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UC Food Safety

UC Food Blog

Eating right doesn’t have to break the budget

Even though dietitians have for decades strongly recommended eating lots of fruit and vegetables daily, very few Americans hit the mark. Food prices, taste, inconvenience, and a failure to understand the link between diet and health have been blamed for Americans’ poor food choices.

New research by the USDA Economic Research Service dispels one of those obstacles. The study determined that buying the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables costs on average only $2 to $2.50 per day.

“For those with access and the means to buy them, the assertion that fruits and vegetables are too expensive is not a good excuse,” said UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Cathi Lamp. “Consumers should be able to purchase a days’ worth of fruit and vegetables for less than it costs to buy a cheeseburger.”

The ERA researchers estimated the average retail prices of 153 fresh and processed fruits and vegetables. Processed fruits and vegetables included frozen, canned and dried plus 100 percent fruit juice.  They also estimated the average price per edible cup for each vegetable and fruit.

Costs in the study were defined as the average prices paid by all American households for a food over a one-year period, including purchases in different package sizes, under different brand names and at different types of retail outlets (including supercenters such as Wal-Mart, wholesale club stores like Costco, traditional grocery stores such as Safeway, Kroger and Albertsons, and convenience stores.)

The research indicated that:

  • Fruits and vegetables cost about 50 cents per edible cup.
  • The lowest average price for any of the 59 fruits in the study was for fresh watermelon, at 17 cents per cup. The highest average price was for fresh raspberries, at $2.06 per cup.
  • Among the 95 fresh and processed vegetables in the study, a cup of dry pinto beans was the least expensive at 13 cents. The most expensive was frozen asparagus cuts and tips at $2.07 per cup.
  • Processed fruits and vegetables were not consistently more or less expensive than fresh produce, but with certain types of produce, the prices varied quite a bit. Canned carrots, at 34 cents per cup, were more expensive than fresh carrots, at 25 cents per cup. However, canned peaches, at 58 cents per cup, were less expensive than fresh, at 66 cents per cup.

Lamp suggested smart shopping can also help consumers reduce the cost of their fruits and vegetables. For example, buy fresh fruit and vegetables in season, use canned and frozen fruit and vegetables when it is cheaper and stock up when items are on sale or when shopping at a supercenter or wholesale club.

USDA says fresh watermelon is, on average, the least expensive fruit.
USDA says fresh watermelon is, on average, the least expensive fruit.

Posted on Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 7:07 AM

Swaying both ways

Imagine if rice – yes, that semiaquatic species that is typically cultivated under partially flooded conditions – could be both flood- and drought-tolerant. Such a rice variety would benefit rice growers and consumers worldwide and would be less vulnerable to weather extremes that may result from global climate change.

Now UC Riverside experiments demonstrate that such rice is already here. Genetics professor Julia Bailey-Serres’ research group reports in a recent issue of The Plant Cell that flood-tolerant rice is also better able to recover from drought.

“Flood tolerance does not reduce drought tolerance in these rice plants, and appears to even benefit them when they encounter drought,” Bailey-Serres says.

She and her team – Takeshi Fukao, a senior researcher, and Elaine Yeung, an undergraduate student – focused on Sub1A, a gene responsible for flood or “submergence” tolerance in rice. Sub1A works by making the plant dormant during submergence, allowing it to conserve energy until the floodwaters recede. Indeed, rice with the Sub1A gene can survive more than two weeks of complete submergence.

Plant breeders have already profited farmers worldwide – especially in South Asia – by having transferred Sub1A into high-yielding rice varieties without compromising these varieties’ desirable traits — such as high yield, good grain quality, and pest and disease resistance.

Bailey-Serres’s lab found that in addition to providing robust submergence tolerance, Sub1A aids survival of drought. The researchers report that at the molecular level Sub1A serves as a convergence point between submergence and drought response pathways, allowing rice plants to survive and re-grow after both weather extremes.

“Sub1A properly coordinates physiological and molecular responses to cellular water deficit when this deficit occurs independently, as in a time of drought, or following ‘desubmergence,’ which takes place when flood waters recede,” says Bailey-Serres who was the lead recipient of the 2008 USDA National Research Initiative Discovery Award.

Next, her colleagues at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines will test the Sub1A rice for drought tolerance in the field. What are some other implications of this research? One that comes to mind is that the “Got Rice?” slogan might have to drop the question mark, and put in its place a solid period!

Posted on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 8:45 AM

National Nutrition Month®

March is National Nutrition Month®! Thirty-eight years ago a week long campaign to promote nutrition was launched by the American Dietetic Association. That same campaign gained public popularity and has since expanded to what is now known as National Nutrition Month®. This March the theme is “Eat Right with Color.” The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends:

Start with the basics. Use MyPyramid to build a healthy, balanced diet. Visit for your personalized food plan.

Nutrient-dense foods. The ADA also suggests focusing foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals and lower in calories and fat.  For example, whole grain toast with low-fat cheese, fruit, and a cup of coffee with low-fat milk will provide more nutrients than a muffin and a coffee drink filled with sugared syrup and whipped cream.  Try the yummy National Nutrition Month recipes, which will satisfy your taste buds and your body’s craving for nutrients!

Variety is important
. Varying the foods you consume will ensure you are getting all the nutrients that your body needs. Aim to build a rainbow on
your plate!

Make the most of family meal-time. The eating habits children learn today are the habits they will have tomorrow. Model healthy eating habits with children to help them make healthy choices.

Physical activity is important for “managing weight and overall health.” MyPyramid encourages at least 30 minutes per day.

These five key messages are at the core of all the events taking place during National Nutrition Month®. Activities in different venues are put on by the ADA to spread nutrition awareness. In schools and at community centers there are activities and/or events taking place to celebrate National Nutrition Month®. For more information about events or activities or information in about National Nutrition Month®, click here.

