Someone’s got some eggsplaining to do!

If you think about it, the egg is actually quite marvelous. It’s so simple and so cool! This little oval shape houses the transformation of nutrients into a living, breathing thing! Our ancestors were fascinated by this and as time went on we obviously attempted to learn all we can about this odd mechanism of life.

We learned that the egg white provides both physical and chemical protection, as well as water and protein for development for the growing embryo. Egg white is called albumen. It is applied over the yolk in four layers that alternate in thick and thin consistencies. The first thick layer of albumen protein is twisted to form the chalazae. The chalazae consists of two dense, slightly elastic cords that anchor the yolk to the shell. They allow it to rotate while still remain suspended in the middle of the egg. This is a cushioning system for the embryo. The yolk makes up just over a third of the egg’s weight. It contains fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. The yolk’s yellow color comes from plant pigments called xanthophyll the hen ingests  from feed. The yolk is made up of concentric spheres–like a Russian nesting doll! This is also where cholesterol is located… In fact, the egg is the richest source of cholesterol among our common foods.

Some may think this is bad considering too much cholesterol in our blood could contribute to heart disease by clogging up our arteries and thus blocking the passage of blood vessels to–or from–our heart. Our livers produce all the cholesterol we will need, so it is no surprise that for years medical associations have been urging us to limit our intake of egg yolks. However, recent studies suggest that dietary cholesterol (cholesterol ingested from food) has a relatively small effect in raising blood cholesterol levels. In fact, blood cholesterol is more heavily influenced by saturated fats than cholesterol itself. Furthermore, the total body levels are heavily influenced by genetics, gender and age. So eat that egg with no fear!

The reason we looked into the inner-workings of the egg is because we, as a human race, like to try and put anything in our bodies that could potentially be of use to us, no matter how absurd it may seem.

Naturally, we industrialized the chicken and of course, as we had hoped, benefits ensued. We slowly developed an efficient way to optimize the amount of eggs a hen produces on a given feed diet. We have also improved egg quality, an even better plus!

The invention of the refrigerator was a huge life-saver (literally). With refrigeration, egg quality deteriorates to a significantly lesser extent. Salmonella bacteria also multiply to a much slower when cold. This bacteria does seem to be a major drawback to the industrialization of the egg. With mass production, comes mass contamination.

Hens that no longer lay eggs are often recycled into feed for the next generation of egg-layers, and this tends to spread the infection of salmonella. Now salmonella is a major fear for consumers. There was an outbreak in 1985 in Europe, Scandinavia, Great Britain, and North America. In the 1990s, it was estimated by U.S. health services the one out of 10,000 eggs contained active salmonella. Today, that number has been reduced to one in 20,000.

Although the risk is half of what it used to be over 2o years ago, the risk of salmonella infection still stands. This causes much distress in consumers, who then lash out at producers for providing potentially harmful food to their communities, and then a whole uproar begins on every link in the egg production network.

Producers began refrigerating eggs as they were being transported to reduce the salmonella growth. However, this was still not enough to gain the trust of consumers, so a warning label was put on the egg cartons along with proper directions for cooking and storage. Now the responsibility is on the consumers.

We began class with a video chat with Becky Goldberg, a lawyer who works for the FDA. She was able to give the point of view of the government and where it stands and where it dabbles in the salmonella issue. Often times, as consumers, we can only see things from our perspective and next to nothing about what farmers have to go through to get the product to producers to be processed and then transported to stores. We really don’t know how complicated the whole system is.

As a class, we couldn’t see why salmonella risk could end with the farmers. Why can’t they keep the hens from carrying salmonella? Salmonella comes into hen houses on rodents. So if farmers kept the hen houses clean, the problem would be solved. Nope. That is nearly impossible task to do.

Ok, so why can’t farmers test hens for salmonella? Do you know how labor intensive that is? What about antibiotics? But now we are getting into the conventional versus organic issue that consumers also have.

