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UC Davis study identifies risky food safety practices in home kitchens

Most risk of poultry contamination can be avoided by thorough hand-washing, never rinsing the raw chicken and using a calibrated thermometer to verify the cooked chicken's temperature.
While most consumers are very aware of food safety issues, including salmonella, and the risk of foodborne illness, many do not follow recommended food safety practices in preparing their own meals at home, according to new research from UC Davis.

The study, which examined preparation of raw poultry, found that the most common risks stemmed from cross contamination and insufficient cooking.

“The most surprising aspect of these findings to me was the prevalence of undercooking,” said Christine Bruhn, director of the Center for Consumer research at UC Davis, who authored the study. “We are now in summer, the peak season for foodborne illness, and these results come at a time when more consumers can benefit from being aware of better food safety practices. Even tips usually considered basic, like washing hands with soap and water before and after handling raw poultry, and never rinsing raw poultry in the sink, still need to be emphasized for a safer experience,” added Bruhn, a specialist in UC Cooperative Extension who studies consumer attitudes and behaviors toward food safety.

Most risks can be avoided by practicing thorough hand-washing, never rinsing raw chicken in the sink and using calibrated thermometers to determine that chicken is fully cooked. Researchers say these results will help narrow areas of focus and define important messages for food safety educators and advocates in their mission to promote safe food preparation.

The study analyzed video footage taken of 120 participants preparing a self-selected chicken dish and salad in their home kitchens. The participants were experienced in chicken preparation, with 85 percent serving chicken dishes in their home weekly, and 84 percent reporting being knowledgeable about food safety; 48 percent indicated they had received formal food safety training.

Cross contamination was of specific concern to researchers:

  • Most participants, 65 percent, did not wash their hands before starting meal preparation and 38 percent did not wash their hands after touching raw chicken.
  • Only 10 percent of participants washed their hands for the recommended duration of 20 seconds and about one-third of the washing occasions used water only, without soap.
  • Nearly 50 percent of participants were observed washing their chicken in the sink prior to preparation, a practice that is not recommended as it leads to spreading bacteria over multiple surfaces in the kitchen. See the U.S. Department of Agriculture website: http://1.usa.gov/1licv0U.

Insufficient cooking was also observed:

  • Forty percent of participants undercooked their chicken, regardless of preparation method and only 29 percent knew the correct USDA recommended temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Researchers observed that cooking thermometers were not widely used, with only 48 percent of participants owning one, and 69 percent of those reporting that they seldom use it to check if chicken is completely cooked. Most participants determined “fully cooked” based on appearance, an unreliable method according to the USDA. No participants reported calibrating their thermometers to ensure accuracy.

Based on the study's findings, a coalition of agriculture and food safety partners, including the California Department of Food and Agriculture, UC Davis, the California Poultry Federation, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Northwest Chicken Council, Partnership for Food Safety Education, and Foster Farms, are launching an educational campaign to increase consumer knowledge about safe food preparation practices in the home. The study was funded by contributions from Foster Farms.

“We all have an important role in ensuring food safety and preventing foodborne illness,” said Shelley Feist, executive director of the nonprofit Partnership for Food Safety Education. “Dr. Bruhn's research shows that some home food safety practices need to be reinforced with consumers. Proper hand-washing and the consistent use of thermometers are basic preventive actions that need to be part of all home food handling and preparation.”

California agriculture officials and representatives have been vocal in recent weeks about salmonella control at the ranch level.

“The California poultry industry has made great strides in reducing salmonella on raw chicken,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “However, even at this lower level, consumers still need to practice safe handling and cooking of raw poultry.” \

Ross recently recorded a public service announcement calling for more attention to safe handling and cooking for raw poultry and meats.

“The poultry industry takes its responsibility to produce a safe product very seriously, as evidenced by current food safety programs that are drastically reducing the incidence of salmonella,” said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation. “At the same time, the research indicates that the consumer recognizes they also have a role in ensuring safety. This research provides a great opportunity to educate consumers with the most helpful information and tools to minimize risk and gives us a clear picture of what behaviors to focus on.”

