UC Food Safety
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UC Food Safety

UC Food Blog

New gardeners cultivated throughout Los Angeles County

Gardening has become very popular lately, particularly in growing fruits and vegetables, and largely due to the need to lower grocery bills and eat healthy during this recession.  But for beginners, gardening can sometimes seem intimidating and bewildering due to the multitude of variables involved, such as soil fertility, pest management, seasonal plants, composting, to name a few. Well, UC Cooperative Extension’s “Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative” in Los Angeles helped demystify gardening for many residents, using UC research-based information.

Master Gardener volunteers organized and led low-cost gardening courses to teach the basics of gardening to 297 students. Thirteen classes were held in March, April and May at 10 different sites throughout the county, from Tarzana to Echo Park. Each site accommodated about 30 participants who wanted to turn their new interest in gardening into successful, productive gardens in their backyards, community gardens and patios.  Overall, participants walked away very pleased with the classes, and many felt that their gardening knowledge improved significantly.

“My husband and I just want to say thank you for a really wonderful four-session course.  It was the perfect amount of information for beginner gardeners like us,” said a participant at the Milagro-Allegro Community Garden site in Highland Park, California.

So, what’s next?  Cooperative Extension hopes to host another round of classes in Fall 2010. The hands-on experience was very successful, leaving many to inquire about future classes. For information, please contact Yvonne Savio, Common Ground program manager, at (323) 260-3407, ydsavio@ucdavis.edu.

New gardeners learn the basics.
New gardeners learn the basics.

Posted on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 8:24 AM

Milk’s secret for fighting childhood infections

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UC Davis microbiologist David Mills received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to test whether certain milk sugars can prevent life-threatening diarrheal diseases in young children. Globally, these gastrointestinal infections are the second leading cause of death among children under the age of five, each year killing 1.5 million children.

Mills, an authority on the molecular biology of lactic acid bacteria used in foods, said, “We will examine the ability of these compounds from milk to prevent gastrointestinal infections and to establish healthy bacteria in the intestines.” He and his colleagues are working to move the basic research toward practical applications in human health.

Earlier research has shown that similar oligosaccharides in human breast milk play an important role in supporting growth of protective bacteria in babies’ digestive tracts. Such bacteria are known to minimize the risk and severity of diarrheal disease and other gastrointestinal infections in infants.

The UC Davis researchers are hopeful that milk from cows will provide an abundant source of oligosaccharides that have comparable therapeutic characteristics for young children who are no longer breast-feeding.

Mills noted that if the researchers’ hypothesis proves correct, they plan to explore how oligosaccharides can be incorporated in a healthful, cost-effective manner into various food products designed for nutritional therapy and for use in international famine and malnutrition relief efforts.

For more information, read the full press release.
Posted on Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 2:34 PM

E. coli outbreak on lettuce parallels recent
UC research development

Although the outbreak earlier this month of E. coli O145 in shredded Romaine lettuce hasn’t touched California consumers and local retailers, it is impacting the industry. Once again, the safety of pre-washed and cut leafy vegetables are in headlines, raising the fears of consumers and producers alike.

The Centers for Disease Control have confirmed 23 illnesses and 7 probable illnesses in New York, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee from the contaminated lettuce. The traceback investigation is stretching west to Yuma, Ariz., where the lettuce may have been grown. So far, the source of the contamination has not been identified.

A source of confusion and alarm, however, is the contaminant’s O145 designation. For the past 30 years, the majority of the E. coli illness outbreaks in America were serotype O157:H7. UC Davis Cooperative Extension produce safety specialist Trevor Suslow said E. coli O145 doesn’t come completely out of the blue. O145 is recognized in its association with food in other countries and more often with animal products, not produce.

Suslow and his staff were well aware of E. coli O145 prior to this month’s outbreak and included it in their recent research aimed at development of a new method for detecting a broad range of the most dangerous E. coli bacteria in produce and produce production environments.

