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The science behind salad safety

Nutritionists recommend eating a cup of leafy green vegetables every day, but recent reports about the safety of fresh greens may have some wondering whether it could do more harm than good. Consumers Union, the publishers of Consumer Reports magazine, analyzed store-bought prewashed and packaged leafy greens and published the results in the March 2010 issue.

Currently, the FDA has no set guidelines for the presence of bacteria in leafy greens. Consumers Report said several industry consultants suggest that an unacceptable level would be 10,000 or more colony forming units per gram. The Consumers Report study found that 39 percent of their 208  samples purchased last summer in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York exceeded this level for total coliform, and 23 percent for Enterococcus.

"Although these 'indicator' bacteria generally do not make healthy people sick, the tests show not enough is being done to assure the safety or cleanliness of leafy greens," said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

UC Davis Cooperative Extension specialist Trevor Suslow wrote a lengthy and detailed reaction to the study for Farm Safety News. He said it is unfair to consumers to raise a specter of fear well beyond what is supported by available science and our everyday shared experiences.

"What I rely on for my personal confidence in regularly consuming lettuces, spring mix, and spinach salads is that there are billions and billions of servings of these items consumed every year in the U.S. alone and the predominant experience we have is of safe consumption," Suslow wrote.

Suslow offered these common sense guidelines for purchasing and eating leafy greens:
  • Check the display temperature by hand to confirm the display is cool and the bags are very cool to the touch.
  • Look at and heed the "Best if Consumed By" date.
  • Take notice of the display case arrangement. Bags should be vertical in a row, not laid one on top of one another in stacks. Clamshell containers can displayed in various stacking or slanted row patterns that allow generous space for airflow.
  • Prewashed greens do not need to be rewashed at home. In fact, studies have found that home washing doesn't provide any benefit and could make the vegetables susceptible to cross-contamination in the kitchen.
Posted on Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 2:15 PM

Nutritious beans stretch food budget

Families today are starved for time, starved for money and starved for well-balanced meals, and USDA projections hold another piece of bad news: food prices are likely to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent this year.

The good news is there is one powerful five-letter word that will save you money on your food budget, allow you to eat healthier and cook less: beans.

Beans and legumes are a powerhouse of nutrition, heart healthy and very economical. There are endless varieties of beans and legumes and just as many ways to cook them. They can be served as a main dish, a salad and as a dessert. (See below recipes.)

Besides being a great source of protein, beans are naturally low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins and minerals.

Most beans contain only 2 percent to 3 percent fat and no cholesterol. They even help lower your cholesterol because they are so rich in fiber. Most beans contain 20 percent protein and are high in complex carbohydrates. In addition, they are rich in B vitamins and iron.

To save money at the grocery store, try eating beans and legumes once or twice a week. Cook your own beans instead of using canned and save even more. If you cook up a big batch, freeze some for use in future recipes. Delicious bean recipes can contain as little as four ingredients.

3 can chili

  • 1 14 1/2 oz can of whole kernel corn
  • 1 14 1/2 oz can of diced tomatoes (can use Mexican-style tomatoes with chilies added)
  • 1 14 1/2 oz can of beans or 2 cups of cooked beans (pinto, kidney or your choice)
  • Chili powder to taste

Add all ingredients and heat and serve. For added flavor you can add chopped onions and peppers.

Eggs Mexicali

  • 6-8 eggs
  • 2 cups of salsa, store-bought or homemade
  • 1 15 oz. can of beans (pinto, kidney, black, etc.) or 2 cups of cooked beans
  • 1/4 cup of shredded cheese

Heat salsa and beans in a pan over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Crack an egg in a bowl and add one at a time. Cover and cook until eggs are firm -- about 6 minutes.

Uncover and sprinkle with cheese. Cover until the cheese melts. Serve with rice and tortillas.

Lentils cooked with smoked turkey leg

  • 1 pound of lentils rinsed and sorted
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 2 cups each chopped celery and onions
  • 2 cups of sliced or chopped carrots
  • 1 large smoked turkey leg

Add to a pot, cover with water and cook until lentils are done. Remove the cooked turkey leg from the pot and remove the meat. Chop the meat in bite size pieces and add back to the pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving. This recipe can be cooked in a crock pot.

