USDA Grants To Fund At Least 80 Research Projects Concerned With Food Safety, More



The USDA has awarded $30.1 million in competitive grants to fund 80 research projects to improve food safety, reduce antibiotic resistance in food, and increase the resilience of plants in the face of climate change. The grants are made possible through USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the nation’s peer-reviewed grants program for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences.

In addition to the awards, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Dr. John P. Holdren, President Obama’s Science and Technology Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, announced that the President’s 2017 Budget will invest a total of $700 million for AFRI, the fully authorized funding level established by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill.

In the seven years since AFRI was established, the program has led to discoveries in agriculture to combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate the impacts of climate variability and enhance resiliency of our food systems, and ensure food safety.

“In the face of diminishing land and water resources and increasingly variable climatic conditions, food production must increase to meet the demands of world population projected to pass 9 billion by 2050,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Funding in research to respond to these challenges should be considered as an investment in our nation’s future, an investment which will pay big dividends in the years to come.” Since its creation, AFRI has been funded at less than half the levels established in the 2008 Farm Bill, and USDA has only been able to fund one out of 10 research proposals presented.

While grants awarded to universities, non-profits, community groups, businesses, foundations, associations, and federal agency and international partnerships have led to significant achievements that address critical issues related to agriculture, food, the environment, and communities, thousands of innovative research proposals have been left unfunded.

“Science, technology, and innovation are essential to meeting virtually every challenge our Nation faces, which is why the Administration has consistently supported increasing Federal investments in R&D,” said Dr. Holdren. “Further strengthening our investments in agricultural research will be essential for U.S. farmers to be able to keep the Nation’s food supply abundant, healthy, reliable, and sustainable through the 21st century. That’s why the President’s forthcoming 2017 budget request doubles funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to the full authorized level of $700 million.”

AFRI grants are administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which is making the awards through funding provided in fiscal year 2015. NIFA is awarding $15.1 million to fund 35 projects in AFRI’s Food Safety area, focused on enhancing food safety through improved processing technologies, effective mitigation strategies for antimicrobial resistance, improving food safety, and improving food quality. $3.4 million of this funding will be used to address antimicrobial resistance throughout the food chain.

Since 2009, more than $82 million in food safety research and extension grants has been awarded through AFRI.

NIFA is also awarding $15 million to universities, laboratories, and research organizations to fund 45 projects in AFRI’s Plant Health and Production and Plant Products area. These grants focus on plant breeding for agricultural production; plant growth and development, composition, and stress tolerance; and photosynthesis and nutrient use in agricultural plants.

Since AFRI’s creation, NIFA has awarded more than $89 million to solve challenges related to plant health and production. Additional grants for studies and outreach that address plant protection against microbes, insects, and weeds will be announced later this year.


2016 Restaurant Trends Imagined



What’s trending – or likely to be this year – in the U.S. restaurant industry? Marina Mayer, Editor-in-Chief of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods magazine, has some thoughts on that. Early last month, she published them.

Her predictions include:

  • The Sriracha effect – “Chefs are scouting the world for other assertive flavorings to employ” in ways similar to the movement, over the past couple of years, of a flavorful, not-particularly-healthy sauce (too much salt; too much potassium, particularly for the 10% of U.S. adults with with Chronic Kidney Disease [CKD]) from ethnic environments onto table tops in all sorts of middling-taste restaurants;
  • Elevating peasant fare – She cites long-time-favorites meatballs and sausage as up-and-comers, along with ‘multi-ethnic dumplings, from pierogis to bao buns’;
  • Trash to treasure – Meaning that rising meat prices (even as the popularity of red meat falls off) will lead to more consumption of ‘under-utilized stewing cuts, organ meats and “trash” species of fish’. She also sees the trash to treasure movement extending to such exciting new side-of-the-plate items as “a veggie burger made with carrot pulp from the juicer”;
  • Burned – She sees ‘smoke and fire’ [are] showing up everywhere on the menu – in charred or roasted vegetable sides,  in desserts with charred fruits or burnt-sugar toppings, in cocktails featuring smoked salt, smoked ice or smoky syrups.” (Not anywhere I eat, you don’t!);
  • Negative on GMOs – She imagines some diners will seek out eateries advertising themselves as GMO-free while others demand GMO labeling on menus. Either will, if either of those trend predictions has legs, prove to be “a big issue for the supply chain,” she says, since many crops have been modified to increase productivity.” (Fortunately, there’s a growing tendency in some areas for field crop farmers to employ off-season cover crops to naturally replenish their soil and increase productivity that way, even as they reduce the use of fertilizers and soil additives.);
  • Modernizing the supply chain – This, she says, is a multi-pronged issue: On one hand, “climate destabilization, mutating pathogens and rising transport costs, among other challenges, will lead to increasingly frequent stresses on the food supply chain.” At the same time, “consumer demand for ‘fresh’ and ‘local’ fare [will] also challenge a distribution system based on consolidation, centralization, large drop sizes and long shelf life.” More than likely, she hit that one on the head – except for the ‘rising transport costs’ issue: With oil prices having dropped by 50% in the past year or so, both road and rail transport costs should have dropped, not gone the other direction. If they haven’t, some producers and recipients of long- and short-hauled food need to be applying some pressure where it’s needed – on their transporters!
  • Fast food refresh – She anticipates consumers gravitating to ‘better’ fast food – “QSR plus” concepts, as she puts it, “with fresher menus and bright units [exploiting] a price niche between fast food and fast casual.” She also sees more ‘build your own’ formats “springing up in more and more categories [and] more and more quick-service eateries adding amenities like alcohol.” There is, of course, good money to be made with alcohol sales, but there are high insurance costs associated with that business; And there’s the risk that if yours has a reputation as a ‘family friendly’ place, the mere presence of alcohol could put off some of your best customers. An interesting compromise to be attempted soon by a new restaurant in my town is to get the insurance then offer a BYO wine opportunity – but no beer or wine table service. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
  • Year of the worker – Mayer sees mandates to boost minimum wages reverberating up and down the workforce, with experienced staffers seeking more, in proportion to less-experienced colleagues. She also anticipates already-hard-to-find skilled workers becoming more scarce, and lower-level workers being replaced by automation in the back of the house and technology in the front of the house. (So long as restaurants steer clear of the ‘Bionic Bar’ concept launched recently on Royal Caribbean’s Anthem-of-the-Sea, one of the world’s largest-ever cruise ships. The Bionic Bar features drinks mixed by a pair of robot arms. A New York Times story said many passengers were underwhelmed by their taste compared to human-prepared drinks.) She also anticipates companies will devote more resources and attention to training and retention.
  • The delivery revolution – Mayer says “proliferating order-and-pay apps and third-party online order and delivery services make ‘dining in’ easier than ever.” Not quite true: As long ago as the late 1960’s, a Greenwich Village restaurant took phone orders for and delivered, piping hot, a splendid steak dinner (with baked potato and salad) accompanied by a patented device called The Korker, a corkscrew substitute – for roughly eight 1960’s dollars per person! Nothing offered today could be easier, and it would be hard to top the quality and service of that long-ago restaurant named Dan Stampler’s Steak Joint. a NYC favorite for 25 years.

