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UC Food Safety
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UC Food Safety

UC Food Blog

The more you know, the more careful you are

With a daughter soon to complete a degree in health safety, discussions of Salmonella, E. coli and the like sometimes arise as we sit around the dinner table. As an agriculturally focused family, we like to think we’re pretty savvy about the best way to handle our produce to keep it safe and tasty.

Some are very concerned about food safety. A gentleman phoned the Postharvest Technology Center a few months ago, and shared that he was very concerned about eating strawberries. He thought perhaps he should scrub each one with a soft toothbrush, and then soak them in a diluted chlorine bath.

Others are much less aware of food safety concerns, sometimes using cutting boards and knives interchangeably between raw meat and produce items, or other unsafe food handling practices.

Dr. Roberta Cook, a marketing and postharvest specialist affiliated with the center reported, “in 2008, 53 percent of shoppers interviewed in a national survey by the Food Marketing Institute, named ‘bacteria or germs’ as a serious health risk to their food, ranking it as their number one concern.”  The produce industry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continue to work hard to establish safe procedures for every step between the farm and the market.

Dr. Linda Harris, a food safety specialist, and Dr. Christine Bruhn, a consumer food marketing dpecialist, also affiliated with the Postharvest Technology Center, offer the following concise steps for the safe handling of produce:

  1. In the grocery cart and at home, keep fruits and vegetables separated from raw meat, poultry, and seafood to prevent cross-contamination.

  2. Once at home, store all fresh-cut ready-to-eat prepared produce in the refrigerator to keep it cold.

  3. Wash all whole fruits and vegetables, including larger items like melons, just before preparation for eating. Cut out damaged (bruised, discolored) areas before eating.

  4. Before and after handling fruits and vegetables, make sure that your work area and utensils are clean and that your hands have been washed with hot soapy water.

  5. Fruits and vegetables should be washed under running water. Soaking them in water increases the opportunity for cross-contamination and is not recommended.

  6. Produce such as apples, cucumbers and melons that can be rubbed without damage should be scrubbed using clean hands or a clean scrub brush.

  7. Dry washed fruits and vegetables with clean disposable paper towels.

  8. It is not necessary to wash ready-to-eat prewashed and packaged fresh-cut produce. If you choose to rewash this type of produce, follow the instructions above. Always wash unpackaged prepared salad mixes under running water prior to consumption.

  9. Once cut or prepared, all fruits and vegetables should be refrigerated promptly. After serving, refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.

Additional produce safety resources:

"How to Properly Wash your Produce" video by Dr. Christine Bruhn.

For more University of California information about the safe handling of fruits and vegetables:

UC Home Gardening, Preservation and Storage Publications

Safe Handling of Fruits and Vegetables (pdf)

Food safety brochure (pdf)

Posted on Monday, November 1, 2010 at 7:19 AM

Honey, I'm homemade!

The bees did it.

Well, they enabled it.

Take a look at one of May Berenbaum’s favorite honey recipes and you’ll know why she calls it “Apiscotti” or “Bee-Enabled Biscotti.”

Seven of the 12 ingredients (butter, honey, almond extract, nutmeg, cranberries, cherries, and almonds) depend on the pollination services of the honey bee, Apis mellifera.

May Berenbaum, professor and head of the University of Illinois Department of Entomology, kindly shared the recipe below.

You may know her as an entomologist, an administrator, a honey bee researcher, a book author, a columnist (American Entomologist), an opinion page writer (see her piece on bed bugs in the New York Times) a wife and a mother.

But not a beekeeper

“Although I’m an entomologist, I’m not in any sense of the word a beekeeper,” she writes in her newly published book, Honey, I'm Homemade: Sweet Treats from the Beehive Across the Centuries and Around the World, a project that benefits the University of Illinois Pollinatarium, the nation's first free-standing science outreach center devoted to flowering plants and their pollinators.

“At various intervals during my life I’ve been a bee landlord—other entomologists have kept bees on property I own—but I’ve never personally had a hive I could call my own or been involved in the production of honey. Truth be told, I’m a little afraid of honey bees—and not just because they can sting. The stings are a manageable risk. What I find unnerving about bees is how eerily talented they are and how profoundly different from the million-plus other species of insects.”

Berenbaum, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, says that honey is a unique food “because of its power to evoke a particular time and place. Every time it is collected from a hive, honey takes on the nuanced flavors of a particular set of flowers--clover, orange blossoms, buckwheat, or others--at a certain point in time processed and stored by a particular group of bees. Honey is not just a snapshot of a time and place--it's the taste of a time and place, and it lends its flavors to the delectable baked goods and other treats found here.”

