Lowdown on the Listeria Fruit Recall

23 Jul

Lowdown on the Listeria Fruit Recall

Food safety is forefront in the news this week after a California packing company initiated a voluntary recall of fruit it sold at Trader Joe’s, Costco, Food 4 Less, Foods Co., and Ralphs stores.

The recall is related to specific lots of peaches, nectarines, plums, and pluots in packages assembled from June 1 – July 12 that may have been contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

What is Listeria?

Listeriosis is caused by eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. It is particularly problematic for anyone with a compromised immune system, including:

  • Older adults
  • Pregnant women
  • Newborns, and
  • Other sick individuals

Listeria is found in soil and water, and animals can cross contaminate to foods such as uncooked meats and vegetables, or unpasteurized (raw) milk and cheeses.

The safest way to protect yourself against listeria is to cook and pasteurize, since this kills Listeria.

Hot dogs and deli meats can be sources of Listeria, which is why pregnant women are advised to avoid eating these foods unless they are reheated to steaming hot.

How Serious is the Threat of Listeria?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • About 1,600 people in the US get sick from Listeria each year
  • Listeria is the 3rd leading cause of death from food poisoning
  • At least 90% of those with Listeria infections are pregnant women or newborns, people aged 65 or older, or those with compromised immune system

How Can You Avoid Listeria?

Besides the obvious avoidance of contaminated product, if you are in one of the at-risk populations, make sure to also steer clear of the riskiest foods for Listeria, including:

  • Raw sprouts
  • Raw milk (unpasteurized milk)
  • Soft cheeses (made from unpasteurized milk)
  • Deli meats and hot dogs that are cold and not heated
  • Smoked seafood

To learn more about Listeria prevention, click here.

Regarding the recent fruit recall, you can find the FDA’s press release with affected lot numbers here.

Fig Facts from the Farmer’s Market

22 Jul

Fig Facts from the Farmer’s Market

Figs are a fruit-lover’s fickle friend. They make a brief appearance in market from June-July, with a second showing again in August-October.

On the whole, fig season is a short one – but it’s worth catching these high fiber fruits while you can.

A one-half cup serving (roughly 3-4 whole figs) contains 120 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and is a good source of potassium (10% daily value).

Fig Fun Facts

If you find yourself needing more fig facts, here are some interesting tidbits from California Figs…and they should know, with California being home to 90% of the US fig farming operation:

  • If you like fashion, thank figs: a fig tree was responsible for the first clothing in the Bible, from which Adam & Eve drew fig leaves from to fashion clothing
  • Because of their high alkalinity, figs are beneficial for people looking to stop smoking
  • Figs aren’t fruits – but rather flowers that have inverted onto themselves; the fig seeds are the real fruits (or drupes)
  • Figs are the only fruits (self-inverted flowers?) to ripen and semi-dry on the tree
  • The word sycophant (essentially – a self-seeking, servile suckup) derives from the Greek word meaning “one who informs against another for exporting figs” – figs were so revered that ancient Greek law forbade the exporting of high quality figs.

Fixing up Figs

So what do you do with figs? Personally I love to eat them whole – with a penchant for black Mission figs.

But figs aren’t just delicious and nutritious – they’re nice to look at too. Figs are gorgeous when sliced.

Add this appealing appetizer to your pre-party repertoire:

  • Spread 1-2 teaspoons goat cheese on a high fiber cracker
  • Top with a slice of fig
  • Finish off with a dollop of real honey

Are you fretting about not finding figs year round? Check out this interesting story from NPR about more frequent fig availability from advances in growing techniques…and a little fig farmer trickery.

Forging Ahead on the Problem with Probiotics

18 Jul

If you have a gut problem, then you’ve probably heard these 2 pieces of dietary advice: eat more fiber and try probiotics.

But GI disorders are highly personalized and vary from person-to-person, so what works for one doesn’t always work for another.

This is certainly the case with probiotics – where ingesting probiotics can lead to no relief in GI symptoms for some, and claims of a miracle cure for others.

Probiotics are microbial species that convey health benefits – most notably with regards to digestion.

You can find probiotics in supplement form, in foods with bacteria such as yogurt, and in fermented foods.

The problem with probiotics is that so far, nobody can really agree upon what is a recommended dose, what are the best sources, or what they’re really effective at treating.

One group is trying to change that though: the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics. ISAPP is an international non-profit collaboration of scientists who are dedicated to advancing the science of probiotics and prebiotics.

The group recently met to help clarify information for consumers about possible side effects, effectiveness, dosing, and validity of products. The full published consensus statement from the meeting can be accessed here.

A summary of their work was declared in the following conclusion statement about probiotics:

  • Include in the framework for definition of probiotics microbial species that have been shown in properly controlled studies to confer benefits to health
  • Any specific claim beyond “contains probiotics” must be further substantiated
  • Keep live cultures, traditionally associated with fermented foods and for which there is no evidence of a health benefit, outside the probiotic framework
  • Keep undefined, fecal microbiota transplants outside the probiotic framework

To read more about the report calling for a stricter definition of probiotics, including my comments on probiotic confusion, click here.

Sharpen Your Nutrition Skills: With a MOOC

10 Jul

Sharpen Your Nutrition Skills: With a MOOC

Is it time for you to brush up on your nutrition knowledge? If so, consider a MOOC.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have taken center-stage in the debate about the values of distance learning. Since breaking onto the scene about 5 years ago, MOOCs have revolutionized information sharing at the higher education level.

For the most part, MOOCs tend to be free, online courses offered to large numbers of students over a short period of time. They’re generally taught by instructors from well-known institutions…meaning that essentially, you get big league knowledge on the fast and cheap.

Three of the biggest players in the MOOC arena are Coursera, Udacity, and edX – and they offer a wide range of courses, including some food and nutrition ones.

Through my position as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco’s graduate School of Nursing, I helped to develop and teach the first human nutrition course offering from Coursera. My class, entitled Nutrition for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, has enrolled over 100,000 students from 100+ countries. There are continuing education credits available for Medical Doctors, Registered Nurses, Pharmacists, and Registered Dietitians.

Some of the other MOOCs I have loved and highly recommend are:

To learn more about other class options, click here for a full list of Coursera’s Food & Nutrition courses and here for Udacity’s Nutrition offerings.

To read more about my MOOC, check out this month’s feature in Food & Nutrition magazine.

Bolder Flavor from Boulder Canyon

7 Jul

Bolder Flavor from Boulder Canyon

A pleasant surprise greeted me from an otherwise dismal vending machine display the other day: Boulder Canyon’s Chipotle Cheese flavor Rice & Bean Snack Chips with Adzuki Beans.

Sure, these rice and bean chips were still chips – but they were pleasantly light and crispy with a subtle flavor and impressive nutrition profile.

You don’t see a lot of adzuki beans in snack foods – but these were great, with adzuki beans beinng the 3rd ingredient on the ingredient list (after rice flour and corn starch).

Adzuki beans are popular in Japanese cooking, and they’re small and light red-brown in color. A 1/2 cup of cooked beans nets you 8.5 grams of fiber with 9 grams protein for just 110 calories…so they’re certainly a great fiber find…if you can find them.

If you can’t get the real beans, the chips are an ok runner up. A 1.5 oz serving bag (about 30 chips) of Boulder Canyon’s Chipotle Cheese chips provides:

  • 215 calories
  • 11 g fat
  • 2 g saturated fat
  • 280 mg sodium
  • 26 g carbohydrate
  • 5 g dietary fiber
  • 3 g protein

And when you’re in a pinch, I’d say they’re a satiating snack food (albeit a bit high in sodium).