• Food Science Communicator Donald Schaffner, Rutgers University, addressed consumer concerns about irradiation in the October-December issue of Health & You. Noting that the term “irradiation” brings to mind nuclear power plants and radioactive contamination, he said, “Obviously if you were to [use] huge doses of radiation, much larger than needed, you could make a food radioactive. . . . But it would be just like putting something in the oven for too long—it would catch fire,” he explained. At the minimal levels of radiation commonly used to process food, there is no possibility of the food becoming radioactive, he added.
• Communicator Christine Bruhn, University of California, also focused specifically on the term “irradiation” in an article by the Associated Press. “The use of the term irradiation can be misleading,” Bruhn said. “[Consumers] think perhaps it’s radioactive.” How to fix the problem? Bruhn suggested specific language for labels: “Treated with cold pasteurization (irradiation) for improved safety.”
• Communicator John Allred, Ohio State University, discussed the relationship between dietary fat and obesity in the November issue of Reader’s Digest New Choices. “Although the proportion of calories from fat has dropped, the amount of fat we’re eating hasn’t changed in more than a decade. By putting so much emphasis on fat, we forget about calories,” Allred said. Even if people read nutrition labels to see how much fat a food contains, “even when it says ‘low fat,’ if you eat the equivalent of two servings, that’s not low fat anymore,” he said.
• Communicator Ronald Eitenmiller, University of Georgia, told the Associated Press about the health benefits of peanuts and pecans when eaten in moderation. “[People] can feel less guilty when they are eating peanuts and pecans because they’re getting many good nutrients . . . but they still have to watch their total calorie intake,” he said. Researchers have discovered that the nuts are high in plant sterols, which are beneficial because “the sterols inhibit the absorption of cholesterol,” he said.
• Aaron Brody of Rubbright•Brody Inc. offered a food safety perspective on the Internet food industry in the November 3 Wall Street Journal. Properly shipping perishables can be a difficult task, causing Brody to comment that “you’ve got yourself some headaches.” Some outfits may be introducing “hazards we haven’t had since the milkman,” he said.
• Communicator Val Hillers, Washington State University, discussed food safety, ranked the number 6 holiday-season health hazard, in the December issue of Parents. “The key to protecting yourself and your family is not to guess when it comes to food-safety questions,” Hillers said. As a general rule, food should never be left unrefrigerated for more than two hours; anything left out longer should be tossed, she said.
• Communicator Joanne Slavin, University of Minnesota, extolled the benefits of whole grains in the November 7 America’s Doctor. “Whole grains in particular contain beneficial substances—heart-healthy soluble fiber, B vitamins, iron, zinc, phytochemicals and the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium—that help reduce the risk of many major diseases,” Slavin said.
• Communicator Mary Ellen Camire, University of Maine, offered Men’s Health readers tips to keep microwaved food from tasting rubbery. She suggested using a lower power setting and breaking the food into smaller pieces for more thorough heating. Microwaves with a carousel produce better results. Also, a paper towel under foods such as pizza absorbs moisture, which will help keep the crust from becoming chewy. Finally, Camire noted that “some foods are going to turn rubbery no matter what you do.” For example, without much fat to soften it, the protein in lowfat cheese microwaves poorly. Melting it in a toaster oven instead might yield better results.
• Joe Regenstein, Cornell University, told readers of the January/February 2001 issue of Cook’s Illustrated how salt applied to a kosher chicken improves the flavor and moistness of the meat. The same basic process is involved when brining a chicken. When salt is applied to the surface of the chicken, the free-flowing liquid within the proteins is drawn out, he said. The salt, in turn, is absorbed back into the proteins. The salt denatures, or unwinds, the coiled strands of the proteins, thereby priming them for the absorption of more liquid when the salt is rinsed off. The water and salt molecules, tangled in the web of protein strands, are what makes the kosher chicken moist and flavorful, he said.
• Communicators Aurora Hodgson, University of Hawaii, and Fred Caporaso, Chapman University, discussed food product development in the November 29 edition of Business Week Frontier. Both emphasized the importance of the customer’s preferences. “Listen to what your customers like,” Hodgson advised. “[Your product] should be market-driven,” she said. “Healthy food is in vogue,” Caporaso said. “But the reality is that nobody is going to eat a product if it doesn’t taste better than the package it comes in.”
by MARY HELEN ARTHUR