Check the corn after two minutes, if you can pierce the corn with a fork and liquid squirts out, it is done.
The old-fashioned way of cooking corn-on-the cob is to boil or steam the husked corn by placing ears upright in a stockpot with 1 to 1-1/2 inches of water. Cover the pot and let it steam for about seven minutes after boiling begins. Adding salt to the water can make the corn firmer. Do not overcook.
Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610 or by email at Cheryle_Syracuse@ncsu.edu