The issue is, farmers have exhausted all the possible solutions. So now we ask the dreaded question: should there be a level of government involvement? This costs money, however it is the government’s job to take care of its citizens.

In 2009, the FDA imposed a law on the requirements on egg farms. This law stated that there would be testing at certain time periods. First, the environment is tested for salmonella. If this comes back positive, then the eggs must be tested. This involves taking a sample of 1,000 eggs to see if salmonella is active in them. This is also a very labor-intensive task, not to mention quite expensive.

Many people get mad about the government for not stepping in sooner to solve a problem, but many people also don’t understand the mechanics of how the government runs. When the government does decide to get involved, people still are not satisfied because the process seems to take forever. Well, this is because the government has a protocol to follow as well and a good portion of it involves consumers’ opinions.

After many years working through this tedious protocol, the FDA enforced a law that egg farms with 3,000 or more hens had to follow specific criteria to minimize the risk of salmonella contamination.

When attempting to take food-related issues to court, there is never just one side to the story, and there is never a perfect solution. As consumers, we need to be patient and trust that our government does its job at governing our food politics.

After our very informative and eye-opening video chat with Ms. Goldberg, we decided to dive into the science of eggs. Finally!

We conducted an experiment, or should I say eggsperiment, involving eggs cooked in a sous-vide, ranging from 57.2 degrees Celsius to 82 degrees Celsius. These ranges were equally proportioned out and we looked at the structure of an egg cooked to each temperature. We even got to eat them too!

The first temperature the eggs were cooked at was 57.2 degrees Celsius. These were quite the opposite from the hard-boiled eggs we were all expecting. The egg whites were not white at all, but quite clear. There was a yellow tint in them most likely from the yolk. The two distinct layers of whites were extremely noticeable, and the yolk was intact.

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To be honest, I don’t think anyone was brave enough to eat this one.

The second temperature was 62 degrees Celsius. These eggs were a bit more intact than the first batch. The yolk was covered in a layer of egg whites, and the rest sort of just fell out of the shell onto the plate, clumped into a pool of water.

 

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Doesn’t that look delicious?!

The third temperature was 65 degrees Celsius. These eggs looked pretty similar to those cooked at 62 degrees, not surprising given the three degree difference. Now we can start to see how the proteins in the eggs are denatured due to the high temperatures endured in the sous-veed. Once denatured, the proteins start to coagulate and form a solid-like structure.

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Notice how it is slightly less watery and appears to have a firmer structure.

The fourth temperature was 68 degrees Celsius. Here the eggs looked almost hard-boiled. Because of this misinterpretation, I thought the eggs would feel hard-boiled when eaten as well. They did not. Soft-boiled eggs are an acquired taste (or probably texture) that I do not have. What was really cool about this temperature was that we discovered the yolk could be molded and shaped. This is because more proteins are coagulating, thus a stronger structure is forming.

At 72 degrees Celsius molding the yolk was even easier. We opened it and were exposed to its rough, grainy texture. Naturally, we had to chew it! It was a weird sensation. This was the temperature we were first introduced to the smelliness of eggs. Now the hydrogen sulfide was in the egg whites, informing the class of its presence.

At 74 degrees Celsius we finally started to get somewhere. Now the yolk was much firmer, and not nearly as moldable. This time it was susceptible to cracking. Professor Miller found this yolk to be particularly entertaining and found it to be weirdly chewy. In the mouth it spreads apart under the pressure of the teeth, but once the jaw opens back up, the yolk reformed into its original shape! In a way it was acting like gum. But with vigorous chewing, the yolk was eaten.

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See how it is much more dry than the one before?

We experienced some difficulty getting the shell off of the 78 degree Celsius egg, similar to how the shells are difficult to remove on hard-boiled eggs…

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THE FIRST ONE TO NOT SCARE ANYONE AWAY

82 degrees Celsius was our last temperature for this experiment. Similar to at 78 degrees, the shell was also difficult to get off and much of the egg white stuck to the shell upon removal.

