Monday, April 25, 2011

Apple #520: Rivers

I hope you've all had a happy Easter.  I was out of town yesterday for the holiday, so I missed my usual Sunday post.  But I'm back today.

I went to the place where I grew up, which is near lakes.  The place where I live now is near lots of rivers.  I've always preferred lakes to rivers, but since there are so many rivers around me now and since that's where I go to see fresh water, I thought it was high time I learned a few things about rivers.

One of the rivers near where I live.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • The study of rivers is called potamology.
  • While a creek is generally considered to be smaller than a river and "stream" may refer to either a creek or a river, in practice, "creek," "river," and "stream" are used pretty much willy nilly, regardless of a stream's size. So just because something is called a "creek," don't expect it to be small, or if it's called a "river," it could be just a trickler.

Another river near where I live.  Even though this looks pretty big, it's called a creek.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • A river's shape is determined primarily by regular yearly floods, rather than daily currents or large catastrophic floods.
  • The best way to deal with floods is not to build dams or barriers or drain swampy areas.  Rather, it's best to preserve wetlands and flood plains because they absorb the overflow more effectively than any barrier could stop it.
  • Currently, about 17% or 600,000 miles of United States' rivers lie behind dams.
  • The Mississippi River is about 2,350 miles long.  The Missouri River is actually longer, but the Mississippi is larger in terms of its flow volume.
  • The Mississippi's source is Lake Itasca in Minnesota.   It would take a drop of rainwater 90 days to travel the Mississippi from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.

A map of rivers in the United States, with the Mississippi in red.  One time in 1899, the entire Mississippi froze, from Lake Itasca to the Gulf.  It stayed frozen for four days. The ice was two inches thick at New Orleans.
(Map from Science Facts)

  • Over 300 species, or about 60% of birds in North America, use the Mississippi River as their migration pathway.
  • Water skiing was invented on the Mississippi in 1922.
  • The Nile, the Amazon, and the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) are the three longest rivers in the world, respectively.  
  • Historically, the Nile was always considered the longest river.  A few years ago however, Brazilian researchers traveling the Amazon to its source added another 176 miles to its length, bringing it to a total length of 4,225 miles. That makes it 65 miles longer than the Nile.
  • The Amazon currently flows west to east, but there was a time in its 11 million year-old history when the entire river flowed the other way.  Researchers discovered all sorts of geological evidence bearing ripple marks and mineral traces pointing to a current that flowed east to west. 

The Amazon River basin, with the Amazon itself highlighted in purple.
(Map from Wikipedia)

    • The Amazon initially flowed west to east, same as it does now.  But researchers think that when the land mass that is South America broke off from what is now Africa, the east coast of South America sat higher than the west, so the Amazon flowed from east to west.  
    • Several centuries later, when the Andes Mountains began growing, that tilted the continent the other way so that the west side was higher and the river changed its flow again, back to west-to-east.

    Here's what the Amazon looks like from above.
    (Photo from Scenery Nature)

    Here's what one part of the Amazon looks like from ground level.
    (Photo from Top News India)

      • The Chicago River's direction has also changed, but that was accomplished by a team of engineers.
      • The shallow and slow-moving Chicago River used to flow into Lake Michigan, but since the river was used as the dumping ground for the city's raw sewage, it all collected in the Lake. 
      • When 6 inches of rain fell on one day in August 1885, the existing pumping stations and sewer pipes were so overwhelmed that some 90,000 people wound up dying from cholera and typhoid fever.  That was 10% of the city's population. So the city decided to deal with the sewage problem by making the river drain in the other direction, into the Mississippi River.
      • It took 8 years, 70 million dollars, 56 miles of new channels dug with the aid of steam shovels and explosives, several locks along the channels, and lots of dredging of the Chicago River itself. 
      • The main channel, the Sanitary and Ship Canal, was cut through a low point in the continental divide to connect the Chicago River with the nearby Des Plaines River.  This directed the Chicago River to empty not into Lake Michigan to the east but into the Des Plaines to the southwest.

