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Archive for Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Study raises safety concerns about ‘ready to eat’ greens

March 3, 2010

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Consumer Reports magazine recently sampled 208 packages from 16 brands of leafy greens and found disturbing results. They tested for common bacterial contamination with total coliform counts and for enterococcus, which indicates fecal contamination. These are indicators of potential pathogen contamination.

The results showed that 39 percent were above acceptable levels for total coliform and 23 percent for enterococcus. Some samples had undetectable results; others were more than 1 million colony forming units per gram. Samples closer to the expiration date were higher in contamination.

Advice for consumers includes buying bagged leafy greens with a long use-by date. Wash the greens even though the bag says “ready-to-eat.” Prevent cross contamination by keeping fresh greens away from raw meats.

Q: What is the white residue on grapes?

A: This is a form of “bloom” from the yeast Sacchoromyces cerevisiae. It originates from the soil and becomes airborne. As grapes mature the yeast settles and grows on the fruit. It is waxy and does not wash off with water. It helps protect the fruit from other harmful bacteria and fungi.

To remove the residue, simply rub with your fingers. But there’s no need to remove it because it is completely harmless and does not contribute off-flavors or odors.

Q: For Valentine’s Day, I was melting chocolate to dip strawberries in. In an instant the chocolate turned into a dry, stiff, grainy blob of goo. Can it be salvaged?

A: Possibly. This chocolate disaster occurs when just one small drop of water enters the chocolate mixture. The water will cause the sugar to form a syrup with cocoa particles attached. This creates grainy clumps. Sometimes it depends on how much liquid enters the chocolate mixture. But it can happen with chocolate alone causing the cocoa particles to cling to each other.

Instead of throwing out good chocolate, here’s a way to save it for another use. More water or another liquid (such as melted butter, vegetable oil, hot milk or hot cream) can be added to dissolve the sugar and cocoa clumps. This will create a fluid syrup and can be used as a chocolate sauce for ice cream, hot chocolate or drizzling on cookies or cupcakes.

The method is simple. Boil some water or liquid that is in the mixture already. Add the boiling liquid, one teaspoon at a time, and stir vigorously until the mixture relaxes and becomes smooth.

Q: Is agave syrup a good sugar alternative?

A: Agave syrup comes from the Mexican agave plant and is showing up in many foods as a “natural” sugar. It can also be used as a tabletop sweetener. But is it really a better sugar than regular sugar? Many say no.

According to our nutrition experts, agave syrup has 20 calories per teaspoon, slightly more than sugar. It contains about 90 percent fructose. This is more suitable for diabetics because it doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes like glucose. But some research shows too much fructose can cause insulin resistance, raise triglyceride levels, lower HDL cholesterol and possibly harm the heart and liver.

The “natural” label on agave syrup is misleading because the syrup is processed much like high-fructose corn syrup. In fact, there are some agave syrups that contain some high-fructose corn syrup.

So, it’s a personal choice. Agave syrup is not much healthier than sugar. It tastes sweeter and dissolves well in liquids. But, it is just another form of processed sugar.

— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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