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A drastic difference in appearance can be seen across the temperatures, clearly depicting the progression of protein coagulation due to cooking. When heated, all the molecules in the egg move faster and faster, collide with each other harder and harder, and eventually begin to break the bonds that hold the long protein chains in their compact, folded shape. The proteins unfold, tangle with each other, and bond to each other creating a three-dimensional network. These protein clusters, divide up the water in the egg, blocking it from flowing, thus the egg becomes a moist solid. Also, since the large protein molecules have clustered together so densely, they can reflect light rays and the once transparent “white” of the egg, becomes opaque (white).

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Which one is your favorite?

On the left is a side experiment we did. We attempted to make scrambled eggs at various temperatures and times. The lower-left eggs–the ones that look the most appetizing–were cooked on medium heat for 1 minute and 45 seconds. The next were cooked on high heat for 45 seconds, and the top were cooked on low heat for what we wanted to be 2 minutes and 45 seconds, but what actually turned out to be 5 minutes and 30 seconds because they were nowhere near done. Clearly this experiment has some gaps between the big time jumps as well as the temperature jumps. It would be interesting to see a more concise and continuous level of change through the variables here.

Another side experiment that was fun was grilling an egg. Don’t worry I haven’t heard of that either. We really wanted it to explode, and when we heard the cracking we all shielded ourselves for…nothing!

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Fresh off the grill! Check out the cool Maillard reaction on the shell.

I don’t think any of us could have predicted what was on the inside…

Look at that yolk! It’s half liquid-half solid!

Overall, today was a pretty cool day. And we learned a lot about the FDA’s role in food politics and narrowed down our taste in eggs. That’s all yolks!

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Organic vs. Conventional: Is the Label Worth it?

To begin the discussion on the debate around organic versus conventional foods, it only seemed fitting to start the class by doing a blind taste test comparing various organic and conventional foods. We noted which of the two was organic and which tasted better. Interestingly, there was very little difference in appearance between the two foods, but a level of varying texture was noted. In comparing ingredients, many foods had slight differences. For instance, the chart below compares the Wegman’s Organic Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips to the conventional version. The only two main differences between the two is the fact that conventional uses soy lecithin, because most soy is genetically modified, and organic uses sunflower lecithin. The question to ask would be, “Is the ‘organic’ label in front of each ingredient all that important?”

Wegman’s Organic Semi-Sweet Chocolate chips Organic Sugar, Organic Chocolate Liquor, Organic Coco Butter, Organic Sunflower Lecithin.
Wegman’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Semi-Sweet Chocolate (Sugar, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin – an Emulsifier, Vanilla).

Though many of us were able to distinguish a difference between the organic and conventional foods, we had difficulty in determining which foods were organic and which ones were not. Much of our inability to distinguish the two results from the fact that we often have preconceived notions as to how organic foods will taste, as if organic somehow should taste “better,” because we expect that it should. Something labeled “organic” does not make it somehow healthy, such as the organic potato chips. A potato that has been deep-fried does not exactly make it better in comparison to the conventional potato that has been deep-fried. Getting caught up in labels can be easy to do once binaries of healthy/unhealthy have been paired with organic/conventional. I find that I can be guilty of this, because I expected it to be much less difficult to distinguish between the various foods once they were side-by-side, and expected a greater or richer taste in the organic foods.                                                                                                                                                                      fullsizeoutput_1862.jpeg
Our discussion then turned to our opinions regarding a particular section of Jayson Lusk’s The Food Police, in which he makes several claims against the notion that pesticides have harmful effects. These claims conflicted with Marion Nestle’s, in which she claims that the reason for the government regulation of pesticides is due to their harm. We came to consensus that both authors are correct to some degree, and it is true that the risk of pesticides is much less than consumers think.

