UC Food and Agriculture Blogs
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.
Packaged leafy greens.
I’m enjoying “Sending Flowers to America: Stories of the Los Angeles Flower Market and the People who Built an American Floral Industry”, by Peggi Ridgway and Jan Works. It tells the story of flower production in the Los Angeles area and the genesis of what is now the “largest wholesale flower district in the United States”.
Residents of early Los Angeles found the climate of Los Angeles perfect for growing countless crops, including many kinds of flowers. According to the authors, “By 1890, the housewives of Southern California had firmly established themselves as the growers and sellers of cut flowers…these industrious women transformed their backyards into flower factories, harvesting calla lilies and other blooms for local florists and their homes” (p. 11).
Advances in refrigeration and transportation eventually transformed flower growing from backyard enterprise to big business. By the second decade of the 20th Century, Southern California flowers were routinely shipped to other states. The flower business grew throughout the 1920 and 30s. Communities around Los Angeles County were known for their flower production, including Montebello, which was known as “the City of Flowers” and the South Bay/Torrance area. Los Angeles County farmers grew many kinds of flowers, including daisies, chrysanthemums, asters, carnations, callas, and gladiola. Many new immigrants were involved in flower production, including Greek, Italian and Japanese newcomers to Southern California.
Japanese flower growers were especially influential, and they organized the Southern California Flower Market in 1913, in downtown Los Angeles’s wholesale district, relocating in 1923 to South Wall Street, where it continues to operate today. In 1924, another group, the American Florists’ Exchange, organized by European immigrants, opened the Los Angeles Flower Market across the street. Since then, the 700 block of South Wall Street has been the hub of the Los Angeles Flower Trade. See the Flower District’s website, at http://www.laflowerdistrict.com/index.asp for more information. The District markets are open to the public during certain hours.
Commercial flower production in Los Angeles County began to fade away in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as most growers moved out to Orange County communities like Buena Park and Garden Grove, as well as to San Diego. Most flower farms were gone from LA County’s landscape by the 1980’s. (There is still significant production of some specialty flowers in those counties, especially San Diego, but today much of the market’s flowers are imported).
It’s interesting that flower production in Los Angeles started as a backyard enterprise that allowed women to add to their household income. Hearkening back to these roots, backyard flower production in Los Angeles has recently received significant media attention. A local woman, Tara Kolla, was growing sweet peas, poppies, and other flowers to sell at a nearby farmers market. Her neighborhoods complained, and it turned out Kolla was violating an obscure zoning ordinance, passed in 1946, that allows residential production of vegetables for market, but not fruits, nuts or flowers. Kolla and other urban agriculture advocates have organized to change the zoning laws in Los Angeles to allow backyard production. Their proposed “Food and Flowers Freedom Act” is under consideration by the Los Angeles City Council.
For more information about Kolla’s efforts, read this recent Sunset Magazine article: http://freshdirt.sunset.com/2009/10/legalizing-urban-farming-in-la-the-food-flowers-freedom-act.html .
To learn more about the Food and Flowers Freedom Act, see http://urbanfarmingadvocates.org/?p=22 .
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.
- 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
By Margaret Johns
Nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor, Kern County
Beans are an inexpensive form of protein.
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.
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
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
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.