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Posts Tagged: produce

It's just a waste, II

A year ago, a co-worker wrote a post on this blog entitled “It’s just a waste.”  The sad facts of food waste are something we pay attention to since we work for the UC Postharvest Technology Center. A key component of our Center’s mission is to “reduce postharvest losses.” This topic also hits close to home on a personal level since I have always struggled with using up produce before it spoils. I go shopping about once a week, and tend to purchase just a bit more produce than what we will actually eat – in the hopes that one of us will suddenly adopt healthier eating habits by increasing our intake of fresh produce. I place the produce in my fruit ripening bowl, on the counter, or in the fridge, according to the recommendations on my handy produce storage chart. But nearly every week something goes awry, usually with my schedule, and I end up not serving the delicious produce-based meals I had planned, or I forget to pack my lunch, and oops, the negative effects of delayed consumption hit my produce.

Chart from “FAO Global Food Losses and Food Waste”
The numbers show I’m not alone in this struggle, since research reports that nearly 30 percent of all produce losses in the United States happen at the consumer level. I was surprised to learn that today the average American consumer wastes nearly 50 percent more food than we did in the 1970s. (Link to the August 2012 Natural Resources Defense Council Report.) In the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nation's chart you can see that consumers from every other region around the world do significantly better than we in using their produce.

I want to do better, too! I hereby resolve to try harder to stick with my menu plan, pay closer attention to produce on the counter and the fridge (sometimes known affectionately in the produce industry as the “black hole”), and I will try very hard to be more creative in my use or preservation of quickly ripening produce.

My single biggest challenge is bananas. I try to buy a smaller hand of 5 to 6 bananas with some green tint left. They go on my banana hook in a cooler corner of my kitchen. At least half the weeks of the year those bananas have black spots within 3 to 4 days, and by day 5 there are usually 2 to 3 bananas left that are no longer appealing to my family. So almost half the bananas I buy usually don’t get eaten. I know, I know, “buy a smaller hand of bananas,” you say. That’s easier said than done, at least at the markets in which I shop.

Thankfully there are many cooks out there willing to share their recipes for creative ways to use up an over-supply of bananas. Below is a starting list of ideas that I’ll be drawing from as I make an effort to reduce produce waste, and especially banana waste, in our home.

  • Slice into 1-inch chunks, freeze in a single layer on a wax paper covered cookie sheet. Transfer into a zip-bag and return to the freezer to use as needed for fruit smoothies or other cooking projects
  • Banana bread or banana muffins
  • Homemade banana ice cream
  • Banana layer cake with cream cheese frosting
  • Slice lengthwise, sauté in butter and ¼ tsp. rum flavoring until golden brown, and serve on ice cream
  • Banana crunch cookies
  • Make banana pancakes, add chocolate chips if desired (here’s a link to a pancake recipe called “Chunky Monkey” my son-in-law likes to make)
  • Peel, insert a lollipop or popsicle stick and freeze. Eat as is, or dip in melted chocolate.
  • Banana drop cookies
  • Slice, dip in fresh lemon juice, and dry in a dehydrator
  • Make a warm spiced banana topping that’s great on ice cream or gingerbread
  • Banana oatmeal bar cookies
  • Banana pudding
  • Fruit Skewers
  • Bananas Foster
  • Banana Daiquiri
  • Tropical banana bar cookies with raisins, pecans and coconut
  • Banana cream pie
  • Peanut butter, banana and rum bar cookies
  • Trifle
  • Burrito Bananas Foster
  • Fruit Salad
  • Banana crepes
  • Dessert Pizza
  • Banana Bundt cake with caramel frosting
  • Fruit salsa, served with cinnamon tortilla chips
  • Banana split
  • Strawberry-banana parfait with yogurt and granola
Posted on Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 7:57 AM
  • Author: Mary E. Reed

Postharvest technology is something of a mystery

A field of strawberries.
Postharvest technology. Hmmm. What does that even mean to you?  Like most people, you’ve probably never thought about it, but it actually affects you every day. At least whenever you eat fruits and vegetables, and let’s face it, we all need to be eating more fruits and vegetables. 

