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UC Food Safety
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UC Food Safety

UC Food Blog

The party's ova

Spring is a big time of year for celebrating with a very cheap (cheep?), common, protein-rich food: the chicken egg. And because the hard-boiled egg has a special place at the Seder table and an important role in Easter morning hunts and afternoon picnics, eggs right now are selling like hotcakes. Problem is, the more eggs your market sells, the more likely you are to get them extra fresh, and consequently, the more trouble you're likely to have getting the things to peel when it's time to eat them up.

Chemistry is at the root of the egg-peeling problem: a newly laid egg has a slightly lower, more acidic pH value than the raw egg that you've stored in the refrigerator for a few days. The higher pH of the stored egg allows its white to cling less firmly to the membrane just inside the shell once it is cooked, and less cling means you can get the shell off more cleanly and easily. If you managed to plan ahead and get your eggs five or more days ahead of time this year, good for you! If you didn't, well, better luck next time. Clean-peeling or not, they'll still taste great.

There's a whole lot more to know about eggs than you might imagine—like whether you should wash eggs before you put them in the fridge (you shouldn't), what's the best way to store eggs in the fridge if you want them to last (pointy end down), and whether the refrigerator door egg rack was really such a great invention after all (it wasn't)—and a fun way to learn more is to visit a 4-H Avian Bowl competition at your local County Fair or other 4-H event.

Thanks to the guidance and commitment of UC Extension Poultry Specialist Francine Bradley, California 4-H teams have been doing very well lately in the Avian Bowl, winning first place in the national competition in eight out of the last ten years.

So next time you have a question about eggs or chickens, go find a 4-Her. Just don't ask them which came first. They get that a lot.

Posted on Friday, April 22, 2011 at 12:27 PM

Study reinforces link between obesity, high-fat meals and heart disease

(Photo courtesy of McDonalds media center.)

Eating a high-fat, fast food breakfast typical of many Americans - two breakfast sandwiches, hash browns and orange juice - doesn't have an identical effect on each individual.

The food's effect varies depending on factors like waist size and triglyceride levels, suggests new research at UC Davis.

The research reinforces the link between belly fat, inflammation and thickening of the arterial linings that can lead to heart disease and strokes.

“The new study shows that eating a common fast food meal can affect inflammatory responses in the blood vessels," said Anthony Passerini, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UC Davis, who led the project.

Passerini and his collaborator, UC Davis professor of biomedical engineering Scott Simon, recruited 61 volunteers with high and normal fasting triglyceride levels and a range of waist sizes. They measured the volunteers' levels of triglyceride particles in their blood after they ate the typical high-fat breakfast from a major fast food franchise.

Passerini's team found that after eating, the size of a type of a particle called triglyceride-rich lipoprotein (TGRL) varied directly with the individual’s waist size and preexisting blood triglyceride level. These particles can bind to the endothelium, triggering inflammation and an immune response that brings white blood cells to repair the damage. Over time, this leads to atherosclerosis.

Individuals with both a waist size over 32 inches (not terribly large by most standards) and high triglyceride levels had large lipoprotein particles that bound easily to the endothelial cells and caused inflammation in response to an immune chemical “trigger.”

Click here to read more.
Posted on Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 8:59 AM

Cruciferous vegetables help fight cancer

The role fresh vegetables play in maintaining good health is no secret. But, according to a University of California scientist, eating from a particular group of vegetables can help protect the body from lethal illnesses like cancer.

These extraordinary vegetables are in the cruciferous family - including broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

UC Berkeley toxicology professor Len Bjeldanes says cruciferous vegetables are good sources of the natural chemical compound diindolilmentano, or DIM. DIM suppressed harmful cells in studies with rats and Bjeldanes believes it can have the same effect in combating cancer in humans.

"We were really surprised to see that we've got about an 80 percent reduction in the amount of virus that could proliferate in those animals when we gave them the combination with DIM," said Bjeldanes, who is conducting the experiments with colleague Gary Firestone, a molecular biologist. "This is really a very strong indication that this is helping the body deal with these immune insults, like in this case a virus."

Bjeldanes said prostate cancer is sensitive to androgen, a male hormone.

“This makes our finding that cruciferous plants contain an anti-androgen important,” he said. "DIM is the first example of a naturally occurring anti-androgen from plants that we know of. So this is quite remarkable."

DIM may also play a role in suppressing breast cancer.

"We had been studying for some time the effects of the vegetables on mammary and breast cancer and there's a fair amount of information that says indeed, they are in fact protective of mammary and breast cancer," he said.

The scientists will next determine whether protective effects of DIM found in experiments with rats will manifest themselves in human studies.

Bejeldanes cautions that eating cruciferous vegetables is not a miracle cure for cancer. But he encourages people to include vegetables rich in DIM in their diets. The vegetables will give a boost to the body’s immune system, enabling it to defend against all manner of illnesses.

"These are chemicals that are important in activating the immune response and help the body fight the bad guys, like bacteria or viruses,” he said.

To get the most immune-boosting compounds from broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, nutrition experts suggest eating them raw, in salads, or lightly steamed. Boiling the vegetables destroys more than half the nutrients.

(Original article by Alberto Hauffen. Adapted to English by Jeannette Warnert.)

