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UC Food Safety

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Halloween kicks off the season of sweets

The season of sweets begins for many children at the end of October with a large bag of trick-or-treat candy, and then continues in earnest with the traditional candy-giving holidays of Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. Children's access to so much candy has many parents asking how much is too much.

Candy occupies a very tiny slice of MyPyramid, the USDA’s dietary guideline. MyPyramid places candy in a category called “extras.” For children aged 2 to 8 years old, it recommends no more than 170 calories per day of “extras” – which would be two-thirds of a Snickers bar, one pack of Starburst or 17 Whoppers.

Michele Fisch, program representative for the Placer County UC Cooperative Extension Nutrition BEST program, gathered suggestions that will help parents enforce limits on their children’s candy consumption.

  • Set a specific amount for each week and stick to it. Inform children of the limit and allow them to help decide when to indulge.

  • Out of sight, out of mind. After a night of trick-or-treating, allow for a few pieces of candy and then put the rest out of sight. Most children will forget it is around within a few days.

  • Help other families with the battle by offering something other than sweets for children. Small cans of play dough, boxes of crayons, and other toys can now be purchased easily where you shop for candy.

  • Keep sweet but healthy alternatives around the house for snacks.  Fresh fruit and yogurt are good choices.

  • It's never a good idea to reward children with sweets. Instead offer love and praise for a job well done.

16 M&Ms fulfill a child's limit of
16 M&Ms fulfill a child's limit of "extras."

Posted on Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 7:48 AM

Dietary intake and patterns can change with age

Senior citizens may have trouble eating and accessing healthy foods due to physiological changes in their gastrointestinal systems, physical problems that limit the ability to shop for and prepare food, or limited incomes that prevent the purchase of adequate and nutritious meals, according to Mary Blackburn, the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Alameda County.

Blackburn and her colleagues shared these observations in an article in the current issue of California Agriculture journal titled "Research is needed
to assess the unique nutrition and wellness needs of aging Californians."

“Poor appetite or lack of appetite may plague elders who live alone, are lonely or do not feel like cooking, while the lack of funds to buy food affects food accessibility, availability, quality and variety,” Blackburn wrote. “Low literacy may mean that some elders are unable to read or comprehend nutrition and wellness information. Poor vision can make it difficult to read nutrition labels and to control intakes of dietary sodium, sugar and fat, as well as avoid foods to which one is sensitive."

Blackburn cites nutrition recommendations for those over age 50, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They include:

  • Achieve adequate nutrition within calorie needs from nutrient-dense foods, and limit saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt and alcohol.
  • Maintain body weight in a healthy range, and lose weight slowly.

  • Participate in 30 minutes of moderate physical activities daily to reduce the functional decline of aging.

  • Keep fat consumption between 20 percent and 35 percent of total caloric intake.

  • Choose fiber-rich carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

  • Limit sugar, caloric sweeteners and starch to prevent dental problems.

  • Use no more than 2,300 milligrams sodium (1 teaspoon table salt) per day, and eat potassium-rich fruits and vegetables to reach 4,700 milligrams per day total salt.

  • Middle-aged and older, hypertensive and black adults should reduce salt intake to 1,500 milligrams per day.

  • Limit daily alcoholic beverages to two for men and one for women.

  • Do not consume alcohol if it can interact with medications, or when medical conditions prohibit its use.

  • To prevent food-borne illness, do not eat unpasteurized, improperly cooked or uncooked foods.

Six articles in the October-December 2010 issue of the University of California’s California Agriculture journal explore the impact of aging on a range of health, lifestyle and policy issues, including nutrition and wellness, memory, stress, quality of life, health literacy and caregiving needs. The entire special issue on aging, “The Golden State goes gray: What aging will mean for California,” can be viewed and downloaded at

California Agriculture is the University of California’s peer-reviewed journal of research in agricultural, human and natural resources. For a free subscription, go to:, or write to

Posted on Monday, October 18, 2010 at 1:02 PM
  • Author: Janet Byron

A honey of an event

Honey, sometimes described as the soul of a field of flowers, seized the spotlight at a recent benefit in Sacramento for UC Davis honey bee research.

The occasion: The Bee Informed event.

