Mary Helen Arthur

• Food Science Communicator Christine Bruhn, University of California, told the March 5 Associated Press that there is no evidence that organic products are safer or more nutritious than conventional food. “I hope [consumers] will understand what organic means and make this an informed choice,” she said.

Bruhn and Dennis Olson, Iowa State University, shared their insight into irradiation with the March 19 Gannett News Service. Bruhn noted that a 1998 study found that 80% of consumers would buy products labeled “irradiated to kill harmful bacteria.” “I think people who want the safest food need to consider this technology,” she said. Olson estimated the cost of treating meat would be about 5 cents per pound. The process does not harm taste, nutritional value, or texture, he added.

• Communicator Mark Meskin, California Polytechnic University, discussed the cancer risk from grilled foods in the March 2 Portales (New Mexico) News-Tribune. “You don’t want to go overboard on eating charcoal-cooked foods, but just because you’re exposed to carcinogens doesn’t mean you’ll get cancer,” he said. “And while there are carcinogens throughout the food supply, there are tremendous amounts of anti-carcinogens, particularly in fruits and vegetables. So when you look at this in context of a full diet, you’re exposed to carcinogens and anti-carcinogens.”

• Communicator Paul Lachance, Rutgers University, discussed choosing foods based on their nutrient density when eating in a restaurant in the March issue of Country Living’s Healthy Living. “Some foods are more nutrient-dense than others. They give you the most vitamins and minerals per calorie.” In a 1997 study, Lachance ranked which fruits contain eight important vitamins and minerals per three-ounce serving. The top ten were kiwi, papaya, cantaloupe, strawberries, mango, lemon, orange, red currants, Mandarin orange, and avocado. He is now working on a comparable list for other foods. Thus far, nuts (particularly Brazil nuts and walnuts) make a strong showing, and top vegetables include carrots, sweet potatoes, and broccoli, he said. Recognizing that no one will eat perfectly all the time, Lachance said people should make up for their failings by choosing the best foods as often as possible. “When you’re ordering food, ask yourself, ‘What kind of nutritional deal am I getting?’”

Lachance also discussed research into handheld bioassay devices in a Feb. 22 article on BBC Online. He said that his team was developing handheld bioassay devices that could measure the level of bioactive compounds in a plant within 20 minutes while the plant is still in the field. “We’ve been developing rapid amino assays. With these a farmer can know where in the field, what part of the plant and when best to pick it,” he explained. “It also means he gets a better yield of his crop and a better price for it.” The key part is that “you have to agree on the biomarker—the chemical which signifies the presence of the active ingredient.” The team is developing a number of bioassays, including one to spot the active ingredient in blueberries that reduces urinary tract infections and one to identify the compound in bamboo shoots believed to lower blood cholesterol. Some of the bioassays have other purposes, including one that detects the presence of a virus in blueberry plants. “It can tell you before the plant flowers—which is the way it is identified now—which plants have the problem and where,” Lachance said.

• Communicator Fergus Clydesdale, University of Massachusetts, discussed the importance of the FDA approval of health claims in an article about functional foods in the March 13 issue of Crain’s Chicago Business. “If the FDA says [manufacturers] can make a claim, they can make a claim and there’s science behind it,” Clydesdale explained.

Clydesdale argued for the role of science and technology in the development of foods of the future in a Viewpoint article in the March 5 Sunday Republican (Springfield, Mass.). Noting the progress in understanding the relationship between food and health, he wrote, “I can say with confidence that advances in food, health and nutrition should increase at an exponential rate over the next decade.” He expressed concern about how consumers perceive the safety of today’s foods. “I am distressed, however, that many [consumers] are afraid of the low-risk hazards, such as possible negative consequences of eating genetically modified foods, but are not as concerned about high-risk hazards we are sure of, such as widespread microbial contamination or a shortage of food to feed the world’s billions.” Clydesdale predicted that today’s genome research will provide tremendous insight into the relationship between diet and health. “I believe in the future we should look to more technology, not less, to create more useful and acceptable foods. A search for dietary components to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease will be only the beginning. But the ultimate success of this experiment depends on science, technology and the educational community working together to create foods that not only deliver physiological health benefits, but also are pleasing to the senses, convenient, safe and affordable, and available to the global population.”

• Communicator Carl Winter, University of California, shared the lyrics to four of his popular food safety songs in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine. The food safety beat goes on.

Information Specialist