Category Archives: Processed Food

Say ‘Best If Used By,’ FDA Urges Food Folks

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An example of a confusing date label: The ‘Sell by’ date on egg cartons can, the USDA says, by up to 30 days after the eggs were packed. When properly stored, though, the eggs will still be edible — but not as tasty — for several weeks beyond the ‘sell by’ date. (Source: USDA)

The US public has been vocally concerned for years about the over-abundance of ways food packers advise when, in their opinion, a product ‘expires’. After much consideration – stretching over more than a decade – the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has made a recommendation. In a May 23 letter to the industry, the agency encouraged all consumer-facing companies to focus on one phrase: “Best If Used By”.

Confusion over the meaning of that and the likes of ‘Use By’ and ‘sell By’ to describe quality dates resulted in “less than half” of consumers surveyed in 2007 to determine or distinguish between those phrases, the letter noted. And that, in part, the agency declared, significantly contributed to the wasting of “approximately 133 billion pounds of food worth $161 billion each year.”

It is hoped by the FDA’s Economic Research Service that if the industry standardizes on the recommended phrase, a sizable share of that waste – 30% of food moving through the system – will end up where it’s intended to be: In stomachs rather than landfills.

Signed by Frank Yiannas, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response, the letter is said to reflect the positions of a number of industry groups, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute. Those groups are expected to encourage their members to follow the FDA’s suggestion so that, “over time, the number of various date labels will be reduced as industry aligns on this ‘Best if Used By’ terminology,” Yiannis wrote. He declared that, “This change is already being adopted by many food producers.”

Food Dive noted that the agency didn’t explain why it wasn’t taking a position on “use by” product date labels, which GMA and FMI support. That term applies to “perishable products that should be consumed by the date on the package and discarded after that date,” FDA’s letter said. It may be the agency doesn’t want to support a term that prompts consumers to discard food when it’s trying to reduce waste.

Industry response to the FDA’s letter has been positive so far. Food Marketing Institute President and CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a statement the group’s members appreciate FDA’s acknowledgement of industry’s desire to reduce consumer confusion with this label.

“The agency’s endorsement signals a best practice in ways industry partners can truly deliver on a promise to provide guidance to our customers that is easier to understand,” she said.

A survey by GMA and FMI released in December found 85% of U.S. consumers thought simplified date labels would be helpful, so this latest move could push more companies to use the “Best if used by” phrase.

Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said in a statement emailed to Food Dive that FDA’s support of the standardized phrase shows the CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry is working to help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions. GMA and the Food Marketing Institute came together with 25 companies in 2017 to find a way to reduce consumer confusion that led to unintended food waste, he said.

“Our solution was a streamlined approach to date labeling that has been recognized by USDA and now FDA as a smart approach and an important step in alleviating confusion and reducing food waste,” Freeman said in the statement.

While standardized use of the “best if used by” phrase on food products could begin to cut down on food waste, FDA supports additional consumer education by industry, government and non-government groups about what quality-based date labels mean and how to use them. Such ongoing efforts will likely be important to make sure “Best If Used By” continues to stand for something and that food waste declines as a result.

(Some produce packers further confuse the issue by use of “packed by” or “harvested on” dates. It can be argued that, to a great degree, those suggest consumers use common sense and their eyes to determine the freshness of an item.)

 

 

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

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!)

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).

Food Allergies Can Lead To Asthma: Study (And Again on the Anti-Gluten-Free Movement!)

 

This item is a bit outside the course of what this blog normally covers, but it is food-related, and it does provide information about a subject people in the food trade and/or with an interest in children’s health should pay attention to.

A recent study, reported on last month in BMC Pediatrics, noted that, “Childhood food allergy is associated with impaired quality of life, limited social interactions, comorbid allergic conditions, and significant economic cost; Importantly, a severe allergic reaction resulting in anaphylaxis can be life threatening, and food allergens are the most common cause of anaphylaxis and anaphylaxis-related mortality in children and adolescents; Recent estimates have reported food allergy prevalence figures between 4 and 8 %, however, these studies are limited in size and scope or rely on participant reporting rather than healthcare provider-based diagnosis.”

Put another, simpler way, the researchers found evidence that food allergies can contribute significantly to the development of asthma. (Yeah, I know, why didn’t they just say that??)

This may be putting the solution in front of the cure, but it would seem to me – no expert in such things! – that studies such as this one, which represent significant advances in medical science and knowledge, point to a need for [1] greater testing tools to ascertain what, if any, foods very young kids may be allergic to, and [2] approaches to dealing with, and curing, childhood allergies to prevent both life quality and budget busting costs down the road.

And, at the risk of sounding like I’m on an anti-gluten-free bandwagon (which I sort of am!), the food industry needs to stop fostering trends that, truth be told, truly are against the interests of a majority of the audience(s) they serve.