Blog contributors: Connie Schneider, Ph.D., R.D., Kathleen Burke, CSUF Dietetic Intern, & Shelby MacNab, Nutrition Program Manager


Posted on Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 9:49 AM

Small farm homes: An L.A. tradition

Today, it's the most populous urban county in the U.S., with more than 10 million residents. But not that long ago, Los Angeles was the largest farm county in the country. A part of L.A.'s preeminence in agriculture during the first half of the 20th century was its focus on small-scale, home-based farms. In fact, Los Angeles was home to a movement which was a precursor to present-day interest in urban sustainability.

The trend was called “Small Farm Homes”, or “Little Farms,” and gained momentum in the 1920s, then continued full-force for several decades. As the population of Los Angeles County mushroomed, and real estate boomed, subdivisions were developed with micro farming in mind. Many homes were constructed on lots of one-half to three acres, and marketed as “small farm homes” to newcomers flocking to Los Angeles. Many were Midwestern farmers who no longer wanted large farms and cold weather, but didn’t quite want to give up their agricultural heritage. Others drawn to these new homes were city people, attracted by publicity campaigns touting Southern California’s abundant harvests and golden sunshine and hoping to try their hand at small-scale farming.

The automobile helped to promote the popularity of small farms on the periphery of the city, as newly mobile Angelenos could now easily transport their harvest to local markets.

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce did much to promote this “little farm development” around Los Angeles County. According to the Chamber, it was possible to make a living on a small farm on the outskirts of the city. People might make a go of it farming, according to the Chamber, with vegetables, fruit trees, and at least 200 laying hens on two to five acres.  These small family-run, home-based farms helped to feed the demand of the growing city.  The number of farms of less than 3 acres in Los Angeles County increased substantially during the 1920s, with 1,334 recorded in the 1920 census, and 5,000 in the 1930 census (White, 1933).

The Chamber, in cooperation with the LA Times, ran an annual Small Farm Home contest, publishing photos and stories about the winners, with the following entry a typical example:

“The one-acre farm of C.E. Drummond, 15219 Stagg Street, in West Van Nuys, is another where beauty and utility have been successfully combined in the making of a rural home. Here, again, are flowers for joy and recreation, vegetables and fruits for the table, and chickens to help swell the family purse (Scarborough, 1930, p. K12).”

Small farm homes contributed significantly to Los Angeles County’s agricultural production. They also helped to make Los Angeles food-secure. According to a 1940 Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce brochure, “nearly half of the Los Angeles food supply originates on farms within 50 miles of the city”.

The small farm home trend continued through the Depression and well into the 1950s. In 1949, the University of California reported there were approximately 10,000 families living on small farms of one acre in size or smaller in Los Angeles County.

Today, many urban dwellers in Los Angeles and throughout the US are trying their hand at small-scale, home-based farming.  There are certainly differences between yesterday’s small farm homes, and today’s urban farmers. The harvest from an urban yard today is more likely to supplement a family’s diet and income, rather than constitute a main component. Still, the motivators for self-sufficiency today and 80 years ago are similar; good food, a little relief for the family budget, and a sense of pride in “growing your own.” It’s a Los Angeles tradition that is once again gaining momentum.


Scarborough, O. (1930, Jan. 5, 1930). What acre offers. Los Angeles Times.

What the newcomer should know about agriculture in Los Angeles County and Southern California (1940). In L. A. C. C. o. Commerce (Ed.) (pp. 51). Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

White, R. P. (1933, Jan. 3). The new city of country homes. Los Angeles Times.

Small Farm Homes in El Monte, Los Angeles County
Small Farm Homes in El Monte, Los Angeles County

Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1936, Library of Congress

Posted on Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 7:02 AM

Treat your mandarins right

Mandarins may look like little oranges, but scientists believe that their distinct attributes demand special treatment to maintain a fresh, juicy and tangy character.

“We think the flavor of mandarins declines much more rapidly than oranges,” said Sue Collin (right), a UC Riverside staff research associate who is based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.

The way oranges are set out at the grocery store or on home counter tops could be trouble for the more delicate mandarin. And when mandarins make a six-week sea voyage to the Pacific Rim, will Asian consumers find the fruit acceptable?

In order to provide farmers, shippers and retailers accurate information about the impact of different storage temperatures on the quality of the fruit, Collin is working with UC Riverside sub-tropical horticulturalist Mary Lu Arpaia and USDA plant physiologist Dave Obenland to understand the changes in mandarins stored at a variety of temperatures, at different humidity levels, for various periods of time.

“A grocery store may be holding fruit at room temperature, 68 degrees or even warmer,” Collin said. “We’re comparing fruit that has been stored in very controlled atmospheres – at temperatures in the 40s, 50s and 60s.”

When it comes to understanding the acceptability of fresh fruit, nothing can match the human palette.

Collin recruits staff based at Kearney to take a break from their jobs to come to a laboratory built at the agricultural research station specifically for sensory testing. The 1,100-square-foot laboratory features neutral white paint and broad-spectrum lighting. The ventilation system was designed to minimize distracting odors. Inside, six tasting booths each have small windows that open to the kitchen area, where samples are prepared.

“We do quite a bit of testing to see if our volunteers can tell the difference in fruit stored at different temperatures,” Collin said.

In conjunction with the human testing, Obenland studies the fruit’s chemical composition to find out if objective numerical values correlate with the more subjective findings of the human tasters.

Although the optimal storage temperature for mandarins is still under investigation, Collin suggested consumers should keep their mandarins in the refrigerator at home for best results.

“I think the flavor holds better and the fruit lasts longer in the refrigerator,” Collin said.

This research is being funded in part by the Citrus Research Board.

Posted on Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 10:07 AM

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