Category Archives: Food Safety

‘Customer Complaints? Here’s How To Deal With Them’: Advice From USDA

complaints

The following is a press release from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2019 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued today a best practices guideline to help the meat and poultry industry respond to customer complaints that are determined to be associated with adulterated or misbranded meat and poultry products.

“FSIS has placed renewed emphasis on industry responding to customer complaints of foreign materials in meat and poultry and, as required, reporting those incidents to the agency within 24 hours once the determination has been made that the product is adulterated,” said FSIS Administrator Carmen Rottenberg. “We will continue to work with industry and offer guidance to assist them in complying with agency regulations.”

Update of 2012 Regulation

In 2012, FSIS announced a regulation requiring all establishments to report to the agency within 24 hours when they have shipped or received an adulterated product and that product is in commerce. While this requirement has been in effect for several years, recalls associated with foreign materials in product increased in recent years. FSIS intensified efforts and made presentations in 2018 to industry explaining that product containing foreign materials is adulterated even when a physical food safety hazard is not present. Additionally, the agency hosted two industry meetings to discuss an industry-drafted document of best practices for responding to foreign material customer complaints, which was published in August 2018.

FSIS began working on the guideline announced today in mid-2018 to provide reference material on best practices and recommendations on how to receive, investigate and process customer complaints.   While FSIS specifically developed this document to address foreign material customer complaints, establishments can apply the information to other customer complaints of adulterated or misbranded products in commerce. When an establishment needs to recall adulterated product from commerce, the establishment must identify the cause of the product adulteration and take steps to prevent recurrence in its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan, which federal inspectors review.

Agency’s Current Position

The guideline reflects the agency’s current position, and FSIS encourages the industry to begin using it now.  FSIS welcomes public comments on the guideline. The agency will accept comments for 60 days and will then update the document in response to suggestions, if necessary. Comments may be submitted via the federal eRulemaking portal at: http://www.regulations.gov; by mail including CD-ROMs sent to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Avenue S.W., Mailstop 3758, Room 6065, Washington, D.C., 20250-3700 or by hand-or courier-delivery to 1400 Independence Avenue S.W., Room 6065, Washington, D.C., 20250-3700. All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the agency name and docket number FSIS-2018-0034

A downloadable version of the draft guideline is available to view and print at: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/compliance-guides-index/retail-guidance.

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Eggciting News: Eggs Aren’t As Unhealthy As Formerly Reported

eggs

Eggs from Lohmann Brown chickens are sorted inside a barn at Meadow Haven Farm, a certified organic family run farm, in Sheffield, Ill., in August 2015. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

Americans love their eggs — more than… well, not ever, but more than since 1973, anyway.

Egg consumption has been trending upward over the past several years, since the government reversed course and said that, contrary to earlier advice, while eggs are relatively high in cholesterol, eating them won’t necessarily put you at risk of having high cholesterol.

Yes, an explanation is in order:

Live Science cited a report by Ying Rong of Huazhong University of Science and Technology and her colleagues published in the British Journal of Medicine, which reviewed 17 different egg studies. They concluded, “Higher consumption of eggs (up to one egg per day) is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.’ They cautioned, though, that, ”The increased risk of coronary heart disease among diabetic patients and reduced risk of hemorrhagic stroke associated with higher egg consumption in subgroup analyses warrant further studies.”

The Chinese study is in line with the latest US government thinking, news of which has boosted egg-eating to almost 280 per year.

The last time consumption was this high, The Washington Post reported on February 28, was in 1973.

“This idea that eggs are healthy is really what’s driving this increase in consumption,” Jesse Laflamme, the chief executive of Pete and Gerry’s Organics, a free-range egg producer, told The Post. Laflamme pointed to other factors that have moved consumers to eat more eggs: their low cost compared with meat, the unprocessed nature of organic, free-range eggs, and the feeling of fullness that eating eggs can create.

The greater danger, US nutrition experts now contend, “lies not in products such as eggs, shrimp or lobster, which are high in cholesterol, but in too many servings of foods heavy with saturated fats, such as fatty meats, whole milk, and butter,” The Post reported.

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Credit: Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

The Life Science report cited above, was authored by Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D.,  a registered dietitian and a frequent national commentator on nutrition topics. She’s also the author of Diet Simple: 195 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations” (LifeLine Press, 2011).

Here’s her explanation for the case for eggs in one’s diet:

Yes, increased blood cholesterol levels can raise the risk of heart disease. Eggs are high in dietary cholesterol. But does eating eggs raise blood cholesterol and cause heart disease? This is where the story gets somewhat complicated, so stay with me, folks, and I’ll try to make sense of all of this.

