Category Archives: Food Additives

UK Fear: Brexit Could ‘Force’ Chlorinated Chicken Imports From US

chicken-chlorinated

TheConversation.com

“If and when Brexit happens, the UK may well be obliged to accept chlorinated poultry as part of any separate trade deal with the US. Agricultural exports are a priority for US negotiators – it would be difficult to make an exception for chicken.”

That quote, from a June 3 article in The Guardian, expresses a fear in more than a minority of UK citizens, including the  increasing number favoring generally recognized as safe-type (GRAS) rules being applied in the preparation of material – foodstuffs – intended for human consumption. And beyond that, there is, there as in the US, an increasing move amongst consumers for chickens and chicken products from birds raised in ways closer to what nature intended – without additives in their food, being given adequate room to move and ‘act like a chicken’, to be treated, ethically, like something more than an entity to transform grain into meat. (The same issues arise when cattle-raising is discussed – as they should be.)

Consumers might wonder, given enough information to do so, how the chemical chlorine – generally thought of as a substance for sanitizing swimming pools – could possible have anything to do with the raising or processing of chickens. And why, come to that, it’s use would be acceptable under the GRAS standards.

GRAS defines, in  Food and Drug Administration (FDA) parlance, “any substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excepted from the definition of a food additive.”

The Guardian article focuses on a practice, the washing of chicken with a fluid containing chlorine, that has been banned in the European Union for 22 years. While the practice is being used less and less in the US, it is still legal here.

The National Chicken Council in the United States estimates that chlorine is used in some rinses and sprays in only about 10% of processing plants in the U.S. Most of the chlorine that is used in the industry is used for cleaning and sanitizing processing equipment. However, according to the web site ChickenCheckin.com, “numerous studies and scientific research have confirmed that the use of chlorinated water to chill and clean chicken is safe and effective. Chlorine-washed chicken does not pose any human health concerns and it is not present in the final product.”

Industry practice would suggest it’s perfectly OK for laying chickens – egg producers – to spend the bulk of their lives standing in their own waste. That like most other commonalities of chicken and egg producing is little-known to and less thought-about by American consumers.

It’s worth considering that, while the US has elaborate, well-thought-out, generally ‘reasonable’ rules for how food is procured, processed, transported and stored at the point of sale, the US’s rules aren’t necessarily the ‘best,’ or acceptable to governments – and ultimately the citizens – of other countries.

A decreasing number of American families regularly consume chickens that are home-raised, fed on table scraps, never subject to government inspection, and are tasty as all get out. I often experienced chickens raised that way when I was a kid. Like today’s home-raised chickens, none of them ever got me sick – aside from the occasional belly ache from eating too much.

As recently as a few years ago, I occasionally (very much) enjoyed chickens that were field raised in very small quantities on farms I visited in Southern Virginia. Their taste, and waste/fat-to-meat makeup was ounces-per-pound above store-bought chickens.

One of those farms was Amish-run. It may still be raising and selling its own chickens, but I’ve moved from that area, and on several recent trips through there the ‘dressed chickens’ sign was missing.

Another chicken-raising operation was run by two partners, one of whom had a small farm. The other guy obtained the chicks, and they split the cost of raising them, as well as the modest profits from selling them – straight to customers, via the non-farmer’s home in a nearby city.

Sadly, they found that food (grain) cost too high to justify the small farmer’s investment in time and effort to bring the chicks to a meaty-enough-for-market state.

All their customers were private, bird-or-two at a time ones, and I’m sure others, like me, were sad to see them have to give up on growing the kind of birds that used to be commonplace: Birds that were, to the degree chickens can be, ‘happy as a hen’.

I still had that taste of ‘old fashioned’ chicken in mind when, during half a decade living in England, I was regularly disappointed with the birds one or another supermarket – or local butcher – offered. One reason was the still-common use of fish meal to feed them. Over time, of course, my taste buds ‘settled’ on the taste of local chicken.

But I seriously noticed a taste difference when I returned to the US, in 1976, and resumed eating birds grown in this country. I doubt, but have no idea, if they were chlorine-washed then. Probably not; But over the years – into and through the chlorinated chicken era – the flavor of supermarket birds here has slide down the taste scale. More’s the pity.

Advertisements

What’s In A Name? Trouble, Where “Fructose” Is Concerned

fructose_artThe following information is not confirmed, as of June 5, 2017, on an FDA website. The information below was provided by a company that offers nutritional supplements. Take the advice with a grain of salt – but no more than that, because excess salt is as serious a problem as is too much sugar!

