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Posts Tagged: food safety

Enjoy your tree nuts: UC scientists help with regulatory compliance

California tree nut growers will soon have to comply with new agriculture water testing requirements under the Produce Safety Rule in the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). University of California researchers and advisors are holding seminars to share information about the agricultural water requirements and proper water sampling methods in order to be in compliance with the regulations.

While irrigation or spray water is generally not the source of contamination, it is a vehicle for pathogens that are harmful to humans, especially on produce that is consumed raw; therefore, agricultural water was included as a part of the new regulation.

The UC Cooperative Extension office in Yolo County was the site of the first information sessions for nut tree growers/producers. It was an ideal location, as the fertile soils of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys are home to the largest tree nut production industries in the U.S. Some nuts are also grown in the coastal valley regions and Sierra foothills.

Almond kernel emerging from dried hull. (Photo: Melissa L. Partyka)

Good news for nut consumers

The new regulations and the focus on food safety practices, particularly within the nut tree industry, is of great interest because of the popularity of nutritious and delicious tree nuts. I for one am a big consumer. My day starts with almond butter on toast. That's followed by snacks of raw walnuts and dates. And there's always the handful of roasted pistachios to be grabbed for a salty treat.

It is lucky for someone who is nuts about nuts to live in California. The state is the nation's No. 1 walnut, almond and pistachio producer. California produces 80 percent of the world's almonds. We produce one million tons of almonds each year, followed by walnuts at nearly half a million tons, and pistachios at over a quarter million tons.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture reports the state's leading agricultural export products by value in 2015 were almonds ($5.14 billion), dairy products ($1.63 billion), walnuts ($1.49 billion), wine ($1.48 billion), and pistachios ($848 million).

Almond harvesting in California's Central Valley. (Photo: Melissa L. Partyka)

Melissa L. Partyka, an ecologist at the UC Davis Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, (WIFSS) and Ronald F. Bond, a water quality researcher and field coordinator with WIFSS, are engaging local growers on issues of food safety and helping to educate them on not only the regulations but on ways to improve their water quality.

Partyka and Bond are staff in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Vet Med Extension and Atwill Water and Foodborne Zoonotic Disease Laboratory, headed by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Rob Atwill, director of WIFSS.

They are affiliated with the Western Center for Food Safety, a Food and Drug Administration Center of Excellence, and are helping break down the regulations for the growers, regulations which can be a little overwhelming to the untrained.

Agricultural water, according to FSMA, is that water used to irrigate, treat, harvest, wash commodity or equipment on farm.

Growers are required to test water if it:

  • Comes in contact with the harvestable portion of the commodity
  • Is used to clean harvest equipment
  • Is used to mix pesticides/fungicides applied to commodity
  • Is used by harvest crews to wash hands

As of January 2016 growers will have 2 to 4 years (depending on farm size) to comply with most aspects of the Produce Safety Rule. Basically, the larger the production, the higher potential for risk to the consumer. How often a grower samples water depends on the water source. Well water requires an initial four samples, followed by one sample per year. Surface water, requires an initial 20 samples, followed by five samples per year. Water samples should be collected as close to harvest as is practical. During a long harvest season, samples can be spread out; in short harvest seasons, samples should be collected closer together; and in multiple harvest seasons, samples should be taken near each harvest if water is coming from the same source.

A full day workshop to be hosted by UC Cooperative Extension is planned for late June. Look for announcement of date, time, and location on the following websites: www.wcfs.ucdavis.edu, http://ucanr.edu, www.wifss.ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 8:10 PM
Tags: food safety (81), FSMA (2), tree nuts (1)

Building trust in food systems – here and in Cambodia

What is the role of trust in our food system? Here in the United States, our trust in food is often implicit. We can generally trust that the fruits and vegetables we buy at a grocery store or farmers market are safe to eat — and we are often free to shop without even thinking about that trust.

Between farmers and agricultural scientists too, trust often plays an important role. If you're a farmer, you need to be able to trust that investing your time or money in a new technique or in attending a workshop will indeed improve your business.