The study's complete findings will be published in the September/October issue of Food Protection Trends. Consumers can find free downloadable information on home food safety at http://www.fightbac.org.

Posted on Friday, June 27, 2014 at 2:03 PM
  • Author: Karen Nikos-Rose, (530) 752-6101, kmnikos@ucdavis.edu

Senior citizens get nutrition primer from UC program

Lela Rigdon, 93, left, and Nellie Rios, 90, try a 'monster smoothie' at UC CalFresh class.
Alice Escalante is something of a circuit rider in Tulare County. A UC nutrition educator, Escalante travels to rural communities, seeking out groups of low-income senior citizens to offer education that will spur healthier eating.

“I've reached more than 500 adults in the last year – in places like Exeter, Porterville, Cutler and Goshen,” Escalante said. “I go to senior centers, churches, welfare-to-work programs.”

Escalante visits each facility four times for one-hour sessions that include lessons from UC's research-based “Plan, Shop, Save, Cook” curriculum, plus physical activity and a cooking demonstration. Last week, Escalante presented the training to senior citizens in Exeter, a city of 10,000 near the Sierra Nevada foothills.

“When I go around the valley to different sites, a lot of people are familiar with ranch,” Escalante said holding up a bottle of dressing. “They like ranch, they use ranch for everything – pizza, fries, chicken wings and then we drench it on our salads. But did you know just two tablespoons is 160 calories. What if we switched it up, and tried a little honey mustard dressing? Two tablespoons is only 70 calories.”

Escalante explained the difference between good fats and bad fats and she taught the participants best practices for budget-minded grocery shopping.

Look at quantity, store-brand products and convenience to find savings, Escalante advised. Buying in bulk is often cheaper, but for seniors living alone, it may not be the most economical choice.

“You have to look at the size of your household,” Escalante said. “If we are going to save a few pennies buying the larger amount, but it's going to go to waste, it's not worth it. You have to look at the unit price, but also your household.

After leading the nutrition lesson, Escalante encouraged everyone to move to the beat of a Latin tune.

"Come on everybody, let's get up," she called. "You can do it sitting down. If you're sitting down, use your hands. If you can stand, go around in circles."

To close the class, Escalante whipped up a “monster smoothie,” which looks like “something that oozed out of a swamp, but tastes great and has monster nutrition,” said the recipe handout. A key ingredient is kale, a leafy green that contributes vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K, plus the minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. Find the recipe below the video:

Monster Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 1 overripe banana, cliced
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons toasted almonds or walnuts (optional)

Directions

  1. Put the kale, banana, apple, blueberries, yogurt, orange juice and nuts in athe blender. Put the top on tightly.
  2. Turn the blender to medium and blend until the mixture is very smooth.
  3. Serve right away or store in a thermos or covered in the refrigerator up to 4 hours.
Posted on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Mothers in Recovery gain healthy eating skills

Mothers in Recovery visit the farmers market together to buy healthy food for their families.
Mothers who have overcome addiction are learning from UC nutrition educators in Placer County how to improve their lives and their children's lives with healthful eating.

The women, participants in Mothers in Recovery, meet once a week for up to one year to boost life skills and support one another through a challenging period of their lives. Four times, they are joined by UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educators to learn healthy eating on a budget.

“Our curriculum – Plan, Shop, Save and Cook – is very simple and has great visuals,” said Molly Klumb, the UC community nutrition education specialist who works with the Placer County moms.

For each session, Klumb brings bags full of fresh seasonal produce from the local farmers market. She demonstrates a healthy recipe, and sends the women home with produce to cook for themselves and their families.

“Some will flat out say they don't like it,” Klumb said. But she sees gradual improvement week to week.

“Once I made a salad with fresh beets and carrots,” Klumb said. “One mom said, ‘I have always seen beets in the store, but haven't ever tried them. I really like them and now include them with dinner after trying that recipe.'”

During another lesson, the mothers were shown how to make fruit- or vegetable-infused water as a thirst quencher. After learning the detrimental health impacts of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, one mom declared, “I'm never going to buy soda again! I'm going to just make this infused water. It's better for you plus it's cheaper.”

