Category Archives: Science

DNA Can Be Used To Track Products’ Origins

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MAY 25, 1999 / 6:23 PM / CBS

There are several practical reasons for being able to determine, precisely, food products origins: Finding the source of product responsible for a listeria outbreak, for one; Providing verification for products ‘guaranteeing’ to be from a specific area is another.

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A commercial product described and explained in a recent in-depth FoodDive report has both those issues in mind. It seems to be living up to its promises, too.

FoodDive noted that a 2011 listeria outbreak involving cantaloupe killed 33 people and sickened 137 others. Had SafeTraces’ tools been available and in place then, the results could have been quite different, because authorities would have been able to quickly pull candidate cantaloupes from stores where problem ones were purchased, and track them back to the fields they were grown in – thus finding, or at least being way closer to finding, the source of the offending bacteria.

Alas, that listeria outbreak was, ultimately the source of the solution to the ‘source identification’ issue.

Anthony Zografos, who as chief operating officer of CPAC, (company Compact Particle Acceleration Corporation), previously helped develop a cancer therapy system, saw in that listeria situation a need to understand how to pinpoint the source of product contamination – particularly the type that causes listeriosis. He wanted to solve that problem.

He told FoodDive that while most traceability applications on the market do a good job of keeping track of food packaging, he wanted to find a way to trace further back in the system, to where the product – cantaloupe, in this case – originated. With that aim (and some sound ideas how to proceed), in mind, he founded SafeTraces, a company dedicated to enabling DNA-level tracking of food products.

In short, this now-a-few-years-old company, under its mechanical engineering PhD leader (Zografos), developed a sort-of bar code – comprised of a seaweed extract – that is applied to foods as they are processed (washed and sorted, in the case of cantaloupes). The embedded code can tell anyone who needs to know anything and everything about its provenance – where it came from – and more.

Last week, the company announced a deal with safety science giant UL to enhance palm oil traceability. This partnership gives businesses dealing with palm oil — a common food ingredient that has a reputation for being farmed using substandard sustainability and human rights practices — a potentially easy solution to guarantee the ingredient’s source.

Last month, SafeTraces announced a partnership with JBT FoodTech, a leading producer of food processing and packaging equipment. This partnership has not yet been fully defined, SafeTraces Vice President of Business Development Ulrike Hodges told Food Dive, but the companies are looking for a way to pursue food processing while integrating SafeTraces technology.

Links in the article will lead you to more details, if you’re interested.

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No BS: Male Cows (Bulls), Seen As Pests, Are Being Targeted in Uttar Pradesh

cow--strolling in Uttar Predesh

Stray cattle have become a menace in Uttar Pradesh. Photo: Biosphoto/Gil Chamberland

Politicians in the US, the UK and elsewhere often encounter issues they term ‘a load of bull’, or BS. In India’s largest electoral state, Uttar Pradesh, while the leavings of bulls may be problematic enough, it’s the bulls themselves who inadvertently prodded the governing Janta Party (BJP) to take what Asia Times early in March described as “urgent measures” to control the bull population.

Following a recent massive flak over the menace of stray cattle, the party decided to control the bull (and thus the overall cow) population by allowing only female calves to be born.

The government of chief minister Ajay Sing Bisht, also known as Yogi Adityanath, has been feeling the heat over stray cattle destroying crops and becoming an economic hazard to the state’s farmers. Most of the stray cattle were abandoned by farmers owing to the collapse of local cattle markets along with the fear of vigilante groups who disrupt cattle transportation.

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There have also been cases of mob lynchings on suspicion of cow slaughter, which is banned in the state by law. Moreover, as Hindus who are vegetarians, consider the cow to be a sacred symbol of life that should be protected and revered, the rise of the Hindu nationalist BJP and cow-protecting Hindutva vigilantes, cattle slaughter has become a sensitive issue in the Hindi heartland.

With agriculture becoming increasingly mechanized, Asia Times explained, male calves are of little use to farmers, who commonly set them free as they become a financial liability. These bulls then run amok on roads in the cities and destroy farms in the countryside.

INDIA-CRIME-RIOT

Policemen gather outside a police station after reports of mob violence at Chingravati village in Bulandhahr, Uttar Pradesh, on December 3, 2018. Photo: AFP

To introduce some semblance of control, in the government budget for this year, Bisht earmarked 6.12 billion rupees ($87 million) for the protection and welfare of cows, including around 2.5 billion rupees ($35.6 million) for setting up and running cattle shelters for strays.

