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E. coli in meat making the news.

With summer and outdoor barbecues in full swing, Americans are once again being faced with E. coli worries. Over the weekend, the Associated Press reported that United Food Group LLC expanded a ground beef recall, which now includes about 5.7 million pounds of fresh and frozen meat that may be contaminated with E. coli. Here is the article in the San Francisco Chronicle. Recently in Fresno, The Meat Market catering sold pre-cooked tri-tip contaminated with E. coli, which made 11 people ill, according to the Fresno Bee.

I have noticed in the news coverage, the general media outlets say "E. coli" when they mean "E. coli 0157:H7." According to the USDA, it is the virulent strain of the bacteria that was detected in the meat distributed by United Food Group LLC.

Almost all people and animals have E. coli in their systems. It is harmless, according to Edward "Rob" Atwill, a UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine specialist in waterborne infectious diseases. In 1982, the O157:H7 strain first became known as a result of an outbreak associated with hamburger meat. E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and lead to kidney failure. Children, senior citizens and people with compromised immune systems are most susceptible.

According to Atwill, scientists believe that only 10 to 100 bacteria can cause disease in humans; a large animal with E. coli O157:H7, such as a cow, sometimes can shed millions of bacteria per gram of feces. For more information, see the UC Cooperative Extension food safety media kit.

Posted on Sunday, June 10, 2007 at 4:21 PM

California farmers are on their way to the Mid West.

Next Tuesday, a group of 14 California farmers will join UC vegetable crops specialist Jeff Mitchell for a five-day tour of farms using conservation tillage techniques in Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. In previous years, Mitchell has brought specialists from other parts of the country to speak to growers in California about their experiences with conservation tillage. This is the first time he has organized a group of farmers to go see successful CT farms in other states for themselves.

The potential to conserve energy, equipment and labor costs while boosting soil organic matter and saving water is prompting more California farmers to pay attention to conservation tillage.

"Conservation tillage has been around for a long time," Mitchell said in 2001, "but it is only now beginning to catch on in California." Since that time, many farmers have gotten on board, and are working in close collaboration with UC Cooperative Extension specialists and farm advisors to try the new techniques in their commercial settings.

Cotton is one crop in which conservation tillage hasn't yet caught on. The Capital Press newspaper reported last week on a recent conservation tillage meeting at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center that focused on cotton. The article, written by Cecelia Parsons, quotes Bob Hutmacher, the UC extension specialist in cotton: "This has been solutions-oriented research, what works and what doesn't."

Mitchell explained some of the research underway on CT cotton. "At first, it wasn't the best, but the last two years there was not a lot of statistical difference," the article quoted Mitchell. "There has been a lot of learning. We have made enough progress to begin sharing our information."

Posted on Friday, June 8, 2007 at 10:24 AM

State budget decision may set back childhood obesity prevention efforts.

Childhood obesity is again in the news today. The San Francisco Chronicle is running a story about Fresh Start, a program that provides fresh fruit to school children for breakfast and snacks. According to the story, the California Legislature cut the $11.1 million proposed by Gov. Schwarzenegger for Fresh Start in order to cover a $366 million funding gap in the education part of the state budget.

The pending decision comes on the heels of preliminary evaulations of the program by UC Berkeley's Center for Weight and Health, which found that fresh fruit offerings tripled at participating schools during Fresh Start's first year.

The article, written by Carol Ness, said state superintendent of schools Jack O'Connell called on legislators to restore Fresh Start during conference hearings at the end of June. Ness also quoted a spokesman for the governor as saying the program "is something we are going to continue to fight for."

Posted on Thursday, June 7, 2007 at 9:51 AM

Nutrition and weight coalitions take on obesity crisis

UC Cooperative Extension is working to engage parents in the fight against childhood obesity. In a number of California counties, UCCE academics are part of local coalitions aimed at pooling community resources to turn around an epidemic of over eating and lack of exercise.

The Napa Valley Register today profiled a 13-year-old boy, a "picky eater" who subsisted on fast food and sugary snacks. With the advice of a local dietician -- a member of the Napa County's Children and Weight Coalition -- the family is beginning to change the boy's unhealthful habits. Now, the family's refrigerator is filled with plenty of fruit, according to Register reporter Christina de León-Menjivar.

“If he’s hungry, I tell him, ‘Eat an orange,’” the boy's mom is quoted as saying.

The story announces the fact that the Children and Weight Coalition of Napa County holds a meeting tomorrow to discuss childhood weight and health issues in Napa County. The meeting will be in the UC Cooperative Extension Office in Napa.

Posted on Wednesday, June 6, 2007 at 10:01 AM

UCR biologist receives $1.75 million to study Xylella

The UC Riverside issued a press release yesterday announcing that biology professor Leonard Nunney received a $1.75 million grant from the USDA to study the Xyella plant pathogen, which is causing serious diseases in a wide range of agricultural and horticultural crops. According to the release, there are three main Xylella subspecies found in North America: fastidiosa, which causes Pierces disease in grapes and almonds, sandyi on oleanders, day lilies, magnolias and jacarandas, and multiplex on almonds, brittlebushes, sages, olives, oaks, plums and peaches.

"There are several puzzles about this bacterium," Nunny was quoted in the news release. "If you find Xylella on a certain plant, you can't predict what else it might be found on. . . . We need to understand what it is about these plants that makes each type of Xylella favor them."

This grant and Nunnery's work is sure to generate interest in the the ag media as well as general news outlets.

Posted on Tuesday, June 5, 2007 at 10:03 AM

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