      The map on the left shows the Chicago River as it used to flow, into Lake Michigan.  The map on the right shows how the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal connects the Chicago River to the Des Plaines River. Other channels were dug along the Calumet River to divert those into the Des Plaines, too. (Larger version of this map.)
      (Map from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, sourced from Great Lakes Guy)

      • From the Des Plaines, the water would empty into the Illinois River, and from there into the Mississippi River, and finally into the Gulf of Mexico.  Problem solved, the engineers said.
        • The residents of St. Louis were going to go to court to stop the city from sending all their sewage down to them.  When Chicago heard about St. Louis' plan, the city commissioners said that the engineers told them that by the time the water got down there, it would be clean of sewage. 
        • For good measure, they detonated one of the dams ahead of schedule and opened the locks before St. Louis could file their petition.  Thus on January 2, 1900, the direction of the Chicago River was changed.
        • Now the way Chicago likes to mess with their river is to dye it green for St. Patrick's Day.  A plumber originally got the idea from the especially vivid green dye that was used to test for leaks in pipes. 
        • Using the plumber's idea, in 1962, the city guessed how much dye it would take. They dumped in 100 pounds of the stuff and the river stayed green for a week. 
        • Each year they used less and less of the dye. In 1966, they switched to a vegetable-based dye, 40 pounds of which would keep the river green for about four or five hours. 

        Boats releasing the dye into the Chicago River
        (Photo by Jennifer Roche, from

        This is what the river looks like when they're done.
        (Photo from Inspired Water)

        • I think all this damming and diverting and dyeing comes from some natural human impulse that, when you encounter a body of water, makes you want to play with it.  
        • If it's a lake, it doesn't take long until you're throwing or skipping stones into it.  If it's a river, you drop sticks into it and see how long it takes them to get to travel someplace on the current. If it's a little creek, you might even get in there and start digging a channel to get it to flow someplace you think makes more sense.  
        • Next time you're standing next to a river or a lake, notice how little time elapses until you start messing with it.

        Even Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin dropped stuff into the river.
        (Image from Winnie the Pooh Prints)

        Alister Doyle, World's rivers in crisis, study says, Reuters, September 29, 2010
        Emma Brown, Gordon Wolman; his work transformed study of rivers, Boston Globe, March 4, 2010
        American Rivers, River Facts
        Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Rivers & streams, FAQs about rivers and streams
        Mississippi River Travel, River Facts & Fun
        Social Studies for Kids, The 25 Longest Rivers in the World
        John Roach, Amazon Longer Then Nile River, Scientists Say, National Geographic News, June 18, 2007
        Sean Markey, Amazon River Once Flowed Other Way, Study Says, National Geographic News, October 25, 2006
        Undercurrents: beneath the obvious, A Brief History of the Chicago Diversion, December 2, 2006
        Center for Land Use Interpretation, Chicago River Lockport Gates
        Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology, Reversal of the Chicago River, Reversal of the Chicago River (2)
        Chicagoist, Ask Chicagoist: River Reversal?
        American Public Works Association, Top Ten Public Works of the Century, Chicago River Reversal (cached)
        The Chicago River Reversal (HD video)
        Chicago Green River, The Story Behind Dyeing the River

        Friday, April 22, 2011

        Apple #519: Deviled Eggs

        As we are about to celebrate Easter, eggs are everywhere.  In TV commercials, in ads online, in the grocery store.  While thinking of various ways to prepare eggs, I remembered deviled eggs.  My mom used to turn our dyed eggs into deviled eggs eventually.  It occurs to me to wonder how we get deviled eggs on Easter, which is about as anti-devil as it gets.

        Put more simply, what does it mean to "devil" an egg?

        Deviled eggs.  The eventual fate of the Easter egg.
        (Photo from CountryTime Recipes)

        • "To devil" some sort of food dates back to the late 1700s.  It meant to add heavy seasonings or lots of hot spices to a dish.
        • The idea, apparently, was to make food "hot" or "spicy as the devil."
        • In the 19th century, the hot spices were expanded to include spicy mustards or cayenne or curry.
        • Originally, deviling seems to have been done more often to meats, such as kidneys or ham.  Remember deviled ham?