But it can be easy to forget that trust is a critical first step in many of these agricultural relationships.

Thort Chuong (now a Fulbright scholar and UC Davis grad student) welcomes us into a nethouse in Cambodia, owned by a farmer who tried it after joining a savings group and hearing about this new way he could grow vegetables without spraying pesticides. Karen LeGrand of UC Davis stands inside, among the leafy green seedlings in the nethouse.

Establishing trust between actors in a food system has been critical for a Horticulture Innovation Lab project in Cambodia, focused on increasing the amount of safe vegetables available to Cambodian consumers.  Project leaders from UC Davis and UC ANR — Glenn YoungJim Hill, Cary Trexler, David Miller and Karen LeGrand — are actually traveling right now in Cambodia to launch a new phase of this project. They are partnering with scientists from Cambodia's Royal University of Agriculture and the University of Battambang. The researchers plan to expand upon their past successes, working together with farmers, marketers, and input suppliers to build trust while building safe vegetable value chains.

One key to their past success was that before introducing farmers to new agricultural technologies, the researchers first connected with farmers socially, by starting community savings groups. In these savings groups, farmers could build relationships and trust, while increasing their own savings and accessing small loans.

This social aspect of the project was the focus of a video made by UC Davis graduate students Thort Chuong, Elyssa Lewis, and Katie Hoeberling. This 3-minute video was a finalist in the World Food Day Video Challenge:

Building trust and resilience in a safe vegetable value chain in Cambodia Interviews for the video were conducted as part of a student thesis and supported by the U.S. Borlaug Graduate Research Fellowship program. 


Though he is now studying at UC Davis as a Fulbright Fellow, Chuong was originally hired to work with farmers on the first phase of this project in Kandal province as an agronomist and field facilitator.

“At first I just wanted to focus on the agronomy part,” he said. “But then I saw the advantages of being a [savings group] member and thought, wow, this is a great thing to do.”

In fact the advantages were so great that on the weekends he returned to his hometown, gathering his neighbors and relatives together to start their own savings groups. Members have a safe way to save money, an easier way to secure small loans, and earn a little interest too.

Farmers in these savings groups were able to save considerable amounts of money and provide loans to each other for things like seeds, field preparation, labor costs, school fees, wedding costs, even in one case a new house — with each member contributing $5-25 per week for a year.

With trust and community established, some of the farmers in the savings groups also decided to try out a new agricultural technology in partnership with the scientists, using nethouses for pest management to avoid spraying pesticides. (In many countries where pesticide information is inaccessible to the average farmer, it is not uncommon for farmers to keep a separate garden to feed their family — in order to avoid eating even their own crops that they are selling to the market.)

The new, safe vegetable value chain they were part of grew and strengthened, as the international team connected these farmers to a marketer who needed to source vegetables grown without pesticides. That marketer then sells those vegetables to consumers in the capital city of Phnom Penh, who were able to trust the vegetables they bought from her are indeed safe to eat.

The Horticulture Innovation Lab is led by a team at UC Davis, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, as part of the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future. Learn more about Horticulture Innovation Lab researchers and their projects in Asia, Africa and Central America.

Savings group members count out Cambodian riel, during an annual ceremony where members are repaid their share of funds (their own savings plus interest), after repaying all of their community loans. After the Horticulture Innovation Lab research was complete in their community, these farmers have continued to expand both their savings groups and their use of new agricultural technologies.

 

Posted on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 8:50 AM

Tasty tree fruit in good hands

Researchers from UC Davis and Washington State University Extension are conducting research and workshops helping answer key questions for the tree fruit industry. Photo by Emily Kunz - WIFSS


In mid-September in California's Sacramento Valley the weather begins to tease us with the sense that fall is on its way. Interestingly, as the nights drop in temperature so too drops the desire for the fresh fruits we've enjoyed all summer. The melons, peaches, and plums have dwindled or disappeared from hometown fruit stands and our taste buds are being tickled by the site of the golden pears and the multiple varieties of apples newly arrived from local orchards.