Female calves only

The sex-selection for bovines involves administering sex-sorted semen, with a concentration of X-sperm, through artificial insemination to produce more female calves than male. But at present, dairy farmers in the state largely depend on natural breeding methods.

“The ‘sexed semen’ method takes the likelihood of delivering a female calf up to 90-95%. With the natural method, it is a 50% chance, just like humans,” Dr. AK Singh, deputy director of Animal Husbandry Department of Uttar Pradesh told Asia Times.

“We will roll out the sex-sorted semen project under our Bovine Artificial Insemination Program in all 75 districts of the state in March,” Dr. Singh said last month. “This will not only ease out the dairy farmers from the burden of maintaining male calves but will serve as a long-term solution to the stray cattle menace caused mainly by the male bovine.”

Using this method, which has been popular in western countries in recent decades, the state government hopes to curb the surplus bullock population within the next 10 years.

The scheme will also be aimed at producing cows of Indian breeds, said a government official on the condition of anonymity. The artificial insemination costs around 1,300 rupees (US$18.40). To avail themselves of the scheme, cattle-breeders would have to pay 300 rupees per conception. However, in the drought-prone region of Bundelkhand, this levy would only be 100 rupees.

Dairy farmers benefit

The government aims to reach out to a maximum number of dairy farmers to encourage them to go for artificial insemination using sexed semen technology.

However, this would be a daunting task. The state has been offering artificial insemination for cows for almost four decades, yet still has not been able to cover the entire breeding population.

A senior bureaucrat told Asia Times, “Most farmers still opt for natural insemination over the artificial (method) due to reasons such as unawareness, inaccessibility and better success rate of conception. The artificial insemination is the most powerful genetic tool for cattle breeding as it involves genetically superior semen. Sexed semen will be a further upgraded version of artificial insemination useful for commercial cattle production.”

The conception through artificial insemination requires 2-3 attempts, which is a cumbersome and prolonged process as each attempt requires a time gap of at least a month. Natural insemination by a male bull typically achieves success in one attempt, a veterinary doctor explained.

Pilot test success

The government’s decision is based on the success of a pilot project launched in three districts (Etawah, Lakhimpur Kheri and Barabanki) two years ago during the previous Samajwadi Party regime.

“By using sexed semen under our artificial insemination program, covering around 500-600 cows in each district, we managed to get 90-95% female offsprings,” said an official.

The department imported the sex-sorted semen from the US through Genus ABS India, an American firm, to run its pilot projects. Each dose of sex-sorted semen cost 1300 rupees, though farmers were not charged. The same firm has been commissioned by the government at Babugarh in Hapur district. Production is expected to start by March, a government official said. The firm has been selected through the global e-tendering process to execute the project.

Congress legislator Deepak Singh supports the move. “It seems to be a good step to tackle the surge in stray cattle population,” he said.

Project Is A Long-Term One

olitical analyst Shivsharan Geharwar said, “The cow shelters are too few in numbers compared to the stray population. Even though the government has geared up to build more shelters, it may take a few years to be able to cater to the entire surplus population. The sex selection would be a long-term measure not only to curb the strays but also help improve the cow economy.”

The move may provide some relief to aggrieved farmers and may tip the upcoming general election in BJP’s favor. Uttar Pradesh sends the largest number of lawmakers to the parliament and will play a key role in electing the federal government, though only time will tell if the move will bear any fruit.

 

For Protein, Give Peas A Chance

 

Yellow-peas-from-Ukraine

Food Dive reported last week that while alternative proteins from algae and insects continue to make headlines, until they become cheaper and more appetizing, an increasing number of manufacturers will ask us to give peas a chance.

Extracted from dried and ground yellow split peas, pea protein is showing up in everything from sports supplements, smoothies and protein bars, to meat alternatives and yogurt. General Mills uses it in its Lärabar and Cascadian Farms brands, UK bakery giant Warburton’s recently added pea protein to sliced bread, and it is even possible to buy ‘pea milk’.