        Underworld deviled ham gets its name and its "sharp flavor" from the spices and condiments -- mainly mustard -- that are added.
        (Image from Wacky Packages)

        • But eventually, the deviling was done to eggs, too.
        • You'll notice that in recipes for deviled eggs, mustard is a primary ingredient.  Our yellow mustard today is pretty mild, but perhaps once upon a time the mustard was hotter or spicier.  
        • The paprika which is to be sprinkled on top at the end may have once been a source of heat.  But in most recipes today, it's considered more of a garnish and it's usually listed as optional.  In my encounters with deviled eggs over the years, the paprika has appeared less and less often.

        See? Not much paprika here.  But they did get all fancy and piped the filling into the whites.
        (Photo and recipe from

        • I did find some recipes out there for spicy deviled eggs.  Here's one that looked like it might be especially tasty:
            • 12 eggs, hard boiled and peeled
            • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
            • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
            • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
            • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
            • 1 green onion, minced
            • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
            • 1 tablespoon horseradish
            • salt & pepper to taste
            • cayenne pepper
            • Cut the eggs in half. Carefully remove the yolks so as not to break the whites. Set the whites aside and put the yolks into a mixing bowl.
            • Into the mixing bowl add the mayonnaise, mustard, cheese, jalapeño, onion, parsley, and horseradish.  Mash the yolks with the back of a fork and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.
            • With a teaspoon, scoop the mixture into the whites. Sprinkle each with cayenne pepper.
            • Cover carefully and refrigerate one hour before serving. (Recipe from

        The deviled eggs shown here have smoked salmon on top, and the yolks are mixed with 3/4 tablespoons of Tabasco sauce.  That's another way to get some heat into those eggs.
        (Photo and recipe from Blisstree)

        • I also saw a number of recipes out there that call for bacon, that oh-so-popular ingredient.  I imagine you could add bacon pieces to the recipe I listed above. 

        These eggs have bacon pieces on top, and the recipe calls for adding 4 teaspoons of bacon fat to the yolk mixture. That's optional, though. Also on top is shaved white cheddar.
        (Photo and recipe from Chow)

        Happy Easter, and enjoy those eggs!

        The Straight Dope, What's up with "deviled" eggs, ham, etc.? October 12, 2004
        The Food Timeline, FAQs: eggs, deviled eggs

        Monday, April 18, 2011

        Apple #518: How Dryer Sheets Work

        I have a request!  Regular Daily Apple reader Jason wants to know about dryer sheets.  How the heck do those things work, anyway?

        Good question.  Dryer sheets coming up.

        (Photo from Pinky Has a Brain)

        • The first thing to know is that washing and especially drying clothes rubs the clothes together, and at the same time, knocks electrons off of each other.
        • If you were to wash and dry your clothes using only detergent and no softeners, by the time you pulled your clothes out of the dryer, they'd be snapping and popping from the static electricity.  A sweater with too few electrons might be stuck to a sock with too many electrons.  Not visible to your eye would be other loose electrons floating around inside the dryer.
        • Liquid fabric softeners, first invented in the early 20th century, helped this problem somewhat.  They were supposed to make the fabrics softer to the touch, but since they carried an inherent positive charge, they were also supposed to reduce the amount of negative electrons getting stripped from the clothes.

        First there was liquid fabric softener.  Nice idea in theory, but in practice, not too effective and also not that convenient.
        (Photo from petwelfare411, which no longer seems to be working)

        • However, liquid softeners had to be added during washing (and only after the first wash cycle, so that wasn't convenient).  Since the positively charged softeners were added while the negatively charged detergent was still in the wash with the clothes, most of the time the anti-static benefit of the softener was reduced or even nullified.
        • In the 1960s, though, one helpful individual named Conrad J. Gaiser figured out how to put liquid fabric softener onto a small sheet of material and dry it so that it stuck there.  These softener sheets were to be added during drying instead of washing, which was far more helpful.  The heat of the dryer and the moisture coming up off the wet clothes released the dried softener from the dryer sheet and allowed it to work its magic.

