Mary Helen Arthur

• Food Science Communicators Susan S. Sumner, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and Michael P. Doyle, University of Georgia, commented on methods to remove bacteria from fresh produce in the April 2 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune. Sumner said, “Washing tainted produce with water is better than doing nothing, but not a whole lot better.” She recommended washing produce in the kitchen with a nontoxic mix of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Doyle commented that his school is moving to patent a stronger bacterial wash for use in produce packing plants that combines lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide.

• Doyle, in the April 8 New Scientist, questioned the effectiveness of a new food wrap that changes color if food is contaminated with one of four pathogens. The new wrap, being developed by a Toronto company, Toxin Alert, uses standard antibody tests to detect the pathogenic species of Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, and Escherichia coli O157:H7. Doyle pointed out that laboratory tests for food poisoning work by culturing enough microorganisms from the sample to show up on the test. It is unlikely that the food wrap will be sensitive enough to detect the very low levels of microorganisms that can cause disease, he said. “They’re going to give people a false sense of security,” he predicted, because there are a lot of pathogen-containing products out there that are not going to be identified.

• Communicator Paul A. Lachance, Rutgers University, and Eileen Kennedy, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, told the Scripps Howard News Service that people need to watch relying on reduced-fat goodies to cut fat from their diets. “They’ll eat these snack foods, where they ought to be eating [fresh vegetables and fruit rich in] vitamins and minerals,” Lachance explained. Kennedy noted that “simply reducing fat intake does not achieve what I would call a healthful diet. It’s not just what you don’t eat, it’s what you do eat.” In terms of fruit and vegetable consumption, “the National Cancer Institute says to eat five as a minimum,” Lachance said. “We’re not even getting 80 percent of people to do that.”

• Lachance also clarified the relationship between nutraceuticals and functional foods for the online healthy living site ThriveOnline. According to Lachance, the term nutraceutical refers to the naturally derived, bioactive compounds in foods that have health benefits. For example, lycopene is a nutraceutical. Functional foods contain nutraceuticals and provide this extra health benefit in addition to the nutrients normally found in the item. Consequently, tomatoes or tomato products with lycopene are considered functional foods. “We are just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning and uncovering more about nutraceuticals and their use in food and health,” he said.

• Communicator Alfred A. Bushway, University of Maine, talked with the April 17 Beaver County (Penn.) Times about a team at the university that is trying to develop an inexpensive “electronic nose” to detect when fruit and vegetables reach their peak of ripeness. Focusing on just one gas, ethylene, could significantly reduce the cost of current devices that measure 32 different gases. Ethylene concentrations can vary greatly during the ripening of fruits such as bananas, tomatoes, and apples, Bushway said.

• Steve Taylor, University of Nebraska, praised the food safety tunes of his friend, Communicator Carl K. Winter, University of California, in the April 5 edition of the Omaha World-Herald. Although many people may consider Winter’s work frivolous, the lessons can save lives, Taylor said. The article noted the popularity of Winter’s songs, including his inclusion as an IFT Scientific Lecturer.

• Communicator Kenneth N. Hall, University of Connecticut, explained in the April issue of Kitchen Gardener that “a food can become spoiled yet be safe to eat, and a food can become unsafe to eat yet not appear spoiled.” Responding to a reader’s question about the need to refrigerate her homemade salad dressings, Hall said, “the risk may be small, but, for reasons of safety, all opened, shelf-stable commercial salad dressings and all homemade salad dressings should be refrigerated when not in use.” He discussed several possible food safety risks, including Clostridium botulinum, commonly associated with garlic and honey; Escherichia coli O157:H7 and other pathogenic bacteria species that can multiply under acidic conditions; and potential contamination sources during preparation and use.

• Communicator Bruce A. Watkins, Purdue University, discussed how omega-3 fatty acids help broken bones heal, in the May issue of Men’s Health. “Omega-3 fatty acids create a friendly environment for bone cells to do the job of building new bone, he said.

• Communicator Barry G. Swanson, Washington State University, talked about his research on chocolate in the Feb. 9 St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press. “Obviously, chocolate is very desirable, but I don’t really think there is strong evidence that people are addicted to it in a clinical sense, although it may be very necessary for mood control,” he said. Swanson credits certain chemical compounds found in chocolate, such as caffeine, theobromine (a mild stimulant), and glucose, with the pleasurable feeling in those who eat it. However, he said the claimed antidepressant benefits may actually be a placebo effect based on happy childhood memories that involve chocolate. To explain why more men are not prone to chocolate craving, Swanson noted that men’s palates are more attracted to sour and bitter tastes such as beer and coffee, whereas women’s tastes lean more toward sweeter foods like chocolate.

Information Specialist