Beyond Meat produces a vegetarian burger based on pea protein that looks, sizzles and even ‘bleeds’ like a beef burger, thanks to beetroot juice. Even meat firms are paying attention, as Tyson Foods — the nation’s biggest meat producer — has bought a 5% stake in the company. In meat products themselves, companies are adding pea protein to cut fat content and improve texture.

The appeal for consumers is that pea protein is a non-allergenic, non-GMO and environmentally friendly ingredient — especially when compared to other commonly used protein sources like soy and whey. While whey protein is the most popular fortification product on the market, more consumers are considering plant-based protein sources for their health and environmental benefits.

The list of health benefits for pea protein is long. It is cholesterol-free, helps with satiety and blood pressure, and lowers triglycerides and cholesterol. For elderly or ill consumers, it is more easily digested than animal-derived proteins. Major pea protein supplier Roquette has also done research that suggests it is just as effective as whey for enhancing muscle mass gain during weight training.

All of this adds up to a booming market. According to Mintel, the number of new products containing pea protein grew by 195% from 2013 to 2016.

Roquette is banking on rising demand for pea protein in a big way, and recently announced a CA$400 million ($321 million) investment to build the world’s largest pea protein factory in Manitoba, Canada, as well as an additional €40 million ($47 million) for its French pea processing site. By 2019, the company expects the two facilities to have a combined capacity of 250,000 tons a year, placing it at the heart of two of the world’s biggest regions for pea protein ingredients — North America and Europe — as well as the world’s biggest pea supply. Canada provides 30% of the global pea protein total.

Roquette has seen growing demand for protein-fortified products. Meat substitute products grow rapidly as more consumers become interested in vegetarian options.

Part of peas’ appeal is the claims food companies can make on-pack — including gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher and vegan. Unlike soy, whey or casein, pea protein is not considered to be a major allergen, meaning foods and drinks containing the ingredient can make low/no/reduced allergen claims.

Pea protein does have potential downsides, particularly when it comes to protein quality.

Soy and animal-derived proteins are considered “complete” because they contain all nine essential amino acids — those not made by the body. Protein from peas is “incomplete,” meaning it is low in certain amino acids.

While this may give some athletes pause, it is unlikely to be a problem, according to Melissa Majumdar, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

As long as someone is not relying on pea protein for their only source of protein, they will likely meet their amino acid and therefore protein needs,” she told Food Dive.

If all essential amino acids are not available or are only available in limited amounts, the body must get them from another source to perform functions in the body needing protein. In other words, amino acids are the protein puzzle pieces and the puzzle is not complete with a missing piece.”

She explained that pea protein bioavailability is at 69%. Whey is 99% and soy is 95% to 98%. Apart from its limiting amino acids, bioavailability also is affected by chemicals that inhibit nutritional availability, including tannins and lectin.

On the other hand, pea protein can be a less expensive form of protein than animal protein,” Majumdar said. “Pea protein is not as common of an allergy as whey and soy and as long as the limiting acids are replaced or complemented, pea protein can be a quality protein source.”

 

Banana Delivery in NYC: It’s Seriously Complicated

Bananas

The New York Times had a fascinating feature last Friday (August 4) detailing the complications in getting bananas from their US point of entry into stores and fruit stands around New York City. Some 20 million bananas – and that doesn’t count the growing number being processed by supermarket companies – weekly.

The facts, figures and curious asides in this article include the fact that bananas are slightly radioactive. There’s also an explanation of how the ‘slip on a banana peel’ story got started, and another about the day it rained bananas in Pittsburgh.

Then there was the lady who repeatedly slipped on banana peels in a 17-long string of slip-and-fall accidents between 1906 and 1910. Eventually, she was charged with grand larceny, growing out of an investigation of her unapeeling (sic) accidents.

The Times on November 27, 1910, reported Mrs. Anna H. Sturla was due the next day in court, but the result of her hearing there wasn’t included in last week’s banana story. (And a search of the NYT archives found no later mention of her.)

The story did note that, at some point in the probably-near future, New Yorkers – like people elsewhere – are going to have to get used to a new type of banana. The Cavendish, the most commonly variety exported from Ecuador and other banana-growing countries (few of them, in fact, ‘banana republics’), is subject to being attacked and eventually defeated by a new strain of the Panama Disease, a type of Fusarium Wilt, a fungal disease that kills the plants it invades.

