A perfect post for a Monday morning...
The new book Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream by Jennifer Ackerman explores a wide range of new findings in human physiology. According to a review in the NY Times,
A host of new hormones have been discovered to govern appetite and satiety, and while the doldrums that follow lunch are still not completely understood, recent research strongly supports a brief nap to treat them.
So the next time the boss catches me napping at my desk, I’ll have bona-fide scientific research to back me up – all the way to the unemployment line.
The University of Minnesota is taking suggestions for a more proper name for one of its research apples. It’s currently known as MN-447. And who really wants to go by MN-447, right?
The apple has actually been around for some time, although it hasn’t been put out on the commercial market. It’s a breeding apple that’s been used to create new varieties of apples, including the U’s world-famous Honeycrisp.
According to apple researchers at the U, while it has some great genetic characteristics to pass along to other apples, it isn’t exactly the “apple of the eye” to consumers. It is a smaller apple that often cracks around the top and has a strange flavor that’s been compared to Hawaiian Punch, molasses and sugarcane on steroids.
In taste tests, usually five or ten percent of samplers give it high marks. But it’s exactly that small group, a niche market, that the university wants to provide an apple to. And it wants to market it with a better name than MN-447.
Hmmmmm? What would be some good names for this particular apple? It’s small, very sweet and sometimes a bit cracked. How about “Harpo” after Harpo Marx. Or maybe something more contemporary like “Howie” after Howie Mandel from Deal or No Deal.
You can submit your own name suggestion for MN-447 by clicking in the "What's New" section at www.arboretum.umn.edu through Oct. 31. Here are some of the names that have already been suggested: Tropical Blizzard, Tropical Punch, Arctic Blast, Arctic Oasis, Polar Picnic, Northern Nugget, Hardy Tropical Punch, Tundra Crunch, Nordic Delight, Sugar Cane, Cold Snap, Iceberg.
Or, I think… I think the world wins, actually.
At any rate, the American Joey Chestnut has finally toppled the Godzilla of Gluttony, Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, from the greasy throne of the world-champion competitive hot dog eater.
Kobayashi has dominated this sport of kings since 2001, until a qualifying match last month, when San Jose native Joey Chestnut downed 59.5 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes, solidly topping Kobayashi’s previous record of 53.75.
After several weeks during which Kobayashi’s website claimed that the athlete was suffering from a recently-extracted wisdom tooth, the contenders have now met at “Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest” in Coney Island. While Chestnut pulled out to an early lead, he was never more than three hot dogs ahead of Kobayashi, and in the last several minutes of the race Kobayashi made a valiant effort to finish in a tie. After 12 minutes, both contestants appeared to have eaten 63 hot dogs, but after comparing scraps left on the plate, and food still in the mouth (and able to be swallowed) at the buzzer, it was determined that Joey Chestnut had eaten… 66 hot dogs. Whoa.
Here’s some perspective on 66 hot dogs:
And, again, this is all without the buns. The buns (66) alone could have been used to construct a very awesome fort. Now that fort is in Joey Chestnut’s tummy. I would live in that fort.
Takeru Kobayashi began his career in sports as a 5’ 7”, 110-pounder. He is currently hovering around 196 pounds (although his height has remained the same), and claims to be under 10 percent body fat. According to some, slender men and women often make excellent competitive eaters due to a lack of a “fat belt,” which restricts the elasticity of the stomach. Joey Chestnut is 6’ 3” tall, and around 220 pounds, and apparently controls the elasticity of his stomach through pure will power.
Stomach elasticity is credited as the key to dominance in competitive eating, and “competitors commonly train by drinking large amounts of water over a short time to stretch out the stomach.” The International Federation of Competitive Eating - and I - strongly discourage this method. Because it can kill you. In fact, the International Federation of Competitive Eating discourages training of any sorts.
Like many of our more glorious sports (e.g. NASCAR, lawn darts, snake-handling, etc.), competitive eating is certainly not without its risks. Obesity and diabetes are, of course, associated with chronic overeating (although restricting caloric intake while not competing may allow competitors to remain healthy in this respect). Also, many physicians worry that stretching the stomach can reduce its ability to function. Vomiting –a disqualifying action, which it, you know, sometimes just happens – can lead to esophageal tearing and infection, and, obviously, simple choking is a serious consideration.
So, people, always remember to eat safely and responsibly. And, this Fourth of July weekend, take a moment to think of one of our country’s newest heroes: Joey Chestnut.
PS – Civilizations of the future are going to think we were so cool.