Working at the Postharvest Technology Center, I often think about how to spread our mission of how to reduce postharvest losses and improve the quality, safety and marketability of fresh horticultural products. Part of doing this is educating consumers about making good choices so they have a better experience eating fruits and vegetables. And, if consumers have a better experience with fruits and vegetables, we eat more of them. If we can create demand at the consumer end, it will trickle through to the people that handle your produce: processors, retailers, distributors, carriers, marketers, shippers and finally growers.

I spoke with Jim Thompson, who wrote “From the Farm to Your Table: A Consumer’s Guide to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables” along with Adel Kader, two distinguished experts in the field of postharvest technology. Thompson said they wrote the publication knowing that, “For most consumers, it’s kind of a mystery what influences the quality of their produce. This publication answers some of the questions of how to make good choices at the market and at home.”

Thompson adds, “There are many things that can steal quality from produce. And it starts at the farm.” 

The type of cultivar the farmer chooses to plant and what kind of soil, temperature and light conditions, irrigation and fertilization practices at the farm affect flavor and nutritional quality. When the product was harvested, how it was handled prior to arrival at your market, and how your market stores the product all influence the quality of your produce. 

You certainly know which market in town has the best produce section, and it’s important to you. In fact, according to the 2011 National Grocers Association Consumer Survey Report, “Consumers say they are keeping health a priority—and 91 percent regard a stellar produce department as a ‘very important’ factor in where they buy groceries. This is precisely the same percentage as a year ago, which represented a dramatic five-point jump from the 86% level of two years ago.  While the recession may have withered wallets, it hasn’t hurt consumers’ resolve on this measure.”

If you’d like to learn more about how you can make the most of your fresh fruit and vegetable experiences, the Postharvest Technology Center is offering a 40 percent discount (making it only $4.20!) on “From the Farm to Your Table” through the end of September 2012. And as long as you’re there, our other consumer publication, the poster “Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables for Better Taste” (just $1) would be a lovely addition to your refrigerator! 

Please contact us at (530) 754-4326 or postharvest2@plantsciences.ucdavis.edu  if you’re interested in ordering multiple copies for a nutrition, health or cooking class or you can purchase them through our online bookstore.

Posted on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 11:08 AM
Tags: Adel Kader (3), consumers (5), Jim Thompson (1), Postharvest (10), produce (9)

California's delicious harvest season unfolds

Early spring can be an invigorating time of year, with lengthening days, blooming daffodils and fruit trees (and ski season still in full force). One of the best perks of the season is the availability of luscious strawberries, and tasty artichokes and asparagus picked from nearby farms, with flavor quality and price that reflects both in-season and local transportation benefits. 

Dr. Roberta Cook
Depending on your location, farmers markets and pick-your-own farms will begin offering their wares within the next month or two. There are over 700 farmers markets in California. A wide variety of produce, from the exotic to the humble every-day variety, is available to entice you with its fresh beauty.  We here in the West spend more annually on fresh produce at $511 vs. the national average of $429, wrote Roberta Cook, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, in “Eye on Economics: Much more than Dollars and Cents. Cook states that, “California produces half of the nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables and consumers here are privileged to have an abundance of high quality fresh produce over extended seasons due to California’s Mediterranean climate.” 

Elsewhere in the United States “local” food markets are much less developed due to climate restrictions that limit production to a brief period in the summer and early fall; and the variety of products grown is only a fraction of the over 200 crops grown in California. While “local” production represents a rapidly growing share of U.S. agricultural sales, with direct-to-consumer sales more than quadrupling in the past decade, outside of California the share is still tiny.

