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UC Food Safety

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Roasting chestnuts without an open fire

One of the great things about living in California is the year-round farmer's market. Winter brings an array of winter squash, kale and chard, pomegranates, and citrus - including my favorite, the Satsuma mandarins that can be eaten like candy.

And of course, chestnuts. When we make it to the Sunday Sacramento farmer's market, one of my favorite stops is for roasted chestnuts.

Fun as it is to buy freshly roasted chestnuts, you can do it yourself and you don't need an open fire. They're incredibly easy to roast in your oven.

Preheat your oven to 450º and place the oven rack as close to the bottom of the oven as possible.

The next very important step is to cut an "x" into each chestnut to allow steam to escape.  You can do this with a regular serrated knife - you don't need a special chestnut knife. Miss this step and you'll have a big exploded chestnut mess in your oven.

Lay the chestnuts in a single layer on a roasting pan, sprinkle with water, and place in the oven.  Roast for 15 minutes, then turn them over, and sprinkle with water again.

Roast for another 15 minutes, or until the skin has started to peel back and the inner meat is soft. Take them out of the oven and allow them to cool.  Peel and eat them as soon as they are cool enough to handle! The chestnuts are easiest to peel when they're warm.

Chestnuts are highly perishable and need to handled and stored differently from other types of nuts. So if you buy them at the market, plan on roasting them within two days. There is more on storing chestnuts in ANR's free publication Nuts: Safe Methods for Consumers to Handle, Store, and Enjoy.

And if you want to try your hand at growing your own chestnuts - ANR has also published a handy guide to Chestnut Culture in California.

Posted on Tuesday, December 21, 2010 at 6:27 AM

Growing food and community

A wonderful example of community coming together in partnership to grow good food has taken root in Oxnard, Calif.

Last year, in an effort to reduce costs while improving the taste and nutrition of meals, the Senior Nutrition Program began growing their own tomatoes. They set up their garden with the help of UC Master Gardeners on a quarter-acre behind the Juvenile Justice Center.

The program began when the County of Ventura Area Agency on Aging, which serves over 200,000 meals annually through senior nutrition programs, collaborated with the Probation Agency Juvenile Justice Facility staff to create this positive program. As word of the project has spread many business and organizations have come forward to donate time, expertise and resources.

A year later, the garden has grown to two acres. Fifty fruit tress and a wider assortment of vegetables have been added. Ventura County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners teach incarcerated youth gardening skills. Senior volunteers work alongside youths, mentoring while tending the garden. All produce grown at the garden is used to feed seniors through senior meal programs and local food banks.

This project, as well as others like it, take time, effort and dedication to get started; however, the positive benefits come back many times over. Looking to start a similar project in your community? Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for resources in your area. Or check out UC ANR publications that can help you and your group. Some are available free and others may be purchased online.

Posted on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 6:24 AM
  • Author: Chris M. Webb

Food, hand-washing and the ick factor

Very few people wash their hands adequately prior to preparing or eating food. Most of us don’t even know how to wash hands properly.

There are many good reasons to wash hands:

  • Pathogen spread – from yourself, from others, from one contaminated food to another (meats, produce, etc.)
  • Chemical spread – whatever chemicals are on your hands can go directly into the food being prepared. This can include pesticides, hand sanitizers (ick), cleaning products, hand lotions, etc.
  • The ick factor – “Ick, what’s that slime on your hands and do I really want that in my food?”

The most memorable item I learned about hand-washing is that we need to wash for at least 20 seconds — the time it takes to sing the entire “happy birthday song” twice (and slowly). Watch anyone in any kitchen or public bathroom, and very few come close to washing for that long.

It’s human nature to think that our own hands are cleaner than everyone else’s, and that maybe we ourselves have less need to wash our own hands before preparing food for others. Well, everyone benefits if we all wash our hands well before cooking or eating.

Many years ago I got giardia, which laid me out for weeks, and my doctor and I determined that I probably got it from a food-service worker who did not wash hands properly. A big “ick.” It was a real wake-up call about the need for hand-washing.

So, if you hear me singing the happy birthday song while washing my hands in the kitchen, you can be thankful for my commitment to good hygiene.

Guidelines for hand-washing

  • Wet your hands with clean running water
  • Apply liquid, bar, or powder soap
  • Lather well
  • Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails
  • Rinse well
  • Dry your hands with a CLEAN or disposable towel or air dryer
  • If possible, use your towel to turn off the faucet

(Information on hand-washing and using hand sanitizers can be found at the information sources below.)