Researchers are using mushrooms as a key ingredient in “Greensulate,” an environmentally-friendly, renewal form of insulation. Here’s the recipe for the insulating boards that are fire resistant and organic: water, flour, oyster mushroom spores and perlite, a mineral that is often found in potting soil.
You won’t find “Greensulate” at a building supplies store near for at least another year. More work needs to be done to make the concept commercially viable. But a team of researchers is confident that they’re on to a good, green idea.
So far, the two 20-something developers, college graduates just this spring, have been growing the concoctions under their beds. But they’ve applied for grant money from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.
So far, so good with the testing results. A one-inch thick piece of “Greensulate” had a 2.9 R-value, the scale used for rating insulation. Most current commercially produced fiberglass insulation has an R-value of between 2.7 and 3.7.
The beauty of “Greensulate” is that it doesn’t take a lot of energy or toxic materials to produce. Here's how it works: A mixture of water, mineral particles, starch and hydrogen peroxide are poured into 7-by-7-inch molds and then injected with living mushroom cells. The hydrogen peroxide is used to prevent the growth of other specimens within the material.
Placed in a dark environment, the cells start to grow, digesting the starch as food and sprouting thousands of root-like cellular strands. A within two weeks, a 1-inch-thick panel of insulation is fully grown. It's then dried to prevent fungal growth, making it unlikely to trigger mold and fungus allergies. The finished product resembles a giant cracker in texture.
The inventors also envision using the process to create building walls, like sheetrock, that could be installed and provide good insulating properties.
There’s no word, yet, if people living and working inside those walls will feel especially happy or have the munchies!
In recent months, multiple deaths of people and pets have been blamed on Chinese ingredients. At least 51 people in Panama died after taking medicine containing diethylene glycol falsely labeled as glycerin from China. The same poisonous ingredient was found in toothpaste traced back to China. China was also blamed for 14,000 reports of sickened pets due to tainted pet food.
In recent years, for instance, China’s food safety scandals have involved everything from fake baby milk formulas and soy sauce made from human hair to instances where cuttlefish were soaked in calligraphy ink to improve their color and eels were fed contraceptive pills to make them grow long and slim. New York Times
Melamine, a cheap plastic made from oil, and when added to animal feed, looks like protein in tests.
“It just saves money if you add melamine scrap,” says a manager of an animal feed factory in China.
Melanine in food is illegal in the United States. Sixteen pet deaths linked to melanine led to the recall of 60 million packages of pet food.
China's former top drug regulator was sentenced to death today for taking bribes to approve substandard medicines, including an antibiotic blamed for at least 10 deaths.
Zheng's acts "greatly undermined ... the efficiency of China's drug monitoring and supervision, endangered public life and health and had a very negative social impact," the court said.
Under a nationwide safety campaign launched Monday, 90 administration inspectors will be sent to 15 provinces over the next two weeks. The government also announced plans for its first recall system for unsafe products. Hopefully China will learn that regulating food and drug safety is worth while.
So you think that boiling lobsters alive to get to their meat it too inhumane? Whole Foods markets did to. So now they will only be selling lobster meat processed with the Avure 687L food processing machine. This giant gadget, essentially squeezes the lobster to death under huge water pressure, separating its meat from its shell. Crazy. Trevor Corson's description of the whole deal is quite interesting. Ahhhh, food science, it makes you hungry huh?
Have you ever had that hamburger or steak that you liked so much you just wanted to eat it again and again? Well, you might be able to eat meat produced by the same set of animal genes for years and years if a plan for the sale of cloned meat gets government approval.
The federal government’s Food and Drug Administration will soon be deciding if meat from cloned animals will be able to be sold in your corner grocery store. Last week it received a recommendation from a study group that it okay the public sale of meat and milk from cloned animals.
"All of the studies indicate that the composition of meat and milk from clones is within the compositional ranges of meat and milk consumed in the U.S.," the FDA scientists concluded in a report published in the Jan. 1 issue of the journal Theriogenology, which focuses on animal reproduction.
For several years, the FDA has put the brakes on commercial sales to the few companies that have been researching and developing cloned meat. But over the course of this year, those companies have been presenting a pile of evidence that they think shows cloned meat is safe to eat.
While there can be differences between natural-born and cloned, especially at the genetic and physiological levels, the cloned meat companies contend that there’s no difference between the meats that come from cloned or natural-born animals. But consumer protection groups are leery. And at a minimum, they think cloned meat products should carry special labels to allow people to know when they are buying cloned meat products.
One of the authors of the study supporting cloned meat notes that genetic differences between cloned and natural animals are most pronounced in the embriotic stages of development. By the time a cow, for instance, is mature, those differences are so small that it makes little or no impact on the quality of its meat or milk.