Late in September our antennae go up at the sight of the colorful variety of sparkling fresh apples. During the summer months the abundance of fresh fruit might cause us not to reach for an apple, other than to pay attention to the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The sight of the Washington sticker on the apple changes everything.

It's understood that it takes water to grow the fruit we consume. Something likely not appreciated is that researchers from the University of California and the Washington State tree fruit industry are working to understand the risk that water used to grow tree fruit may pose for human health. Water is a vehicle for bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

Water quality training seminars for growers that have to comply with new water testing requirements have already begun in Washington with the leadership of UC Davis researchers such as Melissa Partyka, Ronald Bond, and Jennifer Chase and Ines Hanrahan of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. Planning for others is underway in many other regions of the United States. These workshops are spreading the word about proper methods for obtaining accurate water samples in order to be in compliance with regulations in the Produce Safety Rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Partyka, a staff researcher and doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Ecology at UC Davis, Bond, a water quality researcher and the field research manager, and Chase, a doctoral student in the Graduate Group in Epidemiology, are all in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Vet Med Extension and Water and Foodborne Zoonotic Disease Laboratory, headed by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Rob Atwill, which is within the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security. Dr. Hanrahan has become a valuable partner and liaison to the tree fruit industry, helping to both organize and staff the inaugural workshops while advocating for greater collaboration between UC Davis and Washington State University Extension.

The UC Davis team of Partyka, Bond, and Chase, have been in Washington State conducting research and workshops, which will help answer key questions for the tree fruit industry. For instance, whether growers can sample cooperatively and the impact of hold-times on testing accuracy. The trio are members of the Western Center for Food Safety, (WCFS), a Food and Drug Administration Center of Excellence, tasked to conduct research directly related to the FSMA food safety rule for agriculture water.

Bond, Chase and Partyka are featured in an article titled “Simple steps for water sampling” published in the July issue of Good Fruit Grower Magazine. The article, which helps demystify sampling for regulatory compliance, was based on interviews held during the agricultural water quality workshops conducted by these three in Washington last May.  The main article is accompanied by two additional guides: one titled “The math of food safety,” explaining the math required for agricultural water testing and “Water sampling 101,” a simple list of dos and don'ts for water sampling.

The rows of corn stalks have dried in the summer sun. The harvest moon will soon greet us in the evening sky. As our senses tingle with the oncoming change of season, the sound of the crunch of a juicy apple is music to our ears. Is it time to start melting the caramel?

Apple orchard in Yakima, WA, with mylar film for ripening. Photo by Ronald Bond - WIFSS
Posted on Friday, September 23, 2016 at 3:26 PM
Tags: food safety (81), FSMA (2), water quality (3)

Keep your 'Fourth' independent of food safety issues

It's barbecue season! Remember food safety. (Photo: USDA)
Happy Fourth of July! It's time to get your barbecues grilling, and your potlucks and pool parties started. So, Independence Day is also a great time to remember to keep “free and independent” of foodborne illnesses all year long.

Food poisoning is a serious health threat in the United States, especially during the hot summer months. In fact, 1 in 6 Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year,according to the U.S. Department of Food & Agriculture (USDA). That's not all. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people get food poisoning each year, resulting in approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

That's why the USDA and The Ad Council have teamed up on a new national food safety campaign.  The campaign is designed to raise awareness of the risks of food poisoning, and motivate the public to practice safe food handling behaviors – Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.

Primarily, the four steps towards food safety can be summarized as:

  • Clean: Clean kitchen surfaces, utensils, and hands with soap and water while preparing food.
  • Separate: Separate raw meats from other foods by using different cutting boards.
  • Cook: Cook foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer.
  • Chill: Chill raw and prepared foods promptly.

The USDA reports the campaign includes English- and Spanish-language television, radio, print and online advertising. There's a Facebook page and Twitter account with more food safety tips, if you'd like to follow along.