Posted on Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 8:05 AM

Delicious, healthful strawberries will be available soon at valley roadside stands

Central Valley strawberry stands are expected to open soon, and if the next few weeks remain dry, as expected, it looks to be an excellent production year, report UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors in Fresno, Merced and Sacramento counties. One stand in Fresno opened on April 9, and others will begin selling this weekend.

Valley strawberry production is small compared to Southern California and Coastal production areas. Nearly all the farms are just a few acres in size and the bulk of their produce is sold at roadside stands. UC farm advisors work closely with these producers to help them grow safe and wholesome fruit.

The farmers are mainly Mien and Hmong refugees from Laos, a Southeast Asian country that neighbors Vietnam.  When the U.S. left Southeast Asia in 1975, thousands of Hmong and Mien fled their homeland to avoid persecution. Over 120,000 were eventually resettled in the U.S. The population today has expanded to an estimated 300,000.

Many of the first-generation immigrants were farmers in Laos and turned to farming in the U.S. These growers lease small plots and grow several varieties of strawberries, such as Chandler, Camarosa, Albion and Seascape. Few have formal agricultural education.

In addition to offering production assistance, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors Richard Molinar in Fresno, Maxwell Norton in Merced and Chuck Ingels in Sacramento offer food safety training  to reduce the risk of a foodborne illness outbreak associated with strawberries. Working with the California Strawberry Commission, Molinar and Norton have for the last five years held intensive food safety workshops that included hands-on training about proper handling of the fruit and personal hygiene. The farmers were given training materials in Hmong and English that they could use to teach the workers they hired about reducing any chances of the fruit becoming contaminated. Twenty-six growers in the Fresno region and 27 in the Merced region participated in workshops. Many are currently learning about third-party food safety audits with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

In Sacramento County, Ingels and a team of researchers provided on-farm training in pest management and food safety. Ingels’ team worked directly with 11 strawberry growers in 2009 and 2010.

“On the first visit to their farms, we found out their current practices and then provided training,” Ingels said. “We came back a second time to do further training and evaluate their progress. We visited the farms a third time to determine whether changes to their practices were being sustained. There was definitely a shift (for the better).”

With an increasing focus on food safety, many produce buyers, suppliers, and consumers want to know that good agricultural practices are being used on the farm. The programs in the various counties help to document and verify that farms are producing fruits and vegetables in the safest manner possible and that the farmer is aware of potential problems and  steps to correct them.

Posted on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 12:35 PM

Who are you calling ugly?

If life were a Disney movie, we would have no trouble identifying beneficial bugs in our garden. They would all have big puppy-dog eyes and sing sweet songs. They would not have names like assassin bugs, which, in fact, some of them do.

So when we see creepy critters crawling and flying around our freshly planted vegetable garden, we have to work a little harder to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. The good guys, by the way, are the ones who feed on what we consider the bad guys – insects like aphids that damage plants by clustering on young shoots, buds and leaves, sucking out the plant juices.

Ironically, in our bug-eat-bug world, your garden won’t attract the good guys without the so-called bad guys, so don’t get too worked up when you see some aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs and such. If you reach too quickly for pesticides, you will kill the allies along with the enemies. 

So how can you tell the good from the bad? For starters, you have to get a good look at them, and for that I sometimes use a 10-power hand lens. Even up close, you won't see the good guys wearing white hats, but with practice they become easy to spot. Here’s quick look at the most common vegetable garden allies:

Lady Beetles, aka Lady Bug

OK, this bug does look a little like a Disney creation, doesn’t it? Lady beetles feed on aphids and other soft-bodies insects. Lady beetles are flighty, so don’t be surprised when they leave your garden for greener pastures next door. But those that stick around will be a big help, gobbling up as many as 50 aphids a day.

Ground beetles

These guys are big, about ¾ inch, and they hunt at night, rooting around your leaf litter for insect eggs and larvae.

Soldier beetles

These bugs are good, well, soldiers, consuming aphids, caterpillars and grasshopper eggs.


With their fairylike green wings, lacewings look like gentle creatures, but they are fierce predators in their larval stage, devouring aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, leafhoppers, insect eggs, whiteflies and even other lacewings.


Snakeflies are related to lacewings and they consume a wide variety of orchard pests.

Parasitic wasps

Parasitic wasps are a great defense against corn earworm, tomato fruitworm, cabbageworm and tent caterpillars. What’s more, female  parasitic wasps lay eggs in aphids, which kills the host.

Assassin bugs

Assassin bugs prey on aphids, leafhoppers and caterpillars.


Besides being just plain cool-looking, a single dragonfly can consume some 300 mosquitoes a day.

Sryphid flies

Syrphid flies will defend your garden against aphids.


Spiders can look creepy, but these predators are excellent biological control agents. If you need a reminder of their ally status, just remember Charlotte’s Web.

What are good plants to plant among your vegetables to attract beneficials to your garden? Different crops have different needs, so it’s wise to check with your nursery or local master gardener, but a few of my favorites include statice, sweet alyssum, fennel, zinnia, cosmos, sunflower, marigold, yarrow and lavender. Beneficial bugs and insects also like dill, parsley and cilantro flowers, so when you’re done harvesting those herbs, feel free to let them flower. You’re buggy friends will thank you.

You can learn much more about friendly insects at the California Master Gardener Program and at UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management. 

Posted on Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 8:07 AM

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