Salad recall prompts questions of parasite

I read something about a salad recall due to cyclospora, but I’ve not really heard about cyclospora before – what is it?

Photo: Getty Images.

Cyclospora cayetanensis is a microscopic parasite that can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, and fatigue. When people eat food or drink water that’s contaminated with cyclospora, they can develop an intestinal illness called cyclosporiasis.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced June 19 that they are investigating a multistate outbreak of cyclospora potentially linked to ALDI Little Salad Bar Brand Garden Salad from ALDI grocery stores, Hy-Vee Brand Garden Salad from Hy-Vee grocery stores, and Signature Farms Brand Garden Salad from Jewel-Osco.

As of now, the recalled salad has not been sold in Ohio, but in stores locations in Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. However, the FDA said, “it is continuing this investigation and there may be additional retailers and products impacted by this outbreak.”

Thus far, at least 122 people across seven states have been sickened after consuming the salad mix, with at least 19 people hospitalized, FDA said.

According to the CDC, cyclospora is generally transmitted when food or water is contaminated by infected feces, noting that the parasite is, “unlikely to be transmitted directly from person to person because it needs several days to weeks after being passed in a bowel movement to become infectious for another person.”

“Some people may experience symptoms that last a few days to a month or longer,” said Sanja Ilic, the state food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Cyclosporiasis affects an estimated 15,000 people in the United States each year, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Cyclospora infects the small intestine and usually causes watery diarrhea, with frequent, sometimes explosive, bowel movements. Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps or pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, and fatigue.

People may also experience vomiting, body aches, headache, low-grade fever, and other flu-like symptoms, according to the CDC. Some people who are infected with the parasite don’t have any symptoms. If needed, treatment can include an antibiotic.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line author Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, state food safety specialist for OSU Extension.

First day of Summer? A look at what fruits and vegetables are in season now

Summer is finally here and I’m craving fresh cherries, sweet corn and delicious ripe tomatoes fresh off the vine. What other fruits and vegetables are in season during the summer?

Photo: Getty Images.

With tomorrow, June 20, being the first day of summer this year, now seems like a good time to revisit what fruits and vegetables are in season now.

As published in a previous “Chow Line,” summer heat and long days make it a good time to indulge in a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables like berries, melons, sweet corn and tomatoes, among a wide range of plentiful produce. Not only are these items extremely fresh and flavorful because they’re in season, they’re also widely discounted because of the abundance of supply based on the time of year.

Improved technology and agricultural innovations mean that consumers can access fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.

But because fruits and vegetables naturally grow in cycles and ripen during a certain season, produce typically is fresher and tastes best when ripe. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are also typically cheaper to buy because they are easier to produce than fruits and vegetables that are grown out of season.

In fact, the top advertised items on sale in local grocery stores this week were fruits and vegetables, accounting for some 94 percent of sale ads, according to the June 12 edition of the National Retail Report, a weekly roundup of advertised retail pricing information compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Apples, avocados, blueberries, grapes, miscellaneous berries, nectarines, peaches, raspberries, strawberries and watermelons were the top 10 fruit items advertised in grocery store sale ads for the week, according to the report. The top 10 veggies on sale in grocery ads for the week included sweet corn, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, bell peppers, potatoes, salad, squash, grape tomatoes and large plant tomatoes.

Summer is also a good time for agritourism, where farmers and producers open their farms to the public for consumers to hand-choose their own produce. Also known as U-Pick farms, these operations not only provide consumers with fresh, locally grown produce but also teach them about the farming industry.

Experts with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University offer a variety of educational programming for producers who want to incorporate agritourism on their farms. CFAES also offers tips for consumers when visiting agritourism operations.

There are several varieties of fruits and vegetables in season now in Ohio.

While this is not an all-inclusive list, generally speaking, the following produce (among others) is in season in Ohio during the summer, according to the Ohio Farm Bureau:

  • Apples
  • Asparagus
  • Lima beans
  • Snap beans
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Collards
  • Sweet Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Currants
  • Dill
  • Eggplant
  • Endive and escarole
  • Gooseberries
  • Grapes
  • Kale
  • Leaf lettuce
  • Leeks
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Green onions
  • Parsley
  • Peaches
  • Sweet peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Black raspberries
  • Red raspberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Summer squash
  • Winter squash
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnip greens

So, now’s the time to enjoy fresh summer produce and, if you are able, to get out there and enjoy learning more about agriculture as you pick some fresh produce yourself.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line author Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was originally reviewed by Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension

Vitamin D and COVID-19

My wife heard that vitamin D can help with symptoms of COVID-19. Is that true?

Vitamin D. Photo: Getty Images.

Your question is on the minds of many consumers, as more people have been reaching for vitamin supplements to boost their immune system amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Vitamin D, which plays a wide variety of roles in boosting the immune system, is one of those supplements that has seen increased sales in recent weeks.

It helps the body absorb calcium, which builds strong bones and prevents osteoporosis. Vitamin D’s effect is significant: If you don’t get enough, your body absorbs only 10% to 15% of the calcium you consume. With vitamin D, absorption jumps to 30% to 40%.

In addition, muscles, nerves, the immune system, and many other bodily functions all require vitamin D to do their jobs properly. Vitamin D also offers benefits against a whole range of illnesses and chronic diseases including reducing your risk of developing multiple sclerosis and heart disease, reducing blood pressure, and reducing your likelihood of developing the flu.

Several research studies have been or are currently under way looking at the correlation between vitamin D deficiency and mortality rates from COVID-19.

For example, one such study by led by Northwestern University analyzed data from medical centers in China, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It found that patients from countries with high COVID-19 mortality rates had lower levels of vitamin D compared to patients in countries that were not as severely affected.