Though organic and conventional foods may not have much nutritional difference, the techniques of organic and conventional farms do contrast to a more significant degree. For example, conventional farming has a very high degree of fossil fuel input and a higher degree of waste output that is not circulated back into the farming cycle. On the contrary, nonconventional farming uses various natural resources and uses its animals to cultivate richer soil and richer fertilizer without the use of chemicals. This creates a more fluid cycle between the animals and the environment so as each plays a role in the output. Understanding the difference in farming methods might lead one to opt for the organic produce or produce from a more nonconventional method, rather than simply because the organic is “better.


In a separate blind tasting experiment, eight different foods were pureed, and we had to determine the food based solely on taste, as each had very similar textures. I think that this experiment was the prime example of “looks can be deceiving,” because though the colors were vibrant and aesthetically pleasing, the taste was anything but that. The fruits pureed well and had a nice consistency, but the vegetables, such as the red pepper and carrot, had a very odd flavor. Oddly enough, the blueberry pureeing became more of a jam consistency, and gelled, unlike the others. I think this experiment allowed us to recognize that certain foods are better left intact, in their un-pureed form.

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In the kitchen, we experimented with various cooking techniques to determine how the vegetables would differ in taste. These included frying, microwaving, baking, steaming, sautéing, grilling, and cooking via sous vide. Though I was a bit skeptical of the frying method, many classmates enjoyed the crunchy broccoli and crisp beet leaves.

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The sous vide, on the other hand, did not provide as promising of taste as the other methods, and actually gave several vegetables a different, less than pleasing flavor profile. I was most surprised by the fact that the sous vide altered the taste the most, because in the previous week, the meat cooked via the sous vide method was the most delicious.

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The final experiment consisted of three samples of raspberry juice, three samples of blueberry juice, and three samples of cabbage juice. One of each sample was basic, acidic, and neutral to observe the color change. We then added vinegar to the cabbage that already had baking soda in it to produce a mini colorful volcano.Though it did not necessarily have much to do with the organic vs. conventional debate, it was still science, and there is always learning in science.

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There is not a clear-cut, black and white answer to the organic vs. conventional debate, and new studies may emerge that prove otherwise. In the meantime, keep eating fruit and vegetables, even if they don’t have a fancy “organic” label.

Got Milk?

The dairy industry today is one of the largest industries in the world.  The milk industry produces $21 billion a year.  Milk can then be transformed into a variety of different products that range from ice-cream to cottage cheese and everything in between.  Milk is also made up of mostly water.  However, there is also fat, proteins, lactose and other minerals floating around as well.  Both the readings and the class discussion touched upon the two proteins that make up milk, casein and whey.

Nowadays, many cows are constantly pumped with different antibiotics for various reasons.  The most common is rbST or recombinant bovine somatropin.  Some people see this as controversial, thus the FDA conducted a study and concluded that there is no difference in milk from rbST treated cows vs. non-treated cows.  Now, who am I to say which one is healthier or tastes better?  That is up for your interpretation!

It is important to note the two types of ways that the FDA ensures that the milk is safe for the public.  The first is pasteurization.  Simply put, it is heating the milk until all the dangerous alive stuff is now dead and not dangerous.  Adding a little bit more complexity entails the preservation of milk by killing pathogenic microbes by inactivating certain milk enzymes.  The second major way is through homogenization.  This is just the funneling of milk through smaller nozzles to break apart the fat globules that are in the milk.  This aides the process of keeping the milk the proper consistency.  Simply put, it makes sure the fat within the milk is evenly distributed.