        Ah, the dryer sheet: fabric softener and static cling eliminator in one.
        (Photo from some strange site which I think is

        • Most dryer sheets fresh out of the box will feel a little sticky or tacky to the touch.  That means they contain a surfactant.  Surfactants are fatty molecules (I didn't make up that term, I swear) that have two sides.  One side likes to cling to water and the other side likes to cling to fabrics.  
        • When the heat of the dryer releases the moisture in the wet clothes, the heat of the dryer also "melts" the waxy surfactant and puts it to work.  The surfactant latches onto some of that moisture in the humid air of the dryer and it latches its other side onto the fabrics.  In this way, it coats the clothes to make them softer and smoother to the touch.  
        • The fatty surfactant also has a positive charge, as most fatty things do. The positive charges on the dryer sheet match up with the negatively charged clothes and thus static cling is pretty much eliminated.
        • Finally, many dryer sheets also now have various perfumes added to give your clothes a particular scent.  Some people don't like the perfumes or are allergic to them, and there are some dryer sheets available without added fragrance.
        • One caveat about dryer sheets is that, over time, those surfactants can build up on your clothes.  That's especially the case with thicker fabrics, such as towels.  If you notice that your towels seem to be less absorbent than they used to or if the pile of the towels stays matted or clumped together even after you've washed them, they've probably got fabric softener build-up.  Here are a couple of tips that can help get rid of the build-up:
            • Wash them again in very hot water.  Instead of your regular laundry detergent, use either baking soda, washing soda, or borax.  Rinse twice.  Don't use dryer sheets or fabric softener.

        I am a convert to the borax and I am a fan.  It helps keep detergent from building up in the wash and it helps whiten whites and brighten colors.  It works better if you dissolve it in water before adding it to the wash.
        (Photo from Passionate Homemaking)

            • Using only hot water for a whole load of towels can be a bit pricey, though.  If you want to wash your towels as usual but still get rid of the build-up, first, wash & dry only your towels together.  Since like fabrics don't cling as much to other like fabrics, there won't be much static cling and you may not even notice the absence of the dryer sheets.
            • During washing, add about a half cup of vinegar before the second rinse cycle. The vinegar will help get rid of the extra surfactants.  Vinegar also acts as a natural mild fabric softener, so the dryer sheets may not be necessary.
            • Wash them this way the next 3 or 4 times and your towels should feel softer and more absorbent again.
        • One alternative to dryer sheets is dryer balls.  They're plastic balls with spikes all around them.  They bounce around in the dryer with your clothes, allowing the warm air of the dryer to penetrate the various nooks and crannies of your clothes more easily.  Clothes are said to dry faster, and the bouncing action is said to produce the same softening effect as dryer sheets. 

        Any time a product label is sprinkled with exclamation points and wow sunbursts like this, I'm immediately skeptical that the product can do what it exclaims.  In this case, I'd say the dryer balls do about 60% of what they claim.
        (Image from Best of As Seen On TV)

        • In my experience using dryer balls, they did fluff my clothes a bit and they did reduce drying time somewhat.  But they don't do much about the static build-up, and my clothes didn't feel quite as smooth or have as nice a fragrance using only the balls and no dryer sheets.  So now I use both the dryer balls and the dryer sheets.

        TLC How Stuff Works, How Dryer Sheets Work
        Today I Found Out, How Anti-Static Dryer Sheets Work
        Indiana Public Media, A Moment of Science, How Do Dryer Sheets Work? 
        The Straight Dope, How do dryer antistatic sheets work? 
        eHow, How to Soften Bath Towels in the Laundry, Frugal Living, Dryer Max Dryer Balls: Product Review

        Monday, April 11, 2011

        Apple #517: Bald Eagle Facts

        I saw a bald eagle today.  For real and in the flesh.  Not in a zoo either, in the wild.  I was standing on an overlook and the eagle flew right past, almost at eye level.  Of course I didn't have my camera out and turned on, so I don't have a picture to document this fact.  But there were several other people standing there at the time, and they saw the eagle too.

        It really was pretty majestic.

        So here are some facts about bald eagles:

        • Bald eagles mainly eat fish.