Another study done by the University of Chicago Medicine found that people who were vitamin D deficient before the pandemic began were 77% more likely to test positive for COVID-19 compared to people who had normal levels.

However, it’s important to note that many of the studies looking at the relationship between vitamin D levels and COVID-19 are observational studies that do not prove causation, medical experts say.

With that in mind, if you want to start taking a vitamin D supplement, its best that you consult with your doctor to see if you have a vitamin D deficiency and are in need of vitamin D supplements, said Jenny Lobb, a family and consumer sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension.

OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

She said the recommended amount of vitamin D for most people is 600 IU (international units) per day. Infants up to 12 months need less, 400 IU, and adults 71 or older need more, 800 IU.

So, besides a vitamin supplement, what are other sources of vitamin D?

Nearly all milk in the United States is fortified with vitamin D, at a rate of 400 IU per quart, but that equals just 100 IU per cup. Other dairy foods, including cheese and ice cream, are usually made with nonfortified milk, so they often don’t provide any vitamin D. Fish that’s high in fat, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, is a good source. Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks have small amounts. Many breakfast cereals and juice are often fortified with vitamin D.

However, there are factors that can impact your levels of vitamin D, including where you live, your age. your skin color, your weight and the foods you.

For example, people get vitamin D from the sun. One type of ultraviolet radiation converts a chemical in the skin into vitamin D3, which the liver and kidneys transform into active vitamin D. But people with darker skin and older people have more trouble converting the sun’s rays into vitamin D. And most people don’t soak up the same amount of sun in the wintertime or if they are using sunscreen.

Also, certain health conditions can impact your vitamin D levels. People with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, or cystic fibrosis, among others, may have trouble absorbing vitamin D, which can lead to deficiencies, according to Harvard Medical School.

The best way to know if your vitamin D level is low is to get a blood test. Your doctor can then tell you whether you should take a vitamin D supplement.

Experts caution, however, about taking too much vitamin D, because excess vitamin D is stored in fat tissue. Over time, medical experts say, too much vitamin D can become toxic and lead to hypercalcemia, a condition in which too much calcium builds up in the blood, potentially forming deposits in the arteries or soft tissues.

It’s also important to note, in addition to vitamin D, there are many vitamins and minerals found in a nutritious diet that can help boost your immune system, Lobb said.

“The key takeaway would be that eating a balanced diet goes a long way in promoting immune function,” she said. “Supplements are sometimes needed or recommended, but that is not always the case. Everyone can strive to eat a balanced diet; dietary supplements of any sort should only be used if recommended by a health care provider.”

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line author Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

A tiny worm in your strawberry won’t hurt you

I just saw a viral video that shows little tiny worms coming out of a strawberry soaking in salt water. Is that real or a prank? Can I get sick from eating strawberries if they do have worms?

Tiny white larvae in a strawberry caused by spotted wing drosophila. Photo courtesy of Hannah Burrack, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org.

Tiny white larvae in a strawberry caused by spotted wing drosophila. Photo courtesy of Hannah Burrack, North Carolina State University, Bugwood.org.

Many people in recent weeks have been surprised to learn that yes, sometimes fresh produce can contain small pest infestations that, while may sound gross to some, really aren’t harmful for consumers.

In fact, there is a strong likelihood that you’ve already unknowingly consumed a tiny worm or insect or two during your lifetime.

The Food and Drug Administration has guidelines for how many bugs or how much mold is allowed in each type of food. Using what the FDA calls food defects standards, the agency sets the maximum levels of natural or unavoidable defects that present no health hazards in foods for human use.

This is because, “it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of nonhazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects,” the FDA says.

For example, berries are allowed to have an average of four or more larvae per 500 grams, the standards say. And 14 ounces of tomato juice is allowed to have up to four larvae and 20 or more fruit fly eggs, while even a chocolate candy bar is allowed to have 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams when six 100-gram subsamples are examined, the FDA guidelines say.

Even though that may sound gross for some, the tiny white larvae that can sometimes be found inside strawberries are harmless to consumers. They are actually the larvae of a fly, commonly known as the spotted-wing drosophila, an invasive species of pest from East Asia that infests berry crops and was first seen in the United States in 2008, said Celeste Welty, an Ohio State University Extension entomologist and associate professor of entomology.

OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

The pest, which has been found in Ohio since 2011, can be a problem for berry growers because it can cause significant crop damage. But, if spotted early, it can be managed to avoid losses, Welty said.

Spotted-wing drosophila targets fruit crops, including raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, peaches, and plums, and sometimes cherries, strawberries, pears, apples, and cherry tomatoes. The pest causes damage through larval feeding on ripening fruit. Damage starts as a tiny scar on the skin of the fruit, with the skin collapsing in two or three days and mold developing.

“The consensus is that they almost never infest traditional June-bearing strawberries, but they often attack ever-bearing strawberries later in the summer, both in field plantings and in high tunnels,” she said.

Thanks to training offered by OSU Extension on spotted-wing drosophila, more fruit growers now know how to manage the fly to lessen the potential for it to infest fruit crops, Welty said. That often includes spraying a weekly insecticide on the crops through the end of harvest and monitoring when the insect comes onto their farm and preventing females laying eggs in the fruit, or enclosing the crop under fine-mesh netting.

Consumers can determine if the fly larvae are in a piece of fruit by putting the fruit in a plastic zippered storage bag or a one-quart container filled with warm, salty water and waiting 15 minutes, Welty said.

“The bags or container with infested fruit will show little larvae floating to the top of the salt water,” she said, noting that if any appear, they are harmless.

“For those who may be squeamish about larvae, locally grown berries harvested in June are less likely to have larvae,” Welty said. “This is because the spotted-wing drosophila typically does not become active until July.”

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line author Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Celeste Welty, an OSU Extension entomologist and associate professor of entomology.