Safer Salads Summary

This article was written by the late Sally Jaeger-Altekruse, former OCMGA member, for our Winter 2007 newsletter

In the middle of October, I was walking through the Appleton Public Library and my eye caught a heading on the magazine rack. What I found was very interesting and I would like to share it with all of you. The article was entitled, “Safer Salads”, was written by Jorge M. Fonseca and Sadhana Ravishankar working at the University of Arizona and was published in the American Scientist, Volume 95 on pages 494-501.

The researchers begin by stating that the number of outbreaks, for fresh produce, of food poisoning caused by microorganisms has risen in recent years. They mention the following possible explanations:

  • People are eating more fresh fruits, vegetables and salads than ever before.
  • More meals are eaten outside the home at restaurants or public gatherings which is the most common setting for outbreaks.
  • More people are in contact with the food we eat and with large volumes of food.
  • More of today’s produce is imported from abroad where standards may be less strict.
  • Transit times from field to table can be longer.
  • Reporting of consumer illnesses are more abundant and more accurate both at the local and national levels.
  • Some scientists believe that proliferation of antimicrobials and antibiotics are partly to blame.

Several studies have shown an inverse relation between populations of natural microflora and pathogenic bacteria in soil, produce & surfaces in general.

To get an idea of the increase in outbreaks, the researchers put forward these statistics:

“For the 25 year period from 1973 until 1997, 32 states reported 190 produce-related outbreaks which together involved 16,058 illnesses, 598 hospitalizations and 8 deaths.”

“For the 14 years between 1990 and 2004, produce was implicated in 639 outbreaks involving 28,315 cases, a threefold increase in half the time.”

They next follow up with information on the individual pathogens responsible for the outbreaks. Two of the most common are Salmonella and E. coli 0157 :H7. I found these facts to be quite interesting on them:

Salmonella is an intestinal microbe that animal shed in their feces and soil that contains fresh or incompletely composted manure from animals can act as a reservoir for the bacteria. Salmonella is acid-tolerant so it survives well in low pH fruit and vegetables. “If produce that is grown in contaminated soil is not washed thoroughly, Salmonella on the surface can be spread to the inside portion during slicing or cutting.” (I guess this means we all need to do a better job at composting manure!)

E. coli was once more associated with ground beef, with recalls of raw beef and undercooked hamburgers, but now affects fresh produce also. ‘The rise in E coli-tainted fruits and vegetables probably comes from cattle operations, which can contaminate fields through feces or feces-laced irrigation water.” We need to also be concerned about cross- contamination between meat and fresh produce which can occur many places along the food chain. Although some can occur during processing, “nearly two-thirds … associated with produce have occurred during late summer and fall, when warm temperatures and outdoor cooking can subvert good hygiene, and about half … have involved cross-contamination during food preparation.”

Contamination can occur through several ways. Bacterial or parasitic pathogens can develop on the surface of fruits and vegetables or inside the flesh through damaged sites. Some studies suggest that contaminants can enter through the root system of plants and of course contamination can occur by people who work with and around the produce by not washing hands often enough and then coming in contact with the food the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandates a minimum waiting period of almost a year after animal husbandry operations cease before growers can cultivate the same field for edible fresh crops.” This is because “Fields that are used to contain animals are more likely than other places to harbor enteric pathogens in the soil;”

“For the same reason, raw manure is a dangerous soil additive for croplands and should be adequately composted (with sufficiently high temperatures) before use as a fertilizer for food crops.”

“Given the risk of having animal feces in contact with food crops, one might think that organically grown crops – which use organic fertilizers such as composted manure instead of synthetic fertilizers – would be especially likely to be contaminated with enteric pathogens. However, this hypothesis appears to be untrue; No clear differences exist between organically grown and conventional produce in terms of microbial safety.” The article goes on to suggest that “new regulations say that growers of certified organic produce must carry a certificate that proves that such products are pathogen-free.”

So how do they suggest we should protect ourselves? It boils down to some very common sense ideas:

  • DO wash produce vigorously with lukewarm tap water before eating;
  • DON’t save washed produce for later (unless you dry it with a salad spinner or towel);
  • DO keep produce that tolerates low temperatures in the refrigerator;
  • DON’T eat produce that looks or smells spoiled;
  • DO trim away bruises, damaged areas and the stem scar;DON’T cross-contaminate foods or surfaces, particularly when handling raw meat or eggs;
  • DO wash hands, kitchen surfaces and tools before and after preparing foodDO wash hands often during food preparation.

In closing, I found it interesting that the authors “prefer to avoid salad bar and all-you-can-eat buffets because so many individuals (many of whom, statistically, failed to wash their hands after using the toilet) have come in contact with the food.”

