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California can-do attitude

Whether to save money or to dine on fresher products, more Californians have been buying locally grown food and growing their own lately. They also have started home canning what they can’t eat right away. But be aware that if you put them up incorrectly, those garden goodies can be deadly.

I’m no domestic goddess so I learned a lot about home canning recently while watching Susan Algert, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor for Santa Clara County, make a 2-minute video describing safe canning tips.

Meats, vegetables and any food containing meats and vegetables -- such as salsa or spaghetti sauce -- have to be pressure-canned to prevent botulism, a paralyzing illness that can kill the person who eats the contaminated food. Botulism is caused by a nerve toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. A less serious consequence of not following a scientifically tested recipe is foodborne microorganisms can survive and spoil your canned foods.

I used to wonder why people would pickle green beans or cauliflower. They seemed like odd foods to pickle. Now I understand.

If you prefer to home can low-acid vegetables such as green beans using the boiling water bath instead of a pressure canner, you must first pickle the vegetables to ensure the final acidity is too high for Clostridium botulinum to grow.

High-acid foods such as peaches naturally have a pH of 4.6 or less and contain enough acid to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum so they can be home canned using the boiling water bath method. However, processing times must be followed precisely to ensure that all bacteria are destroyed using a water bath canner—so, following a standard recipe is very important!

“Certain foods, such as tomatoes, pears and figs, have a pH value close to 4.6 and must have acid added to them to lower the pH enough to use the water bath method,” Algert told me. “The pH can be lowered by adding commercial lemon juice or powdered citric acid.”

She added, “You can’t use juice squeezed from a fresh lemon that you picked from your backyard tree because we don’t know exactly how acidic the juice is. Commercial lemon juice meets a standard acidity.”

Here’s a general guide to help decide which canning method to use:

Low-acid foods that must be pressure canned:

  • meats
  • seafood
  • poultry
  • dairy products
  • all vegetables
  • combination products using these foods

High-acid foods that can be canned in boiling water bath:

  • most fruits
  • properly pickled vegetables

Foods that require added lemon juice for boiling water bath canning:

  • figs
  • pears
  • tomatoes

For more information about safely canning food, visit the University of California’s Food Safety website at http://ucfoodsafety.ucdavis.edu/Consumer_Advice and the USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation website at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp.

UC also offers publications at http://ucanr.org/foodpreservation on other methods of safely preserving and storing foods, from apples to tomatoes.

Algert's home canning overview:

Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:44 AM

Food Stamps are being rebranded 'CalFresh'

In an effort to break down stigma and encourage greater participation, the program formerly known as "Food Stamps" is now called "CalFresh" in California. The program adopted a new logo and a new slogan: “Better Food for Better Living.”

The name Food Stamps, used for more than 40 years, was officially retired by Congress in 2008, and the program became known nationally as "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program," or SNAP. However, California officials determined SNAP didn't test well with focus groups.

CalFresh was designed to capture the essence of the state and its position as a world leader in agribusiness, according to a California Department of Social Services news release. In the logo, the wording is bisected by a graphic representing the healthy fruit and vegetables produced in California.

CDSS said the transition to "CalFresh" will be a slow process, with changes to forms, documents and outreach materials taking place over time.

The University of California operates a Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program, commonly known as FSNEP, in 35 California counties. FSNEP educators aim to increase the likelihood that people eligible for the federal nutrition program in California make healthy food choices and choose physically active lifestyles.

California FSNEP director David Ginsburg said FSNEP was holding out for the renaming of the California program before updating the UC program's name.

"It did not make a lot of sense to change it to align with SNAP and then again once the California name was announced," Ginsburg said.

UC-FSNEP will receive $8.1 million in federal funds this fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2010 - Sept. 30, 2011), an increase of about $1 million over last year, Ginsburg said. Last year the program reached 220,000 California recipients of federal food benefits.

More than 3 million low-income Californians receive nutrition assistance benefits in any given month, but analysts say only half of the state's residents eligible for the assistance receive it.