        Bald eagle snatching up a relatively small fish, compared to what it's capable of lifting.
        (Photo by Graig Eldred at Random Living on a North Woods Farm)

        • If they can't get fish, they'll eat ducks or other small birds, sometimes small pets, or even roadkill.
        • Because they like fish, their migration paths follow wind currents that will take them to fresh, unfrozen water.  Some migrate south and others migrate toward the coasts.
        • They can fly as fast as 30 to 35 mph, and as high as 10,000 feet.
        • Measuring 35 to 37 inches, the female is slightly larger than the male.
        • Their wingspan is about 7 feet.

        Here's a pretty typical photo of a bald eagle with its wings outstretched. But with nothing but sky around, it's hard to get a sense of just how big that wingspan is.
        (Photo from Alaska-in-Pictures)

        This photo gives you a better sense of the wingspan on that 35-inch bird.
        (Photo from The Zen Birdfeeder)

        • Bald eagles weigh about 10 to 14 pounds.
        • They can lift about 4 pounds' worth of food.
        • Only about 1 in 18 hunting attempts is successful.
        • It is very common for a bald eagle to go several days without food.
        • They are monogamous.  Once paired, they will remain together until one of them dies.
        • When courting, a pair will fly high in the air, lock talons together, and together they'll free-fall in a cartwheel fashion toward the ground.  They break apart only at the last minute.
        This is one of a series of photos of a pair cartwheeling. Click here to see the whole cartwheel process.
        (Photo and series by Jon McRay at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge)

        • Males and females will vocalize or call to each other, and they may also warn other eagles of possible danger in the area.
        • They don't make the screech that so many TV shows and movies associate with them.  That screech belongs to a red-tailed hawk.  Bald eagles actually make a shrill twittering sound. Listen to bald eagle audio here.
        • Their Latin name describes their behavior and appearance: Haliaeetus leucophalus means Sea (halo) eagle (aeetos) with a white (leuco) head (phalus).  So technically we should probably refer to them as White Eagles.  ("Bald" once upon a time did mean "white.")

        Bald eaglets. Way too cute and fuzzy.  These two were born in the San Francisco Zoo.
        (Photo from Animals Aloud)

        • It takes five years before a juvenile eagle loses its brown-and-white mixed coloring and attains its adult dark brown plumage.  Around this time is when the birds become sexually mature and can begin breeding.
        • They like to build their nests in forested areas next to rivers with lots of fish.  If the food is plentiful, they will return to the same nest year after year.  

        Bald eagles use sticks to build some of the largest nests in the world. Some can be as large as 9 feet in diameter and weigh as much as 2 tons.
        (Photo from Dwelling in the Word)

        • In the wild, they can live as long as 30 years.
        • On the brink of extinction due to human activities -- hunting in the mistaken belief that they killed livestock, loss of habitat, DDT poisoning -- in recent years they have been seen nesting and fishing in areas all across the United States, from Michigan to Florida, Alaska to California.  
        • Bald eagles were taken off the Endangered Species List in 2007.  Finally, a wildlife victory!

        American Bald Eagle Information

        Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bald Eagle
        West Sound Wildlife Shelter, Fun Wildlife Facts, Bald Eagles

        Monday, April 4, 2011

        Apple #516: Bagged Salads and Bacteria

        A regular Daily Apple reader, Anonymous California Guy, recently asked me if he should wash his bagged salads before eating them. He said normally he doesn't, but he read a Consumer Reports article that said they found bacteria in several samples of bagged salads.  He wants to know, does he really have to wash those salads and dry them and wrap them in towels in the fridge before eating?

        Ah, the pre-washed and bagged lettuce.  Are we paying more than just extra money for that lovely convenience?
        (Photo from Trudi Pratt's blog)

        My initial and admittedly uninformed reaction to this is that we have been eating lettuce and spinach and all sorts of leafy things for CENTURIES.  Our food safety is probably better than it has ever been, as is probably our public health.  And yet we keep getting freaked out by the possibility of bacteria in our food.  I have a very strong suspicion that there's always been bacteria in our food.  Most of the time our body deals with it just fine and we never know about it.  Sometimes it makes us sick and we deal with that.  There are also some bacteria that are even good for us.  So my personal reaction to this news is, eh.  Big deal.