Mushrooms: Grow your own?

a04ae0d805d61dfc083f01cf06ba6aca--science-puns-food-humorMushrooms have no chlorophyll and do not use sunlight or the process of photosynthesis to make their own food. Most of these fleshy, spore-bearing fungi are saprophytes, which means they derive their food from dead or decaying matter, but some are parasites, which feed on living hosts.

Mushrooms appear outdoors naturally from spring to late autumn, but because some of the wild ones are highly poisonous, it is essential to learn from an expert before attempting to harvest them.

Fortunately, there are a few cultivated types, such as shiitake, that do not pose the danger of wild ones and that can be started indoors from kits sold in catalogs, at garden centers, and over the Internet.

059-cartoon-mushroom-jokeCommercial button mushrooms require complete darkness, but most of the gourmet mushrooms grown indoors need some indirect light, says Paul Stamets, author of Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms. Regarding how much light is enough, Mr. Stamets says, “If there’s sufficient light to read the instructions on a mushroom kit, there’s enough light to grow them.”

474a524eae6c55c22fc9dbea5198a69eThe growing medium of choice is wood or straw, which must be kept evenly moist. Air temperatures typically range between 50º and 80ºF. With a bit of luck, mushrooms from kits will appear in about two weeks.

Watching the process can be a lot of fun, and most kits will yield a small crop, but growing your own is not a way to save money on mushrooms. If you plan to eat them often, you’ll still be buying most of your supply.

Wet vs Dry Fertilizer

Dry fertilizers are easier (and quicker) to apply, especially when large areas are involved, and though they are slower to take effect, they last longer. In most gardens, wet fertilizers are used for foliar feeding, sprayed directly on plant leaves for immediate uptake. They produce rapid results, but their action is short-lived.

Dry fertilizers are usually mixed with soil before planting. Later in the season they are used as side dressing, spread in a narrow band about a foot away from growing plants and then scratched in.

Ideally, dry fertilizers break down slowly, providing a steady stream of nutrients with minimal danger of root burn, weak hypergrowth, and other problems caused by too much, too soon. In practice, however, this doesn’t always work out. Dry chemical formulations are highly soluble, and while they are more durable than liquids, they disperse rapidly in warm, wet weather. They can work well, but it is important to use minimum amounts, mix them well with the soil, and keep them away from plant roots.

Most organic amendments, on the other hand, are minimally processed. They must be broken down by weather and soil microbes before the nutrients they contain are available to plants. While there are exceptions, as a general rule these natural products pose none of the dangers of rapid breakdown, and unlike chemical fertilizers, they offer long-term soil-building benefits. But there’s no denying they’re slow to download; you have to plan well ahead.

Did Your Christmas Cactus Bloom?

Cactus_de_noël_revMany of us have Christmas Cactus plants that we’ve nurtured since they were small, or maybe inherited from a close friend or relative so there are sentiments when the plant blooms. What if it doesn’t bloom, though? Don’t immediately assume that there’s something wrong or get rid of the plant!

Dan Mahr from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has written an extensive and authoritative article on these seasonal bloomers that will help you understand the background of this beloved plant, as well as provide great information on its care. Did you know that these plants are, indeed, true cacti related to the giant saguaros in Arizona but they come from Brazil? Did you know that there are over 100 cultivars that have been developed with flowers ranging from deep red to pure white?

Sit back with a cup of tea and read up on this delightful seasonal bloomer!

Tips to Keep Your Canning Safe!

Remember the old stories about folks getting sick from eating someone’s canned green beans?  I found out that was E.Coli!  Nothing to mess around with. When you have a pile of rhubarb, tomatoes,  or other fruits and vegetables take care to preserve them correctly so you don’t endanger yourself or others and so that you don’t waste your harvest.
The following tips are from a lovely article by B. Ingram written in 2011. The article is from the UW Extension which is a great resource for articles on all kinds of topics to enhance your summer and your garden. Here’s a link to the article if you’d like to view it,, but here’s a summary.
First, start with a well tested recipe and there are plenty of resources to find these. You can visit The National Center for Home Food Preservation at or in Wisconsin the resource
Use recipes that are up to date and equipment that is in good working order.

If you are using a pressure canner there are resources for having them tested every year which is recommended by the Extension.

Make sure your jars and screw rings are in good shape and sterilize them before use. Discard any jars that are chipped and toss any rings with rust. Purchase new lids every year, don’t ever try to re-use the lids!

And the final tip from the article discourages using our creativity when it comes to canning!  I guess we can save the creativity for the garden where it doesn’t have such a direct effect on our food safety.
Thanks to Mary for bringing the article to our attention!
Posted by Rachel

Preserving some of the year's rhubarb! Chutney and sauce for later this year!

Preserving some of the year’s rhubarb! Chutney and sauce for later this year!