Monday, December 26, 2016

Celebrity Chefs Have Poor Food Safety Practices

Newswise, December 26, 2016— Celebrity chefs are cooking up poor food safety habits, according to a Kansas State University study.

Kansas State University food safety experts Edgar Chambers IV and Curtis Maughan, along with Tennessee State University's Sandria Godwin, recently published
"Food safety behaviors observed in celebrity chefs across a variety of programs" in the Journal of Public Health. The researchers viewed 100 cooking shows with 24 popular celebrity chefs and found several unclean food preparation behaviors.

"Twenty-three percent of chefs licked their fingers; that's terrible," said Chambers, professor and director of the Sensory Analysis Center at Kansas State University. "Twenty percent touched their hair or dirty clothing or things and then touched food again."

The chefs' most common food safety hazards included lack of hand-washing, not changing the cutting boards between raw meat and vegetables that wouldn't be cooked, and not using a meat thermometer to check meat doneness.

"Washing your hands is not a one-time thing," Chambers said. "We saw some chefs wash their hands in the beginning before preparing food, but they didn't wash their hands during food preparation when they should have."

Chambers said this is not modeling good behavior for viewers. Celebrity chefs' purpose is to entertain and educate about food preparation techniques and helpful kitchen hints, which should include proper food safety practices, he said.

"We hear about safety issues from unclean food or when something has gotten through the food system," Chambers said. "It can be detrimental to young children and the elderly, but many times when people think they have the 24-hour stomach flu, it's often from poor food preparation practices."

According to the study, about 1 in 6 Americans are exposed to foodborne illnesses each year, which can economically and socially affect consumers. Practices promoted by the Fight Bac! consumer food safety education campaign, which the researchers used to evaluate the chefs' food safety practices, can help improve public health.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the campaign encourages cooks to clean, separate, cook and chill to help prevent foodborne illness.

"All celebrity chefs have to do is mention these things as they go along: 'Remember to wash your hands,' 'Don't forget to change out your cutting board,' or 'I washed my hands here' — which some chefs did do," Chambers said.

"They don't have to show it on television but they should remind viewers that there are safety issues involved in food preparation."

No chef received a perfect score but the researchers noticed some were more careful in the kitchen, which included more safe practices than others did.

Chambers said that viewers may know proper food safety, but because people are creatures of habit, they may rely on practices that they are familiar with instead of adopting safe recommendations. Celebrity chefs can help make viewers more likely to use their food safety practices, he said.

"I think that celebrity chefs have a responsibility for entertaining us, but they also have a responsibility to give us good food," Chambers said. "We want celebrity chefs to teach us how to make food that not only tastes good but is good for us — and part of that is good food safety

The USDA and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture funded the research.

Monday, November 7, 2016

UF/IFAS Study: Food Safety Knowledge – Or Lack Thereof -- Passed From One Generation To Next

Food Safety Knowledge
In the study, assistant professor Joy Rumble led a team of UF/IFAS researchers that conducted an internet survey of 511 Floridians. They wanted to know if there’s a correlation between food safety behaviors, generations of Floridians and where Floridians learn about food safety behaviors.

Newswise, November 7, 2016 --- Most people learn how to cook and safely handle food from their parents. Then they pass along their food knowledge and behaviors – right or wrong – from generation to generation.
This cycle may prevent young people from learning all they can about food safety, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study shows.

But the UF/IFAS researcher leading the study says the findings present teachable moments. Joy Rumble and her research colleagues suggest more interactive and online instruction in food safety procedures, supplemented by social media outreach.

The real issue, as Rumble found in her newly published study, is that few Floridians bother to find out the safest ways to prevent food-borne illnesses.

And it’s not that they don’t care, said Rumble, an assistant professor in agricultural education and communication.

“They’ve just never had a reason to care. They don’t know they are doing something wrong, or they’ve never knowingly gotten sick from something they made.”

In the study, Rumble led a team of UF/IFAS researchers that conducted an internet survey of 511 Floridians.

They wanted to know if there’s a correlation between food safety behaviors, generations of Floridians and where Floridians learn about food safety behaviors.

They divided the respondents into age groups: millennials or younger (ages 20 to 39); those in Generation X (ages 40 to 51), young baby boomers (ages 52 to 61), older baby boomers (ages 62 to 70) and the silent generation (ages 71 and older).

One area researchers asked about was whether respondents disinfect counters before they get food ready to eat or cook.

The study found that more than 70 percent of the millennials through old baby boomers do this, while 55 percent of the silent generation do this.

On the other hand, 79 percent of the silent generation properly defrosted frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave, while 40 percent of millennials reported doing this.

What millennials don’t know about proper food preparation stems partly from the convenience-driven society in which they’ve grown up.

That includes ready-to-eat meals or meals cooked outside the home. Another factor for millennials and other age groups: home-economics classes.

Home economics was a fixture in secondary schools through the 1960s, at least for girls, according a 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. These days, there are fewer and fewer such classes.

But all generations have reasons not to know as much about properly preparing food as educators might want.

