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Citrus: Preserve it now to serve it safely later

Sue Mosbacher prepares fruit for canning.

Winter is the time when many backyard citrus trees and roadside fruit stands are laden with mandarins, lemons, navel oranges and limes. A UC Cooperative Extension expert is traveling the state to teach how the fresh taste of citrus can be preserved for year-round enjoyment.

UC Cooperative Extension Master Food Preserver coordinator Sue Mosbacher recently taught a roomful of attentive Mariposa County residents how to safely make marmalade jam, preserve lemons in salt to add flavor to savory dishes, and can grapefruit and orange sections with a little sugar to produce a fresh-tasting citrus cocktail high in vitamin C.

Mosbacher is a community education specialist based in El Dorado and Sacramento counties. But she has been driving up and down Highway 99 to bring research-based food preservation lessons to residents as far south as Madera County as part of a special project that was funded with a $140,000 specialty crops block grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Mosbacher has made dozens of appearances at county fairs and community meetings.

“It's been fabulous,” Mosbacher said. “People want the information and are using what they are learning.”

The series began last year with lessons focused on preserving summer fruit. The citrus classes are being offered in the winter. And in late spring 2019, Mosbacher will be on the road again to teach more fruit preservation classes and, in summer and fall of 2019, she will offer vegetable preservation lessons. The project is slated to conclude in 2020.

Master Food Preserver Barbara Mattice, left, helped Mosbacher demonstrate citrus preservation in class.

Mosbacher said she is energized for this journey by knowing that she is making a difference in California communities. She shared a telling story from a Georgetown vegetable preservation class. A participant said she had canned peas using the boiling water method; the Master Food Preserver Program guidelines require the use of a pressure canner for low-acid vegetables to prevent the growth of bacteria that produce the botulism toxin.

“She said she always canned peas in a water bath, and no one had ever died. But she came back the next week and told us she decided not to risk it and to throw the veggies to her chickens,” Mosbacher said. “And the next day, half her chickens died.”

Mosbacher has a background in computer science and the financial industry. During the 2008 downturn, she was laid off and spent time as a 4-H volunteer in the UC Cooperative Extension Office. While there, she learned about a part-time job opportunity working with UC Master Gardeners and UC Master Food Preservers.

At the time, she had no food preservation experience, so she took Master Food Preserver training.

“I learned everything I know from our own Master Food Preservers,” Mosbacher said.

Most citrus fruit is ready for harvest in the winter. It can be preserved a variety of ways to enjoy it year round.

Master Food Preservers are volunteer food preservation enthusiasts who have been trained in research-based preservation methods. Every food preserver training begins with a food safety primer with proven methods to decontaminate kitchen surfaces and tools, detoxify canned low-acid food and guard against spoilage.

At the citrus training, Mosbacher demonstrated canning a delicious orange jelly spiced with cinnamon, allspice and cloves. After cooking the juice with sugar and pectin, she canned the jelly using the boiling water method and with a steam canner. Either option is okay with high-acid citrus fruit.

Options for preserving lemons abounded. The juice can be frozen in an egg carton or ice cube tray, and used throughout the year in salad dressings, fruit salads, soups and ice cream. Slices of lemon can be dried to flavor ice water, seafood and casseroles. Mosbacher demonstrated preserving lemon wedges in salt water seasoned with bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and whole black peppercorns. She provided a recipe for a gourmet chicken tagine and roasted fingerling potatoes with preserved lemons to give participants guidance for using their preserved fruit.

At all the classes, participants are surveyed at the beginning and end to document the impact of the training. The preliminary results calculated with responses from 75 participants reflect positive results. After the class, nearly half of participants intended to preserve more fruit at home than they previously preserved. Two-thirds of participants intended to dehydrate more fruit than before. 

"The results are great," said Katie Johnson, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor in the Central Sierra. "We never see results this high with regard to health behaviors, so I think it's pretty exciting."

To learn about food preservation programs around the state and search for classes, visit the UC Master Food Preserver website. 

Canned wedges of grapefruit and oranges.

 

Lemon zest and coarse salt can be combined to make a long-lasting seasoning for fish, salads and other foods.
 
Class participants tasted spiced orange jelly, lemon curd and orange marmalade.
 
