Posts Tagged: Roberta Cook
Aiming to energize the seed industry cluster surrounding UC Davis, Seed Central, an initiative of the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis and SeedQuest, recently highlighted postharvest handling and food safety at their monthly forum. Recordings of invited guest speakers, Marita Cantwell, Trevor Suslow and Roberta Cook, UC Cooperative Extension specialists with expertise in post harvest science, show the passion they feel for their respective subjects and why we're fortunate to have them on our team. Cantwell and Suslow are in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences; Cook is in the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
Cantwell, a postharvest physiologist, specializes in handling and storage of intact and fresh-cut vegetables. In her talk, she describes the Postharvest Technology Center itself and gives an overview of the handling challenges of many vegetable varieties.
A plant pathologist, Suslow’s program centers on studying the effects of microflora on the postharvest quality of perishable produce. With much attention to current food safety a priority, Suslow’s produce safety overview and specific case examples help us all (ahem) digest this hot topic.
Cook, an agricultural economist, focuses on fresh produce marketing and food distribution. This presentation centers on North American vegetable markets. Even if you’re not a grower, shipper or retailer, Cook's description of trends in the produce industry are fascinating — we all eat fruits and vegetables every day. She talks about things we might not ever think about.
While 77 percent of moms associate fruits and vegetables with good health, purchase intent remains flat at 45 percent, according the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s annual survey of mothers with children age 10 and under,.reported Mike Hornick in The Packer.
Roberta Cook, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics at the UC Davis, participated in the foundation's annual meeting. she attributed the discrepancy to promotion of specific types of produce.
“One of the problems in our industry is a decline in generic promotion,” she said. “As grower-shippers become larger, they have wanted to take dollars spent on generic marketing internal. They feel they can use it better within their company.
“But that’s not really what the results show us. The mandated programs are trying to expand the total pie,” Cook said. “Because they bring greater dollars together than an individual company can, they can invest in understanding consumers.”/span>
Early spring can be an invigorating time of year, with lengthening days, blooming daffodils and fruit trees (and ski season still in full force). One of the best perks of the season is the availability of luscious strawberries, and tasty artichokes and asparagus picked from nearby farms, with flavor quality and price that reflects both in-season and local transportation benefits.
Elsewhere in the United States “local” food markets are much less developed due to climate restrictions that limit production to a brief period in the summer and early fall; and the variety of products grown is only a fraction of the over 200 crops grown in California. While “local” production represents a rapidly growing share of U.S. agricultural sales, with direct-to-consumer sales more than quadrupling in the past decade, outside of California the share is still tiny.
There are few things as disappointing as biting into a piece of fruit that looks beautiful on the outside but just doesn’t deliver that burst of flavor, or cutting into a nice-looking vegetable only to find an unsightly defect inside. When I’m prowling through a display of fresh produce, I rev up all my senses into high gear and get up-close and personal with the fruit and veggie items on my list. I get busy feeling the weight-to-size ratio, gently (not too hard, mind you, or you’ll get a bad reputation with other shoppers) pressing to feel for firmness, looking at color, form, and stem separation area, and smelling the aroma. All of these things, and more, help provide clues about the quality inside.
Other clues are often available about where and how your produce items were grown. For instance, in 2009 rules (affecting retail grocers) were adopted by the USDA mandating country of origin labeling (COOL), which required that retailers notify customers of the country of origin of all perishable agricultural commodities. Also offering insights into your produce selection is the Price Look Up sticker. Created by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) in 1987 to create a standardized system to assist check-out clerks with looking up the produce items, it also indicates additional information such as whether it’s organic.
For instance, if your produce item’s sticker has a 4 digit code, it is “conventionally grown, but not organic.” If the code has 5 digits, and the first digit is a 9, the produce was organically grown. Usually the PLU stickers also include the country of origin in writing, but if not, this information should be displayed on the packing box or other store signage. Conventionally grown produce is recognized by scientists and regulators to be just as safe as organically grown and there is no evidence that it is worse for the environment. About 95 percent of retail fresh produce sales are conventionally grown and generally cost about 30 percent less than organics.