Moreover, we talked about all the amino acids and the different intra-molecular forces that keep proteins from denaturing under normal circumstances.  The three main ones that we touched upon in class were; Hydrogen bonding, “pie-stacking”, and disulfide bonds.  Disulfide bonds are by far the strongest bonds.  They are commonly seen in bread.  Another fun fact about amino acids is that proline, which is categorized as a small amino acid, is very rigid due to its ring.  Thus, it cannot be involved in any alpha-helices and is most commonly found in gelatin.

img_0049Now for the fun stuff!  The heating of milk! I know it doesn’t sound like the most excited thing but don’t worry well get there.  Heating milk is how someone makes cottage cheese.  Cheese curds!  The heating separates the whey protein and curds.  The picture on the left shows the result for this reaction.  Now obviously the first part of this is to pour milk into a pot and turn the heat on.  Simple, right?  Then you just wait ad drain at the end and you have cheese curds and whey! All my life I always thought that whey was a solid  A lot of protein supplements advertise “Pure Whey Protein” and when you get the protein its solid.  So, without asking questions I just assumed that it was solid.  Sadly, I was mistaken.  Don’t believe everything you see on the internet! Except for this blog! 100% facts.

Another misconception I had was that the only way to make butter was to churn it.  Again, sadly mistaken.  We made butter in a mason jar.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Agitating the butter in the mason jar allows the fat globules to coagulate and form a solid.  That solid is butter.  Emulsifiers hold the fat globules together.  They have a hydrophilic end and a hydrophobic end.  The hydrophilic ends are water soluble while the hydrophobic ends are fat soluble.  Using the same chemistry, we also made butter in a kitchen aid!  Now this was not as much as a workout as making butter with a major jar but ended up producing the same product.

 

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The last and final experiment that we did was heating butter!  The butter was introduced to the heat and was stirred continuously for about 10-15 minuets.  The butter turned from solid to liquid and then back to solid!  The water in the butter evaporated and we were left with the butterfat, milk solids and lactose. Now, when we continued to heat up the now butterfat, milk solids and lactose the sugar begins to turn color and brown.  Similar to the caramelization’s that we did last week that Jack told you all about.  Besides making butter in a mason jar, which really shook me up, I thought this was the coolest reaction of the day.  I especially liked how it brought us back to the last class because it doesn’t matter how food starts, once you break it back down to one of the basic 4 food groups, everything remains constant.  Finally, to end the day, the class got to enjoy a variety of different cheeses that all had something special about them.  By the way, did you know that cheddar cheese came from the town of Cheddar, England?  That’s our fun fact of the day.  Thanks for tuning in to our class blog and be sure to stop by again next week to learn more about meats!

Sugar, We’re Goin Down

Sugar

 Sugar and sugar rich foods are now among the most popular and widely consumed foods in the world. From corn syrup, raw sugar, refined sugar, or sweeteners its hard to pick something off the shelf in a grocery store and not find some type of sugar in it. Humans have developed a natural sweet tooth that stems from our first taste, breast milk. We constantly crave and love the sweet flavor that sugar adds to so much of what we eat and drink.

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Sugar Cane

There are four main types of sugar, glucose, fructose, sucrose and lactose. Glucose is a simple sugar and the most common sugar from which living cells directly extract chemical energy. Glucose is the starting point for one of the most important reaction in humans, glycolysis. Lactose is the main sugar found in milk. However most sugar found on tables is actually sucrose.

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Refined Table Sugar

In Class this week we looked at some of the chemical structures of sugar and how they change. We then decided to experiment through the process of making caramel. To start, sugar was placed in a pot and was slowly heated while constantly stirring. There are two main ways of making caramel, a dry method and a wet method. In the dry method, solid sugar is placed in the pan and heated until the sugar molecules start breaking apart.img_1207

In the wet method, sugar is dissolved in enough water to look like a white mud and then heated. The water acts as a buffer that allows the pot to be heated at high temperatures without burning the sugar.

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As the heat rises, the sugar will begin to burn, right before this moment, is when you want to add the cream. img_1218

The color of the sugar comes from the break down of sucrose and the production of hundreds of new and different compounds that also give the caramel bitter and sweet tastes. Cooked to long and the sugar will burn and become very bitter.. This caramelization reaction is not a form of a Maillard reaction which we discussed and saw in our chicken fat cooking.

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Overall, it was a great first week. From eating chicken feather to tasting salted caramel with a little pot* in it, the chemistry of food is exciting and never ending. More to come soon.