Citrus may be canned in many ways, include jellies and marmalades, pickled and candied.
Posted on Monday, February 11, 2019 at 8:26 PM

Pests and pathogens place global burden on major food crops

On a global scale, pests and pathogens are significantly reducing yields of rice (shown), wheat, maize, soybeans and potatoes.

Farmers know they lose crops to pests and plant diseases, but scientists have found that on a global scale they are reducing crop yields for five major food crops by 10 percent to 40 percent, according to a report by a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientist and other members of the International Society for Plant Pathology. Wheat, rice, maize, soybean and potato yields are reduced by pathogens and animal pests, including insects, scientists found in a global survey of crop health experts.

At a global scale, pathogens and pests are causing wheat losses of 10 percent to 28 percent, rice losses of 25 percent to 41 percent, maize losses of 20 percent to 41 percent, potato losses of 8 percent to 21 percent, and soybean losses of 11 percent to 32 percent, according to the study, published in the journal Nature, Ecology & Evolution.

Sheath blight on rice
Viruses and viroids, bacteria, fungi and oomycetes, nematodes, arthropods, molluscs, vertebrates and parasitic plants are among the factors working against farmers.

Food loss

“We are losing a significant amount of food on a global scale to pests and diseases at a time when we must increase food production to feed a growing population,” said co-author Neil McRoberts, co-leader of UC ANR's Sustainable Food Systems Strategic Initiative and Agricultural Experiment Station researcher and professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis.

While plant diseases and pests are widely considered an important cause of crop losses, and sometimes a threat to the food supply, precise figures on these crop losses are difficult to produce.

“One reason is because pathogens and pests have co-evolved with crops over millennia in the human-made agricultural systems,” write the authors on the study's website globalcrophealth.org.  “As a result, their effects in agriculture are very hard to disentangle from the complex web of interactions within cropping systems. Also, the sheer number and diversity of plant diseases and pests makes quantification of losses on an individual pathogen or pest basis, for each of the many cultivated crops, a daunting task.”

“We conducted a global survey of crop protection experts on the impacts of pests and plant diseases on the yields of five of the world's most important carbohydrate staple crops and are reporting the results,” McRoberts said. “This is a major achievement and a real step forward in being able to accurately assess the impact of pests and plant diseases on crop production.”

The researchers surveyed several thousand crop health experts on five major food crops – wheat, rice, maize, soybean and potato – in 67 countries.

“We chose these five crops since together they provide about 50 percent of the global human calorie intake,” the authors wrote on the website. The 67 countries grow 84 percent of the global production of wheat, rice, maize, soybean and potato.

Top pests and diseases

 

Late blight in a potato field.

The study identified 137 individual pathogens and pests that attack the crops, with very large variation in the amount of crop loss they caused. For wheat, leaf rust, Fusarium head blight/scab, tritici blotch, stripe rust, spot blotch, tan spot, aphids and powdery mildew caused losses higher than 1 percent globally. In rice, sheath blight, stem borers, blast, brown spot, bacterial blight, leaf folder and brown plant hopper did the most damage. In maize, Fusarium and Gibberella stalk rots, fall armyworm, northern leaf blight, Fusarium and Gibberella ear rots, anthracnose stalk rot and southern rust caused the most loss globally. In potatoes, late blight, brown rot, early blight and cyst nematode did the most harm. In soybeans, cyst nematode, white mold, soybean rust, Cercospora leaf blight, brown spot, charcoal rot and root knot nematodes caused global losses higher than 1 percent.

Food-security “hotspots”

Stripe rust in wheat
The study estimates to losses to individual plant diseases and pests for these crops globally, as well as in several global food-security “hotspots.” These hotspots are critical sources in the global food system: Northwest Europe, the plains of the U.S. Midwest and Southern Canada, Southern Brazil and Argentina, the Indo-Gangetic Plains of South Asia, the plains of China, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.

“Our results highlight differences in impacts among crop pathogens and pests and among food security hotspots,” McRoberts said. “But we also show that the highest losses appear associated with food-deficit regions with fast-growing populations, and frequently with emerging or re-emerging pests and diseases.”

“For chronic pathogens and pests, we need to redouble our efforts to deliver more efficient and sustainable management tools, such as resistant varieties,” McRoberts said. For emerging or re-emerging pathogens and pests, urgent action is needed to contain them and generate longer term solutions.”