The cut-out-gluten case is a, um, case in point: As we reported recently, only a fairly miniscule portion of the U.S. population (with similar percentages likely elsewhere) has celiac disease – “About 1 in 100 people — about 1 percent — have celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested,” according to The Celiac Disease Foundation; and, from the same source, “About .4 percent of people have a doctor-diagnosed wheat allergy, according to a 2006 study; In those people, a true allergic response to wheat (which contains gluten) can include skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms.”

But as this blog pointed out recently, people without or with little risk of celiac disease could be doing themselves a disservice by going ‘gluten-free’. And, by implication, the ever-increasing number of companies declaring their processed food products to be ‘gluten-free’ are both deceiving and even putting at risk some of their consumer clients.

I find it both disturbing and disheartening that companies either fail to explore or disregard scientific

studies that strongly suggest they should stop wasting money on removing gluten from products and focus, instead, on making their products truly healthier for those who’ll consume them.

They should ignore what the latest ‘pair of dimes’ says, and go with the truth: Gluten-free is not, for most consumers, a solution to anything. And it’s truly detrimental for many of them!

Critics Slam McD’s Ad, Say They’re NOT Loving It

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It’s one thing – a nice thing, in fact – for McDonald’s to have eliminated artificial preservatives from its Chicken McNuggets, but it’s quite something else, critics say, for the company to imply, as a current TV campaign does, that Mickey D focuses on serving, what “we all want – what’s best for our kids!”

Adding that line to a commercial selling McNuggets has some health advocates crying foul.

“That’s the defining line that sets up the whole ad,” says Emily Mardell, a registered dietitian in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. That and the whole concept of the ad, she says, “is incredibly misleading.”

Using even stronger language, the executive director of Ottawa (Canada)’s Centre for Health Science and Law calls that marketing approach “grossly misleading. Bill Jeffery argues preservatives or no preservatives, deep-fried and salted Chicken McNuggets “simply aren’t a healthy choice for children,” according to a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) report. “What they’re advocating is so far removed from good nutrition, it’s almost kind of laughable,” Jeffery declared.

Still, McDonald’s, says the company is very serious about its campaign to promote its preservative-free McNuggets, which already have no artificial flavors or colors.

The chain started offering its reformed finger food at U.S. and Canadian locations in August.

The move is part of a bigger mission to offer menu items that better “reflect the cares and concerns of the modern day guest,” McDonald’s Canada spokesman Adam Grachnik said in an email to CBC News.

“We are on a journey to be better.”

The journey includes dropping some reportedly questionable ingredients from McNuggets like TBHQ — a preservative used for vegetable oils.

Besides the line, “We all want what’s best for our kids,” the company also promotes the menu item online with the phrase, “Because your family matters.”

But health advocates say eliminating a preservative or two doesn’t change the overall health concerns with fast food.

“It’s not a categorical shift,” says Mardell.

“These are still foods that are high in fat, high in sodium. They’re not the types of foods that you want in the everyday or even in routine intake for children.”

According to McDonald’s own numbers, just four McNuggets contain nine grams of fat and 300 milligrams of sodium — one-quarter of the recommended daily sodium requirement for kids ages four to eight.

McDonald’s serves up its Chicken McNuggets with its own dipping sauces that contain preservatives. And the above-cited sodium numbers don’t include the accompanying dipping sauce, one of which, the barbecue, option has the highest sodium count at 300 milligrams — as much as four McNuggets.

And the fact the company’s commercials don’t mention that the dipping sauces still contain preservatives prompted the CEO of a major U.S. restaurant chain, Panera Bread, to also suggest McDonald’s is misleading customers.

“I was offended watching this commercial,” CEO Ron Shaich told Business Insider. “I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ Sure, you’ve got McNuggets that are preservative-free, but what are you dipping them in? Sauces that are filled with that stuff!”

McDonald’s Grachnik also listed an improvement the company made last spring: adding leafy green vegetables like kale to its salads. But in February, CBC News revealed McDonald’s crispy chicken caesar kale salad entree with dressing has more calories, fat and sodium than a Double Big Mac. At 1,400 milligrams, the sodium amount nearly meets an adult’s daily recommended intake.

“Putting kale into the menu doesn’t mean you’re getting a healthy choice,” Toronto registered dietitian Shauna Lindzon told CBC News at the time.

When you add the accompanying dressing to the crispy chicken caesar salad with kale, it has more calories, salt and fat than a Double Big Mac.

mcdonald-s-burger-kale-salad

When you add the accompanying dressing to the crispy chicken caesar salad with kale, it has more calories, salt and fat than a Double Big Mac.

Bill Jeffery of the Centre for Health Science and Law says it’s nice to see a big company moving towards antibiotic-free chicken. But he still finds himself underwhelmed by McDonald’s changes.

“This isn’t about improving the health of their customers,” he concludes. “They’re just going to try to appeal to people’s emotions about health.”

Despite all the criticisms, McDonald’s is standing by its message of making positive changes to its menu. “We are proud of these big changes, even as we seek to do more and make the food people truly love to eat at McDonald’s even better,” said Grachnik.