Scientists are trying to find or clone – as the Cavendish is a clone – that can resist that disease. But as banana historian Dan Koeppel told The Times, the Cavendish, like the Gros Michel (Big Mike) before it, have commercial advantages because around the world they are genetically identical, but “when one gets sick, they all get sick.”

In Asia, they’re trying to breed a Panama disease-resistant Cavendish. But, Mr. Koppel said, “You can’t just breed in resistance. You might be breeding out other stuff, like flavor.”

Collectively, The Times article of last week and the links we’ve provided will pretty much guarantee you’ll never again look at bananas quite the same way!

Please check out Doug Harris’s other blog, YouSayWHAT.info.

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!)

Hot Pepper Causes 2.5cm Rip In Man’s Esophagus

hot-peppers
Louisiana pepper breeder/grower Tony Primeaux handles some hot ones. (Photo: Lee Celano/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

A 47-year-old man recently attempted a rather silly, super-spicy feat – eating a hamburger covered with a ghost pepper puree. The ghost pepper measures a scary 1 million units on the Scoville heat unit (SHU) scale, a per-mass measure of capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes some peppers spicy-hot.

By way of comparison, a bell pepper measures 0 on that scale. A jalapeno comes in at between 3,500-10,000 units; a Serrano and a Peperoncino score in the range of 10,000-30,000 units, and both Cayenne and Tabasco peppers range from 30,000-50,000 units – about as high as most people care to experience.

(Police pepper spray, by the way, comes it at around 5 million SHU.)

(I thought my mouth was on fire once when I took a bite out of an Habanero, AKA Scotch Bonnet chili – 100,000 -350,000 heat units – I’d found on sale at a London street market. I’d been told, simply, “It’s a hot pepper.” I said, “Oh, I love hot peppers.” This one was not to love!

(As quickly as I could, I went into a pub and ordered a pint of beer, as beer is rumored to cut the effect of heat in food, or peppers. Alternatively, the beer may just make you forget about the pepper’s burning sensation!)

An article in The Washington Post said that peppers that pass the 1 million SHU mark are called superhot. “As a rule they are reddish and puckered, as though one of Satan’s internal organs had prolapsed. To daredevil eaters of a certain stripe, the superhot peppers exist only to challenge.

“When consumed, ghost peppers and other superhots provoke extreme reactions,” The Post article said.

“Your body thinks it’s going to die,” as Louisiana pepper grower Ronald (Tony) Primeaux told the AP in October. “You’re not going to die.”

The Washington Post’s Tim Carman described eating a pea-sized chunk of the pepper, sans seeds, in 2012. “It was as if my head had become a wood-burning oven, lighting up my tongue and the interior of my skull,” he wrote. “Milk provided little relief, until the burn began to subside on its own about 10 minutes later.”

Primeaux, who hopes to claim the world’s hottest pepper title through cultivating his Louisiana Creeper variety, said, “When you put one of these in your mouth, it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame,” in his interview with the AP. “A bear is chasing you. You’ve just been in a car wreck. You just got caught speeding, and a cop is giving you a ticket.”

pepper-grower-with-plants

Pepper breeder/grower Tony Primeaux with some of his plants. (Photo: Lee Celano/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

That truly seemed to be the sensation experienced by the unnamed 47-year-old reported on in The Journal of Emergency Medicine. For him, “ingesting the pepper burger was less a bear chase and closer to an attack,” The Post article said.

As physicians at the University of California at San Francisco reported in the case study reported on in The Journal of Emergency Medicine article, he consumed the burger and attempted to quench the heat in his mouth with six glasses of water. When that failed the man began to vomit, which gave way to abdominal pain. He dialed emergency help.

At the emergency department, he received Maalox and painkillers. After his condition worsened, doctors moved him to the operating room, where they discovered a “2.5-cm tear in the distal esophagus,” about one inch, as the case report authors noted. The force of the vomiting and retching led to a rare diagnosis of Boerhaave’s syndrome; these spontaneous tears in the esophagus can be fatal if they are not diagnosed and treated.

“The rupture was as a result of the forceful vomiting and retching,” said UC San Francisco clinical fellow and study author Ann Arens, in an email to The Washington Post, “as a result of eating the hamburger with the ghost pepper puree.”