“The silent generation grew up in a time where a lot less was known about proper food safety, preparation and handling,” Rumble said.

The new UF/IFAS study is published in the journal Food Control.

Monday, October 24, 2016

All Yeasts Are Not Created Equal

 Concordia biology professor Malcolm Whiteway identifies cellular variations that may lead to more effective treatments
Improving yeast used in foods and wine

Newswise, October 24, 2016 Yeast. Great if you want to make bread or wine. Not so hot if it turns up as Candida albicans in large quantities in your body and makes you sick.

A study recently published by a team of researchers led by Concordia University professor Malcolm Whiteway in Current Biology shows that the type of yeast in bread is less similar to the type that causes fungal infections than previously thought.

The researchers hope that by shining new light on what makes the pathogen tick, his research may eventually help create targeted drugs.

When yeast goes bad
Candida albicans is the strain of yeast that causes relatively benign infections in people with strong immune systems. But it can be a serious threat to people with compromised immune systems, such as patients with AIDS or those undergoing chemotherapy or transplants of organs or bone marrow.

“Blood-stream infections related to Candida are frequently fatal,” says Whiteway, who conducted the study with key collaborators Walters Tebung — a PhD candidate at Concordia, and Joachim Morschhauser with Germany’s Institut für Molekulare Infektionsbiologie.

Because the cells of this fungus function very similarly to human cells, the antibiotics that have been so successful in treating bacterial infections are not active against them.

And the current anti-fungal drugs can have serious side effects. My research is aimed at helping to develop a new generation of anti-fungal drugs that have limited side effects”

Yin yang yeast
Whiteway and his colleagues examined how a cellular process in Candida albicans differs from the one in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast used in making bread and wine. Through “genetic rewiring,” the protein controlling a particular process in one yeast species controls a different process in the other.

The rewiring occurs in a protein named Ppr1. In Candida albicans, this protein controls the degrading of purines — molecules that make up DNA.

But the Ppr1 protein in Saccharomyces cerevisiae controls the building of pyrimidines — molecules that make up the elements of DNA complementary to purines.

“Imagine two similar looking houses in Montreal and Toronto. In Montreal, when you flick a switch in the living room the lights come on. But when you flick the equivalent switch in the house in Toronto the stereo goes off. The same switch is doing different jobs,” says Whiteway, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in Microbial Genomics in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

“We think the reason for this is because the yeast that makes bread and wine changed its metabolism to allow it to grow without much oxygen. This led to the pressure that generated the rewiring,” he says.

New treatment options
Pinpointing differences between bread-making and disease-causing yeasts gives us a picture of how cells can be remarkably different even when they look similar. That’s important from a drug production standpoint. Right now, it's common practice to use Saccharomyces to develop drugs to fight Candida.

“This study proves that we have to study the pathogen itself. We can’t just study proxies and think drugs that will treat one will work in the other,” says Whiteway.

“If you want drugs to fight Candida you’re better off working with Candida, even though Saccharomyces is easier to come by. The more we understand about how a fungal cell works, the better we can identify weak points in its armour.”

“We hope it will one day lead to new treatment options for patients suffering from yeast infections, with the goal of faster healing and reduced suffering.”

Science Shows Cheese Can Make Wine Taste Better

Cheese can make wine taste betterNewswise, October 24, 2016--A new scientific study shows that eating cheese may actually increase how much someone likes the wine they are drinking.

The study, published in the October issue of the Journal of Food Science, used a new sensory evaluation method and found consuming cheese while drinking wine impacted the description and preference of different wines.

The study was conducted at the Center for Taste and Feeding Behavior in France with frequent wine and cheese consumers from the city of Dijon.

 The subjects evaluated four wines (Pacherenc, Sancerre, Bourgogne and Madiran) using a new sensory evaluation method developed by the researchers to show how perception and liking of wine change after cheese intake over several sips, which is closer to what happens in typical consumption.

The subjects were given a list of sensations which they used to indicate what caught their attention (called the dominant sensation) as they consumed the wine over three consecutive sips and after they swallowed.

Once the wines were initially evaluated, the task was repeated, but with a piece of cheese eaten in-between sips. Four different cheeses (Epoisses, Comté, Roquefort, Crottin de Chavignol) were sampled over different sessions with each wine.

Results showed that cheese consumption had an impact on the description for all wines, and impacted preference for most. None of the four cheeses included in the study had a negative impact on wine preference.

Liking of each wine was increased or remained the same after cheese intake. In both red wines (Bourgogne and Madiran), the four cheeses decreased the duration of dominance of astringency and increased that of red fruits aroma.

In the sweet white (Pacherenc), the duration of dominance of sweetness was not changed by cheese intake, but in the white dry wine, cheeses had an impact on the main aroma.
“Thanks to our research we learned that the duration of the perception of astringency of a certain wine could be reduced after having cheese and that the four evaluated cheeses had the same effect.

“In short, when having a plate of assorted cheeses, the wine will probably taste better no matter which one they choose,” lead author Mara V. Galmarini explained.