The four sessions cover:

  • Plan – Planning meals and making shopping lists to avoid impulse purchases and last-minute trips to the grocery story.
  • Shop – Taking time to carefully read nutrition facts and ingredient lists on food labels when at the grocery store.
  • Save – Learning to spend less by comparing unit prices, buying in bulk, selecting store brands, avoiding “extras” like chips and soda, and, if possible, shopping without the children.
  • Cook – Practicing how to read and follow recipes and cook the food that was purchased.

The final class is conducted at the farmers market, where the mothers each receive a $20 voucher to buy healthy food for their families.

To date, 30 moms have participated in the four-session series led by UC CalFresh, a University of California nutrition education program for people who receive CalFresh benefits. Funds for the food purchases are provided by Nutrition BEST, a program administered by UC Cooperative Extension for First 5 Placer County.

Following is the recipe for grated beet salad that was shared with the Mothers in Recovery:

Grated beet salad

Yield: 6 servings

Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3-4 tablespoons vinaigrette (see recipe below)
  • 3 medium beets, peeled and grated
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • ½ cup basil, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, add beets, carrots, basil and vinaigrette. Toss to combine.
  2. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
  3. Serve.

Basic vinaigrette dressing

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons cider or other vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon prepared mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup olive oil

Directions

  1. Combine first 6 ingredients
  2. Whisk mixture while slowly adding oil.
  3. Serve immediately. Leftover dressing can be refrigerated up to one week.
Posted on Monday, June 23, 2014 at 9:19 AM

San Luis Obispo County local food roots are strong, can support growth

Man picking in San Luis Obispo County orchard.
A close look at a county's food system is a powerful way to understand the county's health and prosperity. The food system incorporates every county resident - from farmers who grow food, to truckers who transport it, food workers who prepare it, and everyone who buys, eats and disposes of food.

A new report assessing San Luis Obispo County's food system links the vitality of the county's agriculture with the health of its residents and its food businesses.

Conducted by the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP) and Central Coast Grown (CCG), the San Luis Obispo County Food System Assessment examines the relationships between agriculture, regional environmental quality, human health and local livelihoods.

“We found that the county food system in San Luis Obispo is thriving with increased agricultural sales and school districts beginning to participate in garden-based education,” says Jenna Smith, executive director of Central Coast Grown. “But there are many opportunities for improvement. With excitement building around local food and improved nutrition, it's vital for a county to see an honest accounting of where it stands in those arenas.”

In 2007, farmers in San Luis Obispo County sold agricultural products valued at $4.3 million directly to consumers, an increase from previous years. The report suggests that continued promotion of local and direct marketing of food can assist all producers, including new farmers, in entering the marketplace and bolstering the local food system overall.

Those markets will be especially important as the number of farmers in the county grows. In 2007, there were 850 more agricultural producers than 10 years prior. But the majority of farms in 2007 reported gross sales of under $250,000 per year, with nearly half of all farms in the county reporting less than $5,000 in annual sales.

“Unfortunately, we have little information available to define who these small-scale farmers are, what they are growing, how they impact local employment, and how they might interact with the local food system,” said Mary Bianchi, director of UC Cooperative Extension in San Luis Obispo County, who advised on the report. “We need a better understanding of what these farmers produce, and how they can better participate in the local food economy.”

San Luis Obispo County farmscape.
One potential way to increase that participation is to identify food processing and distribution capacity in the county and find ways to expand them, the report recommends.

In a parallel survey conducted by Central Coast Grown, they asked farmers and restaurant owners about the challenges to selling and buying locally.

“Our survey reinforced the findings of the SLO Food System Assessment,” says CCG director Smith. “Both farmers and restaurant owners reported a need and value for localized distribution channels.”

The report also addresses access to healthy food as a component of the county's food system. Participation in food assistance programs like CalFresh and food distributed by food banks in San Luis Obispo County have both increased over the last decade, though overall food insecurity in the county has improved marginally.

While increases in food distribution may mean those outlets are accessing more people, it also means more people are in need of the assistance.

