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NPI study finds that prices for fruits and vegetables may be higher in low-income neighborhoods

Shoppers purchasing fruits and vegetables in stores located in low-income neighborhoods in California may pay more for those fruits and vegetables than shoppers in other neighborhoods, according to a study that examined prices in a large sample of stores throughout the state.

Published online in March 2018 in the journal Public Health Nutrition, the study, conducted by researchers at UC's Nutrition Policy Institute, involved more than 200 large grocery stores, 600 small markets, and 600 convenience stores in 225 low-income neighborhoods (where at least half of the population was at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level) and compared observed prices to purchased price data from chain grocery stores in the same counties during the same months.

Shoppers purchasing fruits and vegetables in stores located in low-income neighborhoods in California may pay more for those fruits and vegetables than shoppers in other neighborhoods, according to a Nutrition Policy Institute study that examined prices in a large sample of stores throughout the state.

The study found that produce prices for the items examined (apples, bananas, oranges, carrots and tomatoes) were higher in stores in low-income neighborhoods than the average prices of those items sold in stores in the same counties during the same month. Fruits and vegetables for sale in convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods were significantly more expensive than those for sale in small markets or large grocery stores. Yet even in large grocery stores the study found prices in the low-income neighborhoods to be higher than average county grocery store prices during the same month.

“Americans eat too few fruits and vegetables to support optimal health, and we know that dietary disparities among socioeconomic groups are increasing,” said study author Wendi Gosliner. “This study suggests that one important issue may be fruit and vegetable prices — not just that calorie-per-calorie fruits and vegetables are more expensive than many unhealthy foods, but also that there are equity issues in terms of relative prices in neighborhoods where lower-income Californians live.”

Additionally, the study examined the quality and availability of fruits and vegetables in stores and found that while less than half of convenience stores (41 percent) sold fresh produce, even fewer (1 in 5) sold a wide variety of fruits or vegetables, and few of the items that were for sale were rated by trained observers to be high quality (25 percent for fruits and 14 percent for vegetables).

“This study suggests that convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods currently fail to provide access to high-quality, competitively priced fresh fruits and vegetables," said Pat Crawford, nutrition expert and study author. “A healthy diet can prevent disease and reduce health care costs in the state. States need to explore new ways to help ensure that families, particularly those living in low-income neighborhoods where convenience stores are the only food retailers, have access to healthy, high-quality foods that are affordable,” Crawford added.

The study also found that convenience stores participating in federal food programs (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] and/or the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children [WIC]) were more likely to sell fresh produce and to offer higher quality and a wider variety of fruits and vegetables than stores not participating in either program.

The study was conducted under contract with the California Department of Public Health. Funding is from USDA SNAP. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Posted on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 at 9:05 AM

What's that in your cornmeal?

You're thinking about making Grandma's Southern Cornbread.

You head for your pantry. You remember that six months ago you purchased a bag of cornmeal from a local supermarket and that you immediately emptied the contents into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.

You open the airtight jar and notice something strange. It's moving. Moving? Moving? Yes! It's crawling with a transparent carpet of dozens of nearly microscopic critters.

What? First, what are they? If you're like me, you grab your camera--in this case, a Canon EOS 7D with an MPE-65mm lens that can magnify an insect five times its life size--and click the shutter. 

You post the photo on BugGuide.Net and request an identification.

The entomologists all agree: They're booklice, Liposcelis bostrychophila.

  • Class Insecta (Insects)
  • Order Psocodea (Barklice, Booklice, and Parasitic Lice)
  • Suborder Troctomorpha
  • Family Liposcelididae (Booklice)
  • Genus Liposcelis
  • Species bostrychophila (Booklouse)

These Liposcelis bostrychophila, or "psocids" (pronounced "so kids"), are common pests in stored grains. They're usually unseen because they're about a millimeter long--about the size of a speck of dust--and are transparent to light brown in color. They're also wingless, but can they ever crawl!

Fact is, their name, "lice," is misleading. These tiny insects are not lice; they are not parasitic. And they're everywhere. They feed on flour, cereals, grits, molds, fungi, papers, books, pollen, dead insects and the like. In fact, you've probably unknowingly eaten them--or parts of them--in your pancakes, your oatmeal or maybe even your chocolate birthday cake.

Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly-moth collection at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, took one look at the photo and commented:  "They're pretty thick in there!"

"Booklice can be scavengers and often feed on the bits of mold or fungi that grow on damp materials," Smith explained. "Very old, neglected food stuffs are also subject to them, and the key to prevention is to use food materials reasonably quickly and not store them for years, store them in a nice dry location and in airtight containers."

"They very well could have been in the food already when you bought it, but they're so common that you probably have some roaming around in the house all the time, just looking for something good to eat. They'll feed on dead bugs in window sills, stale pet foods, etc."