According to the authors, the sensory method developed in their work can help build better understanding of how the perception of one product is changed when consumed in combination with another. This information can help food brands communicate their products’ characteristics, thus improving consumers’ experiences.

Read the Journal of Food Science abstract here.

Monday, October 17, 2016

New Research sheds light on how Aged Wine gets its aroma

How Red Aged Wine Gets its aroma
Newswise, October 17, 2016 — Researchers have discovered an enzyme that plays a leading role in the formation of compounds that give aged wines their sought-after aroma.

The enzyme is a member of the cytochrome P450 family of enzymes, which are involved in the formation and breakdown of various molecules and chemicals.

By analyzing a large sample of French grapes and white wines through a technique called liquid chromatograph mass spectrometry, the investigators found that, during grape growth, this enzyme (named CYP76F14) helps to convert a common plant compound, monoterpenol linalool, into a different compound, (E)-8-carboxylinalool.

The formation of this compound is an important next step on the road to aroma: as wine ages, (E)-8-carboxylinalool is gradually converted into wine lactone, which gives old wine its nose.

In addition to contributing to our understanding of where wine aroma comes from, this discovery could also impact the grapevine breeding and wine making industries, other fruit research and breeding, as well as aspects of aroma and scent in the beverage and food industries.

"Combining different analytical techniques was key in our work, and this broad picture helped us learn more about how common plant molecules are transformed into specific wine aroma," said Dr. Nicolas Navrot, senior author of the New Phytologist article.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Cornell University grows peach-sized strawberries
Newswise, September 14, 2015 – Strawberry fans, rejoice. The newest Cornell University strawberry variety concentrates intense flavor in a berry big enough to fill the palm of your hand.

Topping out at over 50 grams, Archer, the latest creation from Cornell University berry breeder Courtney Weber, is comparable in size to a plum or small peach. But this behemoth stands out in ways beyond just its proportions: the flavor and aroma exceed what you’d expect from a strawberry of such unusual size.

“Archer is an extraordinarily high-flavored berry,” said Weber, associate professor in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science.

“It has an intense aroma, so when you bite into it you get a strong strawberry smell, and it’s very sweet, so you get a strong strawberry flavor that really makes an impact.”

Weber says the combination of large fruit and strong flavor hits t3he sweet spot for local growers who sell in farmers’ markets, u-pick sites and roadside stands. Archer ripens in June and holds its large size through multiple harvests for two to three weeks.

“Strawberries are the ultimate summertime fruit that signal the start of the summer season. People love that vivid flavor, and Archer delivers a complex, sunny aroma and taste that just screams summer,” said Weber.

“Consumers have a real preference for large berries, and with fruits that can be as big as the palm of your hand, Archer really draws people’s attention and fills baskets quickly. It’s larger on average than any of the dozens of strawberry varieties we’ve tested over the years.”

And this big berry is no wimp: The cold-hardy variety is tough enough to withstand winters, making it suitable for growing in diverse climates throughout New York as well as in places like Michigan and Minnesota and along the Mid-Atlantic from Maryland into the Northeast.

Weber’s strawberries are bred to be hardy. He breeds in a perennial system without soil fumigation so that only the most robust varieties thrive. With a durable root system, this high-yield variety is tolerant to root rots and other common diseases.

Archer has been licensed to Krohne Plant Farms in Hartford, Michigan, through the Center for Technology Licensing at Cornell University, and plants can be obtained for spring 2017 planting or by calling 269-424-5423.

Monday, September 12, 2016


Pleasures and Perios of Protein study
First evidence that serotonin plays a role in guiding food choices and may influence lifespan

Newswise, September 12, 2016 — ANN ARBOR, Mich. — If you’re a human who’s really hungry, a handful of nuts, a piece of cheese or a nice juicy steak may really hit the spot. If you’re a fruit fly, a nibble of yeast will do the trick.

Why do we – and those flies that sometimes inhabit our kitchens – seek out protein-full foods when we’re running on empty? And what does that preference mean for the odds of living a longer life, whether it’s measured in decades for a human, or days for a fly?

New research from a University of Michigan Medical School team suggests for the first time that a brain chemical may have a lot to do with both questions.

In a new paper in the journal eLife, U-M scientist Scott Pletcher, Ph.D., and his team demonstrate the key role that the chemical called serotonin plays in the feeding habits and life spans of fruit flies. The paper’s first author is Jennifer Ro, Ph.D., now at Harvard Medical School.

Reward in the brain

Serotonin is a “reward” chemical, which means when it’s released in the brain in response to an action, it travels between brain cells and produces a sense of reward or even pleasure.

Pletcher and his team report that it appears to play a key role in fruit flies’ strong tendency to seek out protein, not sugars, when they’ve been deprived of food for a while.

In other words, it affects the value that flies place on protein at that time -- which means that it’s somehow tied to how the flies figure out which foods contain protein in the first place.

Not only that, but the brain-based reward that the flies got from eating protein appears to influence how quickly the flies aged.

When that reward was blocked, the flies ate just as much food as before in their normal diets – but lived far longer.

In fact, they lived nearly twice as long – just from blocking a single serotonin receptor found on the surface of only about 100 neurons in their brains.

