Posts Tagged: food safety
Consumer demand is rising for all things avocado, including oil made from the fruit. Avocado oil is a great source of vitamins, minerals and the type of fats associated with reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. But according to new research from food science experts at the University of California, Davis, the vast majority of avocado oil sold in the U.S. is of poor quality, mislabeled or adulterated with other oils.
In the country's first extensive study of commercial avocado oil quality and purity, UC Davis researchers report that at least 82% of test samples were either stale before expiration date or mixed with other oils. In three cases, bottles labeled as “pure” or “extra virgin” avocado oil contained near 100 percent soybean oil, an oil commonly used in processed foods that's much less expensive to produce.
Testing domestic and imported brands
Wang and Hilary Green, a Ph.D. candidate in Wang's lab, analyzed various chemical parameters of 22 domestic and imported avocado oil samples, which included all the brands they could find in local stores and online. Wang and Green received a $25,000 grant from Dipasa USA, part of the Dipasa Group, a sesame-seed and avocado-oil processor and supplier based in Mexico.
“In addition to testing commercial brands, we also bought avocados and extracted our own oil in the lab, so we would know, chemically, what pure avocado oil looks like,” Wang said.
Test samples included oils of various prices, some labeled extra virgin or refined. Virgin oil is supposed to be extracted from fresh fruit using only mechanical means, and refined oil is processed with heat or chemicals to remove any flaws.
Fifteen of the samples were oxidized before the expiration date. Oil loses its flavor and health benefits when it oxidizes, which happens over time and when exposed to too much light, heat or air. Six samples were mixed with large amounts of other oils, including sunflower, safflower and soybean oil.
Only two brands produced samples that were pure and non-oxidized. Those were Chosen Foods and Marianne's Avocado Oil, both refined avocado oils made in Mexico. Among the virgin grades, CalPure produced in California was pure and fresher than the other samples in the same grade.
A push for standards
Ensuring quality is important for consumers, retailers, producers and people throughout the avocado oil industry. Retailers want to sell quality products, shoppers want to get their money's worth and honest producers want to keep fraudulent and low-quality oil out of the marketplace.
But since avocado oil is relatively new on the scene, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet adopted “standards of identity,” which are basic food standards designed to protect consumers from being cheated by inferior products or confused by misleading labels. Over the last 80 years, the FDA has issued standards of identity for hundreds of products, like whiskey, chocolate, juices and mayonnaise. Without standards, the FDA has no means to regulate avocado oil quality and authenticity.
Avocado oil isn't the only product without enforceable standards. Honey, spices and ground coffee are other common examples. Foods that fetch a higher price are especially ripe for manipulating, especially when adulterations can be too subtle to detect outside a lab.
Wang is working to develop faster, better and cheaper chemical methods to detect adulteration so bulk buyers can test avocado oil before selling it. She is also evaluating more samples, performing shelf-life studies to see how time and storage affects quality, and encouraging FDA officials to establish reasonable standards for avocado oil.
Wang has experience collaborating with industry and the FDA. Ten years ago, she analyzed the quality and purity of extra virgin olive oil and discovered that most of what was being sold in the U.S. was actually a much lower grade. Her research sparked a cascade of responses that led California to establish one of the world's most stringent standards for different grades of olive oil. The FDA is working with importers and domestic producers to develop standards of identity for olive oil.
“Consumers seeking the health benefits of avocado oil deserve to get what they think they are buying,” Wang said. “Working together with the industry, we can establish standards and make sure customers are getting high-quality, authentic avocado oil and the companies are competing on a level playing field.”
Tips for consumers
- The flavor of virgin avocado oil can differ by varieties and region. In general, authentic, fresh, virgin avocado oil tastes grassy, buttery and a little bit like mushrooms.
- Virgin avocado oil should be green in color, whereas refined avocado oil is light yellow and almost clear due to pigments removed during refining.
- Even good oil becomes rancid with time. It's important to purchase a reasonable size that can be finished before the oil oxidizes. Store the oil away from light and heat. A cool, dark cabinet is a good choice, rather than next to the stove.
- How do you know if the oil is rancid? It starts to smell stale, sort of like play dough.