The new test was not designed to identify a particular strain of E. coli, but to determine whether a pathogenic/toxigenic strain of E. coli – such as O145 – is present. If the test comes up positive, a secondary test can be conducted to narrow down the specific type of E.coli.

Pathogenic/toxigenic E. coli are of tremendous concern for the fresh produce industry. “Generic” E. coli live in the guts of most mammals; they are typically harmless and may even be beneficial. However, pathogenic/toxigenic E. coli, when ingested by humans, can cause bloody diarrhea and, particularly in the very young and very old, may lead to kidney failure and even death.

Suslow said the new test, which goes by the working name “total pathogenic E. coli,” or TPEC, was tested in a variety of different types of samples: irrigation water, feed lot surface material, manure, compost, soil and produce.

“With all those materials, we had very good effectiveness, but especially with water and produce,” Suslow said.

The research will be presented at the UC Davis Center for Produce Safety Produce Research Symposium on June 23. The Produce Research Symposium is open to the public. A $150 registration fee includes all symposium sessions, breakfast, lunch and an evening reception in the courtyard and gardens of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

For more information or to register for the symposium, see the Center for Produce Safety website at http://cps.ucdavis.edu.

Bagged lettuce was implicated in a recent food safety outbreak.
Bagged lettuce was implicated in a recent food safety outbreak.

These brands were not involved in the recent outbreak.

Posted on Monday, May 17, 2010 at 6:23 AM

There's more to fruit and vegetable quality than meets the eye

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Farmers markets and produce stands are starting to bulge with the bounty of California's fields as strawberries, artichokes and asparagus mark the start of the spring and summer produce seasons.

But have you ever wondered what to look for when selecting fruits and vegetables? Why does your refrigerator have separate bins for fruits and vegetables?  Should fresh tomatoes be stored in the refrigerator or on the counter?  And how do you keep fresh basil fresh until you're ready to use it?

These and many more questions are answered in the colorful handbook:  From the Farm to Your Table:  A Consumer's Guide to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables available at anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu

This guide contains tips from the pros on selection, storage and handling for quality and safety. Handy tables show you which fruits and vegetables should be stored in the refrigerator, which should be stored on the counter, and what to look for when selecting popular produce items. And if you've ever wondered the steps your produce takes to get from the field to your market, the journey is explained here.

After reading this guide you'll know why there's more to fruit and vegetable quality than meets the eye.

Oh, and the answers to those questions?

Your refrigerator has separate bins so you can keep keep ethylene-producing fruits such as apples, peaches and pears away from vegetables.

Uncut tomatoes should be stored on the counter, not in the refrigerator.

And keep your basil fresh by treating it like cut flowers; place the stems in a glass of water on the counter until you're ready to use it.

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Posted on Friday, May 14, 2010 at 7:33 AM

What makes food nutritious?

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Workers sort tomatoes at Russell Ranch

Part of our mission at the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis is to ensure access to healthy food. So we’ve focused much of our work on the intersection between agriculture and human nutrition.

An interesting new field of study in this area looks at flavonoids, which are compounds in fruits and vegetables thought to have beneficial antioxidant effects and other medicinal value – they may even help reduce cancer risk.
Measuring the amount of flavonoids is one way we can figure out just how nutritious the food we’re eating really is.

At our Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility, UC Davis Food Science professor Alyson Mitchell has looked at the relative nutrition of organic and conventional tomatoes by measuring flavonoid levels in samples from dried tomatoes over a 10-year period.

Aerial view of Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility

She found that flavonoid content is greater in organic than conventional tomatoes, and the differences have increased with time. Over time, it also appears that an increase in flavonoid content is correlated with lower amounts of organic nitrogen application.

These results suggest that over-fertilization can result in lower flavonoid content – and a reduction in the health benefits of tomatoes. You can find out more about this research here.

Posted on Monday, May 10, 2010 at 4:51 PM
  • Author: Colin Bishop

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