This week, many will enjoy a Thanksgiving meal with family and friends. As you gather around your table, take a moment to be thankful for the scientists and research that goes into keeping your food safe and nutritious. Land-grant University researchers across the United States have joined together to develop new tools and methods designed to tackle safety issues and improve food quality.
See how research funded by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture might be contributing to your Thanksgiving plate.
Turkey and Ham
Through Multistate Research Fund grants, researchers have found multiple ways to prevent food safety issues during turkey processing, including feeding prebiotics to poultry and spraying antimicrobials on poultry products with electrostatic sprayers.
Researchers were granted a U.S. patent for nicotinamide riboside, a vitamin B3 analogue, which increases poultry muscle size, improves pig resistance to fatigue and stabilizes the color of pork cuts. Recently, a company licensed the patent for commercialization. Scientists continue to test the product and refine the protocol for its use.
When potatoes are exposed to light, they produce high levels of solanine, which is toxic to humans. Researchers are breeding potatoes and establishing storage protocols that prevent greening. Scientists are also breeding potatoes with higher levels of nutrients like folate, which helps prevent birth defects, and potassium, which helps muscles and nerves function and protects against stroke, kidney stones and osteoporosis.
Multistate Research Project NC-205 formed to coordinate multistate, multidisciplinary research and outreach about corn insect pests and control options. Extensive cooperation has facilitated sharing of data, lab space, tools and financial resources. The group’s research and outreach have sent a unified message to corn growers around the world about the effectiveness of different corn pest control options. Their work has led to increased adoption of sustainable management systems for insect pests in corn. In turn, profitable, environmentally friendly corn production keeps prices low for consumers.
Green Bean Casserole
Beans have been cultivated in the U.S. for millennia and are a popular, nutritious food choice; however, the average national bean yield is low compared to other crops. The group’s research has developed more effective methods for detecting and treating bean diseases and developed new bean varieties with less sugar and more zinc, an essential mineral. Researchers are also testing new varieties of beans that have shorter cooking time.
Spotted wing drosophila was recorded on multiple crops in California during 2008 and 2009 and in British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington in 2009. Producers of stone fruits (cherries and peaches) and small fruits (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries) experienced substantial economic losses. Researchers have found ways to prevent food safety issues in berries, including a tool that helps growers detect fruit fly infestations, a quick test for Listeria and Salmonella and practices that reduce pathogens in berries.
Collaboration has led to inventive strategies that can help prevent food safety threats before they become dangerous and costly. Researchers have also discovered treatments and protocols that prevent spoilage and diseases in apples while they are stored.
Researchers have found many ways to prevent food safety issues in fresh-cut produce like packaged veggie trays, including packaging that releases antimicrobials and edible films that reduce microbial growth.
In dips and spreads, researchers found that high pressure processing kills bacteria and extends shelf life without heat or additives, leaving texture, flavor and nutrients intact.
Researchers have developed an electron beam irradiation method for processing complex-shaped fresh fruits and vegetables like broccoli, which are easily damaged by traditional sanitation methods that use heat.
Mycotoxins often develop in grains when they are stored or handled improperly. Research showed grain processors which steps need to be monitored closely to prevent outbreaks of toxic molds and developed new methods to control them. Scientists across the U.S. have come together to conduct research and outreach that gives farmers, grain elevator operators, healthcare providers, and veterinarians the information they need to detect mycotoxin exposure, assess risks and treat related diseases.
(Content in this post first appeared on mrfimpacts.org.)