Stories tagged tomatoes

It's Friday, and I *know* you didn't see a Science Friday video coming because, well, I haven't posted one in ages.

Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday

But it's Memorial Day weekend (officially, as it's after 5pm on the Friday before), and Memorial Day weekend opens the tomato season, so here goes...

"Tim Stark, tomato farmer and proprietor of Eckerton Hill Farm in Lobachsville, PA, describes his battle with late blight during the summer of 2009."


What have I done: I've killed him, KILLED HIM!! **insert sobbing noises here**
What have I done: I've killed him, KILLED HIM!! **insert sobbing noises here**Courtesy Women's Day
A few weeks ago I received the cutest little basil plant as a gift. I made sure to quench his thirst everyday as he sat on my windowsill enjoying the sun. But, silly me, I left town for a weekend and forgot to get someone to water him. Arriving home, I saw that his leaves were shriveled and he was inches from death. What was I to do to bring my lil’ guy back to life?

Well, according to a new experiment by the Royal Horticultural Society, women’s voices make plants grow faster. Over the course of one month, scientists at RHS found that tomato plants group up to two inches taller if women chatted them up verses men.

After a round of open auditions, ten voices were chosen to play to ten tomato plants. Every plant heard their respective voice through a set of headphones that was connected to the plant pot. There were also two control plants that grew in silence. The results showed that on average, women’s plants grew an inch higher than their male counterparts. Some men’s plants grew less than the plants that were left alone.

“We just don’t know why,” Colin Grosbie from RHS said of the results. “It could be that they have a greater range of pitch and tone that affects the sound waves that hit the plant. Sound waves are an environmental effect just like rain or light."

Interestingly, the great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin (you remember this guy, right?) had the most effective “discussions” with her plants. Sarah Darwin read passages from the On the Origin of Species, to which her plant grew two inches taller than the best performing male and half an inch higher than the nearest female competitor.

She responds, "I'm not sure if it's my dulcet tones or the text that I read from On the Origin of Species that made the plant sit up and listen, but either way I think it is great fun and I'm proud of my new title."

So maybe reading my physical chemistry book won’t necessarily bring my basil plant back from the dead, but I’m sure it couldn’t hurt.


Tuesday, October 31, 2028

Purple. Why is it always purple? Or blue. All the foods that taste terrible but are good for you, always seem to come from the long end of the visible spectrum. Eggplants. Prunes. Now this.

Well, no use whining. Remember what grandma always used to say. Eat your tomatoes, live forever. Or, at least until a truck hits you. She didn’t see that one coming. Literally.

I’d give ‘em to the trick-or-treaters, except they just throw them at my windows. Ungrateful brats. Don’t they know I’m trying to save their lives?

We've had a lot of discussions here on the Buzz over the summer about tomatoes. Here's some interesting, messy video for an annual ritual in Spain that has to be the ultimate food fight experience. At least it looks a lot safer than the running of the bulls that also happens in Spain.


Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled salmonella
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled salmonellaCourtesy lucianvenutian
But did anybody listen?
According to a Star and Tribune article MN’s own “Team Diarrhea” figured out jalapeño peppers were to blame for the MN Salmonella cases and told the FDA and CDC to look at jalapeño peppers as the culprit for cases nationwide instead of tomatoes. The DNA of the strains in MN matched the cases elsewhere. To learn more about this story check out a previous Buzz Blog.

I’m happy to report that these super sleuths were advisors and content experts in the development of Disease Detectives which is currently in the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Human Body Gallery. You can learn more about some of these disease detectives here.

So check out today’s Star and Tribune article and give thanks to Kirk Smith and the rest of his team at the Minnesota Department of Health for doing their best to keep us safe!

Researchers at the University of Missouri have found that dried tomato powder helps protect against prostate cancer. If this pans out and leads to a viable treatment, that will be good news – recently the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reviewed a variety of treatments, and found that none of them stood out as superior.


A bowl of diseased plant reproductive organs: Or possibly not. Salmonella is tasteless, odorless, and invisible to the naked eye. So be vigilant, Buzzketters!
A bowl of diseased plant reproductive organs: Or possibly not. Salmonella is tasteless, odorless, and invisible to the naked eye. So be vigilant, Buzzketters!Courtesy Muffet
Did you know that tomatoes are technically ovaries? They are. That goes a long way in explaining why eating a tomato feels so much like eating a raw organ, which in turn could be why they always used to make me puke (the ovary thing, combined with an early “no, really, they’re good” force-feeding session from my dad).

I’m getting over the puking thing, but I’ve spent many long and frustrating summers watching others eat tomatoes, apparently and inexplicably enjoying them. Well, it looks like this is the summer of JGordon, because finally tomatoes are making some other folks hurl too. That these plant ovaries are tainted with human or animal feces is, I think, icing on the cake.

A salmonella outbreak this spring, which has caused at least 167 individuals to become ill (23 of whom have required hospitalization), has been linked to consumption of tomatoes tainted with the salmonella St. Paul.

Salmonella is transferred to humans by consuming food contaminated with human or animal fecal matter. So, as much as you might like it, keep that fecal matter out of your food for a while, okay?

If fecal matter has somehow slipped past your guard, and your lips, there’s a chance that you too will join this latest craze. You’ll know it through flu like symptoms—fever, cramps, headache, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, etc.—inside of a couple days after contact with the bacteria. Generally people walk away from salmonella feeling a little queasy, but for some people (young children, pregnant mothers, and folks with weakened immune systems) it can be very dangerous.

As with the spinachy e. coli outbreak at the end of ’06 (which you can read all about on Science Buzz by going here) medical authorities are recommending that you wash your produce in cold water before eating it (especially if you don’t plan on cooking it—salmonella dies at about 145 degrees), and perhaps avoid eating the specific crop the infection seems to stem from for a couple weeks (in this case red plum, Roma, and round red tomatoes). McDonalds has already made the ironic move of temporarily removing sliced tomatoes from its menu altogether—to make its burgers healthier.

If you’ve got some tomatoes you don’t entirely trust, just return them, or toss them out. Or execute them.


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.

Bagged lettuce: Packaged produce, like this lettuce, makes it easier for us to  consume the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. But packaged, fresh produce is increasingly linked to outbreaks of food-borne illness. (Photo courtesy Michael Dietsch)
Bagged lettuce: Packaged produce, like this lettuce, makes it easier for us to consume the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. But packaged, fresh produce is increasingly linked to outbreaks of food-borne illness. (Photo courtesy Michael Dietsch)

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!)

According to the Washington Post,

"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.

(For more on the SOURCES of E. coli in fresh produce, see the thread on the September spinach outbreak.)

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?

Researchers at Oregon State University are changing the standard tomato’s appearance….they developed a purple tomato. The purple colored tomato contains the same compounds (phytochemical) found in blueberries. This compound assists in reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease. The new purple tomato could hit grocery stores in the next two years.