Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

UC Food Blog

Five ways NOT to poison friends and family during the holidays

The food-safety danger zone is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.
‘Tis the season for gathering with friends and family and eating. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus for the rest of us, many of us invite people to our homes during the holidays and leave food out to graze. Leaving food out for more than two hours can be hazardous to your health and that of your guests, caution UC Cooperative Extension nutrition experts.

You may be thinking, “My family has eaten food that has been sitting on the table longer than two hours and survived.” Consider yourself lucky.

“We keep learning more about foodborne illness,” says Patti Wooten Swanson, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor in San Diego County. “We probably did get sick, but we thought it was something else, like the 24-hour flu.”

She added that kids, diabetics, pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.

For the holidays and all year long, Wooten Swanson offers these food safety tips:

  • Thaw turkey or meat in the refrigerator.
  • Don't wash raw meat or poultry in the sink before cooking.
  • Use a meat thermometer to determine when meat or poultry is done.
  • Put leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours.
  • On the fourth day, throw leftovers away.

Guacamole and salsa shouldn't be left out for longer than 2 hours.
Thawing foods correctly and storing them at the right temperatures is important, said Wooten Swanson.

“Bacteria grow very rapidly,” she said. “From 40 degrees to 140 degrees is what we call the danger zone. We encourage you to get food out of that temperature range as soon as possible. Don't let food sit on the table after you finish eating and go to watch TV.”

While you're watching football, she also recommends not leaving food out the length of a game.

“Chips are fine to leave out,” Wooten Swanson said, “But put the salsa and guacamole in small containers, then put out new bowls at halftime. Take away the original containers to wash or discard.You don't want to refill a bowl that has been out for 2 hours.”

Washing your hands can prevent bacteria from spreading to food.
Food safety begins with clean hands.

“We put an emphasis on hand washing because it can prevent cross-contamination, which helps prevent foodborne illness and can keep us healthy during the flu season,” said Connie Schneider, director of the UC Youth, Families and Communities Statewide Program.

She recommends rubbing your hands together with soap and water for 20 seconds to thoroughly clean them.

The UC Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) teaches hand washing as a food safety practice in its nutrition classes for adults and children. After taking the class in San Diego County, 72 percent of the 340 participating adults improved their safe food-handling practices and 55 percent of 1,231 children improved, said Wooten Swanson, who oversees the nutrition and food safety education program.

For more food safety resources, visit UC Cooperative Extension's  "Food Safety for the Holidays" website http://ucanr.edu/HolidayFoodSafety and Nebraska and Iowa State Cooperative Extension's food safety website at http://www.4daythrowaway.org.  For USDA recommended temperatures for cooking meat, visit http://blogs.usda.gov/2011/05/25/cooking-meat-check-the-new-recommended-temperatures.

Posted on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Taste a colorful rainbow of citrus at UC research facility

Hundreds of different citrus varieties are available for tasting at last year's citrus tasting event.
The UC citrus research center swings open its doors this week to give farmers and the public the opportunity to view and taste dozens of mandarin varieties - which in recent years have emerged as Americans' favorite citrus – as well as sweet oranges, lemons, grapefruit, kumquats, blood oranges, tangors and many other types of citrus fruit.

The 175-acre UC ANR Lindcove Research and Extension Center is situated where the valley and Sierra Nevada foothills meet in eastern Tulare County. Research conducted at the center plays a major role in maintaining California's position at the forefront of high-quality citrus production for markets throughout the United States and the world.

Citrus Industry Day - Dec 12: From 9 a.m. to 12 noon, citrus growers, pest control advisers and other industry professionals are invited to taste citrus fruit at their leisure, discuss new low-seeded mandarin varieties with UC Riverside plant breeder Mikeal Roose, and consult with UC Cooperative Extension advisors Neil O'Connell of Tulare County and Craig Kallsen of Kern County. At 10 a.m., UC Riverside plant pathology specialist Georgio Vidalakis, director of the UC Citrus Clonal Protection Program, will explain the center's role in providing the citrus industry with disease-free citrus propagative material. Immediately following the CCPP presentation, UC Riverside principal museum scientist Tracy Kahn will lead a tour of the Lindcove demonstration orchard and discuss new citrus varieties.

General Public Day – Dec 13: From 9 a.m. to 12 noon, Lindcove is open to the public. In addition to citrus tasting, there will be a special activity for children and the opportunity to consult with UCCE Master Gardeners about backyard citrus horticulture and pest management. The tasting event is free. Visitors wishing to take home samples of Cara Cara, Washington navels, mandarins and assorted fruit, may purchase a tote bag full of fruit for $5. All funds raised by the bag sales will supplement educational activities at the center.