Handling food safety on the road

Before you take off on a road trip, camping adventure or boating excursion, don't forget to pack along common sense food safety advice. You'll also need a good cooler.

Remember, warns the USDA, don't let food sit out for more than 1 hour in temperatures above 90 degrees F. And discard any food left out more than 2 hours; after only 1 hour in temperatures above 90 degrees F.

Get more food safety tips for traveling from the USDA.

Use an ice chest to keep food safe when traveling. (Photo: Pixabay)
Food safety tips for college students

As summer comes to an end, don't forget to pack along some food safety advice for those new college students in your life.

Many college students are starting to cook for themselves for the first time, and food safety isn't always at the top of their concerns. They might need a little guidance about how long that leftover pizza is still safe to eat, or why raw meat should be kept separate from other ingredients while cooking.

The USDA offers these food safety facts for college students. Consider packing a fact sheet alongside their bed linens and kitchen pans.

This story is also available in Spanish.

You might also enjoy reading:

UCSB fights food insecurity among students

Source: UC Food Observer blog

Posted on Thursday, June 30, 2016 at 9:43 AM
  • Author: Teresa O'Connor, assistant editor, UC Food Observer, toconnor@ucop.edu
Tags: barbecue (2), food safety (81)

Can you serve up a safe barbecue?

Check foods with a thermometer to be sure they are fully cooked.
April showers bring May flowers, along with barbecue season! The season's warmer weather makes it a great time to be outdoors, but it also means there are increased food safety risks with the higher temperatures. Follow these tips to prepare, cook, and serve up a healthy barbecue:

  1. At the store, buy raw meat, poultry, and fish last. Refrigerate or freeze within 2 hours (within 1 hour when it is 90°F or warmer outside).

  2. Follow the thaw law. Always thaw frozen foods, especially meat, in the refrigerator. 

  3. Marinate foods in the refrigerator. Reserve some of the marinade before adding meat for later use. Do not taste or reuse the marinade after raw meat has been added. 

  4. Don't cross-contaminate. Use specific plates and utensils for raw foods, and use separate, clean plates and utensils for cooked foods. Do not place cooked meat or vegetables on the same plate as uncooked foods. 

  5. Cook foods to a safe minimum internal temperature. Check with a food thermometer to ensure foods are fully cooked to the temperatures in the table below.

  6. Refrigerate leftovers in shallow containers within 2 hours. If it has been longer than 2 hours (1 hour when it is 90°F or warmer outside), throw it out!

 

  Poultry 165°F
Ground beef 160°F
Steak/roasts 145°F
Fish 145°F
Pork 145°F

 

Need a side dish to accompany your spring barbecue? Try this low-cost, healthy potato salad.

Potato Salad

Makes 6 servings
Total cost: $2.42
Cost per serving: $0.40

 

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound potatoes (4 medium potatoes)
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise, low-fat
  • 1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
  • Veggie up your potato salad with 1/2 cup crunchy bell peppers and/or 1/2 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes.

Directions:

  1. Scrub the potatoes, and peel them. 
  2. Cut the potatoes unto 1-inch cubes. 
  3. Put the potatoes into a saucepan. Cover with water.
  4. Bring the potatoes to a boil in on medium heat. 
  5. Let the potatoes simmer for 15 minutes until they're soft. 
  6. Drain the hot water, and let the potatoes cool.
  7. While the potatoes are cooling, peel and chop some onions until you have 1 cup of chopped onions. 
  8. Chop the celery until you have 1/2 cup chopped celery.
  9. Put the chopped onion and celery in a medium mixing bowl. 
  10. Add the mayonnaise and pickle relish. Stir together. 
  11. Add the cooled potatoes. Stir again. 
  12. Add you favorite veggies (optional). Stir again. 
  13. Cover the bowl. Put in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving. 

Sources:

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
Recipe adapted from What's Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl

Posted on Friday, April 29, 2016 at 10:51 AM
Tags: barbecue (2), food safety (81)

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