"CalFresh benefits are very important for so many families who are challenged with food insecurity," Ginsburg said. "By bringing forward a new image and message, hopefully those participating in CalFresh will feel more empowered and also force needed reform with the old Food Stamp program."

Posted on Monday, November 8, 2010 at 7:42 AM

Time to enjoy California kiwifruit

In early November, when California stonefruit and grape supplies are waning, kiwifruit comes to the rescue. It's beautiful green flesh, tart flavor and excellent nutrient profile make it a great choice for snacking and fruit salads as the holidays approach.

Kiwis are native to China, but are commonly associated with New Zealand. Called the Chinese gooseberry, they were renamed "kiwifruit" - after flightless birds native to New Zealand - for the export market in the 1950s.

A 1997 study that examined the 27 most commonly eaten fruits found kiwis to be the fourth most nutrient dense, following papayas, mangos and oranges, according to the Network for a Healthy California's Harvest of the Month. Kiwi fruit are high in vitamin C and vitamin K, they are a good source of fiber and contain potassium, folate, beta-carotene and lutein.

Kiwifruit enthusiasts recommend eating the skin, which contains a high amount of fiber and provides access to nutrients which accumulate just below the skin. But I personally cannot get beyond the fuzzy texture and brown, leathery appearance. A convenient way to eat a ripe kiwi is by cutting it in half and scooping out the pulp with a spoon.

Nearly all U.S. kiwis are produced in California. Botanically a berry, they grown on large, tender vines that can reach a height of 15 to 30 feet. The vines bloom in May and the majority of fruit is harvested in late October and early November.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Posted on Friday, November 5, 2010 at 7:49 AM

What is the world's most popular meat?

I’ll bet a lot of you guessed chicken or pork. Some of you probably thought beef. Surprise! In the United States, we tend to consume chicken as our white meat of choice and beef as our red meat, but 63 percent of the world's population eats goat meat. Interestingly, more and more goat meat is being consumed in the United States and not just as an ethnic dish due to the growing ethnic population. The health-conscious consumer is also looking at the benefits of incorporating either cabrito (a delicacy meat from goats that are harvested between 1 to 3 months of age and weigh less than 50 pounds) or chevon (goats that are harvested between 6 to 9 months of age and weigh between 50 and 75 pounds). Older goat meat is also consumed but usually as sausage or in chili.

Mendocino and Lake livestock producers, especially those who want to sell local, might want to consider adding goats to their mix of cattle and/or sheep. I know some are already ahead of the curve (see our goat producer directory). Multi-species grazing on our rangelands not only provides economic diversity for the ranch but utilizes our rangeland forages better than single-species grazing. But let’s get back to that health-conscious consumer and why demand for goat meat is growing.

The table below shows the nutrient comparison of goat meat to traditionally raised chicken, beef, pork and lamb.

Nutrient composition of goat and other types of meat1, 2

Nutrient

Goat

Chicken

Beef

Pork

Lamb

Calories

122

162

179

180

175

Fat (g)

2.6

6.3

7.9

8.2

8.1

Saturated Fat (g)

0.79

1.7

3.0

2.9

2.9

Protein (g)

23

25

25

25

24

Cholesterol (mg)

63.8

76.0

73.1

73.1

78.2

1 Per 3 oz. of cooked meat

2 USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 14 (2001)

You can see that goat meat is lower in calories, total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than the other meats. Less saturated fat and less cholesterol mean healthier red meat for the health-conscious consumer. Additionally, goat meat has higher levels of iron (3.2mg) when compared to a similar serving size of beef (2.9 mg), pork (2.7 mg), lamb (1.4 mg), and chicken (1.5 mg). Comparatively, goat meat also contains higher potassium and lower sodium levels. In terms of essential amino acids, goat meat closely resembles beef and lamb.

With these benefits, it’s clear why consumers are developing an interest in eating goat meat.

Posted on Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 7:29 AM

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

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