Indeed, we’re glad to see a project benefitting the Pollinatarium and heralding the humble honey bee. In pollination services alone, honey bees contribute approximately $20 billion annually to American agriculture. And the value of the 2008 honey crop totaled more than $226 million, Berenbaum points out.

Without the honey bee, there would be no Apiscotti—or most of the other foods we enjoy. And that would bee disastrous.

Here’s her recipe for Apiscotti.

Apiscotti (Bee-enabled Biscotti)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract 
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 to 3 cups flour
1/2 dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/2 cup blanched sliced almonds, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream sugar and butter together; mix in honey until smooth. Beat eggs until frothy and then add salt, almond extract, nutmeg, and baking powder. Combine the sugar-butter mixture with the egg mixture. Add flour until dough is a consistency that can be handled. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour or more.

Divide chilled dough into 3 parts and flatten each third into a rectangle (use additional flour to make handling easier if necessary). Place a line at the center of each flattened section of dough and fill with chopped cherries, cranberries, and nuts. Fold the sides of each rectangle over to form a loaf, filling in center, and seal.

Place loaves on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden brown. Slice on a slant while hot into 1/2-inch slices. For crispier slices, return to oven for 5–10 minutes, or until golden brown (the color of a honey bee).

May Berenbaum
May Berenbaum

NOTED ENTOMOLOGIST May Berenbaum says she's never been a beekeeper but a "bee landlord," yes. She's the author of a newly published cookbook with proceeds to benefit the University of Illinois Pollinatarium, the nation's first free-standing science outreach center devoted to flowering plants and their pollinators. (Photo courtesy of May Berenbaum)

Honey Bee on Honey Comb
Honey Bee on Honey Comb

A HONEY BEE sips honey from a comb. (Bee photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, October 29, 2010 at 7:16 AM

Research helps ensure safety of leafy greens

Four years ago, a multi-state outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in fresh baby spinach gripped the nation. Nearly 200 people in 26 states came down with the disease. Two elderly women and a 2-year-old boy died.

The outbreak was also devastating for the industry. The contaminated spinach was traced back to Central California, where growers produce 80 percent of the nation’s leafy greens. Scientists, farmers and regulators worked together to restore public confidence in products that are widely considered part of a healthy diet.  Regulators and farmers created the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement to establish a culture of food safety on leafy greens farms and researchers worked to close gaps in the body of scientific knowledge about the sources of E. coli O157:H7 in the region.

In 2006, UC and USDA researchers were already designing a four-year study of the possible sources of E. coli O157:H7 near Central California fresh produce fields when the high-profile spinach outbreak occurred. This month, data collection from rangeland and farmland, steams and irrigation canals comes to a close. The team of scientists is now analyzing the data to reach conclusions that will help prevent future food contamination.

Preliminary results reflect a diversity of E. coli O157:H7 carriers near Central Coast farms, according to Edward (Rob) Atwill, a UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine specialist in waterborne infectious diseases and co-principal investigator of the study. Early on, free-ranging feral swine were implicated as carriers of the deadly bacteria, but it wasn’t known whether there were other sources in the environment. The researchers collected 1,233 samples of wild and feral animal scat from 38 Central Coast cattle ranches and leafy greens farms that were adjacent to riparian, annual grassland and oak woodland habitat. Eighteen of the samples were found to contain E. coli O157:H7.

The scientists found the bacteria in

  • 3 of 60 brown-headed cowbirds
  • 5 of 93 American crows
  • 2 of 95 coyotes
  • 1 of 72 deer mice
  • 10 of 200 feral swine

E. coli O157:H7 was not found in scat samples from deer, opossums, raccoons, skunks, ground squirrels, or other bird and mouse species.

“Our goal over the next nine months is to finish analyzing this very large and comprehensive dataset and to identify various good agricultural practices that reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens for the produce industry,” Atwill said.

Research helps prevent contamination of fresh leafy greens.
Research helps prevent contamination of fresh leafy greens.

Posted on Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 7:04 AM

What's shakin'

Harvest time in California is almost a year-round affair in one area or another: winter lettuce and spinach in Salinas, early spring strawberries along the South Coast, summer squashes, herbs, and tomatoes galore, hays and grains as long as the dry season lasts, and countless other food and fiber crops through the year.