The site: The historic ballroom of the Citizen Hotel, Sacramento.

“Honey is one of my favorite ingredients to use in desserts because of its beautifully nuanced flavors and gorgeous colors,” said Bee Informed coordinator Elaine Baker (top left) of the Citizen Hotel/Grange Restaurant. “It’s just magical.”

The event, open to the public, raised $600 for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis.

The event buzzed with bee and honey aficionados—and folks who just wanted to learn about bees and the products they produce.

For the occasion, Baker created mini-desserts made with Sacramento-area honey. Guests sipped cocktails laced with honey and sampled a variety of honey provided by area beekeepers. Honey ranged from dark buckwheat to a light tupelo. Tupelo is a honey that doesn’t granulate.

Baker, who blogs about food, came up with the idea of a “Bee Informed” event to raise public awareness about the plight of the honey bees.

Keynote speaker Eric Mussen (below), UC Davis extension apiculturist, updated the crowd about colony collapse disorder (CCD) and talked about the health of honey bees.

“The news media wrongfully reports that 33 percent to 35 percent of our nation’s honey bees are dying of CCD,” he said.

“Thirty-three to 35 percent is the average; only 25 percent of beekeepers have reported CCD in their colonies. Some lost 40, 80 or 100 percent of their hives due to CCD. So CCD is not killing 33 percent of our bees.”

CCD, the mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, may be due in part to an undiscovered microbe, but the malady “is going to be with us for awhile,” he said.

The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, open to the public year around, is a half-acre bee friendly garden planted last fall next to the Laidlaw facility. It serves as a year-around food source for the Laidlaw bees and other pollinators; raises public awareness about the plight of bees; and provides educational opportunities for visitors, who can learn what to plant in their own yards to attract pollinations.

It is also a research garden; native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, has found more than 50 species of bees, including leafcutter bees, metallic green sweat bees and bumble bees, at the site over the last two years.

Baker described the Bee Informed event as a great success. “Fantastic speakers, terrific vendors, delicious cocktails and desserts, not to mention all the beautiful honey.” A drawing for prizes included honey from Sacramento-area beekeepers and specially bottled honey made by UC Davis bees.

When asked to share one of her favorite honey recipes, she provided this one. Bon Appétit!

Buckwheat Honey Tea Bread
Makes 1 9x5” loaf

In a bowl whisk together: 
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest, finely chopped
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Set aside.  In a mixer with a paddle attachment combine:

3/4 cup buckwheat honey
3/4 cup hot water
3 tablespoons brandy
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Blend on low until combined. Add dry ingredients and blend on low speed just until combined. Put into a greased 9x5” loaf pan. Bake at 350F about 50-60 min. or until the bread tests done and is a deep golden brown color.  Remove from oven and let cool until barely warm, then remove from the pan. In a small saucepan heat up a small amount of the buckwheat honey with a little bit of water to make a glaze and brush on the top of the loaf.  Let cool completely. This bread is best served the same day.

If you don’t have a mixer this recipe can also be mixed by hand.  You can use any flavor of honey you like – wildflower, orange blossom, etc.  Elaine Baker likes buckwheat honey because of the assertive flavor and beautiful color.

Show me the honey
Show me the honey

A BEE with jars of honey graced a table at the Bee Informed event. This display is the work of Nancy and Donna Stewart of Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies. (Photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, October 18, 2010 at 7:12 AM

Community gardening cultivates well-being

An innovative pilot gardening project, "LA Sprouts," produced significant improvements in the health of the participating children. They gained less weight than their peers who did not participate and saw a significant improvement in their body mass index. Equally important, motivation to eat and preferences for fruits and vegetables increased. Students learned about soil health, watering, recycling, and how to plan a garden, compost and cook what they grew.

With funding from the Kaiser Foundation Hospital - Los Angeles, researchers from USC and UCLA, and master gardeners from UC Cooperative Extension's Common Ground Garden Program offered the gardening and nutrition intervention pilot project to a group of Los Angeles elementary school students, most of whom are Latino.

The 12-week project took place at the Milagro Allegro Community Garden in the Highland Park neighborhood of Northeast Los Angeles. What sprouted was quite inspirational.