Even if cloned meat does get the FDA’s approval, there likely won’t be a huge jump in the amount of animals cloned for food production purposes. That’s due to the current economics involved with cloning.
Right now is costs about $19,000 to clone a cow. The more you clone, the cheaper the process gets. Six cloned cows would cost about $72,000, or $12,000 a piece. Naturally bred cows are a lot cheaper to reproduce.
But proponents for cloning meat-producing animals could have limited benefits. With certain breeds, cloning could help to promote strong, disease-free genes. Or a farmer might want to clone an unusually productive cow or steer. The cloned-meat industry estimates that only one-percent of herd would be made up of cloned animals. And some ranchers and farmers how have been experimenting with cloned animals admit that some of their cloned animals have already gone into our food chain. There is no process of checking if animals going to a slaughterhouse have been cloned or were naturally born.
Even if cloned meats to get the government’s okay, they might not prove popular with the meat-buying public. A recent national survey of consumers found that 64 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with animal cloning and that 43 percent believe that food from clones is unsafe.
Would you be willing to eat the meat of a cloned animal or drink the milk from a cloned cow? What do you think the FDA should do on this issue?
In other ominous food safety news, a study just published in Pediatrics shows that just being near meat or poultry in the grocery store is a risk factor for Salmonella infections in infants. (And by now you probably know about the E. coli infections related to spinach and lettuce...)
The Minnesota Department of Health is investigating seven suspected cases of E. coli infection linked to Taco John's restaurants in Albert Lea and Austin. Almost three dozen people in Iowa came down with suspected E. coli infections after eating at a Taco Johns in Cedar Falls.
There's no indication that these infections are linked to the E. coli outbreak (64 cases) related to Taco Bell restaurants in the Northeast, but the Centers for Disease control haven't ruled a connection out, either.
Investigators initially thought contaminated green onions were the source of the infections, but follow-up testing on the samples was negative for E. coli. So we still don't know what the contaminated food was. But fresh produce is a likely culprit.
And it's hardly the first time fresh produce has been implicated in outbreaks of food-borne disease. These latest cases follow hard on the heels of salmonella cases linked to tomatoes, and the nationwide E. coli outbreak linked to bagged spinach. (All in the last three months!)
"The number of produce-related outbreaks of food-borne illness has increased from 40 in 1999 to 86 in 2004, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Americans are now more likely to get sick from eating contaminated produce than from any other food item, the center said."
Why the increase?
Well, more people are eating fresh produce, especially pre-cut and packaged fruits and vegetables. Distribution has improved, as has electronic reporting of outbreaks. And the aging population of the US is more susceptible to food-borne disease. And produce is a particularly difficult challenge: with contaminated meat, cooking to the proper temperature will kill the bacteria that cause disease. (Food safety experts call this a "kill step.") But produce is often meant to be eaten raw—no kill step.
So what do we do?
Again, according to the Washington Post,
"Consumer advocates think that tougher mandatory food safety standards and stepped-up enforcement are the answer. The country's largest food distributors and restaurants are pursuing self-regulation, arguing that government rules can take years to put in place. Produce growers and packers have suggested a voluntary system with elements of mandatory oversight."
But none of these are ready to be implemented right away.
Some folks are advocating for better and more frequent inspection of processing plants by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the agency is chronically short-staffed and underfunded. And the FDA doesn't have authority over food production at the farm level. Buyers such as Safeway and Albertsons have hired their own inspectors. But inspectors and food safety experts agree that there's no consistency because federal guidelines aren't specific enough.
The article says,
"'We don't have enough science to base those (guidelines) on to be comprehensive," said Kevin Reilly, a California food safety official who is participating in the investigation of the E. coli outbreak traced to bagged spinach. 'What's necessary is an agreed-upon set of agricultural practices. Instead of "Be aware of water quality," we need to say, "Test it with this frequency and in this fashion."'"
In the meantime, scientists are looking at various ways to kill potential contaminants without ruining the produce or having to cook it.
Unless something changes, there WILL be another outbreak.
My $0.02? I don't want to read any more stories about children or grandparents having kidney failure or even dying from E. coli infection. So I guess I'm all for killing off the bacteria, if we can. But part of me thinks, yes, I want safe food, but I also want CLEAN food. Even if eating poop can be made safe, I still don't want to eat poop!
What do you think? Do you worry about food safety? Do you rely on pre-cut and or packaged fruits and vegetables? What safety measures would you like to see? Any ideas about how we can improve the situation?