Like grapes, walnuts, apples and olives, the almonds get their turn in autumn. On the right day, you can watch as a Rube Goldberg-like machine rolls through a local nut orchard, grabbing hold of tree trunks one by one and shaking them so hard it'll rattle your bones, but just hard enough to knock loose practically every nut on the tree without damaging its trunk. A sweeper follows next, gathering up nuts in their rough hulls from the clean orchard floor, blowing them clean of debris, and dumping them into harvest bins. Simple as that. But 60 or 70 years ago this work was all done by hand, and the harvest that's now completed in a day could take a week or more.

First the farmers would clean the orchard floor and spread a big canvas sheet under a tree, wide enough to catch anything that could fall from its canopy. One or more members of the harvest crew then took up long, slender poles and knocked loose the harvest-ready nuts, still in their hulls. Nuts rained dusty onto the workers' wide-brimmed hats and the wide-spread sheet. A skilled harvester could work the long, willowy pole with a fly fisherman's skill to strike the last few stick-tight nuts, one by one, and down they'd fall. Each nut meant another ounce or so, which added up to pounds and eventually dollars from the buyer or co-op. Then as now, you don't do this sort of thing just for your health.

Nuts from the sheet were raked and shoveled onto a sled and dragged out of the orchard. While the harvest crew set to work on the next tree, others would pick debris out of the sled, scoop the cleaned nuts into big burlap sacks, stitch them shut, and load them onto a wagon for a trip to the railroad and on to market.

Old times and new. This year, California's largest almond-growing cooperative, Blue Diamond Growers, celebrates its 100th anniversary. You can learn more about the crop's history in California at a special centennial website.

A nut tree shaker.
A nut tree shaker.

Posted on Monday, October 25, 2010 at 7:19 AM

A new era begins in food and beverage science

A new winery, brewery and food-processing complex began operations this fall at UC Davis. Part of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, the technologically sophisticated facilities will be used to teach students, conduct research, and solve practical problems related to foods, beverages and health.

The south wing of the new complex is home to the August A. Busch III Brewing and Food Science Laboratory, which includes the brewery, general foods-processing plant and milk-processing laboratory. The complex’s north wing houses a new teaching-and-research winery. The complex is adjacent to a 12-acre teaching-and-research vineyard and across a courtyard from the departments of Food Science and Technology, and Viticulture and Enology.

The new $20 million, 34,000-square-foot complex, funded entirely by private donations, will be the first winery, brewery and/or food-processing facility to earn LEED Platinum certification, the highest environmental rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.)

Features include onsite solar power generation and a system for capturing rainwater and conserving processing water. Stored rainwater will be used for landscaping and toilets.

The winery (right) will capture carbon dioxide, a natural byproduct of fermentation, thus reducing the building’s energy requirements for air quality and temperature control.

Other features include maximum use of natural light, food-processing equipment that minimizes energy and water requirements, use of recycled glass in flooring, interior paneling recycled from a 1928 wooden aqueduct, and use of sustainably certified lumber.

The new brewery will showcase the latest in brewing technology, as well as a sophisticated laboratory for conducting research and training students. It also provides commercial brewers and suppliers with a small-scale facility to test new recipes or processes.

The general foods- and milk-processing laboratories have been built to meet state and federal food- and dairy-grade standards. Products processed there will be used in sensory and nutritional evaluations.

Research in the food-processing pilot plant will examine alternative food-processing methods and their nutritional effects, nutritional quality and shelf life of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, nutritional enhancements from food-processing “waste” products, and improved food formulations.

The milk-processing laboratory will support research on separation of milk components into functional ingredients, processing of milk modified by different feed rations, and processing of milk from cows bred for specific characteristics.

Dozens of private donors helped make the complex a reality, including a $5 million contribution from the late winemaker, Robert Mondavi, and a $5 million pledge by the Anheuser-Busch Foundation.

Other major donations were made by Ronald and Diane Miller and by a group of winery partners led by Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke of Kendall-Jackson Wines, and Jerry Lohr of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines. The Department of Viticulture and Enology’s Board of Visitors and Fellows also made significant contributions.

California tomato processors and growers contributed more than $2.5 million to the food-processing pilot plant. Morning Star Packing Company provided a lead gift of $1 million for the food-processing plant. Hilmar Cheese Company also stepped up with a $250,000 pledge.

In all, more than 150 individuals, alumni, corporations and foundations contributed funds for the new winery, brewery and food-processing complex.

(Thanks to Patricia Bailey, UC Davis News Service, who provided content for this post.)

Learn more at http://greenrmi.ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Friday, October 22, 2010 at 6:54 AM

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