I loves me my fruit: It may explain my big brain (sic)

Passion fruit and mangoes are enough reason to move to Australia.

Sure, there are American versions, but not like these.


Bret Stetka of Scientific American writes that compared with other mammals, and along with those of a few other notably bright creatures—dolphins, whales and elephants among them—the brain to body-size ratios of monkeys, apes and humans are among the highest.

For decades the prevailing evolutionary explanation for this was increasing social complexity. The so-called “social brain hypothesis” holds that the pressures and nuances of interacting and functioning within a group gradually boosted brain size.

Yet new research suggests otherwise. A study conducted by a team of New York University anthropologists, and published Monday in Nature Ecology & Evolution, reports diet was in all likelihood much more instrumental in driving primate brain evolution. In particular, it appears that we and our primate cousins may owe our big brains to eating fruit.

I love my fruit.

In Guelph, I was the hockey coach who always ate a grapefruit during the game. I still do when I coach in Australia, but more towards the sweeter fruits.

That must be why I’m so smart (not).

Much of the research exploring the social hypothesis has rendered inconsistent results. And as many in the field have noted, a number of oft-cited studies in support of the theory suffer from small sample sizes and flawed design, including out-of-date species classification. The new work is based on a primate sample more than three times larger than that used in prior studies, and one that used a more accurate evolutionary family tree.

In over 140 primate species, the study authors compared brain size with the consumption of fruit, leaves and meat. They also compared it with group size, social organization and mating systems. By looking at factors such as whether or not a particular primate group prefers solitary to pair living or whether they are monogamous, the researchers figured they should theoretically be able to determine if social factors contributed to the evolution of larger brains.

And it appears they could not. Dietary preferences—especially fruit consumption—seems to have been much more influential. The researchers found that fruit-eating species, or frugivores, have significantly larger brains than both omnivores and “foliovores,” those that prefer eating leaves. “These findings call into question the current emphasis on the social brain hypothesis, which suggests larger brains are associated with increased social complexity,” explains Alex DeCasien, a doctoral candidate in anthropology and lead author of the study. “Instead, our results resurrect older ideas about the evolutionary relationship between foraging complexity and brain size.”

 

Does washing fruit and veg do anything

Not much.

"You can reduce the number, but you’re not gonna get zero," said Dr. Ted Labuza, of the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, a University of Minnesota associate professor who has studied the impact of various washing techniques on produce said,

"At the consumer level, washing from the point of view of numbers, may reduce risk to 10 percent of the original risk. That’s been fairly consistent. But it’s definitely not solving the problem … If you happen to be lucky and the cells of the pathogen are not going to be attached to the surface, you may get lucky. If the cells have formed some structure and are strongly attached to the surface, you may not.”

Washing with water and some scrubbing motion applies friction, which has been shown to dramatically reduce the number of bacteria on a fruit or vegetable — from 100 percent risk to 10 percent risk, for example. But when the original numbers are in the trillions, that 10 percent risk can still be significant.

Running water on a fruit can reduce the risk to 15 percent. Scrubbing gets you to 10 percent, and using a mix of 3 parts water, 1 part vinegar can reduce the risk to 1 or 2 perecent.

So, it’s doing something, but it may not be enough.

Fruit compote likely suspect as Winnipeg Folklorama E. coli outbreak fells 37

Fruit compote may be the most likely culprit which sickened visitors to the Russian pavilion at Folklorama this past August, according to a report published by the Winnipeg Health Region.

The report details the probable cause of the verotoxigenic E-coli and its effect on 37 people who either attended the pavilion or who fell victim to secondary spread of the E. coli bacterium. Only three of the total 40 cases were not linked to the pavilion. In addition, the report offers a number of recommendations designed to reduce the risk of E-coli outbreaks in the future.

According to the "VTEC Outbreak 2010 Report," each person who was treated was interviewed to find the common connection with the pavilion. A study was then undertaken to determine the identity of the specific food item which was contaminated with E-coli, with 33 out of 34 people who attended the pavilion taking part.

Five patients were hospitalized with one case admitted to ICU and seventeen people visited an emergency room. There was one case of hemolytic uremic syndrome. VIP tour group attendees who had not been ill were asked to volunteer to be controls in the study.

The study looked at foods such as borscht, meatballs, a rice dish, and Russian juice (fruit compote). These four items were served together on the "Russian Combination platter." Analysis narrowed down the mostly likely choice to the compote over other sources, partially because the compote was served with both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian platters.

The most plausible source of contamination of the compote juice could have either been from cross-contamination from raw or undercooked ground beef – which is the most common source of E. coli in food products – which was also being handled at the same time in the kitchen or from E. coli contaminated apples used to make the compote.