The website globalcrophealth.org features maps showing how many people responded to the survey across different regions of the world. 

In addition to McRoberts, the research team included lead author Serge Savary, chair of the ISPP Committee on Crop Loss, epidemiologists Paul Esker at Pennsylvania State University and Sarah Pethybridge at Cornell University, Laetitia Willocquet at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Toulouse, France, and Andy Nelson at the University of Twente in The Netherlands. 

 

Posted on Friday, February 8, 2019 at 11:11 AM

4-H member is a winner from curly haired cavies to chocoflan

Celeste Harrison with her prize-winning chocoflan dessert. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
From cavies to chili to chocoflan...

Thirteen-year-old Celeste Harrison, a fourth-year member of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, shares her expertise about chili and cavies (guinea pigs), but she's also a pro in the kitchen and at making a dessert called “Chocoflan.”

It's part cake, part flan.

The chocolate dessert recipe originates “from my Great-Aunt Esther and it's what we serve at all our family gatherings,” she said.

It's a winning one, at that. And just in time for Valentine's Day.

Celeste baked the dessert for the recent Solano County 4-H Project Skills Day — where 4-H'ers share what they're learned in their projects — and her presentation and recipe earned a showmanship award, one of seven awarded.

Last year she won a showmanship pin for her project, “Curls Just Want to Have Fun: How to Care for Your Curly Haired Guinea Pig.”

Celeste, a seventh-grader is active in 4-H. She serves as the treasurer of her 4-H club and last year served as a Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) officer in the Solano County 4-H Program. This year she's enrolled in five projects: cavies, poultry, dogs, record keeping and rabbits.

Always eager to learn, Celeste decided to “take dogs, rabbits and poultry so I can learn showmanship,” she said, noting that she competed in the Round Robin Small Animal Showmanship at two county fairs last year but was inexperienced at showing animals other than cavies. So this year's she's set her sights on learning more about them. Her goal: to place first in Round Robin.

No stranger to the kitchen, Celeste served as a member of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club's Chili Cook-Off team for the last two years in the Solano County 4-H Project Skills Day.

This year, however, she turned from chili to chocoflan. The evaluators loved it! So did the 4-H'ers and their families who sampled it.

Here's the recipe:

Chocoflan Recipe

A bundt pan, deep roasting pan, blender, large bowl and a hand mixer are needed for this recipe.

Ingredients for flan:
A 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
A 7.6-ounce can of Media Crema (light cream)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces of cream cheese
5 eggs

Ingredients for chocolate cake:
2 cups white sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup hot water

Directions:
Put an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Coat a bundt pan with cooking oil spray.

Sift flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, milk, vegetable oil, vanilla and cocoa mixture and beat with a hand mixer for two minutes. Add the wet mixture in increments of one cup into flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir cocoa powder into hot water until melted and then stir into cake mix and set aside.

In a blender, add in all flan ingredients and blend on high until smooth. Pour cake batter into a bundt pan (make sure surface is level). Pour flan mixture into the cake batter but do not mix (it will sink to the bottom of the bundt pan while in the oven).

Put chocoflan into a large roasting pan and fill the pan with about 2 inches of warm water. Spray a piece of aluminum foil with cooking spray and set it on top of the bundt pan (but do not fold it over the bundt pan.) Bake for one hour and 45 minutes. Remove cake from oven and let cool before inverting it onto a serving platter. Enjoy.

Solano County 4-H Program
The Solano County 4-H Youth Development Program, part of the UC Cooperative Extension Program, follows the motto, “Making the Best Better.” 4-H, which stands for head, heart, health and hands, is open to youths ages 5 to 19.  In age-appropriate projects, they learn skills through hands-on learning in projects ranging from arts and crafts, computers and leadership to dog care, poultry, rabbits and woodworking. They develop skills they would otherwise not attain at home or in public or private schools. For more information about Solano County 4-H, contact 4-H program representative Valerie Williams at vawilliams@ucanr.edu.