I’m just writing to tip you off that the FDA is currently allowing food manufacturers to rename high-fructose corn syrup on ingredient labels.
And the big food companies are THRILLED about this. After all, this toxic ingredient has taken a beating in the press lately for being so unhealthy.
In fact, it got to the point where having high-fructose corn syrup” on ingredient lists was hurting sales.
That’s why the powerful food industry pushed for a new name… and as usual, they got their way.
The new name is simply “fructose” or “fructose syrup.”
Now, if you’ve read my blog on sugar, you already know fructose is one of the most dangerous things for your body. It skyrockets your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease.
And yet… food manufacturers put it in nearly everything. After all, it’s sweet and addictive — and it makes you eat more of their food.
Most people don’t know this, though. They know high-fructose corn syrup is bad. And some even know sugar is bad, too. But they don’t know it’s all because of the fructose.
And this name change is tricking many people into thinking dangerous, body-damaging food is okay.
That’s why I want you to be on the lookout for your enemy’s new name on ingredient labels:
The new name for high-fructose corn syrup is simply “fructose” or “fructose syrup.”
Make sure to spread the word to your friends and family, too.

Yes, do that. And for your own good, become a serious label reader, particularly if you are diabetic or, like me, a chronic kidney disease (CKD) sufferer. If you are dietarily sensitive to salt, potassium or something else, get religious about controlling your intake. It’s not hard to do, if you’re careful.

 

Whole Foods Bans False “Healthy” Claims Based on Presence of a Probiotic

whole-foods-image

Whole Foods has told a number of its product producers to ‘cut it out’ – to quit advertising and promoting assorted junk foods as healthy simply because their makers have built a probiotic of one kind or another into them.

This is a brilliant more.

Too many producers are trying to climb on the “we’re healthy” band wagon – failing to realize the public is getting too smart for such ruses.

Adding a probiotic to something doesn’t, in and of itself, make the product “healthier”.

Probiotics are supposed to help clean “bad stuff” out of your colon and, in the process, have a positive impact on your health. But when an item otherwise falls into the “junk food” category – loaded with”added sugar” and extra calories – a probiotic is not, in the short or long term, going to defeat that.

First of all, probiotics are said to work over a long period of time, when consistently taken daily. The excess sugar and other unhealthy ingredients in health foods act on your system with hours, or days, at worst. Even if you ate the sweet thing, or whatever it is, daily, the probiotic’s effects would be overcome by the negative effects of the negative stuff.

A significant share of the public realizes that. Those who don’t, well, they can’t see that those producers are effectively lying to them.

And that’s wrong.

Ingredient-watching is a worthwhile activity. Practice it.

Consumers Want ‘Clean’ Food Labels; Now Professionals’ Tool Helps Them Define What Is, Isn’t, ‘Clean’

 

Every so often (every fifteen minutes or so, it sometimes seems!), a new food-related ‘buzz word’ catches the ear of consumers – sometimes almost at the same time it attracts the attention of food industry professionals. Not long ago, the ‘new’ word, or phrase, was ‘clean labels‘ – meaning, among other things, labels free of multi-syllable, unpronounceable words naming ingredients no one without a science degree can understand.

Consumers want ‘clean’ labels – and the products behind them to be healthier, less likely to initiate or compound health issues, than too many existing products are, or appear to be.

Complex additives are put into food products for an assortment of reasons, including flavor enhancement (salt and other spices being good examples), an ability to hold various ingredients in a liquid, semi-liquid or solid formula (emulsifiers and stabilizers), and shelf life-extending (salt again, as well as other things). Some of these reasons have seemed to make sense to product producers, but increasingly, they make less if any sense to consumers. That, and the fact that consumers are increasingly demanding healthier, ‘greener’ foods, are leading causes of the clean label movement.

The tool at https://gocleanlabel.com/about/ was created by a professional for professionals, but consumers, too, can use it to learn more about the clean label movement and, more specifically, to answer questions they have about specific ingredients. Questions such as ‘what is this’ and ‘what is it meant to do’. You also can use it to identify still-being-used materials that are, or aren’t, ‘clean’.

Both food processors and retailers are making strong steps to ensure fewer potentially harmful (or simply unnecessary) chemicals are added to foodstuffs. Undoubtedly, there are people who feel the industry isn’t moving fast enough – people who would, in effect, throw the baby out with the bathwater: Good chems out with not-so-good (or absolutely bad!) ones.

Ultimately, members of the consuming public need to take a greater interest in educating themselves about food additives, and learn how to make reasoned decisions about what they’re OK with putting in their bodies, and what they’re not.

I am working on a feature (for fooddive.com) about the new nutrition label that has been developed by the FDA. It is tentatively scheduled to become mandatory on a majority of food products (all except those produced in relatively small volumes) in 2018. But there’s already some push-back from at least one organization, and you can expect more push-back as a result of what we can only imagine will be dramatic, drastic changes of direction by the incoming presidential administration.