"Encouraging our children to explore, grow, touch, smell, pick, prepare and eat their own organic fruits and vegetables will provide a positive healthy future for the rest of us," says Milli Macen-Moore, resident Master Gardener of the Milagro Allegro Community Garden.

The promising results will be published in two peer-reviewed journals, Journal of the American Diabetic Association and Public Health Nutrition, and the pilot study's coordinators expect the intervention to be effective in preventing obesity with a longer intervention period. The garden-based nutrition education study is the first of its kind to evaluate obesity-related parameters.

The Milagro Allegro Community Garden was founded in 2009 by Nicole Gatto, assistant research professor at UCLA. The site integrates urban farming, art and education in the heart of Northeast Los Angeles and acts as a center where peace and beauty exist among the growing fruits, vegetables and flowers. The garden features 32 raised bed plots and accommodates more than 40 families.

For more information about the study or community garden, visit the Milagro Allegro Community Garden website and/or contact Gatto at

Posted on Friday, October 15, 2010 at 6:06 AM

Keeping olives on the table

Table olives have always been a staple on my family’s fall relish tray so I took notice when I heard this discouraging news: Labor costs are killing the table olive industry. Table olive growers spend more than half of their gross returns on the cost of manually harvesting their crop.

“That’s a ridiculous equation,” says Dennis Burreson of Orland, grower and chairman of the research committee of the California Olive Committee. “We can’t survive if we’re spending more than half our gross returns on labor.”

But here’s the heartening news: With the help of UC Cooperative Extension specialist Louise Ferguson (right) and a large group of collaborators, the industry is doing something about it. They are developing the means to mechanize the devilishly difficult task of picking table olives.

“I think mechanical harvesting will soon revolutionize the table olive industry,” said Ferguson, pomologist with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences and director of the UC Davis Fruit & Nut Research and Information Center.

Mechanical harvesters are commonplace for countless commodities, including olive oil olives. What is it about table olives that make them so hard to mechanically pick?

They bruise easily, for one thing, and bruised olives don’t cure well. Plus, table olives are harvested while still immature – unlike the more mature olive oil olives – so it takes more force to knock them off the tree. And then there is the tree canopy: Table olives trees tend to be wispy, less accommodating to mechanical harvesting than the high-density hedgerows you see in olive oil orchards.

Visit a typical table olive orchard and you will see the problem. It’s hard for a mechanical shaker to clean fruit off a tree that just sways, especially when that fruit is hard to dislodge in the first place. Plus, olive tree trunks get knobby with age (like the rest of us). If a machine rubs the bark off those knobs, it opens the tree to disease.

Scientists and engineers have been trying for decades to come up with a viable mechanical harvester. As with earlier attempts, a few versions designed and tested in the mid-90s didn’t pan out because they didn’t remove and capture enough high-quality fruit. But more recent efforts are showing great promise.

The two leading picking technologies are “canopy contact harvesting heads” (it resembles a huge hair brush) and trunk shakers. The canopy contact harvester can be used in existing orchards when they are pruned into a hedgerow and can also be used in the new high-density orchard Ferguson and her team designed, modeled after olive oil orchards. The trunk-shaking technology can be used in new high-density orchards but not in conventional orchards.

And here is the good news on fruit quality, the piece of the puzzle that now makes mechanical harvesting so promising: Even trained testers couldn’t tell the difference between manually and mechanically harvested table olives.

“That’s huge because fruit quality had always been a sticking point,” Ferguson says. “Jean-Xavier Guinard (sensory scientist with the UC Davis Food Science and Technology) worked with an expert panel trained to detect even the slightest defect in texture, taste, aroma – the works. They detected virtually no different between olives that were manually and mechanically harvested.”

More taste tests with both expert and consumer panels are in the works. In the meantime, several growers have decided to take the plunge. Burreson, for example, has planted 120 acres of table olives in the high-density hedgerows Ferguson helped design. In about five years, his olives will be ready for harvest.

So keep your fingers crossed as you enjoy your table olives, figuratively if not literally. It’s hard to keep your fingers crossed if eat them the old-school way, one at a time off each finger and thumb.

Posted on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 8:54 AM

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