 

Celeste Harrison's chocoflan dessert was a big hit at the Solano County 4-H Project Skills Day. She won a showmanship award. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Celeste Harrison served as a member of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club’s Chili Team for two years. Members of the 2018 team that prepared Ruby Redstone Chili were (from left) Darren Stephens, Celeste Harrison, Julietta Wynholds and Hanna Stephens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
From cavies to chocoflan: At the 2018 Solano County 4-H Project Skills Day, Celeste Harrison won a showmanship award for her cavies (guinea pig) project: "Curls Just Want to Have Fun: How to Care for Your Curly Haired Guinea Pig.” Here she explains her project to evaluator Sharon Taylor of Dixon. This year she focused on chocoflan and won another showmanship pin. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 2:11 PM

How to support your breastfeeding employees when they are out in the field

New parents returning to work after the birth of a child face a lot of questions and uncertainties, particularly around breastfeeding. Should I continue to breastfeed? Will there be a space for me to pump milk in private? What will my boss and co-workers say? How many times should I pump when I am away from my baby?

Recognizing the importance of breastfeeding to the health of both parent and child, California recently passed AB 1976 to strengthen protections for working parents that want to continue to breastfeed and need to express milk (i.e., pump) at work. Starting on Jan. 1, 2019, employers must make reasonable efforts to provide a private area to pump that is not a bathroom or face fines and penalties. Prior to 2019, some employers would designate a bathroom as their lactation room, a practice that was technically “ok” so long as the toilet was behind a stall or other barrier. Now that practice is expressly prohibited and employers will need to find another space to accommodate lactating employees.

So, what happens when an employer cannot provide a permanent, private area due to operational or financial conditions? Many new parents might find themselves in just this position. Agricultural workers or field researchers may not work in a traditional office or they may find themselves at off-site locations for a large percentage of their work day. At UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, many employees travel across multiple counties delivering community health education lessons at various sites. AB 1976 includes provisions for setting up temporary lactation locations so long as the space is private, only used for that purpose while the employee is expressing milk, and otherwise meets the requirements of state law concerning lactation (again, it cannot be a bathroom).

Do not disturb sign for vehicle door

Lactation locations when out in the field

To be compliant with state law, avoid fines and penalties and support the health of their employees, employers may need to set-up a temporary lactation station for their workers. AB 1976 specifically states that agricultural employers are compliant if they provide a “private, enclosed, and shaded space, including, but not limited to, an air-conditioned cab of a truck or tractor.”

One solution is to assemble a mobile lactation unit that employees can check out or reserve based on their pumping schedule. Mobile lactation stations can take many forms, however, some basics that should be included in a lactation unit are listed and itemized below.

Truck interior with car shades set-up

Privacy screens and supplies

To be compliant, the space needs to be private and free from intrusion. When setting up the mobile station in a vehicle, you will need to have privacy screens that fit all vehicle windows front, back and sides. There are many options on the market ranging in price from $20 on up. When ordering window shades, you will need to know the make and model of the vehicle.

  • Privacy screens for front, back and side windows (4 total, $21 each) = $84
  • Signage and door locks to prevent intrusion or knocking

Food safety supplies

Remember, breast milk is food. Helping your employee keep their expressed breast milk safe for their baby will result in less illness and less time off work. Some basics:

  • Sanitizing surface wipes: These will be used to sanitize the space including the seat, dashboard or other surfaces that may come in contact with the lactation equipment. Large container of surface sanitizing wipes = $5
  • Hand sanitizing wipes: Unless there is always a sink in close proximity, your employee will want to wash their hands before and after pumping. If their hands are very dirty they will need to have a place where they can remove all dirt and debris before using the hand sanitizing wipes. Hand sanitizing wipes = $4
  • Cooler bag, ice pack and thermometer for the employee to store the expressed milk safely. The cooler size and number of ice packs needed will depend on the conditions where the milk will be stored. A small cooler with one ice pack will heat up quickly on a hot day. The thermometer will give the employee peace of mind that the milk stayed below 40 degrees and is safe for the child. Leaving/storing a cooler with expressed milk in the trunk or interior of car will increase the temperature in the cooler more quickly. Instead, find a shaded location when possible. 1 cooler bag (approx. $15) + ice packs (approx. $8) + cooler thermometer (approx. $2) = $25
  • Backpack or bag: To store these items when the lactation space is being used for other purposes (e.g., driving), you will need a backpack or bag. Costs can vary, however, the bag should be large enough to fully contain all of the items and ensure that they are not contaminated by other materials that may be placed around or near the supplies. You will want it to have a zipper and an easy-to-clean material on the outside and inside (e.g., vinyl or plastic-coated fabric). Cost is variable $5 to $150 depending on your style and budget needs.
  • Closed trash receptacle for all used cleaning wipes. Approx. $5