At both events, Mary Lu Arpaia, UC Riverside post harvest specialist and David Obenland, plant physiologist at the USDA-ARS San Joaquin Valley Agriculture Center, will be inviting visitors to participate in a research project that involves taste testing of citrus fruits.

The weekend's events mark the launch of Lindcove's Conference Center Outdoor Enhancement Campaign. Funds will be used to upgrade the conference center parking area, plant demonstration orchards and add an outdoor amphitheater where school children can learn about citrus.

“We want to increase our outreach to the community,” said Beth Grafton-Cardwell, Lindcove director and UC Riverside citrus entomology specialist. “These planned improvements will enhance our ability to accommodate school children, tour groups and community organizations for educational experiences at Lindcove.”

The Lindcove Research and Extension Center is at 22963 Carson Ave., Exeter. The tasting takes place in the conference center building, located at the end of Carson Ave. on the right. For more information about the tasting events, contact Anita Hunt, (559) 592-2408, ext 151, amdhunt@ucanr.edu.

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

Posted on Tuesday, December 9, 2014 at 6:47 PM

Gardens contribute vegetables, ease hunger among San Jose residents

A Santa Clara County resident works in a community garden.
People who grow their own vegetables in a garden typically consume enough fresh produce to meet the USDA Dietary Guidelines for a healthy diet, according to a recent UC Cooperative Extension survey of San Jose residents.

A diet containing lots of vegetables is lower in calories and higher in fiber and good for our health. Yet, not everyone has easy access to fresh vegetables in the United States.

“Growing vegetables and having a garden is an effective intervention to promote increased vegetable consumption among all Americans,” said Susan Algert, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Santa Clara County, who conducted the survey. “This is evidence for bringing back popular home gardens or ‘Victory gardens' of the past rather than investing exclusively in SNAP benefits for purchased foods.”

SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps), now allows participants to buy seeds with their benefits, which helps low-income people who want to grow their own veggies, she said.

Vegetable consumption falls well below the U.S. Dietary Guidelines in much of the U.S., particularly among African American, Latino, low educational attainment, and low-income populations.

Algert and fellow UC Cooperative Extension researchers looked at background characteristics, vegetable intake and program benefits of people who cultivated a home garden versus those who participated in a community garden.

“The home gardeners were significantly younger, had lower incomes, were less likely to have completed college and were more ethnically diverse than the community gardeners,” said Algert, who specializes in nutrition. “In other words, the background characteristics of the two groups varied significantly. In spite of these significant demographic differences, both groups increased their vegetable consumption from the garden to the same extent, by about two servings.”

In fact, by supplementing with food from their gardens, both groups met the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for recommended daily servings of vegetables to promote optimal health.

A lack of experience as gardeners didn't affect the results much. Fifty eight percent of the home gardeners reported having less than two years of experience whereas only one-third of community gardeners were novices.

“This study demonstrates that growing fresh vegetables in either a home or community garden setting can contribute significantly to a person's nutritional intake and food security at all income levels by making it a more affordable to maintain a healthful diet,” said Algert. Urban gardeners also experience a number of other benefits including exercise, stress release, and learning about gardening from their peers and mentors.

The study was a partnership with the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department of the City of San Jose and La Mesa Verde, a project of Sacred Heart Community Services of San Jose. The UCCE research group worked with the Parks Department to administer a 30 question background survey to 83 community gardeners in four different gardens during April through September 2012. The same survey, slightly modified, was administered to a group of 50 home gardeners participating in Sacred Heart's La Mesa Verde project between September 2013 and April 2014.

Posted on Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 1:14 PM

'Dine in' to save money and eat better

On Dec. 3, prepare and eat a healthy meal together. (Photo: morguefile.com)
On Dec. 3, the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) is asking families across the U.S. to prepare and eat a healthy meal together. The goal of the 2014 “Dining In” for Healthy Families campaign is engaging at least 200,000 families to participate. More information and an online sign up form can be found on the AAFCS website.

Dining in is one of the cost-saving ideas UC Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program educators share with low-income families. As a UC Cooperative Extension advisor who specializes in family and consumer sciences, I can tell you there are many potential benefits to dining in:

  • Reduced expense for meals
  • Better health and decreased risk of developing chronic diseases
  • Lower medical costs

When people are asked to identify their discretionary expenses, food eaten at restaurants often tops the list. Eating out, along with entertainment expenses, is frequently identified as an item to reduce or cut from family budgets to free up money to save/invest or cope with a reduction in income. This is not surprising because about a third of the money spent on food in the United States is spent at foodservice establishments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Over time, the amount of money saved by meals eaten and/or prepared at home (e.g., a “brown bag” lunch) is noteworthy. According to the Eating Away at Your Future poster on the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Small Steps to Health and Wealth website, someone could accumulate almost $50,000 in 20 years by eating out one less evening per week and investing the money saved at a 5 percent yield. Online calculator tools like the Brown Bag Savings Calculator are useful to make personalized calculations of the amount of savings that can be realized with home-prepared food.