To organic or not to organic, that is the question?

To organic or not to organic: that is the question?

In recent years the American diet has gone through a lot of changes—changes caused by fads. For instance, do you remember when carbohydrates were the enemy and no one wanted anything to do with them? It was the Atkins (no carb) diet fad, and was supposed to help you lose weight and get that Baywatch beach body. But then we learned that carbs are actually our friends and humans need them as a means of getting energy. Oh, but what about fats? Remember back then when people hated fats just as much as they (now) hate Justin Bieber? Or Kim Kardashian? Yeah, that no-fats diet fad!—Well, it turned out that humans need good fats and totally eliminating them from our diet is not ideal. (Lowering saturated and trans fats has been correlated to lowering the chances of getting certain diseases…but that’s a complicated subject.) Today the food fads continue, and one of the predominant diets is…organic food. It seems that in today’s society people are under a strong impression that organic food is by far way better than conventionally grown food; but is this truth or another misconception that would change if the public were more informed?

We walked into class to see a bunch of different delicious foods—like Noah’s ark, two by two, one organic and the other conventional. But there was a problem…we were not told which was which, we had to guess. From looking at the picture below can you figure out which foods are organic and which are not?

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How do you think that went? In you can’t see clearly, under each food is either an A or B. Aren’t they cute?

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I know what you’re thinking, “Which is which…Do the organic foods look better than the conventional foods? Or is it the other way around?” Well, before I reveal the answer…. Let’s take a look at 3 common misconceptions of organic food and make a more informed decision on whether “to organic or not to organic”.

Misconception 1: Organic Food is grown the way nature intended.

The term organic is not as clear as one would think. The USDA has its own way of defining what organic is, as summarized here:

  • Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
  • Support animal health and welfare
  • Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
  • Only use approved materials
  • Do not use genetically modified ingredients
  • Receive annual onsite inspections
  • Separate organic food from non-organic food

This information can be found on the following URL: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=organic-agriculture.html

The list seems great, it promotes animals getting exercise (something we should do, too!) and that no genetically modified material be used. But there are some ambiguities, such as that animals are “provided access” to the outdoors and that only “approved” materials can be used. When digging a little further, the word access should be taken literally, because animals that are grown organically have access to the outdoors…but they do not necessarily live a lifestyle that can be considered “free-range”. Organically grown animals can be subject to conditions similar to those faced by conventionally grown animals, as detailed in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma (p. 171). The only difference is a door to the outdoors that they can access for some allotted amount time before they are slaughtered (p. 172).1

The phrase “only use approved material” also has some ambiguity to it, as well. For instance, pesticides can be used on organically grown food as long as they are “natural” or, in other terms, not made “synthetically” in a lab. But the chemicals could be identical to those used on conventional farms. Although the amount of pesticides that organic food receives is limited, organic farming can have other adverse effects, which leads to our second…

Misconception #2: The process by which organic food is grown is good for the environment.

Some people decide to buy organic because they think it is more ecologically friendly. But there have been studies that show that this is not entirely true. For instance, the studies cited here2 found that some organic pesticides have been shown to be equally or less effective at pest control. They also have a higher Environmental Impact Quotient, which tests the environmental impacts of pesticides (higher numbers are associated with more negative impact, while 0 is a neutral impact).

Misconception #3: Organic foods are more nutritious than conventionally grown food.

A great number of people want organic food to be nutritionally better than conventionally grown food. It would make sense because organically grown foods are grown under more restricted guidelines that should promote healthier food. Whole Foods even posted on their website that studies have found that fruits grown organically have more phytochemicals (chemicals that have been linked to better health) than non-organic foods.3 But scientific studies show (and popular nutritionists sometimes agree) that there are no scientifically proven studies that demonstrate significant statistical differences between organic and conventional foods in terms of their nutritional value—see Marion Nestle’s What to Eat, p. 53. Some even say that “any consumers who buy organic food because they believe that it contains more healthful nutrients than conventional food are wasting their money.”4,5

We would be misleading you if we didn’t mention that conventionally grown foods do use pesticides, are not regulated in that regard, and can be extremely environmentally unfriendly as well.