In this case, surgeons were able to repair the man’s throat. “He remained intubated until hospital day 14, began tolerating liquids on hospital day 17,” they wrote, “and was discharged home with a gastric tube in place on hospital day 23.”

The researchers concluded the case study with a warning.

“Food challenges have become common among social media, including the infamous cinnamon challenge,” they wrote, referencing the spice fad that was popular in early 2012. (When eating a heaping spoonful of cinnamon went wrong, it led to emergency calls and at least one collapsed lung.)

“When people ask me whether it is safe to try the ‘spicy food challenges’ I generally take a Nancy Reagan stance,” said Arens, “and say ‘Just Say No.’ But if you really just can’t help yourself, I would recommend just starting with a taste.”

China Aiming to Develop ‘Spaced-Out’ Varietal Wines

China is aiming to produce some really spacey wines – vin via vines nurtured to fruition, or at least into new wine varietals, in their country’s newest space lab, labeled Tiangong-2. The aim is to see which, if any, varietals of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir might be able to produce new and plentiful generations of wine in some of the toughest-to-grow-wine-in territories on earth – including the sun-scorched Gobi desert, the high-altitude foothills of the Tibetan plateau, and the rocky slopes of Ningxia Province.

Decanter-China, a bilingual website about the local wine industry, reported recently that,

“Chinese scientists hope that growing the vines in space for a short time will trigger mutations that may make the plants more suitable for the harsh climate in some of the China’s emerging vineyard regions.

In particular, scientists want to see whether genetic mutations in space make the vines more resistant to cold, drought and some viruses.

Chinese growers in some areas, such as Ningxia, have to bury their vines in winter to protect them from freezing temperatures.

The vines came from a nursery based in Ningxia’s Helan Mountain East region, one of China’s most renowned quality wine regions, reported Ningxia local media.

The nursery is owned by the Chenggong Group, which has been importing vines from France’s Mercier Group since 2013.

In October, China will send two male astronauts to Tiangong-2 via the Shenzhou 11 spaceflight to perform research for 30 days, according to China National Space Administration.

When the vines return to earth, they will be compared to a control group in  the Ningxia nursery.

The Guardian reported that an oenologist named Li Hua visited a valley in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau. The area was better known for its panda population, but Li realized that the area’s high altitude, many hours of sunshine, sandy soil and low precipitation also offered ideal conditions for growing grapes.

Freezing temperatures and unfavourable soil are among the most serious challenges facing wine producers in places such as Ningxia, an impoverished region at the heart of China’s nascent wine industry with punishing -25C (-13F)winters.

Decanter said researchers hoped exposure to “space radiation” might trigger genetic changes in the vines that would help them “evolve new resistance to coldness, drought and viruses”.

The website said the vines were sourced from a nursery near Ningxia’s Helan mountain, a region local politicians tout as China’s Bordeaux.

After returning to earth the samples will undergo tests and be compared to other vines in order to find the most “suitable mutation”.

China’s rapid economic rise has transformed it not only intothe world’s number two economy but also one of its top wine producers.

The Asian giant now consumes more red wine than any other country and has more vineyards than France. Estates are popping up from the frosty northeastern province of Liaoning to the scorching deserts of Xinjiang.

“The best Chinese wine I’ve ever tasted in my life is produced just outside of Beijing,” Fongyee Walker, a China-based wine specialist, said in a recent interview. “Beautiful wine… Blind tasting you wouldn’t even know they were Chinese.”

Walker, the director of Beijing’s Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, said that for wine drinking to really take off inChina it needed to lose its aura of pomposity.

“I grew up eating Chinese food and I grew up drinking wine and I came here and was like: ‘Why does no-one just drink wine with jaozi [dumplings]?’” said Walker, who recently became mainland China’s first Master of Wine.

“So much of it is that myth of: ‘You have to be dressed up and you have to use a corkscrew and you have to do this and you have to do that,’” she added. “And I said, ‘Look, you can drink your wine from a beer glass and you can eat it with zhajiangmian [noodles] on the street corner.’ It’s a liquid for goodness sake! Get over it.”

On top of their wine-related research, Xinhua, Beijing’s official news wire, said astronauts would use the Tiangong space lab to “carry out key experiments related to in-orbit equipment repairs, aerospace medicine, space physics and biology, such as quantum key distribution, atomic space clocks and solar storm research”.