Interviews with the kitchen staff revealed that most of the food was cooked in a pressure cooker. However, the compote juice was cooked in a separate pot. It was prepared by adding washed, unpeeled apples, blueberries and blackberries to boiling water. The fruit was bought fresh from a supermarket in Winnipeg.

Once boiled for five to 10 minutes, the compote juice was decanted into large 10-litre plastic pails. The boiled compote was then refrigerated until served cold. A new batch of compote was made every day. The only other food item that may have been cooked in the same pot was rice. The fruit was washed before boiling, kitchen staff wore gloves and practiced proper hand washing, and pots were washed and sanitized between use.

Bangkok street fruit often contaminated

The Associated Press reports that a survey of fruit available via ubiquitous street carts in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, found unsafe levels of bacteria and chemicals that help keep it looking fresh in the city’s tropical heat.

The Prime Minister’s Office launched a one-month campaign Monday to encourage fruit vendors and their suppliers to improve hygiene and provide consumers with safe, clean fruit. Authorities warned another survey will be taken at the end of the month after which vendors selling contaminated fruit will face up to two years in prison and fines of 20,000 baht ($650).

The study conducted throughout August by Bangkok City Hall, the Thai Food and Drug Administration and other health agencies sampled fruit from 38 vendors across the capital, where baggies packed with watermelon or pineapple sell for 10 baht (30 cents) and pricier guava costs 25 baht (80 cents).

Results of the study found that 67 percent of 153 samples of fresh fruit contained unsafe amounts of coliform bacteria. Coliform bacteria is common in digestive tracts and does not necessarily cause sickness, but its presence may indicate fecal matter, E. coli and other disease-causing organisms.
 

Are salad bars in schools a good idea?

There’s a bunch of food safety types who say they’ll never eat from salad bars, because who knows where the stuff comes from and who knows how many people have blown their nose on the contents.

I do eat from salad bars, but not that often. I have concerns about the sanitation, but also like the convenience of getting fresh fruit and veg into the system.

I’m not sure I want to eat at a salad bar frequented by snotty 10-year-olds who may be clueless about handwashing.

Michelle Obama apparently didn’t consider the food safety aspects when she endorsed the salad bar in every school.

I’m all for fresh fruits and veggies. But because they are fresh, anything that comes in contact has the potential to contaminate. So do it safely (produce condoms?)
 

New Zealand fruit and vegetable safety – good, but we’ll make sure we do better

Every time there is a food safety outbreak with fresh fruits and vegetables, some journalist or lobby group will call up and say something like, “we want to do some sampling for E. coli or Salmonella and fresh produce.”

And every time, Chapman or I will walk the person through the limitations with testing, especially in fresh produce.

New studies by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) highlight the limitations. In one, two out of 900 samples tested positive for Salmonella in lettuce, both from lettuces from the same grower.

In a related study, none of the chemical residues detected were of health concern, although NZFSA principal advisor for chemicals Dr Paul Dansted says he is disappointed with results from this year’s Food Residue Surveillance Programme (FRSP), which targets food likely to show up problems. This year’s focus was on spinach, celery, ginger and garlic.

“A significant number of samples had levels over the maximum residue limit (MRL) which is used for monitoring purposes, but it’s important to stress that dietary intake assessments on the non-compliant food showed none posed a health or food safety concern.”

Eight out of 27 celery samples and four out of 24 spinach samples had residues that were over the limit. There were none over the limit in 50 samples of garlic, but ginger had 11 samples out of 39 over the limit.

“Celery and spinach can be more vulnerable to persistence of chemical residues,” Dr Dansted says. “Because of their shape, residues that wash off in the rain can collect in the base of the plant. We expected to find some problems, but this is not good enough. We will take regulatory action to ensure better compliance in future.”

Properly structured sampling programs are essential to validate that food safety programs are working. But testing is not enough.
 

Dirty dozen food warnings are simplistic and suck

It’s end-of-year, so lists are big, and I’m fond of my Top-5 Records label list.

But some are just dumb, and it’s good to see the science types in New Zealand calling out some BS.

The Dominion Post reports tomorrow that toxicologists have accused a food safety campaigner of a lack of understanding after she advised people to eat organic celery to avoid pesticides.

Alison White has ranked celery at the top of a list of foods likely to contain pesticide residue, but scientists say that does not mean indulging in the vegetable will cause any harm.

Ms White, who is a researcher and co-convenor of the Safe Food Campaign, said consumers wanted information about whether their food contained pesticide residues.

Canterbury University toxicology professor Ian Shaw said Ms White’s table, which she published on the group’s website, displayed "naughtiness" in referencing research about cancer risks among people who sprayed vegetables, not those who ate them.