If you're worried about what's in your cornmeal, flour, oats, biscuit mix, cake mix and other stored foods, you can pop the contents in your oven at about 120° for a half hour, and then transfer them to an airtight container, Smith says.  "Your food should be okay--albeit perhaps containing a few dead booklice. We had them in an old bag (paper) of rice one time, and in several packages of cornmeal mix that were forgotten in the back of our cupboard."

A UC Davis colleague said he's seen them crawling in his flour, but his wife made pancakes from them anyway. No issues. No problem. "Just protein!" he chortled.

And from another colleague: "I once had an entire case of instant grits. The grits were completely factory-sealed in unopened plastic bags. I opened the bags and the grits were poured into hot water, but they would not sink and mix with the water.  Instead the grit floated on the top of the water. I opened a second bag and looked at the grits under my stereo microscope. Each and every grain of grit had two or three little six-legged creatures standing on each grit. These creatures were 100 percent transparent, the only color was in their bodies which was the same color as the grits they were eating. I opened every 100 percent factory-sealed bag, and every bag was contaminated in this matter."

"There is nothing new about insect contamination of grain products," she added. "Another personal experience was a biscuit mix. For no particular reason, I sifted the biscuit mix while making the batch of biscuits. After sifting several cups of biscuit mix, in the sifter screen there were 4 worm-like creatures about the diameter of a standard pencil and about an inch long. These worms were 100 percent transparent, each filled with the white biscuit mix. "Consider we all eat insects, spiders, and urine and feces of all sorts of animals."

We live in world where we all eat bugs, whether we know it or not. Sometimes we may not want to know!

Statistics indicate that the average American unknowingly eats one to two pounds of insects a year.  But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "has very specific tolerances for the amount of residue in food stuffs," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.

Want to know what the action level is? Check out this FDA document.

And the next time, you're yearning to make Grandma's Southern Cornbread, you might want to check for bugs first. Or maybe not. You might not want to know!

 

Posted on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 at 9:38 AM

Got backyard chickens? Get their eggs tested for free

People who raise poultry outdoors are encouraged to have their eggs tested for environmental contaminants.

Californians who raise poultry outdoors are invited to get their eggs tested for contaminants.

To find out if harmful substances on the ground that are eaten by birds get passed along in the eggs they lay, Maurice Pitesky, UC Cooperative Extension poultry specialist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, is providing free egg testing.  

“We're trying to understand the connection between the environment that backyard poultry are raised in and the eggs they are producing,” Pitesky said.

For more information about how to package and ship eggs, visit http://ucanr.edu/eggtest.
Pitesky's colleague veterinary toxicologist Birgit Puschner is testing eggs for different types of contaminants, depending on the county the eggs are from.

Eggs from counties recently affected by wildfires will be tested for chemicals, building materials and heavy metals that may have been carried in the smoke and ash. Pitesky and Puschner are also looking for lead and PCBs in eggs from certain regions of the state.

The UC Cooperative Extension poultry specialist will share individual egg results with each poultry owner. At the end of the study, all of the results will be summarized and made available to the general public. 

Pitesky describes the project in a video produced by CropMobster for UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. Watch the video at https://youtu.be/3ZlytlUIS3I.

For more information about the study and how to package and ship eggs, visit http://ucanr.edu/eggtest.

Residents in Sonoma County may drop off eggs at the UC Cooperative Extension office at 133 Aviation Blvd Suite 109 in Santa Rosa. The UCCE office in Sonoma County is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 

 

Posted on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at 5:50 PM

Urban farming workshops start soon in Sacramento and San Diego

Are you an urban farmer in the Sacramento or San Diego region? Are you a gardener thinking of selling some of your produce to neighbors, restaurants or at a farmers' market? Are you part of a non-profit organization growing and distributing food in your community? If so, you are invited to join other urban farmers at one or more of four low-cost full-day workshops starting soon in both the Sacramento and San Diego regions, offered by UC Cooperative Extension and local partners.

Learn more about the workshops, as well as the 2017 workshop series' held in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area regions, at ucanr.edu/sites/UrbanAg/Urban_Ag_Workshops.

If you're growing more food, herbs, flowers or fiber than your family or organization consumes, and if you are selling or otherwise distributing the excess, and if you are growing in or at the edge of a city or town, then you are one of an increasing number of urban farmers. Urban farms are often very small scale, commercially marginal and operated by beginning farmers. They can be operated by individuals, families, non-profit organizations, schools or colleges, or by other groups. Research shows that successful urban farms can bring social, health, environmental and economic benefits to local communities, including improved access to healthful food.

A UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) team recently assessed the needs of urban farmers around the state, and found that they struggle with production, business, and marketing challenges, many of which are specific to the urban context of their farms. Additionally, many urban farmers are unaware of agricultural regulations, city zoning and permitting rules, food safety, soil quality issues and pest quarantines.