There are a number of resources that can help produce shoppers improve their savvy shopping skills:
From the Farm to Your Table: A Consumer’s Guide to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, by James Thompson and Adel Kader. This 16-page booklet offers information on measuring quality; farm-based growing conditions, practices and harvesting; handling, transportation and storage; and selecting and storing good-quality produce for use at home. The table on how to select good-quality produce is especially helpful. ($7.00/copy)
Shopping for Fruits & Vegetables at the Fruits and Veggies: More Matters web site
Storing Fresh Fruit and Vegetables for Better Taste, a free downloadable poster from the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center
i know produce, a comprehensive produce website developed by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) that includes photo identification, written description, availability by location, nutrition information, storage/handling, and tips.
An article by Ching Lee in today's Ag Alert focused on the effects of budget cuts on agricultural student programs at California universities. "Budget cuts have had a profound effect on all areas of the campus," Diane Ullman, associate dean for undergraduate academic programs at UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, told the reporter. She explained the college faces challenges keeping agricultural production facilities, instructional equipment and technologies updated to deliver hands-on education — even though the office has seen student applications increase by 70–80 percent.
Tom Baldwin, dean of UC Riverside College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, also commented on the challenges of serving students in the face of diminishing resources, saying the university is "moving heaven and earth" to do so.
The cuts are being felt at on-campus farms as well. Raoul Adamchak, of the UC Davis Student Farm, explained that the market garden generates its own income and provides a lesson to students on self-sustaining businesses. "Things cost money, and these are part of the expenses of farming, so it has to be factored in. They have to make decisions based on the cost of things and the returns," he said.
Peach association to major retailer: Buy U.S.-grown
Christine Souza, Ag Alert
The California Canning Peach Association has asked Target to consider California fruit for its Market Pantry-brand canned peaches, which are currently a product of China. Wal-Mart carries a comparable product made from California cling peaches, with a lower retail price.
Reporter Christine Souza sought expert commentary from Roberta Cook, UC Cooperative Extension marketing specialist at the Davis campus, on the current market for California cling peaches. "When you are talking about processed items, if another country can produce it a lot cheaper than you, then you will be vulnerable to competition. And consumer preferences have moved towards fresh. So [California cling-peach businesses] are hit by both factors," she told the reporter.
Related ANR News Blog post: Chinese farmers take a bite out of the California cling-peach market
With a daughter soon to complete a degree in health safety, discussions of Salmonella, E. coli and the like sometimes arise as we sit around the dinner table. As an agriculturally focused family, we like to think we’re pretty savvy about the best way to handle our produce to keep it safe and tasty.
Some are very concerned about food safety. A gentleman phoned the Postharvest Technology Center a few months ago, and shared that he was very concerned about eating strawberries. He thought perhaps he should scrub each one with a soft toothbrush, and then soak them in a diluted chlorine bath.
Others are much less aware of food safety concerns, sometimes using cutting boards and knives interchangeably between raw meat and produce items, or other unsafe food handling practices.
Dr. Roberta Cook, a marketing and postharvest specialist affiliated with the center reported, “in 2008, 53 percent of shoppers interviewed in a national survey by the Food Marketing Institute, named ‘bacteria or germs’ as a serious health risk to their food, ranking it as their number one concern.” The produce industry and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continue to work hard to establish safe procedures for every step between the farm and the market.
Dr. Linda Harris, a food safety specialist, and Dr. Christine Bruhn, a consumer food marketing dpecialist, also affiliated with the Postharvest Technology Center, offer the following concise steps for the safe handling of produce:
- In the grocery cart and at home, keep fruits and vegetables separated from raw meat, poultry, and seafood to prevent cross-contamination.
- Once at home, store all fresh-cut ready-to-eat prepared produce in the refrigerator to keep it cold.
- Wash all whole fruits and vegetables, including larger items like melons, just before preparation for eating. Cut out damaged (bruised, discolored) areas before eating.
- Before and after handling fruits and vegetables, make sure that your work area and utensils are clean and that your hands have been washed with hot soapy water.
- Fruits and vegetables should be washed under running water. Soaking them in water increases the opportunity for cross-contamination and is not recommended.
- Produce such as apples, cucumbers and melons that can be rubbed without damage should be scrubbed using clean hands or a clean scrub brush.
- Dry washed fruits and vegetables with clean disposable paper towels.
- It is not necessary to wash ready-to-eat prewashed and packaged fresh-cut produce. If you choose to rewash this type of produce, follow the instructions above. Always wash unpackaged prepared salad mixes under running water prior to consumption.
- Once cut or prepared, all fruits and vegetables should be refrigerated promptly. After serving, refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.
Additional produce safety resources:
"How to Properly Wash your Produce" video by Dr. Christine Bruhn.
Food safety brochure (pdf)