People tend to eat healthier meals when they eat at home. (Photo: pixabay.com)
As noted above, the money that people save by eating more meals at home is just the beginning of their potential savings. For additional financial impact, the difference in cost between home cooked and restaurant meals could be invested and allowed to grow over time. Through the magic of compound interest (i.e., earning interest on previously earned interest), small dollar amounts can grow handsomely.

Another way that home-prepared food impacts personal finances is the linkage between restaurant meals and overweight/obesity. People tend to eat healthier meals when they eat at home because they can better control portion sizes and the use of sauces, dressings and other high-fat ingredients.

Following are more specific health benefits of eating more meals prepared at home:

  • Ability to select low-fat, low-sodium and low-calorie ingredients
  • Ability to make healthy ingredient substitutions, such as applesauce for oil in baked goods
  • Less temptation to eat tasty, but unhealthy, foods and large food portions
  • Lower likelihood of children becoming overweight or obese
  • Higher intake of health-promoting nutrients (e.g., Vitamin C and calcium) and dietary fiber
  • Knowing exactly what you are eating, which is especially important if a family member has food allergies

Beyond the money saved by reducing the frequency of spending on restaurant meals and investing it to earn interest, there is a third way that eating more meals at home affects household finances. Poor health and nutrition habits often translate into high out-of-pocket medical expenses. As explained in the Small Steps to Health and Wealth workbook, a person's health and finances are strongly associated with one another and “the greatest wealth is health.”

It is widely known that long-term consumption of high-fat, high-calorie foods can lead to health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, and some types of cancer. People who eat healthy meals at home and adopt a healthy lifestyle with recommended levels of physical activity are less likely to develop expensive health conditions that can drain family wealth, even for those who are insured.

Want to be healthy and wealthy? Start by “Dining In” and prepare and eat a healthy meal with your family on Family & Consumer Sciences Day, Dec. 3.

Field of family and consumer sciences

Family and consumer sciences (FCS) draws from broad and diverse disciplines to develop and provide content and programs that help individuals become more effective critical thinkers and problem solvers. Through discovery and delivery of research-based knowledge, FCS professionals help individuals and families develop essential skills to successfully live and work in a complex world. Professionals in the field are uniquely qualified to speak on many critical issues affecting individuals and families, such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, wisely managing personal and family finances, and creating supportive relationships with family members, friends, and co-workers. They are located nationwide in a variety of practice settings, including secondary schools, universities, government agencies, and businesses.

For more information, contact: Patti Wooten Swanson, nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor, UC California Cooperative Extension - San Diego County, (858) 822-7719, pwswanson@ucanr.edu

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

A simple holiday how-to: homemade turkey stock

Thanksgiving leftovers can me transformed into delicious stock.
Feeling the pressure of holiday leftovers? There are simple ways to preserve holiday leftovers using extra turkey scraps and bones, while preventing tryptophan overload.

Any connoisseur of meat or vegetable stocks would tell you that the flavor of homemade can't be matched with something store bought. Homemade stock is easy to prepare and can be preserved for future use by simply freezing or using a pressure canner. Consider using homemade turkey stock for soups or as a cooking liquid for quinoa. A good stock adds a sublime flavor to any cooked grain.

Quick and easy homemade turkey stock

To prepare homemade turkey stock, place cooked turkey bones into a large stockpot and cover with water. (It's fine to still have some meat attached to the bones, it only adds to the flavor.) Cover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer the slurry for 30-45 minutes.

Once simmered, remove bones and let stock cool. Fat will rise to the top of the stock. Use a spoon to remove fat leaving only the turkey-infused liquid.  At this point, strain stock through cheesecloth to remove any leftover herbs or bits of meat. This step is optional – many prefer to keep meat trimmings in the stock. Once the fat is removed and the stock is strained, the next step is to preserve the stock for future use.   

Clean rims of jars
Preserving turkey stock

To freeze, simply seal the stock in a freezer-proof container, freezer gallon storage bags work great for this method. Clearly label and date the storage bag or container – remember that this method has a freezer storage life of 6 months.  If freezing the stock in storage bags, it is best to lay the bags on a cookie sheet and freeze flat for easy storage.

For a longer shelf life, consider pressure canning your stock which will preserve the delicious turkey stock for up to 12 months in your pantry. 

Simply bring your stock back up to a boil and fill sterilized jars, leaving one inch of headspace.  Clean rims of the jars before putting on the two part lid, tighten the lid rings only to “finger tight.” Process in a pressure canner using guidelines available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

If you are intrigued by pressure canning or need a refresher course, take a class from your local UC Master Food Preserver Program before getting started. 

Posted on Tuesday, December 2, 2014 at 8:55 AM

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