- When possible, choose an oil that's closest to the harvest/production time to ensure maximum freshness. The “best before date” is not always a reliable indicator of quality.
Happy summer! It's time to get the barbecue grilling and the pool party started. To keep your summer healthy and fun, UC ANR offers some important safety tips.
Food poisoning is a serious health threat in the United States, especially during the hot summer months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 Americans suffer from a foodborne illness each year, resulting in thousands of hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
Both the CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest four key rules to follow to stay food safe:
- Clean: Clean kitchen surfaces, utensils, and hands with soap and water while preparing food. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water.
- Separate: Separate raw meats from other foods by using different cutting boards. And be sure to keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs away from other items in your refrigerator.
- Cook: Cook foods to the right temperature; be sure to check internal temperature by using a food thermometer.
- Chill: Chill raw and prepared foods promptly.
Here are some additional tips from the USDA. Be sure to check out the CDC's comprehensive food safety website, which also has materials in both Spanish and English. For food safety tips in real time, follow USDA Food Safety on Twitter.
Summer also means more outside grilling, which can pose unique food safety concerns. Before firing up the barbecue, check out these five easy tips from UC Davis.
Before you take off on a road trip, camping adventure or boating excursion, don't forget to consider food safety. You'll need to plan ahead and invest in a good cooler.
Remember, warns the USDA, don't let food sit out for more than one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees F. And discard any food left out more than two hours; after only one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees F.
If there are any doubts about how long the food was out, it is best to throw it out!
Get more food safety tips for traveling from the USDA.
Avoid heat illness
“Summer can be a time for fun and relaxation, but in warm climates, we need to stay aware of the signs of heat illness and help keep our family members and co-workers safe,” says Brian Oatman, director of Risk & Safety Services at UC ANR.
“UC ANR provides comprehensive resources on our website, but it's designed around California requirements for workplace safety.” But, Oatman notes, much of the information applies.
“The training and basic guidance – drink water, take a rest when you are feeling any symptoms and having a shaded area available – are useful for anyone at any time.”
To increase your awareness of heat illness symptoms – and to learn more about prevention – Oatman suggests a few resources.
“Our Heat Illness Prevention page has many resources, including links for training, heat illness prevention plans, and links to other sites. One of the external sites for heat illness that I recommend is the Cal/OSHA site, which spells out the basic requirements for heat illness prevention in the workplace. It's also available in Spanish."
For those on the go, Oatman also recommends the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) mobile heat safety app.
The food production environment introduces many potential points of contamination risk from the soil to the table. Consumer demand for food safety practices along with new government regulations for fresh produce have raised grower awareness of the need for best practices to reduce microbial risks during the production and processing of nuts, fruits and vegetables.
Produce Safety Courses Available in Northern California
Produce safety training courses offered through the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS) are informing the farming community about Good Agricultural Practices (GAPS) to reduce microbial risks and meet Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) training requirements. The FSMA Produce Safety Rule requires vegetable, nut, and fruit growers, to have at least one supervisor or responsible party on the produce farm who has successfully completed food safety training. The training courses are offered in English and Spanish and run through June 2019.
What to expect
The Produce Safety Alliance team at Cornell University developed the curriculum for the PSA Grower Training Courses working together with many growers, researchers, extension educators, produce industry members, and state and federal regulatory personnel.
Trainers, such as lead trainer David Goldenberg, food safety and security training coordinator at WIFSS, provide approximately seven hours of instruction time, which includes table top exercises and question and discussion time.
- An introduction to produce safety
- Worker health, hygiene, and training
- Soil amendments
- Wildlife, domesticated animals and land use
- Agricultural water, production water and post-harvest water
- Post harvest handling and sanitation, and how to develop a farm food safety plan
The Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training courses, underway since January of 2019, have been attended by vegetable, nut, and fruit growers from Butte County to Monterey County. David Goldenberg along with Aparna Gazula, farm advisor for small farms and specialty crops, with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension in Santa Clara County, conducted the first WIFSS training class. Assisting in the training with Goldenberg and Gazula were Avery Cromwell with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and Donna Pahl, Cornell University, Produce Safety Alliance Extension Associate, with the Southwest Region, Riverside.
