Angela L. Dansby

• Food Science Communicator Fergus M. Clydesdale, University of Massachusetts, discussed “foods containing many promises” in the June 13 New York Times. He warned that some of the promises functional food manufacturers make are a stretch, and that even if a product contains an ingredient proven to be health-enhancing, there is no guarantee that the ingredient is available in a form the body can use or is present in quantities that may be effective. However, he noted the benefit of fortifying foods with vitamins and minerals. “By supplementing milk with vitamin D,” he said, “we’ve been able to wipe out rickets.”

• Communicator Linda J. Harris, University of California at Davis, discussed safe picnic tips in the May 26 San Francisco Chronicle. Understanding the relationship between bacteria, time, and temperature can keep a picnic from turning into a medical emergency, she said. Pathogens grow best at body temperature at about 96°F; in such a warm environment, they double in number about every 20 minutes, she noted. For this reason, Harris advised discarding picnic food after an hour or two, depending on how hot the temperature is outside. “When I go to a picnic or barbecue, I do a lot of touching the side of the bowls to make sure it’s still cold,” she said. “If it’s not cold, or the meat isn’t hot, I won’t eat it.” Of course, she noted that you have to do the bowl test casually to avoid insulting the host.

• Communicator Manfred Kroger, Pennsylvania State University, watered down bottled water claims in the June 1999 issue of Cooking Light. The claim “calcium-enriched” on bottled water is misleading since “normal tap water is high in calcium,” he said. “Calcium carbonate is part of what makes water hard as opposed to soft.” There is little difference between bottled and tap water in terms of nutrition or safety, Kroger said, noting that bottled water is more about taste and convenience.

Kroger and Bob Gravani of Cornell University discussed the top six rules of food safety in the June 1999 issue of Prevention. The rules included handwashing; produce washing (while running water works well, Kroger said that commercial washes, which contain substances that loosen any dirt and wax quickly, may be a good idea for people who wash produce hastily); using an instant-read thermometer when cooking meat and poultry; chilling perishable foods as quickly as possible; cleaning raw food work surfaces with dishwashing detergent and chlorine bleach; and washing sponges and dishcloths frequently. While consumers will be wise to follow these rules, Gravani said: “Don’t get so hung up [on them] that you lose the dining experience.”

• Intelligent microwave developers Kit L. Yam and Communicator Paul A. Lachance of Rutgers University were featured in the June 10 New York Times. Microwave ovens should be smart enough to detect exactly what foods they are about to zap, Kit said, taking into account the foods’ freshness, temperature, and packaging. Smart microwaves should also be able to tap into the Internet, providing information about a meal’s ingredients or nutritional content and warnings about recalled foods, he added. Such appliances should also know their users, recognizing voices and remembering, for example, if a user is allergic to peanuts. The Rutgers team has already created an intelligent microwave prototype and is completing a second one that includes a built-in computer chip, scanner, and voice-recognition software. This article also appeared in the June 25 Dallas Morning News and June 19 Arizona Republic.

• Communicator Daniel Y.C. Fung of Kansas State University and Director of Science Communications Joyce A. Nettleton baited readers to eat and avoid certain kinds of fish in the June 1999 issue of New Woman. Nettleton noted that fatty fish, such as salmon, rainbow trout, herring, and tuna, are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which may protect against heart disease. She recommended two servings of such fish a week. However, Fung cautioned consumers about eating some kinds of fish, especially those that have naturally poisonous parts, such as puffer fish (fugu), rays, and eels. He advised eating raw seafood only at reputable restaurants with very cold display cases. He also noted that tropical reef fish, such as grouper, snapper, and amberjack, are susceptible to ciguatoxin contamination, which cannot be detected by smell or taste or inactivated by cooking. Anyone who is pregnant or has a compromised immune system, Fung added, should use caution when eating uncanned tuna, mahi mahi, bluefish, mackerel, or bonito, which can become infected with a histamine-producing bacteria if not refrigerated properly.

• Communicator Michael P. Doyle, University of Georgia, “put the squeeze on sponges” in the June 1 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Since household sponges tend to harbor bacteria, Doyle recommended using paper towels to clean up kitchen spills, especially raw meat juices, because they can be discarded.

• Communicator Stanley Segall, Drexel University, discussed “java junkies” in the June 15 Oregonian (Portland). He said that caffeine is an indirect stimulant because “it acts as an inhibitor of a particular enzyme that tends to calm your heart rate.” A java junkie himself, Segall noted that caffeine is mildly addictive, but not a health concern. In fact, recent studies at Rutgers University show that caffeine may even inhibit tumor growth, the article reported.

• Communicator Ronald H. Schmidt, University of Florida, discussed food manufacturers putting “function into foods” in the June 18 issue of On Health on-line. He noted that the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act created a loophole for manufacturers to market foods containing dietary supplements with unsubstantiated health claims as long as the claims are not drug claims. For example, Schmidt said, a company selling cranberries can claim that they help maintain a health urinary tract, but it cannot claim that cranberries help fight urinary tract infection. “Does the consumer really see the difference in those statements?” he asked.

Kathryn Kotula and Communicator M. Susan Brewer, University of Illinois, were frank about hot dogs in the July/August 1999 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Kotula said that hot dogs primarily consist of meat trimmings, not variety meats, such as organs, unless labeled so. Hot dog flavor is concentrated in the fat, Brewer noted, so less fat means less flavor. She also said that non-meat binders, such as nonfat dry milk and cereal starches, will make hot dogs less firm. Kotula added that once a hot dog package is opened, its contents should be used within a few days or frozen.

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  1. Food, Health and Nutrition