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 blogs

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

UC’s My Healthy Plate article named 'paper of the year'

The USDA's colorful MyPlate icon clearly shows many Americans how to formulate healthy meals for their families with the proper proportions of fruits and vegetables, protein foods, grains and dairy products. However, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educators in Central California discovered that the infographic was too abstract for local low-literate families. They embarked on a years-long effort to translate the shapes and colors into a series pictures showing plates filled with healthful, real food.

The concept clicked, so county and campus-based researchers joined together to document the effectiveness of a new curriculum shaped around pictures of properly portioned plates of food to share with nutrition educators around the nation and world. They wrote an article, A Picture is worth a thousand words: Customizing MyPlate for low-literate, low-income families in 4 steps, which was published in the July-August 2015 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. In 2016, the article was named the “paper of the year” in a category of articles and research programs called “great educational material” (GEM).

In the paper, the researchers shared a four-step process for creating a set of meal photographs that will resonate with families in different communities.

The four steps are:

  1. Review food patterns and determine meal combinations – This is done by asking clientele what foods they recently fed their families. Once the foods are identified, they can be modified to meet MyPlate recommendations.
  2. Test meals and take final photographs – Prepare the meals, take photos and test the photos with the target audience.
  3. Develop and test education messages to accompany photos – Messages should have few words, use family vocabulary and be written for a low-literacy audience.
  4. Create and test education materials – After the suggested materials are created, they should be tested with the target audience.

The UC Cooperative Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) is using the “My Healthy Plate” materials in reaching out to low-literacy and low-income families in California.

The authors of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior paper of the year are Mical Shilts researcher at UC Davis; Margaret Johns, nutrition, family and consumer science advisor in Kern County; Cathi Lamp, emeritus nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor in Tulare County; Connie Schneider, emeritus Youth, Families and Communities director for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Marilyn Townsend, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition education specialist in the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis.

My Healthy Plate education materials are available at http://townsendlab.ucdavis.edu.

USDA’s MyPlate graphic (left) was too abstract for some audiences, prompting UC ANR nutrition educators to take photos of healthy meals, like the one on the right, for a nutrition curriculum called My Healthy Plate.
 
Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at 2:46 PM

USDA puts more fruits and veggies, less sugar in new child-care nutrition standards

Young children and adults in care programs will now receive meals with more whole grains, a greater variety of vegetables and fruits, and less added sugars and solid fats. These changes please Lorrene Ritchie, Ph.D., RD, director of the Nutrition Policy Institute in the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).

“I applaud USDA's decisions to increase servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, cereals low in sugar, and healthy beverages, including breastfeeding,” said Ritchie, who has devoted her career to the development of interdisciplinary, science-based and culturally relevant solutions to child obesity.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released new nutrition standards in April for food and beverages served to young children and others in child care settings that participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Through CACFP, more than 3.3 million children and 120,000 adults receive nutritious meals and snacks at day care, afterschool centers and emergency shelters. The final rule is intended to better align the nutritional quality of meals and snacks provided under the program with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Lorrene Ritchie
“These new, science-based standards carry the program a long way forward from meal patterns that have been essentially unchanged since the program's introduction in 1968,” wrote Ritchie in a letter of support to USDA.

At USDA's behest, the Institute of Medicine convened a committee of eminent nutrition researchers to develop science-based recommendations for CACFP meals and snacks that meet the challenge of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010: to align the CACFP standards with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“USDA has taken the IOM's recommendations and translated them into nutrition standards that help address obesity and overweight as well as food insecurity. The new standards are straightforward for childcare sponsors and providers and impose no new, added costs,” said Ritchie, who is also a UC Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.

This update to CACFP standards is an important step toward ensuring that young children have access to the nutrition they need and develop healthy habits that will contribute to their well-being over the long term, Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary, said in announcing the new standards.

“Research indicates that America's obesity problem starts young, with obesity rates in preschoolers more than doubling over the last three decades and one in eight preschoolers classified as obese,” Concannon said. “Since taste preference and eating habits develop early in life, CACFP could play a crucial role in the solution.”

Ritchie, who has conducted studies on the impact of policy on nutrition practices in child care settings, thinks USDA's process for developing the new nutrition standards is effective.

“The new meal patterns demonstrate that the process for regularly updating nutrition standards in the federal food programs, using evidence-based IOM recommendations, is working well,” she said. “The new CACFP standards should make a significant beneficial contribution to the health and development of the nation's young children.”

The NPI director, who has led a push to persuade the government to make water the drink of choice in the dietary guidelines and add an icon for water on the MyPlate food guide, also praised USDA's authorization of reimbursement for the expenses involved in providing bottled water in the rare instances when tap water is not potable.

“UC Nutrition Policy Institute has a special commitment to expanding children's consumption of drinking water,” Ritchie said.

The UC Nutrition Policy Institute's mission is to improve nutrition and reduce obesity, hunger and chronic disease risk in children and their families in diverse settings. NPI provides nutrition policy leadership built from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' numerous research, and education activities, and works in synergy with research and outreach efforts being conducted throughout the University of California system.

 

Posted on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 at 9:10 AM

Women play key role in Nigerian agriculture

Women express their appreciation to Maria Alfaro for coming to Ebonyi State in Nigeria.
The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria has more than 180 million people. Located in West Africa on the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria produces crops such as cassava, maize, sorghum, rice, yams, cowpea, oil palm and groundnuts. Agriculture is important for the economy, employing about 30 percent of its population. Women play a primary role in producing the staple crops.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources program assistant Maria Alfaro, part of the Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, got to see first-hand the role of women in Nigerian agriculture. As part of a three-week volunteer project with Winrock International, Alfaro traveled throughout Nigeria visiting farms, co-ops, and local and state farming and agricultural agencies.