        But ultimately the question to the Apple Lady (yes, she's an alter ego) becomes who is right: me or Consumer Reports?

        First of all, here's what Consumer Reports did:
        • They inspected 208 containers of pre-washed salads. Some packages were in bags, some were in plastic clamshells.  
        • They bought the salads at stores in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.  The samples were from national brands like Dole, Fresh Express, and Earthbound Farm Organic, as well as regional and store brands.
        • All the samples were within their use-by-date, though some were older than others.
        • Their findings: 39 percent (that's 81 packages) tested positive for 10,000 or more colony-forming units per gram of total coliforms. 23 percent (that's about 48 bags) tested positive for similar levels of enterococcus.

        So what should I do?

        I'll answer this first according to what Consumer Reports recommends.  Then I'll get back to my take on it later.

        • The Consumer Reports study says that more of the packages that tested positive for these bacteria were the ones that contained spinach.  They don't suggest that you should avoid or specially wash the ones with spinach, but something like that seems to be the implication.
        • They also noticed that the majority of the bags that tested positive for these bacteria were ones that were closer to their use-by-date.  So they suggest that people buy the packages that are marked with use-by-dates that are as far in the future as possible.
        • They also recommend that even if the bag says the greens have been been washed once or twice or however many times that you should wash them again. 

        What does it really mean?
        • First of all, the Consumer Reports study's sample size is small.  They say as much themselves.  208 samples is a pittance.  By comparison, in 2008, the Department of Agriculture tested more than 4,000 samples of both loose and packaged salad.
        • Second, the Consumer Reports sample size is localized to one region of the country.  Yes, some of the bags were from national brands, but many of the others were regional or local.  You can't say for certain that the prevalence of bacteria is at the same levels elsewhere in the country.  They may even be higher than what Consumer Reports found, but you can't say that for certain.
        • What a lot of people leave out when they re-report this story is what Consumer Reports didn't find.  They didn't find any of the worst offenders.  They found no E. coli (specifically, no E. coli 0157:H7, which is the strain that is particularly virulent), no listeria, and no salmonella.
        • (By the way, that 2008 at Department of Ag study that tested 4,000 samples? They found salmonella in two.  That's .05%.  AKA not statistically significant.  Yeah, I know, tell that to your stomach when you're throwing up, but that .05% lightning is not likely to strike you.)
        • Finally, just what are total coliform and enterococcus?  Let's take up total coliform first.  
        Coliform bacteria are organisms that are present in the environment and in the feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. Coliform bacteria will not likely cause illness. However, their presence in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms (pathogens) could be [present.]
        The total coliform group is a large collection of different kinds of bacteria. Total coliform bacteria are commonly found in the environment (e.g., soil or vegetation) and are generally harmless. If only total coliform bacteria are detected, the source is probably environmental. Fecal contamination is not likely.
        Fecal coliform bacteria are a sub-group of total coliform bacteria. They appear in great quantities in the intestines and feces of people and animals. E. coli is a sub-group of fecal coliform. The presence of fecal coliform in a sample often indicates recent fecal contamination meaning that there is a greater risk that pathogens are present than if only total coliform bacteria is detected.
        • The Consumer Reports study didn't mention fecal coliform bacteria.  They said they looked for total coliform bacteria.  They also said specifically that they did not find any E. coli, specifically the strain that is the really bad one.
        • One other thing to note about total coliform bacteria.  Since it's not feasible to test every type of food for every possible bacteria, they test for total coliform as a way to get a sort of bellwether on what's going on.  It doesn't tell you anything for sure about what's going on in there, but it gives you an indicator of what may be happening.
        • So the total coliform that Consumer Reports did find may indicate the possibility that fecal contamination occurred and that other pathogens therefore may possibly be present.  
        • So it's especially worth noting again that in this case, they did test for the three especially bad pathogens and those were not present.  Even in those samples that had the total coliform bacteria, the total coliform didn't turn out to be accurate indicators of the presence of other pathogens after all.
        • Now let's talk about enterococcus.
        • Enterococci are another group of bacteria, this one even more diverse.  Some enterococci are actually beneficial.  They are used to ripen cheeses and sausages.  Some are even sold as probiotics (ah, that's a hot buzzword these days).  They're incredibly prevalent.  They can be found in the soil, in the water, and in food.
        • Some enterococci -- particularly the ones that are associated with feces -- are pathogens of "relatively low virulence" that cause illness.  Some strains of these bad enterococci have developed resistance to antibiotics.
        • The bad enterococci can do some bad stuff.  Mostly it makes people throw up or it gives them diarrhea, both of which are your body's natural and desirable method of hitting the eject button.  More rarely the bad enteroccoci can cause urinary tract infections, meningitis, tissue ulcers, all sorts of stuff you really don't want.
        • So, yeah, maybe it's a bit worrisome that they found some enterococcus in there.  But the Consumer Reports article doesn't say which enterococcus they tested for.  Since their goal was to determine food safety and sanitary levels, it's probably a good assumption that they were testing for the fecal sort.  But that's only an assumption.  They could have been testing for the lot of enterococci as far as I know.
        • In all, 48 bags out of 208 had some kind of enterococcus, which may or may not be the bad kind. That's about 1 in 4.