While it’s far too soon to apply their findings to our understanding of human feeding patterns or longevity, Pletcher notes that the serotonin reward system in fruit flies is very similar to that in mammals including humans.

So are many other basic systems, which is what makes fruit flies such an important species to study because one scientific team can study hundreds of generations of them.

A choice of entrees

The researchers made their discovery by manipulating the genes involved in the serotonin system, as well as manipulating the flies’ access to different types of food using a special chamber they developed.

Called the FLIC, or Fly Liquid-food Interaction Counter, this device allowed them to continuously monitor food preferences for each micro-meal and to identify how and when flies were rewarded by a protein-rich diet. Armed with information, they designed experiments to examine whether such nutritional rewards affect health and lifespan by providing flies just a sugary diet, just a protein-focused diet, or the choice of three options: those two single-nutrient diets and a mixed diet throughout their life.

“This work builds on previous findings that the perception of food modulates aging in much the same way as dietary intake, but the brain regions and systems involved in this have been unknown,” says Pletcher.

“We found that the serotonin pathway is important for interpreting the composition of the food, as well as the reward that drives consumption of the food.”

Protein-rich diets have previously been found to lead to shorter lifespans, he notes. “These results suggest that serotonin is directly involved in this process, though we have not yet found the mechanism,” he adds.

The new results add to a changing scientific view of how food affects health and lifespan. The way animals respond to nutrients, including detecting them in their environment and seeking out certain ones during different times, goes far beyond simply seeking calories of any kind. Protein, which is crucial for building and maintaining cells in the body, serves a different function from sugars and other carbohydrates, which are sources of energy.

Next steps

The brain’s ability to register that an animal has eaten enough of a certain nutrient is key to its ability to signal -- via reward pathways -- that an earlier hunger has been satisfied, Pletcher explains.

Even when that reward pathway was blocked in the fruit fly experiments, the flies stopped eating for other reasons -- they didn’t stuff themselves dangerously.

But the inability to sense the special reward that they usually would have gotten from eating protein did something to influence their lifespan. Now, the Pletcher group is working to determine just what that might be.

In the meantime, humans whose stomachs are rumbling and brains are sending a message of serious hunger should feel free to satisfy that craving for a protein-rich snack or meal. Just don’t bank on it having any particular impact on your lifespan – after all, human lives are much more complex than those of fruit flies.

But more research in fruit flies may help us understand just why protein seems the most appealing or causes a unique sense of reward. Says Pletcher,

“This paves the way for future work to understand how the brain mechanisms that allow animals to perceive and evaluate food act to control lifespan and aging.”

In addition to Ro and Pletcher, the research team included Gloria Pak, Paige A. Malec, Yang Lyu, David B. Allison, and Robert T. Kennedy. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (AG030593, GM102279, AG023166, AG043972, DK046960, GM007315, AG000114 and AG047696), the Ellison Medical Foundation and a Glenn/American Federation for Aging Research Scholarship for Research in the Biology of Aging. Reference: eLife,


The mouth-tingling combination of chili peppers and ginger helped stave off lung cancer in mice.

Peppers and Ginger work together to lower cancer risks
Newswise, September 12, 2016 — For many people, there's nothing more satisfying than a hot, spicy meal. But some research has suggested that capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their kick, might cause cancer.

Now researchers show in mouse studies that the pungent compound in ginger, 6-ginergol, could counteract capsaicin's potentially harmful effects. In combination with the capsaicin, 6-gingerol could lower the risk of cancer, they say. The study appears in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

Both chili peppers and ginger are widely used spices in certain cuisines, particularly in Asia, and have been studied for potential health effects. Although some studies have shown that peppers can have benefits, others suggest that diets rich in capsaicin might be associated with stomach cancer.

Ginger, however, has shown promise as a health-promoting ingredient. Oddly enough, capsaicin and 6-gingerol both bind to the same cellular receptor — one that is related to tumor growth. Jiahuan Li, Gangjun Du and colleagues wanted to further investigate this apparent contradiction.

Over several weeks, the researchers fed mice prone to lung cancer either capsaicin or 6-gingerol alone, or a combination of both. During the study period, all of the mice that received only capsaicin developed lung carcinomas while only half of the mice fed 6-gingerol did.

Surprisingly, an even lower percentage — only 20 percent — of the mice given both compounds developed cancer. The researchers also dug into the potential molecular underpinnings of how the compounds interact to lead to this effect.

The authors acknowledge funding from the 
National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Monday, August 22, 2016


 New variety helps growers meet high-dollar niche markets
Tomatoes are the Type B’s of the vegetable world: Laid-back, creative, collaborative.
Keeping and growing tomatoes into Fall Season
Newswise, August 22, 2016— Want a slice on a burger? Fine. Chopped into a salad? Great. Pureed and slathered over a pizza crust? Yum. Steeped in a winter stew? Ahhhh.

But fresh is what most consumers covet, and that’s what Dr. Kevin Crosby, Texas A&M AgriLife vegetable breeder in College Station, had in mind when he released a new variety called Hot-TY.

