Category Archives: Food Safety

Government to Study GMOs; Scientists Have Favorably Done So For Generations!

 

gmo-label

Not everyone is familiar with the term GMO – Genetically Modified Food. Even fewer have more than a vague idea what the term means. The FDA – the US Food and Drug Administration – wants to see that changed, and has budgeted $3 million to “fund a campaign to promote genetically modified organisms in food” and “tout ‘the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts’ of biotech crops and their derivative food products,” The Washington Post reported recently.

The paper noted that a few weeks ago, “more than 50 agriculture and food industry groups” recently signed a letter “urging the funding to counter ‘a tremendous amount of misinformation and agricultural biotechnology in the public domain’.”

The paper added, “Some environmental groups and House Democrats have derided the provision as a government-sponsored public relations tool for the GMO industry,” and that “an attempt by Democrats to redirect the project’s funding to pediatric medical projects was unanimously voted down by Republicans.”

All this is, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “much ado about (practically) nothing.” The agricultural community has been genetically modifying seeds, and the composition of assorted plants, for generations – as long as such procedures as grafting have been known. Anyone who studied high school-level science should know that.

True, the sophistication of modifications has advanced in recent years as favorable qualities are bred in and not-so-nice ones are bred out. But opponents of GMO foods would have you believe that more harm than good has been done along the way. ‘T’ain’t true.

We benefit in a wide range of ways from genetic modification of our foodstuffs – far more than we truly benefit from some of “advances” in the art of food processing. (There is, more than likely, no legitimate nutritional value in extruded foods, yet they exist in abundance in our food stores.)

The GMO argument has become a political battleground – and that’s a shame. Because when politicians start throwing “facts” around. Keep in mind that Mark Twain said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics” – and it’s the latter, which can be misleading based on the sources you use, and don’t use, that politicians most love to employ in favor of their favorite arguments.

Think about the wonders of how genetically modifying foods benefits you when you next look at an apple display in your favorite food store (or another one!). All those varieties didn’t just come to be: Most of them were created, via genetic modification of one sort or another.

Bay Area Restaurants Can ‘Buy’ A Retest on a Failed Inspection

 

 

generic-restaurant-art

Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area are being given an opportunity, if they fail a health inspection, to buy a second chance to pass. The $191 fee doesn’t assure they’ll pass; it simply gives them the ability to fix their deficiencies and get re-tested.

A report in Restaurant Business said local health inspectors believe the program, which allows a re-inspect within 30 days of a failed inspection, will encourage operators to fix problems quickly, and encourage a dialog that will help them alter standard operating procedures at least partly responsible for the failing grade.

‘Bad Eggs’ Caught Smuggling West Bank Hen Fruit into Israel

eggs-bulk

(photo credit: Nati Shochat/Flash 90)

A 21-year-old Palestinian was caught earlier this month trying to smuggle some 9,000 uninspected, potentially dangerous eggs into Jerusalem from the West Bank. The Times of Israel reported, quoting Hebrew news sources, that the eggs were confiscated and destroyed by Israel’s Ministry of Health.

The eggs were said to be on their way to be sold in various Israeli retail outlets.

The Times reported last July that charges were “laid against a ring of [14] bad eggs accused of selling, well, bad eggs to the public and passing them off as certified.” Thirteen Israelis and one Palestinian were said to be involved in that ring, which was charged with illegally importing more than 10 million eggs into Israel.

It’s more than likely that, at some point during their court appearance, the Israeli smugglers were told, “That wasn’t kosher.”

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.

Alleging Sexual Harassment, McD Workers Say They Are NOT Lovin’ It

mcdonalds_sign

McDonald’s workers across the country have filed a series of federal complaints against the fast food giant, alleging an array of sexual harassment on the job.

Fifteen complaints, filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at both corporate and franchise stores over the last month, claim workers alerted general managers and corporate staff after experiencing sexual harassment on the job, but their complaints went unnoticed or, in some cases, were met with retaliation.

According to the complaints, the harassment ranged from groping to lewd comments to offers of cash in exchange for sexual favors, often by managers.

“As the country’s second-largest employer, McDonald’s has a responsibility to set standards in both the fast-food industry and the economy overall,” Kendall Fells, organizing director of the Fight for $15, said in a statement. “Cooks and cashiers are going to keep on joining together, speaking out and taking every step possible to make sure McDonald’s follows its own policies and gets sexual harassment off of the menu.

A McDonald’s spokesperson said the fast food chain is reviewing the allegations and takes the concerns “seriously.”