To help new urban farmers get started effectively, and to help more experienced urban farmers improve their skills and profitability, the UCCE team is offering a series of four urban agriculture workshops in each of the Sacramento and San Diego regions. These communities have recently put policies in place to encourage urban farming, and many residents are getting involved. The workshops will be held at urban farm sites and will include farm tours and discussions with local urban farmers sharing challenges and success stories.

The 2018 workshop series starts March 16 in the Sacramento area and March 23 in the San Diego area.

Workshop #1 will cover urban farming legal basics, including types of urban farm enterprises, zoning issues, soil testing, required permits and licenses, and an introduction to key local resources such as the Agricultural Commissioner and UCCE staff.

Workshop #2 will cover marketing and business management for urban farms, including business planning, record keeping, market channel options, and an introduction to labor laws and risk management.

Workshop #3 will be about production considerations for urban farmers, focusing on water management, integrated pest management (IPM), and soil contamination/soil improvement.

Workshop #4 will cover pre- and post-harvest food safety practices, using CDFA's Small Farm Food Safety Guidelines.

Cost: Each workshop is $20 for a full day of expert speakers, participatory exercises, lunch and refreshments. Each workshop will be a one-day event. Urban farmers and future farmers, and others who are interested can take one, several, or all four of these workshops. 

Registration is open. Space is limited, so please sign up early.

San Diego registration: http://ucanr.edu/sdurbanag2018

Sacramento registration: http://ucanr.edu/sacurbanag2018

More UC ANR urban farming resources: ucanr.edu/sites/UrbanAg/

For more information:

San Diego Series: Mary Redlin, Southern California Coordinator, mvredlin@ucanr.edu, (562) 900-3041

Sacramento Series: Penny Leff, Northern California Coordinator, paleff@ucanr.edu, (530) 752-5208

 

Posted on Monday, March 5, 2018 at 2:47 PM
  • Author: Penny Leff

Announcing California's inaugural Food Waste Prevention Week

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Nutrition Policy Institute are pleased to announce March 5 - 9, 2018, as California's inaugural Food Waste Prevention Week. During this week, a range of partners statewide, including the Governor, the Secretary of Agriculture, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as many other agency leaders in public health, natural resources management, nutrition, and other sectors, are coming together in an unprecedented collaboration to raise awareness about the impacts of food waste in our homes, workplaces and communities.

This collaboration grew out of a meeting held in February 2017 in which the Public Health Alliance of Southern California and the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute jointly convened state agencies delivering nutrition education programming to discuss the impacts of food waste and strategize solutions the agencies could advance together. The planning group identified an opportunity to generate and issue shared messaging during National Nutrition Month, a goal that has evolved into California's inaugural Food Waste Prevention Week, a coordinated multi-sector effort to raise awareness about the economic, environmental and social impacts of food waste in California.

Food waste is a significant issue. The United States is losing up to 40% of its food from farm to fork to landfill. That translates to $218 billion lost, including costs of food to consumers and retailers, as well as costs of wasted water, energy, fertilizer, cropland, production, storage and transportation. CalRecycle estimates that Californians throw away almost 12 billion pounds of food each year – 18% of all landfill use in this state. The food in landfills decomposes and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

In addition, that food loss could have fed people, not landfills, if only it had been used, instead of tossed. In California, nearly 5 million people are food insecure, lacking consistent access to enough food. Roughly 1 in 8 Californians are experiencing hunger, and 1 in 5 of those are children. 



Reducing food waste requires action by partners throughout the food system. During Food Waste Prevention Week, stay tuned to the Nutrition Policy Institute Twitter page and the UC ANR Twitter and Facebook pages for food waste prevention resources, tips and ideas.

You can also share food waste prevention ideas by participating in the Food Waste Reduction Hero Photo Challenge. Simply take a few photos that show how food waste happens in your home, workplace or community and what actions/changes you're making to reduce food waste. Share your submissions via social media platforms using the hashtag #SaveTheFoodCA and tag @SaveTheFood on Twitter and/or Instagram, or email your submissions  to SaveTheFoodCA@gmail.com. Please include your location.

For more about Food Waste Prevention Week, read Rose Hayden-Smith's UC Food Observer article, see the Nutrition Policy Institute's Research to Action news brief, and watch UC ANR Vice President Glenda Humiston's video.  


Even incorporating a few simple food waste prevention actions has great potential to reduce food waste in California. Your efforts to be a Food Waste Reduction Hero this week, and into the future, will make an impact.   

Thank you for helping to make a difference during this inaugural California Food Waste Prevention Week!

 

Posted on Monday, March 5, 2018 at 8:09 AM

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