“It’s very heat tolerant, so if you plant it now from San Antonio to College Station south, it will start flowering within a month,” Crosby said. “And you can harvest from late October until after Thanksgiving or until there is a frost.”

The fresh frenzy is tempting Texas tomato growers statewide, serving up potential for the industry to recoup some of its steady decline over the past 50 years, Crosby believes.

In 1960, Texas growers harvested 28,500 acres of tomatoes valued at almost $7.7 million, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

 Only an estimated 300 acres are grown in Texas now for commercial canning, Crosby said. But last year, Texas fresh tomato yields from about 900 acres were valued at almost $4.9 million.

Here’s the catch, according to Crosby: Tomatoes are coming back for the small-scale and backyard farmers and organic growers, not large-scale commercial growers. And they are selling to grocery stores and farmers’ markets for consumers who want fresh, vine-ripe tomatoes.

“It’s growing in those areas because the value of the crop is very high in that sector, especially around metropolitan areas,” he said.

That can be seen when adjusting the 1960 price for inflation to 2016. Tomatoes in 1960 sold for $5.27 per hundredweight which would equal $42.09 in 2015, the latest year for which production figures are available.

But the price per hundredweight in 2015 was about $60, almost 40 percent higher than what farmers were receiving more than 50 years ago when adjusted for inflation.
Crosby noted that vine ripe, organic tomatoes can gross $50,000 per acre these days.

Interest was obvious recently when Crosby invited Texas tomato enthusiasts – be they commercial, niche or backyard growers – to a workshop to learn the most recent tips for producing the high-dollar fruit.

Crosby said that in working on a joint tomato project with the Texas Department of Agriculture, he found growers had lots of questions.

More than 50 growers came to learn about the new variety, how to graft onto rootstock, what diseases are on the horizon, how to combat them and what researchers are finding about the human health aspects of tomatoes.

“Flavor and quality – that’s what people want in a vine-ripe tomato,” Crosby said. “Maybe that kind of tomato is less than 10 percent of the market, but it’s very lucrative. So theoretically, though the acreage may be less than 1,000 acres, I guarantee you they’re making a lot more per acre than when there were 40,000 acres.

“And there is a lot of interest in not just quality but in better farming practices when you’re making a profit. There is no question tomatoes are one of the healthiest vegetables, and we consume a lot of them. They deliver a lot of nutrients and minerals and are important to a lot of cuisines, so it helps that you can add that to your diet and benefit from it.”

Among the most recent research on the health aspects of tomatoes is the potential to prevent prostate cancer, according to Dr. Bhimu Patil, director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M.

“Some vegetables might be slightly higher in levels of phytochemicals, but you may not like them as much,” Crosby said. “Think about mustard greens. I mean, they are very nutritious, but I think people like tomatoes better.”


August is National Sandwich Month
Newswise, August 22, 2016— If you are like most people, you will consume about 200 sandwiches this year. Add it all up and it means -- this is no baloney Americans will eat about 45 billion sandwiches in 2016.

There’s nothing wrong with most sandwiches, but the key is what you put on them and serve with them, says Texas A&M University’s Steven Riechman, associate professor of health and kinesiology.

No doubt, a good sandwich can be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but choose the wrong type and your diet is toast, so to speak.
“You have to pay attention to the bread and the meat,” Riechman explains.

“The bread should preferably be whole grain, not white because whites have the highest calories and lowest fiber content. And the leaner the meat, the better.”

Legend has it that the sandwich was created by John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. While playing in a card game in 1762, he wanted a meal that he could eat at the table. He ordered some meat with bread placed on both sides so his hands would not get messy.

As for who won that card game, no one knows -- but he aced the quick meal. The sandwich was born, and lettuce count the zillion ways it can be served, from tuna fish to peanut butter and jelly.

Speaking of peanut butter, studies show that the average child will eat about 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the time he or she has graduated from high school.

The numbers on sandwiches are rather meaty, to say the least. Studies show that the average U.S. citizen eats at least 100 sandwiches a year, and within any two-week period, 95 percent of all American households consume at least one sandwich.

And more: The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association reports that Americans eat more than 100 hamburgers per year per person (yes, a hamburger is considered a sandwich), and that totals at least 14 billion hamburgers consumed yearly, which no matter how you slice it, is a lot of beef.

Riechman, who serves on Texas A&M’s Intercollegiate Faculty of Nutrition and enjoys a good sandwich himself, says that while a hamburger is okay every now and then, “it is not usually the leanest cut of meat.

“If you order a hamburger today, it most likely will contain a lot of saturated fat. And also, what you put on it is the key. Mustard is fine, but mayonnaise is high in fat and so are many other dressings. But when you start adding two patties, double fries and a large drink, you can easily top 1,100 calories or more. Do that often enough, and it’s almost certain you will gain weight.”

In other words, those big Whoppers can give you a whopping big waistline. But most people tend to overlook such figures and let their tastebuds rule, which is why McDonald’s says it sells 75 burgers every second of the day, a stat that would no doubt put a big smile on the Earl of Sandwich.

