Posts Tagged: food safety
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.
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 Young, Jim 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.
As the savings group secretary, Nov Keo tallies up the year's total savings, loans, and interest during the end-of-year ceremony. He was also one of the first farmers to try using a nethouse to grow "safe vegetables" for the Phnom Penh market.
UC Davis researcher Karen LeGrand with Thort Chuong, in front of another farmer's nethouse in Cambodia built after they helped connect scientists, farmers, and marketers with technologies from the Horticulture Innovation Lab.
Cheng Sokhim is one of the farmers who started using a nethouse for safer pest control and to earn higher prices for her leafy greens such as kale, Chinese mustard, bok choy and curly leaf lettuce.
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?
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.
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:
Source: UC Food Observer blog
- 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).
- Follow the thaw law. Always thaw frozen foods, especially meat, in the refrigerator.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
Need a side dish to accompany your spring barbecue? Try this low-cost, healthy potato salad.
Makes 6 servings
Total cost: $2.42
Cost per serving: $0.40
- 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.
- Scrub the potatoes, and peel them.
- Cut the potatoes unto 1-inch cubes.
- Put the potatoes into a saucepan. Cover with water.
- Bring the potatoes to a boil in on medium heat.
- Let the potatoes simmer for 15 minutes until they're soft.
- Drain the hot water, and let the potatoes cool.
- While the potatoes are cooling, peel and chop some onions until you have 1 cup of chopped onions.
- Chop the celery until you have 1/2 cup chopped celery.
- Put the chopped onion and celery in a medium mixing bowl.
- Add the mayonnaise and pickle relish. Stir together.
- Add the cooled potatoes. Stir again.
- Add you favorite veggies (optional). Stir again.
- Cover the bowl. Put in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving.
The findings, reported today (Aug. 10), in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, call into question the effectiveness of removing non-crop vegetation as a way to reduce field contamination of fresh produce by disease-causing pathogens. This practice led to extensive loss of habitat in a region that is globally important for food production and natural resources.
The practice was implemented largely in response to a 2006 outbreak of pathogenic E. coli in packaged spinach that killed three people and sickened hundreds of others in the United States. That outbreak was traced to a farm in California's Central Coast, a region that supplies more than 70 percent of the country's salad vegetables. The disease-causing E. coli strain was found throughout the farm environment — including in the feces of nearby cattle and wild pigs — but the cause of the outbreak has never been officially determined.
"Wildlife took much of the blame for that outbreak, even though rates of E. coli in wildlife are generally very low," said study lead author Daniel Karp, a NatureNet postdoctoral research fellow in UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and The Nature Conservancy. "Now, growers are pressured by buyers to implement practices meant to discourage wildlife from approaching fields of produce. This includes clearing bushes, plants and trees that might serve as habitat or food sources for wild animals. Our study found that this practice has not led to the reductions in E. coli and Salmonella that people were hoping for."
Instead, the study authors noted that the presence of diverse habitats bordering food crops can actually provide a number of agricultural benefits.
"There is strong evidence that natural habitats surrounding crop fields encourage wild bee populations and help the production of pollinated food crops," said study senior author Claire Kremen, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental science, policy and management. "There have also been studies that suggest that a landscape with diverse plant life can filter out agrichemical runoff and even bacteria. Changing this dynamic shouldn't be taken lightly."
‘No reason to continue' habitat removal
The researchers analyzed about 250,000 tests of produce, irrigation waters and rodents conducted by industry and academics from 2007 through 2013. The tests were conducted on samples from 295 farms in the United States, Mexico and Chile, and targeted the presence of pathogenic E. coli, Salmonella and generic strains of E. coli. The researchers combined the test data with a fine-scale land-use map to identify characteristics of the landscape surrounding the agricultural fields.
The researchers found that the removal of riparian or other vegetation did not result in lower detection of pathogens in produce, water or rodents. Overall, the prevalence of pathogenic E. coli in leafy green vegetables had increased since the outbreak, even as growers removed non-crop flora. In fact, the growers who removed the most vegetation experienced the greatest increase in pathogenic E. coli and Salmonella in their vegetables over time.
"Clearing surrounding vegetation is a costly, labor-intensive practice that threatens wildlife habitat," said Karp. "Since it does not improve food safety, there is no reason to continue this practice."
The study did find, however, that the likelihood of detecting pathogenic E. coli was greater when fields were within 1.5 kilometers of grazeable land than when they were farther away.
"It is unclear whether it was the cattle or wildlife grazing on those lands that were responsible for the elevated pathogen levels, but there are a number of ways that farming and ranching can co-exist in a diversified system," said Karp.
Some suggestions include:
Leaving strips of vegetation between the grazed areas and fresh produce areas
Fencing off upstream waterways from cattle to prevent waste from going downstream
Planting crops that are usually cooked before being eaten – such as corn, artichokes and wheat – between fresh produce fields and grazeable lands
Reforming farming practices
After the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach, California's agricultural industry implemented a voluntary certification program called the Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement. At the federal level, in 2011 President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act, considered one of the most sweeping reforms in farming practices in decades. Both efforts shift the focus to preventing rather than responding to outbreaks.
Notably, neither the federal law nor the state program calls for the removal of wildlife habitat surrounding crops, but private buyers, keen on retaining consumer confidence in their products, may still require growers to take steps that go beyond government regulations.
"The real worry for me is that federal law will be interpreted as the floor rather than the ceiling of what farmers should do," said Karp. "There is this misguided idea that agricultural fields should be a sanitized, sterilized environment, like a hospital, but nature doesn't work that way."
Other co-authors of the study are Sasha Gennet, senior scientist at The Nature Conservancy; Christopher Kilonzo, Melissa Partyka and Edward Atwill, director of Veterinary Medicine Extension at UC Davis; and Nicolas Chaumont at Stanford University.
The UC Berkeley Center for Diversified Farming Systems, Berkeley Food Institute, The Nature Conservancy NatureNet Fellowship, and The Nature Conservancy of California helped support this research.