First, the research

Most epidemiological research — the kind of research that studies large populations over time and analyzes their diets and their health — has found no connection between eating eggs and increases in heart disease. On the other hand, controlled clinical studies — where researchers feed subjects specific amounts of cholesterol and measure the effect on blood — do show a slight increase in blood cholesterol with increases in dietary cholesterol, though how much depends on genetic factors.

Cholesterol is an important component of all human and animal cells and influences hormone biology, among other functions. Since your body naturally has all it needs from producing its own cholesterol, there is no dietary requirement for more cholesterol. But the American diet contains plenty, since we eat a lot of animal products. All animal products contain some cholesterol, but they also contain saturated fat, an even more significant culprit in heart-disease risk.

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Credit: Archive — jsonline.com

The major determinant of plasma LDL level is saturated fat,said Alice Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition science and policy at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

And while eggs are high in cholesterol (186 milligrams, 184 of them in the yolk), they’re relatively low in saturated fat (1.6 grams in the yolk).

In most people, for every 100 milligrams reduction in dietary cholesterol, one would predict a reduction in LDL levels of 2.2 points on average,said Wanda Howell, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Arizona.

In fact, during my 20 years of counseling people with high cholesterol, just reducing their saturated fat intake to a range of 4 percent to 7 percent of their calories, causes their blood cholesterol levels to plummet — a double benefit.

Interestingly, people in Japan — consumers of some of the largest quantities of eggs in the world (averaging 328 eggs consumed per person per year — have low levels of cholesterol and heart disease compared with other developed countries, especially the United States. Why? In part, its because the Japanese eat a diet low in saturated fat.

Americans do just the opposite. Research has shown that we usually have our eggs alongside foods high in saturated fat, such as bacon, sausage and buttered toast. This meal pattern raises LDL levels and makes the effect of eating eggs worse than it actually is.

So how many eggs can you eat? That depends on a number of factors. The American Heart Association no longer includes limits on the number of egg yolks you can eat, but it recommends that you limit your cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams daily, or 200 milligrams if you have heart disease or if your LDL is greater than 100. You decide where that cholesterol comes from!

Other experts go further and say an egg a day is fine.

The amount that one egg a day raises cholesterol in the blood is extremely small, so small in fact that the increase in risk in heart disease related to this change in serum cholesterol could never be detected in any kind of study,said Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health.Elevations in LDL of this small magnitude could easily be countered by other healthy aspects of eggs.

Based on the research, my recommendation is if you eat a healthful diet, go ahead and eat an egg a day. (My interview on CNN summarizes the key reasons why.) On the other hand, if your cholesterol is high and if you eat the typical American diet — high in saturated fat, devoid of fruits, vegetables and fiber — maybe you shouldn’t be eating an egg a day.

But will taking eggs out of an unhealthy diet make a positive difference? Probably not. I cant tell you how many times during my career Ive heard people say, Ive cut out eggs, but my cholesterol is still high! The impact of a healthy, balanced diet cannot be denied here.

Good for you

Assuming you’re eating a healthy diet, here are some ways you may benefit by eating eggs.

Protein. Eggs are considered the gold standard that other proteins are measured against. Because of the superior amino acid mix, an egg’s six grams of protein are absorbed easily and efficiently used by the body. The egg is also low-calorie (74 calories).

Choline. Yolks are one of the best sources of this essential nutrient. Choline is needed for brain development in a growing fetus and may also be important for brain function in adults.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin. These two, important, beneficial phytochemicals found in egg yolks (as well as kale and spinach) help prevent eye diseases, especially cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. While eggs contain less lutein and zeaxanthin than greens, these phytochemicals are more absorbable because of the presence of fat in the yolk.

Vitamin D. Eggs are one of the few natural sources of Vitamin D, important for the bones and teeth. Vitamin D aids the absorption of calcium, which is important for the heart and colon, as well.

To bring this all together, here is a recipe that is a regular meal for me any time of the day — quick, easy, delicious, nutritious!

Eggs Scrambled with Onion, Garlic and Sweet Cherry Tomatoes

Servings: 1
Sauté 1/4 sweet onion and a smashed garlic clove over medium-high heat in 1 teaspoon canola or olive oil until almost soft. Add a handful of chopped tomatoes to the pan (or any other vegetables you happen to have, such as chopped spinach, kale, mushrooms or peppers) and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn down the heat to very low. In a separate bowl, whisk two eggs. Pour eggs into the pan containing the onion, garlic and tomato — add 1 ounce low-fat cheese, if you wish. Stir continuously until eggs are cooked. Pour over toasted, whole rye bread.

According to the research arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans reached the height of their egg consumption at the conclusion of World War II, averaging 404, or more than one a day, in 1945. It bottomed out at 229 in 1992, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

 

 

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

 

 

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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

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(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.

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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.