Bean fudge
  • 2/3 cup canned milk
  • 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1 1/2 cups strained pinto beans
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup nuts
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
Combine sugar and milk in kettle then boil 5 minutes stirring constantly. Add remaining ingredients and stir until marshmallows melt then pour into buttered pan. Cool and cut into squares.

 


By Margaret Johns
Nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor, Kern County
Posted on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 9:23 AM

California farmers produce superior olive oil

California olive oil may cost a little more than the mass-produced imports commonly found at the supermarket, but UC farm advisor Paul Vossen said it is well worth the money.

“Good olive oil imparts delicious, subtle flavors to foods, its antioxidants can neutralize free radicals in the body and it is ‘greener’ than other vegetable oils because it requires no heat or chemical extraction," says Vossen, who has traveled the world to study olive oil production.

Most of the imported oils found at the store, he says, have been sitting too long, are rancid or fermented. Even the assertion on a bottle of olive oil that it is “extra virgin” means very little. There is no U.S. law that enforces an “extra virgin” standard. Almost all California olive oil, however, is fresher and better-tasting and the number of farmers producing the local oil is increasing.

A recent UC Davis survey determined that 12,127 acres of super-high-density olive trees were planted in California as of the end of 2008, with 78 percent of the acreage planted between 2005 and 2008.

"The super-high-density olive sector has achieved impressive growth in just a decade," said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center. "This survey, the first conducted exclusively of this sector of the state's olive industry, highlights grower practices and suggests areas in which the University of California might be able to provide assistance."

In addition, consumer education is important to raise awareness about the superiority of California olive oil. Vossen believes the key to boosting sales of the local product is to get people to taste it. “They need to know how fantastic it really is,” he said.

In the video below, Vossen conducts an olive oil tasting session:

More about California olive oil is available in the article California olive oil is worth the splurge. Vossen's Web site contains extensive information about olive oil courses, PowerPoint presentations and publications.

Posted on Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 10:28 AM

California kids need more fruit and veggies

A report released by the Centers for Disease Control in September 2009 confirms what most moms already know - high school students don't eat anywhere close to enough fruit and vegetables. According to the report, only a third get two servings of fruit a day, and only 13 percent say they get three servings of vegetables.

Adults don't have much higher marks. The CDC said only 33 percent of adults get two servings of fruit, and 27 percent three servings of vegetables.

Compare that to the recommendation in the federal dietary guidelines presented on the My Pyramid Web site. The guidelines say, for ideal health, Americans should be eating 9 to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

Many UC Cooperative Extension offices offer the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program, which teach low-income families ways they can add fruit and vegetable servings to their diets.

Here's a popular recipe shared by the UC program which takes only 15 minutes of prep and 20 minutes to cook. It makes use of a variety of winter vegetables available fresh in supermarkets this time of year.

Italian Winter Vegetables

Ingredients
2 cups water
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
2 small zucchini, sliced
1 small onion, diced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 teaspoons basil
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 pound package any shape pasta, cooked
Directions
1. Put 1 cup of hot water in a saucepan.
2. Add vegetables and cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add tomato sauce, remaining cup of water, basil and salt.
4. Simmer until heated thoroughly.
5. Serve with cooked pasta.
6. Refrigerate leftovers.

Posted on Friday, December 4, 2009 at 11:39 AM

Farm subsidies don't make Americans fat

There is no evidence to support the claim that farm subsidies -- by making fattening foods relatively cheap and abundant -- contribute to obesity in the United States, according to an analysis led by UC Davis researchers.

"U.S. farm subsidies have many critics. A variety of arguments and evidence can be presented to show that the programs are ineffective, wasteful or unfair," said Julian Alston, a professor of agricultural economics at UC Davis. "Eliminating farm subsidies could solve some of these problems -- but would not even make a dent in America's obesity problem."

According to Alston and his colleagues, farm subsidies have had only very modest, mixed effects on the total availability and prices of farm commodities, and cannot have contributed significantly to the obesity epidemic. In fact, the researchers have shown that the subsidies actually increase consumer prices and discourage consumption of one of the biggest suspects: sugar.

Alston and a team of other UC Davis agricultural economists studied the question with researchers in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition and the Iowa State University Department of Economics.

Their conclusions appeared in the December 2007 issue of "Agricultural and Resource Economics Update," published by the University of California's Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics.

Posted on Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 10:34 AM

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