So, now that we are more informed: Should we organic or should we not organic? Organically grown foods do have pesticides—alright, fine. But they are also subject to stricter guidelines so there are likely fewer pesticides in organic food than in conventional food. Organic foods are perhaps not as environmentally friendly as they are advertised to be, but that doesn’t mean conventionally grown food is any better (it’s probably not), especially when taking into account the larger scale on which conventional food is grown. Organic food has not been proven to be more nutritious, but there is some evidence that shows that organic fruits have more phytochemicals than conventional fruits. So what is the verdict, should we organic or should we not organic?

Now that you’re more informed about organic and inorganic foods, try guessing again, like we did.

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Okay, this is the time for the results. If I were a betting individual I would bet you probably did way better the second time around. This shows how important it is to be informed about what organic and conventional actually are.

Foods Organic = plate A Conventional = plate A
Apples X
Blueberries X
Red peppers X
Yogurt X
Chocolate chips X
Applesauce X
Tomatoes X
Animal Crackers X
Pita bread X
Raspberry X
Peanut butter X
Cheddar cheese X

So what’s the verdict, should we organic or should we not organic?

Verdict:

It’s up to you.

(You really thought I was going to decide for you?)

Reference

1: Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group (2006), pp. 171 – 172.

2: Bahlai CA, Xue Y, McCreary CM, Schaafsma AW, Hallett RH (2010) Choosing Organic Pesticides over Synthetic Pesticides May Not Effectively Mitigate Environmental Risk in Soybeans. PLoS ONE 5(6): e11250. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011250

3: (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/5-myths-about-organics) (date accessed: May 5, 2015)

4: Nestle, Marion. What to Eat, North Point Press/ Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2006), pp. 53.

5: Joseph D. Rosen. A Review of the Nutrition Claims Made by Proponents of Organic Food Science and Safety (2010). 9(3). pp.270-277.

Public Information Campaign

On April 28th, the class was able to showcase our cumulative food chemistry knowledge at a public information campaign. This consisted of four different group presentations, each debunking a food myth or common misconception. The campaign targeted all audiences, ranging from high school or college students with no knowledge of science, up to science professionals. No matter the academic background of the attendee, everyone left the Geneva room as a well-informed consumer!

Great turn out!

Great turn out!

Reading the Labels – Vernon, Adonis and Zhou

The first group chose to focus their presentation on unwrapping the confusing jargon within a list of ingredients. They covered the main categories of ingredients that you typically find in packed foods, such as sugars, fats, flavors, preservatives and corn. This group also showed how a label is organized from highest content to lowest, showing that corn and sugar are often the most abundant in packaged foods. They also demonstrated the different ways a label will try to disguise its ingredients, such as listing sugar under several different names that a typical consumer may not recognize.

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All About That Fat – Kelly, Dominique and Anola

The second group’s presentation aimed to inform the audience on the different types of fats that we eat. This group’s goal was to leave the viewer with enough knowledge to make their own informed decision on whether certain types of fats are good or bad. The presentation began with a description of the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, in terms of both chemistry and physical state. The group then went on to discuss how cholesterol levels relate to fat intake, and the differences between LDL and HDL cholesterol. This presentation also touched on other aspects of fats such as cis and trans fats, and omega-3 fats.

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Can I Still Eat That? – Carly, Josh, Amelia, Adam

The next group focused on uncovering the truth behind expiration date labeling and the (bio)chemistry of what happens during food spoilage. This group presented the history behind expiration dates, pointing out that they are not actually required by law on any packaged foods other than baby food, but are rather a choice made by companies. The presentation also went on to show what causes spoilage, such as bacterial growth and mold, and methods of preventing that spoilage, such as pasteurization and irradiation. The group concluded by pointing out that foods can often be enjoyed beyond the labeled expiration date–but that consumers should use just use their (well-informed!) judgment.