The thrust of my piece concerns the fact that changes to the nutrition label, while very much a separate issue from the overall additives one, reflect the fact that both industry, which had a hand in shaping the proposed label, and government are struggling – and that is not too strong a word – to deal with increasing scientific knowledge about foods and with changing consumer expectations.

As a courtesy to the readers of this blog, I will post a short note when my fooddive.com feature on that topic is published. (FYI, I write regularly on ingredients for fooddive.com. And as I’ve done for most of the past 40 years, I also regularly scan food trade publications – and now, web sites, too – around the world for both industry trends and consumer attitude shifts for this blog, which originated in the mid 1970’s as a column for trade publications in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.)

(By the way, between them, this blog and my other one, YouSayWHAT.info, have been read in no fewer than 80 countries in the last year!)

Seaweed-based stabilizer/emulsifier Banned for Organic Foods in U.S.

carrageenan2-1

It’s called carrageenan, and if you closely read content labels, you’ll notice it’s in a lot of things – as a thickener, an emulsifier (to help hold other ingredients in the appropriate mix), and as a stabilizer. It’s also said to increase shelf life – a feature of questionable value, given that food processors often are best-guessing the long-term viability of their products when they put ‘best by’ or ‘use by’ dates on them.

(I still have a too-large bottle of dry curry that is in the neighborhood of 20 [or more!] years old. While it no doubt is not as potent as it once was, it’s still a viable product in my kitchen – able to contribute both flavor and heat to dishes without resulting in, as an un-viable spice might, stomach distress or worse.)

The U.S.D.A.’s National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) ruled last week that, as of 2018, carrageenan will no longer be allowed in products labeled as ‘organic’.

Does that mean carrageenan is ‘dangerous’, or that it potentially poses some kind of threat to consumers? Not necessarily. For all intents and purposes, that ruling simply acknowledges that, because it is exposed, during processing, to chemicals that fall outside the definition of ‘organic’. Carrageenan will continue to be used as a product-building aid in processed foods not, as no ‘processed food’ could be, described as ‘organic’.

Carrageenan is derived from a type of seaweed harvested primarily in the Philippines, Indonesia and East Africa. During commercial processing, it is exposed to assorted chemicals so it ends up as a fine powder, in no way resembling seaweed one might encounter ‘in the wild’.

CivilEats.com has a highly informative article on carrageenan here.

I can’t help but wonder what what kind of ‘organic’ product would need a stabilizer or an emulsifier. So I also can’t help but wonder why the U.S.D.A.’s National Organics Standards Board agonized – as they apparently did, not over just months, but years – as to whether carrageenan should in any way be associated with something said to be ‘organic’.

I don’t, as my wife would say, git it.

Organics now represent in the neighborhood of 11% of all produce sold (at retail) in the U.S. And organics’ share-of-market is growing – just as, hardly coincidentally, processed foods sales are slipping down an icy slope. The reason is simple: Not just Millennials, but older generations, too, are fed up with ingredients labels full of ‘stuff’ they can’t even pronounce and have no clue what it is or why it’s there. A sizable number of them have taken stands against the likes of Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Blue No. 1 – synthetic colorings used to make food look better. They have, so far as we know, no effect on taste, but opposers of them contend they might affect us in some other, nefarious way.

(A quick aside: Why, pray tell, do forty or more shades of red exist, as food colorings? Or five or more shades of yellow? And not one of them a pastel!)

It is truly frightening to think of the tens of bunches of money being wasted on [1] developing all those odd colors and their counterparts in other food ingredients and [2] investigating and regulating same. Part of the problem is, of course, we have more people than viable jobs.

When I lived in England, from 1971-76, in the first of the offices I worked (for a year), every so often – I think it was weekly, but perhaps it was bi-weekly – an employee of a contractor came in and wiped down all the telephone handsets, probably aided by something less potent than the sprays restaurant servers use on tables between guests. On the first such visit I witnessed, I was astonished, and I was astonished again every time I saw this ritual repeated. It seemed perfectly pointless, and a waste of my employer’s money, to engage someone to provide this ‘service’.

Yet here we are in 2016, when a significant majority of U.S. supermarkets have a sanitary lotion dispenser available just inside the door – so no one should have to (heaven forbid!) touch a cart handle they haven’t subjected to a sanitary wipe-down after wiping down their own hands! (What have the most obsessed of those shoppers been doing/touching before entering their local food dispenser’s shop?)

It’s partly because some shoppers/consumers do think that way that the NOSB has banned carrageenan from ‘organics’. That seaweed—sourced ingredient probably poses no harm to humans, but better safe than sorry, right?

Litigation lawyers would, of course, disagree.

Parents Get Baked Junk Food Banned From Schools

montgomergy-county-schools

A parents group in the Montgomery County, Maryland school district has been struggling, cajoling, begging and fighting hard to improve the quality of food served – and made available, ala carte – to students in their area’s schools.