Additional item

Sample adapter available for cars/trucks
Adapter for vehicle: Assuming employees have their own pump and equipment, a nice touch is to include an adapter in the kit. An inverter that adapts a car plug to a regular outlet will ensure that the kit is compatible for many different brands of electric pumps.  (Approx. $20-$30)

Support for breastfeeding employees is not only a company perk, it's the law. Under certain circumstances, employers can set-up these mobile lactation stations for their field-based employees for under $150. What better way to promote employee health, avoid fines and penalties and support local families?

Posted on Monday, February 4, 2019 at 1:50 PM

Healthy food and food insecurity

Farmers grow lettuce, spinach, broccoli and other vegetables in California's Imperial Valley, Central Valley, Salinas Valley and far northern counties. However, these nutritious foods are not readily available to local low income communities.

“Children often don't have access to healthy food options,” said Christopher Gomez Wong, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educator in Imperial County. “I'm from the Imperial Valley and often the fruits and vegetables grown here are not sold in local markets.”

According to the non-profit organization Feeding America, almost 2.5 million young people in the United States do not have access to nutritious food.

Despite the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables grown in California, some residents don't have access to nutritious food. (Photo: USDA)

“In California, one of every six children lives in a home where it's difficult to get the amount of nutritious food needed for their families,” said Lorrene Ritchie, director of the UC Nutrition Policy Institute. “We call this ‘food insecurity.'”

A study by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) found that food insecurity increases school absences and behavioral problems, and reduces children's concentration and academic achievement.

Ritchie, who leads a group of experts fighting obesity and food insecurity, said when family income is not sufficient, there is a tendency to buy cheaper foods, generally, junk food.

“If I'm hungry and I don't have much money, I'm going to a fast food restaurant where I can get more calories at a lower price,” Ritchie said. “Fast foods have more calories and cost less, but they typically also contain more sugar, salt and fat.”

For example, research presented at the UC ANR Statewide Conference on food insecurity included a graphic showing that for one dollar, consumers can purchase a bag of potato chips with 1,200 calories or a soda with 875 calories. In contrast, one dollar can buy just 250 calories of fresh vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit.

In everyday life, there are many examples of nutritious foods being displaced by junk foods

“We are studying children's eating habits,” Gomez Wong said. “Children aren't eating in the cafeteria and are eating lots of sweets. Five dollars more often buys them chips and a soda than a salad.”

Eating lunch at school helps students make better food choices. (Photo: USDA)

UC ANR works to combat food insecurity in many ways. It implements various ongoing community programs, conducts research and promotes government nutrition programs.

Urban gardens and orchards have a positive impact in low income communities, particularly where families do not have space for their own gardens and are interested in growing their own food. One example is the Community Settlement Association in Riverside. Other cities with similar programs are Sacramento, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

UC Master Food Preserver Program teaches the public how to preserve food by canning, freezing and drying in order to take advantage lower prices for fruit and vegetables purchased in season.

Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) offers free nutrition workshops in most California counties where people can learn how to purchase nutritious foods for less money and how to prepare them.

In addition, there are successful government programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, that provides nutritious foods free or at a reduced cost for children in public schools. The food is aligned with the national food guidelines that promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat milk.

“Every study we have done shows that school food contributes in an important way to children's nutrition,” Ritchie said. “For example, many children can meet half of their daily nutrition needs from school foods available absolutely free. I encourage all families to review school food programs to assure that their children arrive at school in time for the school breakfast and take advantage of the school lunch.”

MyPlate
In the fight against food insecurity, UC ANR has made important contributions, however, the challenges are enormous given that society continues to promote junk food of low nutritional quality.

“What we are trying to figure out is how to create an environment in which healthy options are the easiest options,” Ritchie said.

She said it would be ideal if supermarkets were designed under in concert with the healthy eating guidelines set forth in MyPlate. That is to say, to have stores where half the space is devoted to fruit and vegetables, a third is grains and whole grains, and another third are proteins, dairy foods and water (although water is not currently on MyPlate.)   

Link to the Spanish version of this story.

Posted on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at 8:03 AM

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