        Odds are, 1 in 4 of these bags of pre-washed lettuce have some form of bacteria, the exact strain of which may or may not be harmful.
        (Photo from babble)

        If you don't like those odds, here's what you can do to try to improve them:
        • Buy the freshest package available.
        • Once you've got them home, rinse the greens again yourself.
        • Take them out of the bag in which they were sold, rinse them in cold running water, and pat them dry.
        • Use them immediately, or if you need to store them for a while, put them in a different bag, one that's clean and hasn't been used to store anything else.
        • Keep them in the refrigerator.  Bacteria don't grow as well in the cold.
        • Eat them as soon as possible.

        But even all these precautions are no guarantee.  As the Consumer Reports article itself points out, "Rinsing won't remove all bacteria but may remove residual soil."

        My summation: you pays your money and you takes your chances.  Same as in every other freakin' thing in life.

        (Photo from iNet Giant)

        Consumer Reports, Bagged salad: How clean? March 2010
        CBSNews, How Clean Is Your Pre-Washed Salad? February 2, 2010
        Elaine Magee, WebMD Healthy Recipe Doctor, Bagged Salad and Bacteria: What YOU Can Do, February 3, 2010
        Sarah Jio, Do You Wash Your Bagged Lettuce and Salad Mixes Before Using Them? Shine on Yahoo!, February 3, 2010
        Washington State Department of Health, Division of Environmental Health, Office of Drinking Water, Coliform Bacteria and Drinking Water
        Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station, Food Safety and You: Coliform Bacteria as Indicators of Food Sanitary Quality, 1999
        Wilhelm H. Holzapfel, Enterococci in foods--a conundrum for food safety (Abstract), International Journal of Food Microbiology, December 2003

        Friday, April 1, 2011

        Apple #515: Did You Know?

        Thought I'd assemble a potpourri of items for you to consider.  Did you know:

        [Edit: I wrote this entry on April Fool's Day. So the following tidbits each contain some erroneous statement. Scroll down to reach the truth about each one.]
        • The loudest animal on earth is the howler monkey whose howl can be heard 3 miles away.

        Howler monkey
        (Photo from Moxie Bird)

        • George Washington wore dentures made of wood.
        • Abraham Lincoln was a Deist.
        • Bob Barker was a conscientious objector.
        • Bats use a kind of sonar to locate their prey. Because of the sonar, they don't need to use their eyes much, so they are effectively blind. 

        A bat finding its way to this food mainly by sense of smell.
        (Photo from the San Francisco Sentinel)

        • The Phil Collins song "In the Air Tonight" is about a murder he witnessed when he was a child.  He invited the murderer to a concert, gave him a front-row ticket, and performed the song "to" him at the show. Until then, Collins had not told anyone about what he had witnessed. 
        • Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen after he died, in the hopes that some day, scientists would know how to bring his body back to life -- reanimate him, if you will.

        Walt Disney liked technology almost as much as he liked cartoons and animation.  Here he is with a zoetrope.
        (Photo from it THING)

        • If you're on the road and a huge thunderstorm or tornado is coming, get under an overpass and take shelter there.
        • If you're in your house during a tornado and you don't have a basement, open the windows to equalize the pressure and go to the southwest corner of the house. 