There are few things as disappointing as biting into a piece of fruit that looks beautiful on the outside but just doesn’t deliver that burst of flavor, or cutting into a nice-looking vegetable only to find an unsightly defect inside. When I’m prowling through a display of fresh produce, I rev up all my senses into high gear and get up-close and personal with the fruit and veggie items on my list.  I get busy feeling the weight-to-size ratio, gently (not too hard, mind you, or you’ll get a bad reputation with other shoppers) pressing to feel for firmness, looking at color, form, and stem separation area, and smelling the aroma. All of these things, and more, help provide clues about the quality inside.

D'Anjou pears with PLU Tags
Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and Price Look Up (PLU) stickers
Other clues are often available about where and how your produce items were grown. For instance, in 2009 rules (affecting retail grocers) were adopted by the USDA mandating country of origin labeling (COOL), which required that retailers notify customers of the country of origin of all perishable agricultural commodities. Also offering insights into your produce selection is the Price Look Up sticker. Created by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) in 1987 to create a standardized system to assist check-out clerks with looking up the produce items, it also indicates additional information such as whether it’s organic. 

For instance, if your produce item’s sticker has a 4 digit code, it is “conventionally grown, but not organic.” If the code has 5 digits, and the first digit is a 9, the produce was organically grown. Usually the PLU stickers also include the country of origin in writing, but if not, this information should be displayed on the packing box or other store signage. Conventionally grown produce is recognized by scientists and regulators to be just as safe as organically grown and there is no evidence that it is worse for the environment. About 95 percent of retail fresh produce sales are conventionally grown and generally cost about 30 percent less than organics.

There are a number of resources that can help produce shoppers improve their savvy shopping skills:

From the Farm to Your Table: A Consumer’s Guide to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, by James Thompson and Adel Kader. This 16-page booklet offers information on measuring quality; farm-based growing conditions, practices and harvesting; handling, transportation and storage; and selecting and storing good-quality produce for use at home.  The table on how to select good-quality produce is especially helpful.  ($7.00/copy)

Shopping for Fruits & Vegetables at the Fruits and Veggies: More Matters web site

Storing Fresh Fruit and Vegetables for Better Taste, a free downloadable poster from the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center

i know produce, a comprehensive produce website developed by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) that includes photo identification, written description, availability by location, nutrition information, storage/handling, and tips.

Posted on Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 12:54 PM
  • Author: Mary E. Reed
  • Contributor: Roberta Cook

Some hae meat, and canna eat . . .

"Some hae meat, and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it . . ."

The words are old and a little hard to understand, but they tell a story that's as true today as when the poet Robert Burns spoke them back in the 1790s. They were old words even then. Always, it seems, there are those of us who are fortunate enough to eat well and those of us who go hungry, even in a country as rich as ours.

One morning last May, I got to meet some folks who help ease that hunger in the community where I live. That morning I drove with my wife to an industrial area on the northeast side of Woodland, California, where the Food Bank of Yolo County does its business. Outside the warehouse door delivery trucks from local markets, chain stores, farms, and other food sources came and went, mingling with buyers' pickups and trailers from churches and other charitable groups.

The big trucks were there to deliver what many retailers would consider marginal goods: bread, dairy products, meats, and canned and dry goods that were moving too slowly off the shelves or getting too close to their sell-by dates; a cardboard harvest bin of loose carrots in the walk-in, donated by a grower who was getting ready to put in a new crop; 50-pound sacks of potatoes or onions that were either too much for the food service market or were set aside by generous handlers or a government agency for exactly the purpose they were about to serve: to feed the hungry.

These days about 35 percent of the stock you can see in this Food Bank warehouse has been donated outright. The rest comes from government agencies or direct purchases from the California Association of Food Banks. A few years ago the directors of the Food Bank of Yolo County shifted their focus toward providing clients with fresher, more nutritious food, and since then they have brought their fresh produce sales from about 50,000 pounds a year up to a high of 1 million pounds in 2010. 