Information sources for handwashing

Lastly, while we’re addressing kitchen sanitation, please use a clean tasting spoon each time you sample what you are cooking. It’s a really big ICK to taste from the stirring spoon, then put it back into the food. It’s also a way to spread germs, especially in uncooked foods. Yes, cooking may sanitize the spoon, but people still don’t want to eat other people's saliva, sterile or not.

Happy holidays, and stay clean and healthy!

UPDATE (Dec. 15, 2010): A new press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 6 people get sick from foodborne illnesses each year. The CDC also reports that keeping hands clean is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection and illness.

Posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 9:18 AM

Feeding the world: Top 100 questions for agriculture

When looking for good answers to big problems, you better make sure you’re asking the right questions – especially when you want to put food on the global table for 9 billion people.

That’s exactly what a team of 55 agricultural and food experts from the world’s major agricultural organizations, scientific societies and academic institutions did recently when they identified the top 100 questions that must be answered if the world is to increase food production by 70 to 100 percent by 2050, when the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion. Their list appears in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. A PDF of the article is linked at the end of this post.

The top 100 questions cover 13 priority themes and are intended to help frame the research, policy and funding agendas for global agriculture. They were selected from an initial list of 618 questions that had been identified by a core group of experts representing universities, United Nations agencies, research institutes, non-governmental organizations, foundations and regional research secretariats in 23 countries.

Co-author Thomas Tomich, director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis, predicts that global agricultural and food systems will have to change substantially to meet the growing worldwide demand for food. Looming issues such as climate change, water stresses, energy insecurity and dietary shifts won’t make the challenge any easier, he says.

“California is a hub for technological and scientific innovation, and we can set the pace for a transition to a more sustainable food system, providing inspiration and insights for the world,” Tomich said. “Indeed, if we cannot pull this off in California, who can?”

He noted that it is imperative for the scientific research agenda to keep abreast with the challenges of global food production.

“For California agriculture to stay at the cutting edge in a competitive food system that is facing increasingly complex challenges worldwide, our researchers need to be engaged globally,” he said.

UC Davis' Agricultural Sustainability Institute was founded in 2006. The finstitute is committed to helping ensure access to healthy food and promoting the vitality of agriculture today and for future generations through integrative research, education and communication efforts. The institute includes the UC statewide Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, the UC Davis Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility and the UC Davis Student Farm. 

Posted on Friday, December 10, 2010 at 1:24 PM

10 tips for navigating 'national eating season'

How can you enjoy holiday eating without going overboard? Linda Gigliotti, director of UC Irvine’s Weight Management Program, offers 10 tips to prevent packing on extra pounds:

  1. Make yourself a “health calendar.” Map out your food choices each week and schedule regular exercise. The calendar can help you prepare for a proliferation of parties and survive the Halloween-to-Super Bowl “national eating season,” said Gigliotti, a registered dietitian. “The best four-letter word to use is plan. Stop, take a deep breath and anticipate the situation.”

  2. Establish a calorie budget – the number of calories you can consume per day and maintain your current weight. “Look at high-calorie days and have a plan to offset those,” Gigliotti said. 

  3. Exercise. Every bit helps. Walk up stairs or around the block. Try to get a total of 30 minutes a day.

  4. Get enough sleep. People who are sleep-deprived are more prone to overeat, Gigliotti said.

  5. Arrive satisfied. “Plan for meals and snacks throughout the day prior to an event, so you’re having something – ideally low calorie like fruit or vegetables – every three hours,” Gigliotti said. “Don’t starve yourself throughout the day. That’s a setup to overconsume calories.” 

  6. Decide what foods are important to have. “I never would eat bread or a roll at a Thanksgiving dinner,” Gigliotti said. “I’m not going to waste my calories on that. Now stuffing we only make once a year. We’re going to have that and enjoy it.”

  7. Drink slim. Alcoholic drinks can pack calories without filling you up. Consider a club soda with a twist of lime. “If you have something in your hands, people are less likely to push food on you,” Gigliotti said.

  8. Be creative. Instead of a cookie exchange, Gigliotti does a soup exchange with friends, providing low-calorie meals for days.

  9. Practice “environmental control.” Buy smaller quantities of items and don’t put out fattening items at home or at work. “If it’s there, we’ll eat it,” Gigliotti said.

  10. If you do overindulge, don’t get discouraged. Compensate by reducing your caloric intake for a few days. “Look at the big picture,” Gigliotti said. “Have a healthy relationship with food choices.”

What are your best suggestions for battling the holiday bulge? For more tips, view UC Cooperative Extension advisor Brenda Roche’s Food Blog post and these other UC sites:

Posted on Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 6:31 AM

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