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GMOs – Adrian, Grace, Erin

The final presentation of the campaign aimed to inform the audience on the truth behind the much debated topic of genetically modified organisms. This group gave a brief background on the science behind GMO, examples of the most widely used GMO crops and talked about how they have actually been beneficial to our food system. The presentation was a good way to show the consumer that GMOs are not as bad as they are made out to be.

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Food Safety

The question of food safety is an interesting one in that most people believe it is an absolute need. Very few people are going to advocate for a measured response to contamination. 19 million pounds of fresh and frozen beef, 400,000 pounds of frozen, fully cooked chicken or 25,000 pounds of pork rinds is a lot of food–and contamination has occurred affecting each of these. Clearly, the government and companies are prepared to recall food in the event of a contamination.

What is the best way to regulate food markets for safety and preventing contamination? Some will advocate for a government with regulation and imposed standards to penalize offending businesses, and others will advocate for market freedom with sellers that are unsafe selected against by market forces. At this point, the question is overtly political based on preconceived notions. However, there are some general trends under this framework of food safety.

The question of safety is redefined as a question of conventional versus organic by some. Some advocate that specific practices of organic farmers are better at creating safer meat, for example. Practices critiqued are the crowded conditions, treatment with antibiotics, and slaughter in hot and dirty factory conditions. But if some are able to implement these “safer” practices while conventional meat is still available, then we will effectively create a two-tier system in which the rich can afford ‘organic’ and ‘safe’ while everyone else eats ‘conventional’ and ‘unsafe’ meat. If the whole system is replaced with organic, then we could effectively price out some segment of the population from having fair access to meat. That is not to say that organic advocates intentionally for some terrible, class-ist ideal; some of the ideas are good. Grass feeding does have many positive benefits to both the animal and the consumer: rates of harmful bacteria (like Campylobacter and E. coli O157:H7) in cows tend to be lower, and many believe that the flavor is better. More room for movement of animals tends to cause better muscle definition and animal quality of life. How do we want to reach the best possible end for food safety? Should society innovate and create industrial solutions, or should society question modern practices and return to previously effective methods?  (And how effective were those methods?)

How do GMOs fit into this discussion?  Are they safe?  Are GMOs any different from non-GMO food?  While many would like for there to be obvious differences between GMOs and non-GMO food, there is frequently no noticeable consumer difference.

What about another modern method for food safety, irradiated food, which is facing critiques? The process of irradiating food works by using high-energy electromagnetic radiation to disrupt standard DNA function. This causes bacterial and microorganism death while preserving the quality of the food going through the process. A common question is, “If it causes bacterial and microorganism death, why is the food safe to eat afterwards?” The answer is that exposing something to radiation does not make it radioactive. Food from the microwave (electromagnetic radiation!) is not radioactive, just as you are not radioactive after sun tanning, even though this also involves electromagnetic radiation. The bacteria and microorganisms that are now dead and on the food are safe to consume. The body already has all needed digestive enzymes to consume most foreign matter. The food that we eat that is not irradiated has both living and dead bacteria and microorganisms all over it. Food to be cooked in an oven, grilled, fried, etc. is covered in bacteria and microorganisms (at least, when it’s raw), but the vast majority do not affect us. Additionally, bacteria and other microorganisms cannot become resistant to irradiation as they can to an antibiotic. Some challenge that we should make the process so clean as to not even need irradiation, but that is perhaps beside the point:  the process of irradiation provides no additional negative consequences.

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With the question of food safety and safety in general, many people feel that they are the best arbiter for their own safety. As such, above is a guide to identifying different codes at grocery stores. Below is the label used to identify irritated foods. The best way to keep yourself and your family healthy is to be an informed consumer. This means understanding the science behind the production of the food you consumer and methods we use to keep our food safe for consumption.