“At McDonald’s, we and our independent owner-operators share a deep commitment to the respectful treatment of everyone,” spokesperson Terri Hickey said in a statement. “There is no place for harassment and discrimination of any kind in McDonald’s restaurants or in any workplace.”

Workers said in a video posted Wednesday that they have planned a wave of lunchtime rush hour protests last Thursday at restaurants in three dozen cities.

In addition to demanding the company enforce its zero-tolerance police against sexual harassment, they plan to carry signs reading “McDonald’s, I’m Not on the Menu” and “McDonald’s, Put Some Respect in My Check.”

 

Kent State U. in Ohio Has First-In-U.S. Gluten-Free Dining Hall

prentice-cafe-kent-state

Chefs cook up omelets with bacon and other sides at Kent State University’s Prentice Cafe, the only entirely gluten-free campus dining hall in America, according to the school. Courtesy of Kent State University.

As you’d expect, Kent State University in Ohio is hailing the country’s gluten-free dining hall as “a benefit” – even though as this blog pointed out a couple of days, that, for people who don’t have and are at little risk of celiac disease, is far from true: Gluten-free diets, we noted, quoting experts, can short-change followers of vital vitamins and minerals, thus making such diets more a risk than a benefit.

Kent State says that while many colleges offer gluten-free stations within dining halls, its Prentice Cafe is the first certified all-gluten-free campus dining facility in America. That means, the school says, that there is no risk during food preparation of cross-contamination that could allow traces of gluten into a meal. Even traces of gluten, they say, “can severely impact sufferers of celiac disease” — an autoimmune disorder where the body cannot process the wheat protein.

School officials say a rise in students who can’t — or choose not to — eat gluten prompted them to designate a dining hall specifically for them.

“For the last several years, the increase in food intolerances and celiac disease and those who have even minor gluten intolerances kept increasing,” Kent State Director of Dining Services Richard Roldan told NBC News. “A lot of parents kept coming in and stressing about the well-being of their students and having options that wouldn’t make them sick.”

Gluten, a protein, is found in wheat, rye and barley. About 3 million Americans suffer celiac, a genetic autoimmune disease which leads to damage to the lining of the small intestine, Symptoms include pain, fatigue and diarrhea when foods with gluten, such as bread or pasta, are consumed. A small number of people have an allergy to wheat, which has similar symptoms.

Millions of others avoid gluten for perceived health reasons, although nutritionists question whether going gluten-free actually has benefits. Many gluten-free foods use rice as a substitute and may lack key nutrients found in whole grains. Also, gluten-free products tend to have more fat and sugar than foods with gluten, which can lead to weight gain.

Either way, sales of gluten-free products have surged in recent years as the number of people foregoing it in the U.S. tripled between 2009 and 2014, according to a new study out this week.

But despite the spike in popularity, there’s been no effect on the prevalence of celiac disease. Diagnoses appear to have remained stable in recent years, according to the article published by JAMA Internal Medicine last Tuesday.

One clear benefit in recent years of the gluten-free movement, according to the Kent State dining officials: gluten-free products taste a lot better — and a lot closer to their gluten counterparts than they used to.

“The manager and chef at [Prentice Cafe] have done a lot of sampling of different products out there to find the ones that really taste the best, so students who don’t need to eat gluten-free come in and are enjoying it too,” dining services dietitian Megan Brzuski told NBC News.

Erin Mazzotta, 19, just started her freshman year at Kent State. She was diagnosed with celiac in third grade and knew Prentice had food options for her when she was applying, but didn’t know it was going to be entirely gluten-free as of this year.

The Pittsburgh native was thrilled when she found out, especially after her experiences going out to eat growing up.

“A lot of restaurants do offer gluten-free menus, but it’s a little bit of a risk. You have to trust them when they’re cooking your food and handling it,” she said.

Kent State earned certification from the Gluten-Free Food Services Certification Program, a food safety program offered through the Gluten Intolerance Group, for Prentice Cafe. Traditional gluten products are easily subbed out for things like tortillas made from corn for burritos, and gluten-free hamburger buns that have good taste and texture, Roldan said.

The food at Prentice Café is “really good,” Mazzotta said.

“With gluten-free foods, sometimes you can tell it’s a little bit off, but all the different meals there have been spot-on,” she said, adding that her friends who aren’t gluten-free join her for meals there.

For students who don’t require a gluten-free diet, Prentice Cafe can still meet all their nutritional needs, Brzuski said.

“The cafe still has a wide variety of options,” she said. “There’s still a salad bar with plenty of lean protein, plenty of other options. Eating gluten-free is just a benefit.”

Or not!