Beyond continued support from government food programs, the report recommends ways that increasing food access for the public and improving markets for local producers can reinforce one another. Food-focused community development strategies such as mobile markets, community farms, and farm-to-school bring agriculture into neighborhoods and schools and help close the gap between producers and consumers.

San Luis Obispo County oranges.
“There is a lot to gain from diversifying the ways healthy food can get into the hands of consumers. Markets can reach different individuals; schools can form relationships with different farms to build farm-to-school programs,” said Gail Feenstra, deputy director of UC SAREP and one of the report's authors. “We're increasingly seeing the benefits from these partnerships.”

San Luis Obispo County also faces water quality and water quantity challenges that are echoed throughout the state. Nitrate contamination from both urban and agricultural sources affects local lakes, rivers and streams. Groundwater and coastal stream resources both present significant challenges for agriculture and rural communities dependent on them for drinking water.

“Accounting for those concerns within the context of the entire food system may bring a broader scope to the discussion along with the potential to leverage the efforts of the many groups already working on water resources issues,” Bianchi said.

The Food System Assessment was conducted in partnership with the San Luis Obispo County Food System Coalition. Coalition meetings are held quarterly to discuss local food system issues and are open to the community. The report was funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture which also supports Central Coast Grown's upcoming release of a Public Land Survey that identifies underutilized agriculturally viable land county-wide.

The report is available on the UC SAREP and Central Coast Grown websites.

Posted on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 1:58 PM

When weeds make good eats

Young amaranth in the field: weed it or eat it?
Last week, NPR offered up a novel weed control solution for all those yellow dandelions dotting your lawn: just eat 'em. The article includes a chef's recipe for dandelion flower fritters.

The idea that weeds can be edible pops up periodically, with articles suggesting one person's weeds are another person's salad bar, highlighting chefs who “have a way with weeds,” discussing ways medieval gardeners encouraged weeds, and even suggesting ways to eat away at invasive species. But is this something we should take seriously?

“We call these plants weeds because of the way we interact with them. They're in our gardens, they're in our lawns, and they're competing with plants that we prefer to eat,” said Lynn Sosnoskie, a weed scientist at UC Davis. “But a lot of the plants that are weeds here in the United States were brought here purposefully—to be eaten.”

Sosnoskie's doctoral thesis was on just such a plant, with the tasty name of “garlic mustard.” She has also worked at length on Palmer amaranth, a pernicious weed found in cotton fields that can be glyphosate-resistant. In response to one Georgia farmer asking in exasperation if he should just eat the plant taking over his fields, she did some preliminary research into eating Palmer amaranth.

“It's probably not feasible to eat our way out of a serious weed problem,” she said. “But I certainly feel like we can investigate them as other potential food sources.”

In fact, the Horticulture Innovation Lab at UC Davis has a project that is researching three “indigenous vegetables” in Africa, two of which — amaranth and black nightshade — are considered weeds in the United States. The vegetables can be nutritious and profitable options for small-scale farmers in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and elsewhere.

Cooking directions on dried amaranth, from a company in Kenya where it is also known as "dodo."
“I think some of these weeds have a lot of potential and are underutilized,” said Stephen Weller, horticulture professor at Purdue University, who leads the indigenous vegetables project. “In eastern Africa, these vegetables are very popular. And I really think that as we get more immigrants here from that region, there is going to be a market for some of these vegetables here.”

Though he holds a Ph.D. in weed science, Weller is now figuring out the best ways to cultivate amaranth and black nightshade — instead of to eliminate them. Before he started working with these plants, common assumptions held that they should be easy to grow because, well, they “grow like weeds.”

“But we found out that growing them is more intensive than we were initially led to believe — similar to growing any other vegetable,” Weller said. “They need water, they need fertilizer, and pests are a problem.”

Caveat emptor: Though weedy plants can indeed be a source of food, both scientists cautioned against thinking of weeds as a “free-for-all forage buffet.” Some plants may be toxic, and weeds in farm fields may have been sprayed recently. It is important to be knowledgeable of the plants and how they've been grown before trying to eat one.

Farm growing black nightshade and other vegetables in western Kenya. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photos by Brenda Dawson)
Posted on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at 8:15 AM

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