Q: It seems that recently all the broccoli I buy is turning yellow by the time I chop the head up to cook it, even if it’s the very next day. What makes it turn yellow, and should I use it?
Answer: A head of broccoli is a very tight bunch of tiny little flower buds. That’s why the sections are called florets, from flowers. When they start to turn yellow, it means the buds are opening. The broccoli is past the usual stage when we prefer to eat it. But there’s nothing else wrong with it. It won’t hurt you to eat it, but it might not be as crisp.
As for why it’s happening, that’s the usual progression of a plant; the buds become completely formed and open into flowers. But usually we pick and use broccoli before it gets this far. It could mean that somewhere along the route from being harvested to arriving at the store or your kitchen it was too warm. If it’s chilled enough the flowers don’t continue to form. Or it might be that it was simply older and had more time to develop.
If it’s really objectionable, you can take the cut head back to the store and let the produce manager know that you’re not happy with the quality of the produce. But it is perfectly safe to use.
Q: Would you settle a family discussion for me please? Which is the dirtiest place in the kitchen — the sink drain or the dishwasher drain?
Answer: Between those two, I don’t know. There was some research years ago in home kitchens that found the dishwasher drain was usually more highly contaminated than the sink. All the bits of food that get caught make a good feeding ground. We see the gunk in the sink, and are more likely to scrub it, or pour some bleach in it. We don’t see the drain in the dishwasher.
More recently, though, neither of those showed up on the top five list of most-contaminated places in our kitchens. The research was specifically measuring E. coli, salmonella and listeria, all dangerous and common bacteria. The top five in their findings were: 1. the refrigerator vegetable compartment; 2. the refrigerator meat compartment; 3. gaskets on blenders; 4. can openers; and 5. rubber spatulas!
More than a third of the things in the kitchens that were in the study had E. coli and salmonella, 14 percent had listeria, and every one them had mold spores. The report suggested that we don’t wash and sanitize the vegetable and meat bins often enough because they can be hard to get out of the refrigerator and are too big to fit into a sink to clean.
Not many people take time to check the temperature of their refrigerator. If it’s not cold enough, bacteria will survive and grow.
Some people don’t even know that they can unscrew the base of the blender pitcher and take it apart to wash the gasket and blades. When you consider how many of us are making smoothies, and all the sugar the fruits have, no wonder the bacteria are growing there.
Can openers can hide bacteria in the teeth, and rubber spatulas hide bacteria in the crack where the blade slides over the handle. Not enough of us use a brush to scrub the teeth of the can opener, or pull the blade off the handle to wash it.
So I can’t give you a firm answer to your question, but I congratulate you for discussing it. Now if we could just get more people to actually do the cleaning, we probably wouldn’t have as much food poisoning!
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.