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UC Food Safety
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UC Food Safety

UC Food Blog

Local farms please new moms and kids

You may have noticed changes lately in some little food stores tucked into your neighborhood strip mall or main street, stores with names like "Prime Time Nutrition" or "Fiesta Nutrition." These stores are now offering enticing displays of fresh fruits and vegetables along with the infant formula, breakfast cereal, eggs, cheese and other foods that have been offered to mothers, infants and children through the WIC program since 1972.

The UC Small Farm Program and Cooperative Extension advisors in three California counties are piloting a new "Farm to WIC Program" with the stores to make sure that some of the fresh produce on the shelves comes directly from small-scale local growers, helping low-income families to participate in USDA's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" campaign.

The mission of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk. The program provides nutritional education and vouchers for supplemental foods to qualifying families. By 2002 almost half of the infants and about one quarter of children ages 1 to 4 in the country participated. The vouchers can be redeemed at most large grocery stores, but many WIC participants prefer to shop with their vouchers at the small, privately-owned WIC-only stores that have sprung up since 2000, carrying only WIC foods and catering primarily to WIC participants.

In October 2009, the WIC program began including vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables in the monthly allotment to all participating families. This addition meant that all WIC-authorized retailers had to begin offering a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables to their customers - no problem for traditional supermarkets, but a big change for the smaller WIC-only stores. All of a sudden they were in a new business, the produce business. The store owners now have to understand their customers' fresh produce preferences as well as safe handling of perishable products that don't arrive in the store with "sell-by" dates stamped on them.

With funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Specialty Crops Block Grant program, a team of UC Cooperative Extension specialists and advisors are partnering with WIC-only stores to ease this transition.

The nutrition advisor team, led by UCCE specialist Lucia Kaiser, first conducted a survey of WIC participants at WIC clinics in Alameda, Tulare and Riverside counties to determine what crops the women would like to purchase and what qualities were most important to them in deciding what to buy. Using this information, farm advisors in each county, led by UC Small Farm Program director Shermain Hardesty, introduced local growers who could supply the selected crops in season to WIC-only store owners at stores popular with WIC participants. Soon, staff in the stores will participate in post-harvest handling training sessions led by UCCE specialist Marita Cantwell and will each receive colorful posters and handouts to help their customers select, prepare and store the fresh produce.

Lessons learned from this UC pilot project will help connect local small-scale fruit and vegetable growers with WIC retailers and keep the best local fruits and vegetables available to WIC families throughout California.

Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 1:33 PM

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 and the USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation website at

UC also offers publications at 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.

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













Fat (g)






Saturated Fat (g)






Protein (g)






Cholesterol (mg)






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

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