Alfaro meets with a chemical store manager from Fountain Agriculture Markeing Agency (FAMA) in Ado-Ekiti State.
Alfaro's mission was to conduct a pesticide safety evaluation and assess the depth of knowledge of local farmers around safety issues. Alfaro traveled to six of Nigeria's 36 states, speaking to farmers, pesticide distributors, pesticide applicators and government officials. As she traveled from state to state, Alfaro discovered that women are key in Nigerian agriculture.

“The role of women varied by region, crop and local customs," Alfaro said. "In some of the northern regions, women were involved in all aspects of farming, including applying pesticides. Yet in other regions of the South, women were only involved in small, subsistence farming, and did not apply pesticides."

As Alfaro conducted interviews with various individuals from local and state agencies, she was consistently told that for the family's needs to be met, the profits from farming should go to the women.

Alfaro was told in other interviews that the best way to disseminate pesticide safety information to families was “through the moms!”

Alfaro conducts a discussion with the FAMA director and staff in Ado-Ekiti State.
Although this was primarily an information-gathering mission, Alfaro provided local farmers and parents with tips on preventing and protecting themselves from pesticide exposure. She discovered that empty pesticide containers were being rinsed and reused as juice or water containers in children's school lunches. Empty containers will always contain pesticide residues, even if only in small amounts. Alfaro explained to parents that reusing empty containers poses a huge risk for exposing children to pesticides and told them to stop using them.

At Alfaro's final stop in Ebonyi State, women expressed their appreciation for her coming and sharing important information on how to protect themselves from the pesticides they use on their farms.

“It was a great way to end the conversations on the ground,” said Alfaro.

Alfaro's next task is to report her findings and recommendations, which include more training in a train-the-trainer format. In this type of training, students who are trained in an approved pesticide safety course become qualified to train pesticide handlers and field workers.

“Many farmers are eager to learn about what they can do to continue using pesticides in a safe and effective manner in combination with learning integrated pest management methods of control,” said Alfaro.

Winrock International is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Farmer-to-Farmer Program.

Posted on Monday, April 25, 2016 at 11:40 AM

Sustainable grape production and precision viticulture

Cluster imaging with high resolution camera (Photo: Dr. Kaan Kurtural, UC Davis)
Grape acreage being removed from production and the strong demand for nut tree crops have grape growers concerned about the economic sustainability of grape production in the San Joaquin Valley. The gross income of grapes per acre depends on two elements: price per ton and tons per acre. Price per ton is determined by a lot of factors, e.g. quality, region, demand, and inventory, and it is really difficult to predict the price per ton for a certain vintage. So the major target for growers is to achieve the optimum tons per acre from their vineyards.

Recently, it seems we have reached a plateau of production with current planting materials and management methods in the San Joaquin Valley vineyards. Making a vineyard less variable with more uniformly productive grapevines regardless of their location within a given vineyard is the most important question to the viticulturists.

Vineyard variability was first studied in Australia, and the yield variation within-vineyard is typically of the order of 8 to 10 fold . The fruit quality variation might follow the similar pattern as yield variation under or over a certain crop load window. Differential harvest was first applied in Australia with yield monitor installed on the mechanical harvesters to separate the low yield zone and high yield zone for high quality and low quality fruit for different wine programs. It was an improvement from the winemaking point of view. However, differential harvest still didn't solve the problem of vineyard variability for both yield and quality. Then viticulturists started to think of differential management or even differential planting may provide a solution to variation in vineyards.

Then the question becomes: is the variation pattern always consistent? Unlike annual broadacre crops, e.g. corn or soybeans, grapevines are a perennial crop and the yield variation carry-over effect is always something important for viticulturists to keep in mind. Initial research results suggested the variation pattern can be consistent in 2 years' period. However, different site location may contribute to vineyard variation as well. Soil texture, water holding capacity, and soil mineral nutrient content were believed to be the main cause of the variability. Further investigation is needed to confirm that the variation pattern is somehow consistent and manageable to make the vineyards produce uniformly.

Once it is assessed vineyard variability can be managed. Defining vineyard variability becomes the next question. Assessing vineyard variability visually may not be possible for large vineyards. Yield monitoring, on the other hand, is only suitable to define the variability at harvest and might be also financially difficult for small growers. Early detection of the vineyard variability in order to manage the vineyard differentially is an active area of research. Currently, different sensors have become available for vineyard managers to tell how much variability is in the vineyard through measurement of canopy reflectance through use of NDVI, thermal images, irrigation scheduling using sap flow sensors and availability of soil moisture through measurement of soil matric potential. UAVs and satellite imagery are also available to assess vineyard variability at an economical cost, as they may provide larger data sets with relative cheap cost. However, ground-truthing is needed to make sure how accurately these data from different sensors define the variability in the vineyard.

Recently, Cornel University, Carnegie Mellon, and UC Davis were awarded a $6 million grant from the USDA's Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) to further study the proximal sensing, crop estimation, and soil mapping to develop tools for variable rate management in table and wine grape vineyards. The goal of the project is to increase/optimize yield and quality within a vineyard by spatially tuning (a) vine balance and (b) canopy light microclimate.

The challenge for San Joaquin Valley grape growers is to make grape growing more economically sustainable for future generations. Optimizing yield per acre with less labor and energy inputs should be the goal of growers. Reducing the vineyard variability to have more uniform production might give growers more profit per acre by increasing the yield per acre without adversely affecting fruit quality. Ultimately, new breeding materials will be the long term goal to increase the yield potential and profitability for vineyards.

Posted on Friday, April 15, 2016 at 9:09 AM

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