Decried as Unfair, Taxes on Groceries Persist in Some States

August 22, 2016--Republican state Sen. Gerald Dial has repeatedly tried and failed to eliminate Alabama’s sales tax on groceries. He says the tax “punishes those on fixed incomes.”

Thirteen states and many localities continue to tax the sale of groceries, even though the taxes disproportionately hurt the poor and may affect the quality, variety and even the amount of food they can afford to put on the table.

The reason: The taxes provide a steady source of revenue in volatile times, making it difficult for states to get rid of them without finding a way to make up the revenue. Recent efforts in several of the states to eliminate or lower the taxes have failed.

“States might be looking at getting rid of sales tax on groceries, but groceries are between a sixth and a seventh of all consumption,” said Scott Drenkard, analyst at the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax study group. “If you want to raise the same amount of money you might have to increase the [general] sales tax by a full percentage point.”

Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Dakota tax groceries at the same rate as the sales tax on all purchases, according to the Tax Foundation. Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and Utah tax food at a lower rate. Seven fewer states tax groceries than in 1998, when researchers at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities foundthat 20 did. But the trend to eliminate the tax has stalled.

It’s not just states that rely on grocery tax revenue. A new study, “Do Grocery Food Sales Taxes Cause Food Insecurity?” by four researchers led by Norbert Wilson of Auburn University, finds that because counties and localities sometimes collect food taxes even if their states don’t, people living in more than a third of the nation’s roughly 3,000 counties are taxed at some level on the food they buy at the store.

The average tax rate is 4.3 percent, which translates to more than $200 for a family with an annual grocery bill of $5,000, the authors wrote. But in some places, like Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, combined state and local taxes can be as high as 9 percent.

The taxes disproportionately hurt low-income Americans, the authors wrote, and contribute to “food insecurity,” which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as “reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet” or “disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.”

“The correlation that we are able to report says that in the presence of the tax we see a higher rate of food insecurity,” Wilson said.

Although families spend less on groceries than those with higher incomes, what they do spend accounts for a bigger share of their income.

The lowest-income Americans spent an average of $3,667 on food in 2014, which amounted to 34.1 percent of their income, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Middle-income families, in contrast, spent an average of $5,992 on food, or 13.4 percent of income.

People whose income is below poverty lines and who receive food stamps don’t pay the tax because the stamps are nontaxable.

'The Most Regressive Tax'
Many of those states that still tax groceries are among the least affluent in the country. Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Utah are in the bottom fifth of states in per capita income.

And the Wilson-led study points out that most of the counties that do not exempt grocery from the sales tax are located in Southern states like Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi, where food insecurity tends to be the most acute.

Alabama state Sen. Gerald Dial, a Republican, tried and failed this year to phase out the state’s tax on groceries over four years and replace it with a one cent increase in the overall sales tax, to 5 percent.

The tax, Dial said, is “the most regressive tax you can have and punishes those on fixed income.”

But removing it would leave a $650 million to $700 million hole in the state budget — a gap Dial’s proposed increase in the state’s overall rate on other goods was designed to cover.

But his colleagues’ uncertainty over whether it would make up for lost grocery tax revenue helped doom the bill.

“The food tax is pretty stable,” Dial said. “People buy pretty much the same amount of food. In bad times my wife doesn’t buy as many shoes, but we still buy the same amount of food.”

In Alabama, most of the sales tax goes toward education. And Nancy Dennis, spokeswoman for the Alabama RetailAssociation, noted that every time the sales tax goes up, retail sales go down. That worries both retailers and educators in the state.

“The kicker here is where the replacement tax revenue is going to come from,” she said. “Alabama, like many states, is in budgetary crisis. So if legislators take away revenue, it’s not going to help solve their problems in continuing to help fund the state.”

On the local level, Tim Swanson, a candidate for mayor of Daphne, a city of about 24,000 on the eastern shore of Alabama’s Mobile Bay, is running on a platform of eliminating the tax. It’s a position he took four years ago in an unsuccessful bid for the job because it is a “regressive tax.”

“It hurts the seniors, the poor, those on fixed incomes and now half the middle class,” he said.

He said the idea has made his opponents “panicky” over the prospect of lost revenue and a fear “we would have to get rid of policemen and firemen.”

Swanson said the city gets revenue from more than 50 sources of taxes and fees, and that any or several of them could be increased to make up for lost grocery tax revenue. Or, he said, the city could reduce spending somewhere else.

He also questions how effective the tax is because many people in Daphne drive across the Florida border to buy their food because that state has no tax.

Shoppers in other states also appear willing to drive to dodge the tax. A Wichita State University study published earlier this year found that Kansans living near the Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri borders often cross over to buy groceries, avoiding state and local taxes in their home state that can run as high as 10.5 percent.

Kansas lawmakers this year again discussed eliminating the tax before abandoning the idea in the face of ongoing budget shortfalls.

The grocery tax also is under review in Mississippi, where Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and legislative leaders put together a commission in July to study overhauling the state’s tax and spending structure.

“Every option, including reducing or perhaps eliminating the tax on unprepared food, will be thoroughly examined,” Bryant said.