        Do you know what to do when a tornado approaches your house?
        (You can buy this art print from for $19.99)

        • Eating a stalk celery burns more calories than it contains, so celery is a "negative calorie" food.

        APRIL FOOL!

        None of those statements above is true!  They're all lies!  Myths and lies!  Haha, joke's on you!

        Here are the for-real and for-true facts:

        • The loudest animal on earth is the blue whale.  Its low-frequency sounds register at 188 decibels, louder than a jet engine.  The howler monkey is the second-loudest.
        • George Washington did wear dentures, but none of the surviving sets was wooden.  The four that remain are made respectively of ivory, gold, lead, and a combination of human and horse and donkey teeth.  The last combination was quite common at that time.

        A red laser scanning a reproduction of the lower jaw of one set of Washington's dentures.  The original was made of ivory from a hippo.
        (Photo by Jed Kirschbaum from the The Baltimore Sun, sourced from MSN)

        • Abraham Lincoln was a Christian, though he was unaffiliated with any denomination and he was never a member of any church.
        • Bob Barker enlisted in the US Navy in 1942 and served as a naval aviation cadet beginning in 1943.  After he left active duty in 1945, he remained in the Naval Reserves until 1960.

        Navy Lieutenant junior grade Bob Barker
        (Photo from the Naval Air Station, Grosse Ile)

        • Bats do navigate using a version of sonar (which also means they'll never get tangled in your hair), and while their eyes are small and not as keen as their other senses, their eyes are definitely functional.
        • Walt Disney was cremated on December 17, 1966.  Other people have been cryogenically frozen, though.  The first was James Bedford, whose body was frozen in 1967. One other interesting thing I found out about Disney was that when he won the Oscar in 1939 for Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, they gave him one regular statue and 7 mini statuettes.

        The Oscar and 7 honorary statuettes Walt Disney was awarded in 1939.
        (Photo from it THING)

        • Collins was going through a divorce when he wrote "In the Air Tonight," and the song is about that experience and its accompanying bitterness.
        • Overpasses are probably the most dangerous place to go during a wind storm. The pinched shape of an overpass actually concentrates and increases wind speeds so that any flying debris could be slammed even harder into you.  Three people tried hiding under and overpass during a tornado in Oklahoma in 1991, and all three were killed.
        • Opening the windows won't make any difference in the air pressure if a tornado gets close enough. What's most likely to happen is you'll get stabbed by flying glass shards when the window breaks.  Stay away from windows entirely.  Moreover, the southwest corner may actually be the most dangerous place to be within the house.  Get to the lowest place possible, and if you don't have a basement, go to the smallest room on the ground floor which is probably the bathroom and cover your head.

        See, this is why you do not want to be near windows near a tornado. Not only is the window completely blown in, but that child's bike was flung so hard against the wall it crumpled. You would not want that bike to come flying through your window and hit you. (This is from a June 2010 tornado that devastated Millbury, Ohio.)
        (Photo by Paul Sancya, AP, sourced from The Sacramento Bee)

        • One stick of celery contains about 6 calories.  It takes about 2 minutes to eat a stalk of celery.  On average, we burn 62 calories per hour just sitting and doing nothing.  So if we put celery into the same units -- calories per hour -- and if we ate nothing but celery for an hour, we would take in 180 calories.  That's more than we burn on our own per hour, which means that celery does add calories to the diet. But that's a good thing.  Food is fuel.  We need food to survive.

        Celery.  It doesn't have many calories, but it does have some.
        (Photo from listverse)

        Smithsonian, Meet Our Animals, Animal Records
        George Washington's False Teeth Not Wooden, Associated Press, January 27, 2005
        Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Facts about Abraham Lincoln
        IMDb, Bob Barker Biography and The Daily Apple entry on Bob Barker
        Discovery Channel Animal Planet, Top 10 Animal Myths
        Was Walt Disney Frozen After Death? The Telegraph, April 1, 2011
        Weather Myths, Dayton Daily News, 2003