The recent Romaine lettuce recall—two in the last year—has turned the leafy green industry upside down. Flashbacks of the 2006 spinach recall in California’s Salinas Valley haunt the area’s farmers, the same farmers who after the 2006 outbreak implemented stringent practices through the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement aimed at stopping the next outbreak.

But it happened again. Why?

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Co-authored with Erdogan Ceylan

Every summer, I sit under the carport with my family and shuck a few buckets of corn that we later boil and quickly freeze. I never thought much about that home process until I started working at the Mérieux NutriSciences Food Science Center and interacting regularly with customers who are on a much larger and elaborate scale doing the same thing with their vegetables.

Blanching vegetables not only improves product quality by changing the texture, preserving the flavor and color, but it can also serve as a critical control point in regards to pathogen inactivation.  Continue Reading

Did you ever wonder why your favorite ice cream has the nutrition information for a ⅔ cup? It’s because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed serving sizes for multiple categories referred to as Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC).

The ice cream you purchase from any retailer will be using the same serving size (household measure may differ), so you’re able to easily compare the nutrition information. The FDA took a look at the RACC’s and updated them with the 2016 Nutrition Facts Label to better fit what people are actually consuming in one sitting.

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Co-authored with Erdogan Ceylan

More than ever, consumers are becoming aware and following food safety recalls in the produce industry. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks associated with leafy greens have been particularly newsworthy. A popular meme, “right now chocolate is good for you and romaine lettuce can kill you,” is circulating around the internet. But there is some sad underlying truth to this statement. In 2018, there were two high-profile outbreaks in romaine lettuce. The first, starting in March and lasting through June, effected 210 people, 96 of which were hospitalized, 27 who developed uremic syndrome (which is a type of kidney failure) and 5 of which who died. The second starting in October, effected 62 people, 25 which were hospitalized and two who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. Internet memes aside, pathogenic E. coli is incredibly dangerous and at the forefront of consumer’s minds. This burden on public health is largely preventable. Continue Reading

Most everyone remembers the food pyramid from their grade school days (or even later in life), which was the visual cue issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for Americans to use when making decisions regarding their dietary habits and choices. Unfortunately, the food pyramid marketing programs were so successful that most Americans still have not transitioned to the new USDA health program, MyPlate, which replaced the food pyramid program back in 2011. The food industry is partially to blame since many of the food labels making dietary guideline product claims continue to cite old vocabulary from the food pyramid days, for example “servings” of fruits and vegetables instead of “cups” from the new and improved MyPlate plan. Understanding how to apply the MyPlate criteria to produce properly is one clear way to communicate healthy eating choices to our growing population.

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Training for on-farm fruit and vegetable operations in the Produce Safety Rule is proceeding. The FDA and state departments of agriculture are offering on-farm educational inspections prior to regulatory inspections in their “educate before we regulate” approach. With the emphasis placed on worker hygiene, soil amendments, wildlife & domestic animal intrusion and irrigation water testing; I wonder if we may be missing an important aspect in post-harvest handling. Sanitation of harvest and packing shed equipment is critical to ensure pathogens don’t become established in the equipment and serve as a source of contamination.

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I am always amused when shopping in retail stores and I come across a garment or accessory that has a sizing tag that reads, “One Size Fits All.” This is beyond laughable. What are the chances that this is actually the case? Simple genetics tells us that no two people are exactly alike so how can one garment fit everyone? If you topped the growth charts, these “one-size” garments never fit all of you, and if you are an extra petite person, you can hang that same garment on yourself like draperies on a window. The results will not be favorable or hardly functional, and this garment will remain unworn and eventually be tossed into a donation box or sold in a garage sale. It is wasted money.

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Testing for bacterial pathogens that cause foodborne illness is common in today’s food industry. Viruses such as norovirus (NoV) and Hepatitis A (HAV) can be sources of foodborne illnesses, but testing for these viruses in food is much less common.

Norovirus is the most common cause of foodborne illness in the United States, accounting for 58% of foodborne illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus causes between 19-21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis yearly, contributing to an estimated 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths each year. 

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