In Idaho, a tax credit that offsets the state’s 6 percent tax on groceries for some low-income families has dampened the political will to eliminate the tax, according to House Majority Leader Mike Moyle.

The tax credit, $100 per person annually, is available to people who have low incomes but who make too much to qualify for food stamps. Moyle, a Republican, would like to scrap the tax to give relief to a broader spectrum of taxpayers.

Fear of Volatility

A decade ago, then-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican, signed a tax bill that he hoped would be his legacy. It included dropping the state’s sales tax on food from 4.7 to 1.75 percent.

Since then, according to Republican state Sen. Howard Stephenson, most residents haven’t even noticed that they pay less sales tax on food. At the same time, he said, the state’s tax revenue is more volatile. “And that’s not a good idea.”

“States ought to tax the one thing that everybody buys regardless of what the economy is doing so you can have the stability of revenue to provide income and social welfare benefits,” said Stephenson, who also heads the Utah Taxpayers Association. “It makes much more sense to give a food tax credit to low-income families, than it does to reduce the tax for those who can pay it without pain.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Blood Pressure Diet improves Gout Blood Marker

Effect on uric acid levels nearly matches impact of gout medicines
DASH diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy

Newswise, August 17, 2016 — A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and reduced in fats and saturated fats (the DASH diet), designed decades ago to reduce high blood pressure, also appears to significantly lower uric acid, the causative agent of gout.

Further, the effect was so strong in some participants that it was nearly comparable to that achieved with drugs specifically prescribed to treat gout, a new study led by Johns Hopkins researchers shows.

The findings--derived from a randomized clinical trial--could offer an effective, safe and sustainable dietary approach to lower uric acid and possibly prevent gout flare-ups in those with mild to moderate disease and who can't or don't want to take gout drugs.

Dietary excesses, such as consuming a lot of red meat and alcohol, have long been associated with gout, a disease marked by high levels of uric acid in the blood and whose causes remain somewhat of an enigma despite centuries of investigation.

The Hopkins researchers noted that while symptoms of gout outbreaks -- severe inflammation and sharp pain in the joints, particularly the base of the big toe -- have been linked to elevated uric acid, it's been unclear exactly what type of diet might lower uric acid and decrease the risk of flare-ups.

In an effort to find out, Stephen P. Juraschek, M.D., Ph.D., research and clinical fellow in general internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and his colleagues used data from the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) clinical trial, a widely popular and often-cited study whose results were first published in 1997.

These results showed that the DASH diet --which emphasizes reduced salt, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and reduced intake of red meats, sweets and saturated fats -- had a marked positive improvement on blood pressure and cholesterol.

In the original DASH-sodium trial, 412 participants ate either the DASH diet or a typical American diet for three months. For each month of the study, the participants' diets provided a different level of sodium in a random order, including low (1.2 grams per day or about half a teaspoon), medium (2.3 grams per day or about one teaspoon), and a high level (3.4 grams per day or about 1.5 teaspoons).

The high sodium level was comparable to the average daily intake in a typical American diet.

At baseline and at the end of each sodium intake period, the researchers conducting the original study also took blood samples, which were analyzed for a variety of blood markers, including uric acid.

In this new study, Juraschek and his colleagues examined these data to determine whether and how each intervention affected uric acid blood concentrations.

They found that the DASH diet led to a modest 0.35 milligrams per deciliter decrease in uric acid concentrations overall. However, the higher participants' baseline uric acid levels, the more dramatic the decrease.

For those with the highest baseline uric acid levels--more than 7 milligrams per deciliter -- for example, the decrease was as high as 1.3 milligrams per deciliter.

In the context of what is known about levels of uric acid linked to gout flare-up risk,

"That's a large reduction in uric acid," explains Juraschek. Gout-treating medications, such as allopurinol, often reduce patients' blood uric acid concentrations about 2 milligrams per deciliter.

 "When you get as high as the reduction we believe occurred with the original DASH diet in this study, the effect starts being comparable with gout medications."

Juraschek noted that the effect of sodium on uric acid concentrations was small, but significant and quite the opposite of what the researchers expected.

Specifically, during the part of the DASH trial in which participants were given the least sodium, their uric acid concentrations were the highest, with slight decreases achieved during the medium and high sodium portions of the trial.

Although high sodium levels appear to slightly decrease uric acid concentrations, Juraschek cautions against jumping to the conclusion that to reduce blood uric acid it's a good idea to purposely consume lots of sodium.

"More than 70 percent of people with gout have high blood pressure," Juraschek says. "If one was to consume more sodium to improve uric acid, it could worsen blood pressure."

The researchers caution that further research is needed to more clearly establish the link between the DASH diet and uric acid in patients with gout and to directly explore whether the DASH diet might reduce or prevent gout flare-ups.

But, they conclude, the new study, described in the August 15 issue of Arthritis and Rheumatology, could offer patients a viable way to control uric acid concentrations -- and presumably gout flare-ups -- through a diet already shown to have positive effects on blood pressure, a well-established risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

There are about 8.3 million people in the United States with gout, costing the health care system an estimated $7.7 billion.

