The discerning diner’s factual fare

silverwearDefeat strikes a sour note

Defeat may not just cause a sour attitude: A new study from the lab of Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science, shows it can make sour food taste more sour, but winning enhances sweetness. Graduate student Corinna Noel studied how emotional states affect the perception of taste using a sample of 550 zealous Cornell men’s hockey fans. At the end of each home game, fans were given a salted-caramel pretzel ice cream and a lemon-lime sorbet. Although caramel was generally preferred to sorbet, fans reported enjoying the sorbet as well after a win. While the flavors salty, umami (savory) and bitter were not affected by wins or losses, for embittered fans the sorbet tasted more sour. The study shows that emotions can make a less palatable food even more unappealing to taste—implying a mechanism for emotional eating and why when we lose, we reach for the sweet.

Short wait enhances food safety

Harnessing a combination of weather data, GIS technology and pathogen samples, research has identified a low-tech intervention that can help reduce food-borne illness from fresh vegetables: Produce farmers should wait 24 hours after a rain or irrigating their fields to harvest crops. Rain and irrigation create conditions that are more hospitable to Listeria monocytogenes, which when ingested may cause the human illness listeriosis. Researchers in the lab of Martin Wiedmann Ph.D. ‘97, professor of food science, tested fields in New York and found that after rains or irrigation, the chances of finding Listeria were 25 times greater. But after the fields dried at least 24 hours, the chances of detecting Listeria dropped dramatically, to levels similar to baseline. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed rules allowing farmers to apply “wait periods” after application of irrigation water.

Stymied by stereotypes

Millions of people turn to the internet and social media for health and food-related information, but stereotypes can distort their assessment of the information: People perceive the same foods as less healthy when they are recommended online by a heavier versus thinner person. Communication professors Jonathon Schuldt and Geri Gay conducted two online experiments, asking participants to judge the overall health quality of 10 meals that were ostensibly posted to a site like Pinterest or Facebook by a fictional woman named Elizabeth Jones. Some participants saw a small thumbnail image of the woman portrayed as thin, while others saw a thumbnail with her heavier. A meal posted by the heavier Jones led participants to judge the meals as significantly less healthy, a finding that held true even when objective measures of nutritional quality—calories and fat content—were also provided to the participants.

Is junk food to blame?

Soda, candy and fast food are often painted as the prime culprits in the national discussion of obesity, but these foods are not likely to be a leading cause in the United States, according to David Just and Brian Wansink, professors in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. In a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults, consumption of soda, candy and fast food was not significantly different in overweight and healthy weight individuals. The exceptions were found on the extreme ends of the spectrum: the chronically underweight and the morbidly obese. They concluded that the overwhelming majority of weight problems are not caused by consumption of junk food alone. According to Just, diets and health campaigns aimed at reducing and preventing obesity may be off track if they hinge on targeting specific foods rather than physical activity and overall consumption patterns, such as snacking.