That morning in May my wife and I joined other groups of buyers inside the warehouse, each of us picking through the low-priced goods for just the right mix of products to refill the shelves of a soup kitchen or—as in our case—a local food closet. Loaves of bread, a case of canned tomatoes, a box of apples, macaroni and cheese mix, a shrink-wrapped bundle of bags of flour. We loaded our wheeled dolly three times: first came the bread, which a food bank volunteer weighed before we loaded it into the truck; then the produce, likewise weighed on the dolly and loaded; and finally the canned and dry goods, which are priced by the case. Five flats of eggs we put in the pickup's back seat for a smooth ride. For a little less than $100 we got enough food to fill the truck.

A short trip then took us back to the food closet at our church, where 8 or 10 women and men, most of them well into their retirement years, bustled around the edges of the sorting table that filled the middle of the small room, stacking cans on shelves, putting bread, tortillas, and eggs into the refrigerators, doling potatoes, onions, rice, and beans from 50-pound sacks into smaller, consumer-sized bags, and pointing out to me firmly and kindly each time I put a box or bag down in the wrong place. Which was pretty often. Before an hour was up, the closet was stocked and locked up and ready for food distribution the next day. Two distributions a week from our closet alone can serve up to 50 families in need.

There's plenty that you can do, too, to help relieve hunger in your own community. Find your nearest food bank on the California Association of Food Banks website, or ask around to find out about local food closets or soup kitchens.

Then all you need to do is pitch in. If you've got the time, they've got the need.

Posted on Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 12:00 AM
Tags: carrots (3), food (36), food bank (1), fruit (29), fruits and vegetables (6), hunger (9), low income (2), nutrition (123), produce (9), vegetables (39)

Enjoy summer’s fruits and vegetables — safely

Now that we’re in the thick of summer and eating bountiful quantities of uncooked fresh fruits and vegetables (salads, and fruit bowls, and tomatoes — oh my!), it’s time to make sure we handle them properly to avoid foodborne illnesses.

According to Dr. Trevlor Suslow, a plant pathologist and Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Davis, “Americans consume more than six billion servings of uncooked fresh fruits and vegetables every year, versus a very small number of illnesses that are clearly linked to foodborne pathogens.”

The take-home message is that the food supply in the U.S. is generally very safe, particularly when everyone in the food supply chain (including consumers) does their part to assure food safety.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released the following information for home consumers:

Nearly 48 million people (1 in 6 people) are sickened by food contaminated with harmful germs each year, and some of the causes might surprise you.

Although most people know animal products must be handled carefully to prevent illness, many don’t realize that produce can also be the culprit in foodborne illness. In recent years, the U.S. has had several outbreaks of illness caused by contaminated fruits and vegetables — including spinach, tomatoes, and lettuce.

Fresh produce can become contaminated in many ways. During the growing phase, fruits and veggies may be contaminated by animals, harmful substances in the soil or water, and poor worker hygiene. After produce is harvested, it passes through many hands, increasing the contamination risk. Contamination can even occur after the produce has been purchased, during food preparation, or through inadequate storage.

The FDA says to choose produce that isn’t bruised or damaged, and make sure that pre-cut items — such as bags of lettuce or watermelon slices — are either refrigerated or on ice both in the store and at home. In addition, follow these recommendations:

  1. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
  2. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
  3. Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.
  4. Wash produce BEFORE you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
  5. Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.
  6. Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
  7. Throw away the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.

Store perishable produce in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or below.

(Condensed from an FDA news release. The site has an interesting video and useful links to other sites with food safety information.)

For more on what UC Davis and UC Cooperative Extension are doing to assure the safety of fresh produce:

Posted on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 5:35 PM
Tags: bacteria (5), food safety (40), foodborne illness (6), germs (3), hand-washing (2), produce (9), sanitation (2), Trevor Suslow (3), UC Davis (35), washing (2)

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