Benefits from attending the course
Course participants will be eligible to receive a certificate from the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) that verifies training course completion. To receive the certificate, you need to be present for the entire one-day course and submit the paperwork to your trainer at the end of the course.
Costs to attend
Sign up now for training courses to obtain a certificate of completion for the mandatory training to comply with the FSMA Produce Safety Rule. This is a chance to learn about foodborne illness and its impacts to the produce industry and consumers, different types of foodborne illness organisms, why prevention of contamination is critical to produce safety, how to conduct basic risk assessment, and steps involved in monitoring, record keeping, and corrective actions. CDFA, through a contract with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is subsidizing the cost of the training. A $30 cost per registrant will be charged to provide a lunch, beverages and the course manual and certificate completion.
At Super Bowl parties, dropped passes and missed tackles should be the only things making football fans' stomachs churn. Leaving food out for more than two hours can be hazardous to your health and that of your guests, cautions a UC Cooperative Extension nutrition expert.
You may be thinking, “I've eaten food that sat out longer than two hours and not thrown up.” Consider yourself lucky.
“We keep learning more about foodborne illness,” says Patti Wooten Swanson, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor in San Diego County. “We probably did get sick, but we thought it was something else, like the 24-hour flu.”
She added that kids, diabetics, pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.
For Super Bowl Sunday and throughout the year, Wooten Swanson offers these food safety tips:
- Thaw turkey or meat in the refrigerator.
- Don't wash raw meat or poultry in the sink before cooking.
- Use a meat thermometer to determine when meat or poultry is done.
- Put leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours.
- On the fourth day, throw leftovers away.
Thawing foods correctly and storing them at the right temperatures is important, said Wooten Swanson.
“Bacteria grow very rapidly,” she said. “From 40 degrees to 140 degrees is what we call the danger zone. We encourage you to get food out of that temperature range as soon as possible. Don't let food sit on the table after you finish eating and go to watch TV.”
She also recommends not leaving food out the length of the game.
“Chips are fine to leave out,” Wooten Swanson said, “But put the salsa and guacamole in small containers, then put out new bowls at halftime. Take away the original containers to wash or discard. You don't want to refill a bowl that has been out for 2 hours.”
As I inhaled my salad, I couldn't help but think of the recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that affected at least 24 people in the U.S. and more than 40 in Canada. Originally it was blamed on Romaine lettuce, but early in January the CDC said in a statement that the likely source of the outbreak in the United States appears to be leafy greens. However, officials have not identified a specific type of leafy green or specifically where it originated.
A 2013 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control revealed that 46 percent of all foodborne illnesses that led to hospitalization or death between 1998 and 2008 were attributable to fresh produce. The report brought to the consumers' attention that, while fresh fruits and vegetables are the cornerstones of a healthy diet, when improperly handled, they can be fatal.
In spite of these sobering statistics I feel confident to continue my consumption of raw produce, in part because of the knowledge of such things as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program administered by CDFA to create and deliver educational materials for growers to assist in conducting agricultural water sampling and environmental assessments. The grant is part of an effort to help growers meet the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR) standards for safe foods.
Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS) and UC Agricultural and Natural Resource (ANR) personnel - including pathologist Bennie Osburn, UC Cooperative Extension specialist Alda Pires, UCCE specialist Erin DiCaprio, and WIFFS staff Heather Johnson and Ronald Bond - are developing a guide for California's mid- and small- farm specialty crop growers to meet the requirements of the PSR. Training materials, including online and face-to-face field exercises, will be developed for extension specialists and farm advisors. To facilitate the learning experience, there will be online information in multiple languages including Spanish, Hmong, Mandarin and English to meet the diverse needs of California specialty crop growers. The final step in the process will be to deliver the course materials in seven outreach workshops in those regions of California where mid- and small-sized growers are located.
With UC Davis and UC ANR working together to support California specialty crop growers as they work to meet the new compliance standards of the FSMA PSR, we can long enjoy the abundant, fresh leafy green produce produced in California's fertile valleys.