Ms White’s comments also showed she did not understand the difference between how dangerous a chemical was, and the actual chance or risk of it causing any harm.

The Food Safety Authority’s principal toxicology adviser, John Reeve, dismissed Ms White’s suggestion that pesticide residues could be making our food unsafe.

"Alison White and her colleagues have no expertise in toxicology and don’t understand the science."

Dr Reeve said pesticide limits were determined by how much of a chemical growers needed for it to work.

That limit was hundreds of times lower than the levels that would have any impact on human health, he said.

Fit, food and fresh produce

Food is 21st century snake oil. In an era of unprecedented affluence, consumers now choose among a cacophony of low fat, enhanced nutrient staples reflecting a range of political statements and perceived lifestyle preferences, far beyond dolphin free tuna.

On May 17, 2001, Procter & Gamble announced that it was discontinuing its Fit Fruit & Vegetable Wash in the United States, Canada and Mexico effective September 28, 2001. The company said the market was too small for continued investment.

But FIT is still out there. And someone e-mailed me about it the other day.

I’m not up on the current version of Fit being marketed, but in fall 2000, I contacted P&G to ask for the data substantiating the claim that Fit would eliminate 99.9 per cent of bacteria on fresh produce,

After a bunch of calls to various PR types I got hooked up with some scientists at P&G in Cincinnati, who verbally told me that sample cucumbers, tomatoes and the like were grown on the same farm in California, sprayed with chemicals that would be used in conventional production, and then harvested immediately and washed with Fit or water. The Fit removed 99.9 per cent more, or so the company claimed, because no data was ever forthcoming.

One problem. Many of the chemicals used have harvest after dates, such as the one tomato chemical that must be applied at least 20 days before harvest. Residue data on produce in Canadian stores reveals extremely low levels, in the parts per million or billion. So that 99.9% reduction is really buying consumers an extra couple of zeros in the residue quantity, all well below health limits.

No idea what the new Fit is promoting. But pathogens and chemicals in fresh produce need to be controlled on the farm, and in transportation and distribution. 
 

Clear labeling needed; Crunch Berries not a fruit

It’s important for food companies to disclose relevant information to the public so that consumers can make informed decisions about what they eat.

For example, Cap’n Crunch should make it abundantly clear that the berries in its cereal are not real fruit so that Californian Janine Sugawara can intelligently balance her diet.

News 10 in Sacramento reports that Sugawara filed a class-action lawsuit against the makers of Cap’n Crunch cereal last June because one product’s label misled her. She bought Cap’n Crunch cereal for four years because she thought the Crunch Berries were real fruit.

Federal Judge Morrison England, Jr. dismissed the suit, saying, "a reasonable consumer would have understood the product packaging to expressly warrant only that the product contained sweetened corn and oat cereal, which it did."

"As far as this court has been been made aware, there is no such fruit (Crunch Berries) growing in the wild or occurring naturally in any part of the world," England wrote.

England also noted that Sugawara’s lawyer, Harold Hewell, filed a simliar suit against Fruit Loops that was also thrown out of court.

A nation fed on local food?

The political power of the U.S. president just sets the stage for the presidential family to influence American culture.

I think one of the most interesting galleries at the Eisenhower Museum–dedicated to our 34th president who hailed from Abilene, Kansas (about an hour from where I write)–is the gallery filled with outfits worn by his wife Mamie. Plaques near the outfits describe the impact the former First Lady had on women’s fashion during her husband’s presidency–like many First Ladies before and after her.

Purpose-minded people everywhere hope that their cause will be picked up by a member of the presidential family and instantly regarded as fashionable.

This, of course, includes proponents of local food.

As reported by the New York Times,

“The nonprofit group Kitchen Gardeners International wants to inspire people to grow their own food in home gardens. More recently, its “Eat the View!” campaign has targeted the ultimate home garden — the White House lawn.”

According to the group’s website,

Kitchen Gardeners “are self-reliant seekers of "the Good Life" who have understood the central role that home-grown and home-cooked food plays in one’s well-being.”

Across the pond, the Japan Times reports that, “public trust in food, packaging and labeling [is] crumbling across the nation,” and it’s leading consumers to “tak[e] a healthy interest in vegetables and other locally made produce.”

The article asserts,

“The vegetables and fruits are not necessarily cheap compared with supermarket prices, but people are apparently buying them because they feel safer eating products made by farmers who aren’t afraid to be identified.”

It can’t hurt to know who supplies your food. However, without microbiological evidence of the safety of products and processes, there’s really no guarantee that food produced nearby—or even in your own yard—will be safer to eat than food that’s been in transit for a while.

Sick people just get the comfort of knowing who it was that let the poop get on their food.