Giving almonds a burst of infrared heat followed by a stint of hot-air roasting—a process called "SIRHA," short for "sequential infrared and hot air"—helps make sure these tasty, healthful nuts remain safe to eat, according to studies by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) engineer Zhongli Pan and ARS microbiologist Maria T. Brandl. Findings from their laboratory experiments show that this chemical-free process offers a simple, safe, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly way to reduce Salmonella enterica populations to levels generally recognized as safe. All almonds processed for sale in the United States today are treated with some kind of pasteurization process in order to zap Salmonella, even though it's generally thought that almonds are only rarely contaminated with this pathogen. Nearly a half-dozen almond pasteurization methods already have federal approval, but many almond processors remain eager to learn about new options, including SIRHA and its promise of fast, reliable and relatively economical pasteurization.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers are providing data on dietary supplement intakes from information collected during the annual national "What We Eat in America" government survey, which provides a "snapshot" of the U.S. population's food-nutrient intakes. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and healthcare professionals recommend people get their nutrients from foods, because there are natural compounds in foods that don't translate into tablets. But single- and multi-vitamin supplements can make up for some nutritional shortfalls. Dietary supplements are widely used and contribute to nutrient intakes, so it's important to accurately monitor people's nutrient intakes from both supplements and foods.
Even the smallest quantity of Salmonella may, in the future, be easily detected with a technology known as "surface-enhanced Raman scattering" (SERS). Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Bosoon Park is leading exploratory studies of this analytical technique's potential for quick, easy and reliable detection of Salmonella and other foodborne pathogens. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Salmonella causes more than one million cases of illness in the United States every year. If SERS proves successful for cornering Salmonella, the technique might be used at public health laboratories around the nation to rapidly identify this or other pathogens responsible for outbreaks of foodborne illness. What's more, tomorrow's foodmakers might use SERS at their in-house quality control labs. In a SERS analysis, a specimen is placed on a surface, such as a stainless steel plate, that has been "enhanced" or changed from smooth to rough. For some of their research, Park's team enhanced the surface of stainless steel plates by coating them with tiny spheres, made up of a biopolymer encapsulated with nanoparticles of silver. Rough surfaces, and colloidal metals such as silver, can enhance the scattering of light that occurs when a specimen, placed on this "nanosubstrate," is scanned with the Raman spectrometer's laser beam. The scattered light that comes back to the spectroscope forms a distinct spectral pattern known as a Raman spectral signature. Researchers expect to prove the concept that all molecules, such as those that make up Salmonella, have their own unique Raman spectral signature.
Researchers with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Department of Health and Human Services have teamed up for sodium surveillance efforts. ARS Nutrient Data Laboratory researchers have developed a plan to monitor the levels of sodium in foods, particularly the processed foods and ingredients that contribute up to 80 percent of our population's added-sodium intake, as assessed in the USDA-ARS national "What We Eat in America" survey. Foods that rank highest in sodium are being monitored by chemical analysis. Having such accurate data on sodium in the foods processed by manufacturers, restaurants, and foodservice firms supports efforts to monitor and assess sodium intakes in the U.S. population, according to experts.
Researchers with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Food Surveys Research Group in Beltsville, Md., have examined dietary intake survey data from more than 5,000 adults aged 20 years and older to focus on snacking habits, which are associated with increased caloric intake and decreased nutrient intake. The snacking analysis indicates that snacks provide about one-third (32 percent for women and 31 percent for men) of all daily calories from "empty calories," which are calories from solid fats and added sugars—food components that provide little nutritional value.
A downloadable version of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) flagship National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (SR), listing more than 7,600 food items, is being downloaded and incorporated into a variety of free and for-fee consumer-oriented smart phone "apps" and interactive websites. The most prominent government source is SuperTracker, which can be found at ChooseMyPlate.gov, where individuals can easily create their own customized healthy dietary plan. The new and improved USDA "SuperTracker" tool provides users with free diet and physical activity assessment and planning tools. SuperTracker demonstrates how a person's diet and physical activity compare to the Dietary Guidelines, recommended intakes for nutrients, and physical activity guidelines. Users can get a free nutrient-by-nutrient report, complete with a status (over, under, acceptable) for single nutrients. A user-friendly, searchable version of SR was made available for download directly onto personal computers (PCs) and laptops free of charge in 2003.