They recently had a noteworthy success, first reported on their own Real Food For Kids – Montgomery (RFKM) web site then, for good measure, on the wonderful web site called The Lunch Tray.

The latter, a creation of Bettina Elias Siegel, does nationally what the RFKM folks do a mere few miles from the headquarters the federal agency – the U.S. Department of Agriculture – that could be doing more than it already is to boost the quality of what kids are given to eat in schools.

The RFKM folks have managed to convince their school district to eliminate Baked Doritos and Baked Cheetos from the list of foods kids can choose from an ala carte menu. Their argument was, simply, that these products, as TheLunchBox.com put it, “are so-called “copycat snacks” –  i.e., junk foods tweaked to meet the USDA’s new Smart Snacks nutritional standards but which otherwise look just like their less-healthy supermarket counterparts.

“Specifically, in this case, Cheetos and Doritos sold at school (in cafeterias and for fundraising) are baked instead of fried, [and] have a reduced fat content and are considered ‘whole-grain rich’.”

The LunchBox.com article continued:

RFKM particularly objected to these snacks because they contain certain artificial food dyes and other additives which the group has deemed problematic. According to a quote in RFKM’s newsletter, the head of the district’s nutrition services department agrees, saying “Cheetos and Doritos were products that we elected to remove for sale because the ingredient label had such a plethora of additives and preservatives. We are continuously seeking to purchase food and beverages with cleaner labels.”

This is a nice victory for RFKM parents, but the group’s experience is also instructive for all parents seeking to make change in their district’s school food program.

According to the RFKM newsletter, the group first requested that the district ditch various food additives three years ago. It then doggedly kept on top of the issue in an organized fashion, refusing to give up even after various set-backs. Here’s the group’s own account:

RFKM first brought the issue of food additives to the attention of MCPS in 2013. In response to a parent petition and testimonies before the Board of Education in June of 2014, MCPS developed a policy prohibiting from future bids for school food many of the chemicals that RFKM had requested be removed (including MSG, trans fat, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Aspartame, Acesulfame-Potassium, Saccharin, Butylated Hydroxyanisol (BHA), Potassium Bromate, Propyl Gallate, Sodium Tripoly Phoshate, and TBHQ). However, right before that policy was put into effect, a 3-year contract for a la carte foods, many of which contain these additives, was signed by MCPS. Last March, RFKM helped pass a resolution through the Montgomery County Council of PTAs asking, among other things, that MCPS not serve foods with artificial food dyes.

In the meantime, at many individual schools, parent representatives of RFKM had stepped forward to ask for healthier a la carte options. As a consequence, some schools, such as Somerset Elementary School . . . had already replaced Cheetos and Doritos with 51% whole grain pita chips, SmartFood Popcorn and Tostitos, all clean label products with whole grains. However, almost all MPCS middle and high schools, and many elementary schools continued to sell these chips until this year. While Doritos and Cheetos may not have disappeared completely (there are reports that they are still available in vending machines), we are thankful to MPCS for making them less accessible to students by removing them from a la carte options. And we look forward to the time when no MCPS foods will contain artificial colors and other harmful ingredients.

The upshot, TheLunchbox.com reported:

Reforming school food from the grassroots level is not always easy. It often takes considerable persistence, time, effort and some highly dedicated individuals to coordinate the campaign. And, as my recent, dispiriting experience in Houston ISD well illustrated, even after requested reforms are implemented, parents may still need to act as watch dogs to make sure their district doesn’t backslide on its promises.

Kudos to RFKM for its continued progress. You can read more about the group’s history and mission here.”

This is a mission that should be taken up elsewhere – in a lot of ‘elsewheres’ . . . school districts across the U.S. (and elsewhere in the world).

Indian School Kids’ Milk Is Awash with Water

droplets-of-milk-mixed-in-water-in-ups-midday-meal-milk-scheme

Indian school kinds awaiting midday meal — and watery milk.

A surprise, sunrise inspection of a food preparation facility servicing 11,000 school children in India’s Uttar Pradesh province found 292 liters (308.5 quarts) of water in just 192 liters (202.8 quarts) of milk.

Radha Krishan Tivari, assistant director in the basic education department who held the surprise inspection, told The Times of India that schoolchildren were drinking milk that was more than 150 per cent water.

“We were simply stunned,” he told the paper last Thursday. “The visit to the kitchen of Nav Prayas, an NGO [non-government organization] we hired to supply milk and midday meals, left one dismayed.” He said the NGO supplies food to 131 schools, including 107 primary and 27 higher primary government schools.

He said that one student, speaking anonymously, said that many kids are unable to eat the food “as the quality is so bad.”

A report on the surprise inspection will be forwarded up the government chain, and the NGO will not be receiving payments for at least two recent months.