"Results of this trial are good news to patients with high blood levels of uric acid or those at risk for gout. A dietary approach to prevent gout should be considered first line therapy.

“This study suggests that standard dietary advice for uric acid reduction which is to reduce alcohol and protein intake, should now include advice to adopt the DASH diet," says senior author Edgar R. Miller III, M.D. Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Other researchers who participated in this study include Allan C. Gelber, M.D., Ph.D., Lawrence J. Appel, M.D., M.P.H., and Edgar R. Miller III, M.D. Ph.D., all from Johns Hopkins, and Hyon K. Choi, M.D., Dr.P.H., of Harvard Medical School.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute under grant/contract numbers U01-HL57173, U01-HL57114, U01-HL57190, U01-HL57139, K08 HL03857-01 and U01-HL57156 and by the General Clinical Research Program of the National Center for Research Resources under grant/contract number M01-RR02635 and M01-RR00722. Juraschek receives support from The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases under grant number T32DK007732-20.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Why Americans Waste So Much Food

Why Americans Waste so much food
Most people feel guilty about discarding food, but say it would be hard to stop

Newswise, August 11, 2016— Even though American consumers throw away about 80 billion pounds of food a year, only about half are aware that food waste is a problem. Even more, researchers have identified that most people perceive benefits to throwing food away, some of which have limited basis in fact. 

A study published today in PLOS ONE is just the second peer-reviewed large-scale consumer survey about food waste and is the first in the U.S. to identify patterns regarding how Americans form attitudes on food waste.

The results provide the data required to develop targeted efforts to reduce the amount of food that U.S. consumers toss into the garbage each year, said study co-author Brian Roe, the McCormick Professor of Agricultural Marketing and Policy at The Ohio State University.

The researchers developed a national survey to identify Americans’ awareness and attitudes regarding food waste. In July 2015, it was administered to 500 people representative of the U.S. population.

The study found that 53 percent of respondents said they were aware that food waste is a problem. This is about 10 percent higher than a Johns Hopkins study published last year, Roe said, which indicates awareness of the problem could be growing.

“But it’s still amazingly low,” he said. “If we can increase awareness of the problem, consumers are more likely to increase purposeful action to reduce food waste. You don’t change your behavior if you don’t realize there’s a problem in the first place.”
Among other findings, the study identified general patterns that play a role in people’s attitudes regarding household food waste.

“Generally, we found that people consider three things regarding food waste,” said doctoral student Danyi Qi, who co-authored the study. “They perceive there are practical benefits, such as a reduced risk of foodborne illness, but at the same time they feel guilty about wasting food. They also know that their behaviors and how they manage their household influences how much food they waste.”

In particular, the survey revealed patterns in how Americans think about food waste:
• Perceived benefits: 68 percent of respondents believe that throwing away food after the package date has passed reduces the chance of foodborne illness, and 59 percent believe some food waste is necessary to be sure meals are fresh and flavorful.
• Feelings of guilt: 77 percent feel a general sense of guilt when throwing away food. At the same time, only 58 percent indicated they understand that throwing away food is bad for the environment, and only 42 percent believe wasted food is a major source of wasted money.
• Control: 51 percent said they believe it would be difficult to reduce household food waste and 42 percent say they don’t have enough time to worry about it. Still, 53 percent admit they waste more food when they buy in bulk or purchase large quantities during sales. At the same time, 87 percent think they waste less food than similar households.

In studying these patterns, the researchers see several areas in which to focus educational and policy efforts.

“First, we can do things to chip away at the perceived benefits of wasting food,” Qi said. “Our study shows that many people feel they derive some type of benefit by throwing food away, but many of those benefits are not real.”

For example, removing “Sell by” and “Use by” dates from food packages could significantly reduce the amount of good food that is trashed, the researchers said.
“Only in rare circumstances is that date about food safety, but people are confused about the array of dates on food packages,” Roe said. Recent efforts to create uniform national standards for such labels have received bipartisan support.

In addition, the researchers see an opportunity to help consumers understand the negative environmental impacts of food waste.

Food waste is the largest source of municipal solid waste in the U.S. and the most destructive type of household waste in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the researchers report.

“Helping people become more aware of that wouldn’t be a silver bullet,” Roe said, “but it could sway 5 to 10 percent of people who are generally willing to change their behaviors to improve the environment but who have never put two and two together about the damaging impacts of food waste.”
Finally, researchers believe better data on measuring household waste could lead to improvements.

“Basically, right now everybody thinks they are doing as good as or better than everybody else,” Roe said. “It’s somebody else that’s creating food waste.” 

To combat that problem, Roe, Qi and other members of Roe’s research group are developing a smart phone app to better measure household food waste.

Roe is seeking federal grants and private support to fund the project, a collaboration with the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University.

The LSU group developed the SmartIntake app several years ago to help participants in food intake studies report what they eat more accurately.
Funding for the study came from the McCormick Program in Agricultural Marketing and Policy, housed in Ohio State’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics.