Is our food safe enough?

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Working as a graduate student these past three years, I want to share something about my research and its  potential impact on our lives. I published this paper last year entitled “Differential heat stability of amphenicols characterized by structural degradation, mass spectrometry and antimicrobial activity” on the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis (American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists).

HEY! We are resistant to your antibiotics! (photo source)

As mothers, I understand we’re very concerned on the health of our family and loved ones. I’m sure you have wondered how safe the food we’ve been feeding our kids are. Are they safe enough and devoid of any harmful bacteria or perhaps with an equally bad antibiotic residues?

We all know that consuming unnecessary or too many antibiotics may disturb or kill the natural bacteria found in our guts. These natural flora by the way protect our guts from the colonization of pathogenic/opportunistic bacteria and their subsequent entry to our blood stream. On the other hand, too much use of antibiotics contributes to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  With antibiotic resistance plaguing our society these days, we don’t want to get sick and then suddenly the antibiotics that are supposed to kill these harmful organisms are no longer effective. To site some of these scary superbugs, you have probably heard about the infamous MRSA. I bet everybody heard about the fatal and resistant E. coli infection that recently created havoc in Germany/Europe too. Way too scary right?

In my study, three antibiotics used for animal treatment and which may cause antibiotic residues in food were heated and examined for its heat stability. Since we usually cook the meat before eating them, it is very important to know whether the antibiotics when heated lost its potency or not. If it’s degraded after cooking, well it’s good news since it would be safer for us, the consumers. But if it’s not, then it’s definitely a bad news. It means we are unknowingly consuming these antibiotic residues all along. In other words, we are hosting a breeding ground for antibiotic resistant bacteria to develop.

Various quantitative and qualitative methods were employed to evaluate the heat stability of  these drugs. They were boiled not only on water but also on salt water, soy sauce, chicken meat, and even on a borate buffer (where the data was later discarded) to check its heat stability in various matrices, which is more or less similar to the real cooking scenario.

Results showed that although amphenicols were basically degraded after heating, florfenicol (a cousin of chloramphenicol ~ used to treat typhoid fever, meningitis, typhus), an antibiotic used to treat poultry, swine and cattle diseases was still able to produce another related compound with potential pharmacological activities. Meaning, the heat-generated compound could still kill the test bacteria (S. aureus) even after heating, how potent is that.

These findings are very alarming for us because cooking of food generally made us think it renders the food safe enough to eat, but then we are wrong.  Some antibiotic residues in food may either persist even after cooking or may even produce another active compound after heating. How weird is that!

How to avoid such presence of antibiotic residues then? Prevention is the key. Animal raisers have a big responsibility to follow the antibiotic withdrawal periods of these antibiotics. Meaning, they should make sure that the drug is gone from the animal’s system before they sell its meat, eggs, milk and dairy products. Our government agencies (FDA, USDA) are also monitoring such presence or absence of antibiotic residues in food. However, we can’t always be so sure that every food being displayed in the market has been examined.  Again, prevention is the key. Purchase of antibiotic-free or organic food then is far better and safer for us.

Are you aware of the dangers of consuming too much antibiotics? How about antibiotic resistance then?

A Mom’s dilemma

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My decision of having my kids over to live with us oftentimes leaves me pondering, was this the right decision?

To wit, I and my husband went abroad not as tourists or employees but as graduate students. Understandably, we need all the time and efforts to finish as soon as possible. Moreover, we survive mainly on our respective scholarship stipends after quitting our respective jobs back home (though part-time jobs as research assistant help a little). So rationally speaking, we shouldn’t be bringing our kids over obviously because we couldn’t afford it. On the other hand, I couldn’t completely focus on my studies either. I couldn’t help thinking about my poor little kids being left behind. Sure their grandparents took good care of them, but don’t they deserve us?

Then again I thought about the perks of not having the kids over. Four years ago, coming to this country alone armed with the spirit of adventure brought me all the excitements and a taste of freedom. No kids, no husband, no domestic obligations – just being a plain normal student. Life was good. I was free to play around with my schedules – working at night till dawn with my experiments or having late night outs with friends without thinking of a child waiting for bedtime stories. However as time went by, I started longing for their company. When my experiments failed or were beating deadlines, I wished my husband was here to comfort me. When I felt depressed and thought of giving up, wished my kids were here to kiss and embrace all the anxieties away.  I never felt so alone amidst the bustling city and beer drinking friends. The laughter, the yelling, the tantrums my kids had thrown – I missed it all.

When my husband decided to join me a year later in pursuit of his own PhD studies, I felt so happy. Life was good. Somehow, years of living apart had strengthened our marriage. We enjoyed our second honeymoon lol. When I finished my masters studies and got accepted for a PhD program, then I realized that both of us will be missing 5 or more years of our kids’ lives. No way! Missing my younger daughter’s first steps and first words were sad and terrible enough. I don’t wanna miss anymore of their birthdays, Christmas seasons or their everyday growth! No way, enough is enough. Then, I made a big decision. I will bring my kids over no matter what. My husband and parents-in-law were very apprehensive of the idea. Debates were thrown but in the end I won (Yay!).

Truly God is good. He makes all things possible. Things worked out as planned. Our kids finally joined us here. We’re making up for the lost years we missed. Now I could enjoy all their kisses and embraces to my heart’s content. Now I can be their real mother. Life is never been better. Every day is a blessing. Together we will journey this life. Sure there will be hardships we meet along the way. But that’s what makes life more interesting and challenging. I learned to be grateful in little things that I took for granted for years. Indeed life is full of surprises and we live to enjoy them.

As for my dilemma on whether I made the right decision or not, well, let’s forget about it lol. Once again, I am resolved more than ever that I made the right decision.

I would not enjoy such a bliss had I chosen to leave my babies behind.

Working 10 hours a day

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New semester, new strategies, new Kate: more disciplined, more focused, and hopefully smarter.  

I would start fulfilling these new targets by doing a simple task – and that is to work at least 10 hours a day.

Question is: how in the world would I manage this?

My proposed schedule then:

6 – 7 AM – prepare breakfast; breakfast for me and my kids

7:15 – 7:30 – send Joey to school

7:30 – 8:15 – prepare me and Aron for school

8:20 – send Aron to school and me off to my college

8:30 – 4 PM – Laboratory/ school/ classes/ experiment (that’s 7.5 h)

4:15 – fetch kids from school

5 – 8:30 – prepare dinner, dinner, laundry, household chores, let kids study and do their homework, let Neil tutor kids their homework

9:30 – let kids sleep

8:30 – 11 – study for my own stuff (that’s 2.5 h)

11 PM – 6 AM – sleep (7 h)

Hmm, this schedule is not bad.  It’s quite interesting and way far challenging. Let’s see if my lazy ass can handle this. So working 10 hours a day is not after all impossible to achieve. As long as I would stick to my program, devote a little bit of hard work and practice a scary heap of discipline, I might accomplish my goals in no time… Aaahhh! Hopefully…

My daughter is a video game pro

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My daughter is supposed to study Chinese today through Rosetta Stone program. However, after waking up from my afternoon siesta, I found her ogling her face on the computer – not with some Mandarin but with some online video games instead. Looking at her, playing like some pro, hitting the keyboards at the right places, I now can see her future, and it spells D-O-O-M.

I know what she’s doing isn’t right, but I just can’t help myself from smiling, from admiring her ability of learning such game by herself. I am no fan of video games. Call me a slow learner but I found them too complicated, often boring and such a waste of time. Well, a waste of time, a conclusion from scary stories I heard from some nocturnal friends getting addicted by such, sleeping late or rather not sleeping at all, ending up like zombies on class, stoned, learning nothing, in other words, becoming “useless people who don’t deserve to breathe our free air” (peace! ha ha! ).

Okay, fair enough, I had my share of confession too. I got addicted too with plants vs zombies once. I felt like a zombie myself, can’t wait to wake up and kill some zombies first thing in the morning. I found them too adorable to resist. Discovering my vulnerability on wasting my “precious” time, I am now dodging away from video games. Well, ironically I often ended up equally wasting my time on social network sites. In fairness to video games, I can’t ignore the facts of its benefits too. As my husband used to insist, video or computer games are said to improve the players’ multi-tasking or hand-eye coordination skills, as well as their problem solving, motivation, cognitive and decision-making skills. Hmm sounds interesting.

Now going back to my daughter, crawling out of my bed, I hugged and kissed her. She’s just like her father, a cute smarty video game addict.  Then just in time, I saw her score printed on the screen, and I can’t believe what I saw, O points!  That’s right, zero points. Gosh, this is hilarious, judging from the way she raced out from her enemies’ reach, I thought she was some gaming pro. The gigantic silver screen on my head printed with some soothing words of “It’s alright, I have a video game addict but smart kid” was slowly shattered into pieces. My daughter after all is just a normal curious 9-year old little girl, far from being a video game addict. As to how she fared with her gaming skills, fair enough, she’s got my genes, a video game slow learner. Sour-graping it may sound, this is good, she should be better off concentrating her way on learning Mandarin or Mathematics, than with such well they said, brain-stimulating video games, but I call it, life-wasting games he he. Nevertheless, I can’t disagree, a video or computer game played in moderation may not be that bad.

Nah.. this isn't mine but my husband's conquest... (long time ago)

A kick from red hot chili pepper

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In all my 30 years of existence, I could never imagine I would ever love (not just like but l-o-v-e) to eat spicy food. All my life, I detest eating spicy food and could never understand why people would love to torture themselves. Eating is supposed to be fun, not to be suffering in any way. Few years ago, when our Thai friends would cook us for dinner, I could only taste a spoonful or two of any dish they made due to extreme spiciness. When eating out with Indian friends at an Indian restaurant, we would often request less-spicier Indian cuisines.

Looking back as a child, I remember my father can’t live without his small red hot chili peppers (Thai pepper) freshly picked from our garden as the highlight of any sauce he made. He would then challenge us to taste his masterpiece in which we (including my mother) would strongly decline. Fast forward to the future, I married this guy who would do the same thing to me and my kids. Tsk! Such fate I had to endure! My husband would then enjoy showing off his annoying skill of eating and disgustingly chewing down of this scary red hot chili that was garnished on his food. This would often leave me wondering how on earth I married a lunatic guy.

One afternoon while doing grocery, my husband saw this scarlet-labeled glass jar containing freshly diced red hot chili peppers garnished with garlic and olive oil (made in Taiwan). He can’t resist buying it insisting it was “fresh”. With a roasted chicken for dinner, he challenged me to try the newly-bought chili to spice up the dish, instead of the usual “boring” soy sauce with lime/kalamansi. Accepting his challenge, I took only its sauce and put it on top of my food, and whoa, I felt my lips were on fire and my mouth got numbed that can’t be soothed by a glass of water nor of orange juice. I was then so vindicated that I would always hate spicy food.

My husband was so amused of my agony. He pointed out that the sauce was even spicier than the peppers itself and again challenged me to take the chili instead of the sauce. Seeing him eating the chili himself eased out my fears. So I took the challenge and indeed, the food taste deliciously different. I loved the bite and the kick it gave me. Since then I got addicted.

For an added zing, I just learned that spicy foods contain chemical compounds that kick the metabolism into high gear. Research showed that spicy foods help burn fat because they temporarily increase our metabolic rate. According to some weight loss resources, some spices can raise our metabolic rate by as much as 50% for up to three hours after consumption. They raise our body temperature (which we will notice when eating spicy foods) which in turn raises our heart rate. Spices are also believed to have thermogenic properties which mean they stimulate our body’s fat burning process. Indeed cayenne, a red hot chili pepper, is found in many weight loss pills because it stimulates fat burning. Overall, eating spicy foods can increase the amount of fat and calories we burn temporarily. Yey bravo! Isn’t this scrumptiously good news!

For two months now, I’ve been eating red hot chili pepper-spiced diet. All my life I can’t even imagine I would ever love to munch these fiery hot chili peppers. I could never agree more with my spice-loving husband that a spice-free food is just plain boring. Now I understand why my Thai or Indian friends can’t live without their mouth-wateringly hot spices-loaded dishes.

the culprit: Hot Chili Pepper

Nightmares at work

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Summer vacation is here, no more schools till 6pm for my kids thus both of them (9 & 5 yrs old) are staying at home. Unfortunately for me, I have no one else to leave them with when I will be working in my lab. My husband is “busy” (or pretending to be?) working in his lab, thus can’t be disturbed. So I have no choice but to bring my kids over at work with me .

The first time was a disaster. I had no problem with my eldest daughter though, I just gave her a laptop and a headphone and there she was playing games quietly with Dora or Spongebob. But the younger daughter easily got bored with games and movies. She wanted to play actively, like running or crawling or jumping all around. Before bringing them at work, my daughters fully agreed and promised me to behave well. But lo, after observing them in the lab for a while, I then realized the 5-yr old can’t keep any promises (huhuhu). So to keep a good eye on her and to keep her from breaking any glasswares or from tasting toxic chemicals, I brought her with me wherever I was working, may it be in the office, or in the lab, or in the next door lab.

While I was busy mixing some chemical buffers, there she was, still sitting on her assigned high chair but was busy tapping the ELISA reader machine as if it was some computer keyboard.  I asked her to stop and moved her chair away from any reachable fragile stuff. But when I got busy again, I heard the same tapping noise just in time when my professor came in the room and caught her in the act. I was so mortified and moved her away from the machine while mumbling sorry.

our lab

While I got busy preparing antibiotic samples for CE analysis, I told my little girl to sit still in her chair in the middle of the room, which she reluctantly did. However, the moment I got engrossed with my work, she was gone. I found her sitting in the office with her sister complaining that she’s tired and sleepy.  My labmate was kind enough to give her a pillow and blanket to sleep with on top of the desk. But alas, this just gave her an idea for her next stunt. She went up in the desk then jumped down onto the floor like some powerpuff girl.  I came in with my professor just in time she was enacting her second stunt. I was so embarrassed and annoyed. I was so tempted to blurt out I don’t know this kid and how the hell she got in here (haha!).

our chemical-filled laboratory

To further restrain her, I brought her with me in the Capillary Electrophoresis room, gave her a pen and paper to get busy with and to practice her writing skills. While I got busy keying in methods for analysis, she also got busy writing all over the pearly white desks in that lab, not with a pencil but with a purple marking pen that she somehow smuggled from some corner of the room. Now I am on the verge of crying. My husband came in to my rescue but not until 6:00 pm, and gladly brought them home with him while I got busy cleaning up the mess my daughter left behind. Thank goodness we have good bleach in the lab to wipe out all her vandalisms and sense of art.

the CE room

For two weeks they stayed with me in the lab and for that two weeks, my cute 5-year old little rascal never failed to push the button, exhausting me every minute, and pushing me to the edge of my sanity. She never took her promises seriously nor my pleads nor my threats. She always slipped quietly from her chair and out of my sight. We brought their toys over to play with but she always got bored easily. We brought all sorts of snacks to keep her busy but she’s not that interested. She preferred running around with paper towels and pretending to be some winged cartoon character in the midst of my chemical-filled laboratory. One time, I bargained with my husband to take the little girl with him in his lab so I could concentrate on my work.  Oh, that was the best day ever for me. Indeed, my little girl was well-behaved with her father around. But while he was in the middle of bacterial isolation experiment, she blurted out that she needed to pee and few seconds later, she urinated on the floor, much to his embarrassment. Ahhh, those two weeks at work were a nightmare. Thank God it’s over.

My professor asked me if I wanted to work full-time in his lab this summer, as tempting as the salary can be, but at the cost of my sanity and my daughters’ well-being, I declined the offer.  I preferred to stay at home and be a mom for once, to enjoy the vacation with my kids, and to simply play in the park or bring them somewhere else special and fun.

in our lab office

my kids: passing by the library