Before taking over as Editor-in-Chief of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods, Marina Mayer spend four years as managing editor and executive editor of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery and Dairy Foods magazines. I wrote for the latter, and a predecessor of the former, in the 1980’s.

A New Shelf-stable Probiotic May Benefit Many Food Products, and People



It’s called LactoSpore, and a study recently published in the International Journal of Food Science & Technology says it is “significantly stable during processing and in respective storage conditions of baked food, beverages, vegetable oil, concentrated glucose syrup and in brewed coffee,” reported earlier this month (February).

The study was called ““Evaluation of the stability of Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856 during processing and storage of functional foods.” It was published online on January 20 by the food science and technology journal.

The authors found:

  • B. coagulans MTCC 5856 was found to be stable during processing and storage of baked food.
  • B. coagulans MTCC 5856 retained 87% viability during coffee brewing.
  • B. coagulans MTCC 5856 retained 99% viability in apple juice up to 6 months at 4°C (39.2F) and had over 90% viability in glucose syrup up to 24 months at 40°C (104F).

“The most crucial property that a probiotic can have, to confer health benefits, is demonstrated stability,” said Shaheen Majeed, marketing director, Sabinsa and one of the authors of the paper. “In this publication, our studies on LactoSpore prove beyond a doubt that our room temperature shelf-stable probiotic can be incorporated in everyday types of formulations.

“We’re creating more opportunities for our customers with different kinds of probiotic formulations using LactoSpore, which ultimately benefits the consumer.”

WebMD says this about probiotics:

“Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.

“Probiotics are naturally found in your body. You can also find them in some foods and supplements.

It’s only been since about the mid-1990s that people have wanted to know more about probiotics and their health benefits. Doctors often suggest them to help with digestive problems. And because of their newfound fame, you can find them in everything from yogurt to chocolate.”

Millennials Don’t Shop, Eat Like Earlier Generations, Reports Say


Photo: Nutraceuticals World

It was, of course, inevitable: Millennials, like generations that preceded them, are having impacts on buying patterns in food stores. A big shift with the age group born between 1982 and 1994 – which is, according to the Urban Dictionary definition of ‘Millennials’, “something special, cause mom and dad and their 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Winotsky, told them so” – is in who’s doing the grocery shopping and what they’re buying.

More often than in the past, says a survey cited recently in Nutraceuticals World magazine, shoppers are male, and their choices are healthier ones.
The 12th iteration of Agosta Inc.’s twice-annual “The Why Behind the Buy” says, “Shoppers are shopping more consciously, and [are] willing to spend slightly more money and time in an effort to make healthy meals. With less stocking of the pantry and greater focus on cooking at home, more shoppers are prioritizing healthy, homemade meals, especially when it comes to feeding their families.”

An estimated 86% of surveyed shoppers reported eating dinner at home four or more days in the past week, with 37% eating dinner at home all seven days in the preceding week. And they’re increasingly opting for natural and organic foods as well as locally sourced products, the survey data showed.

Parents are especially thoughtful about their food choices. For example, 51% agreed with the statement: “We eat healthy foods even though they are more expensive.” Interest in local products across a range of consumer demographics is exemplified by growth in farmers markets across the U.S. According to the USDA, the number of farmers markets grew more than 350% from 1994 to 2014.

However, even as they express a preference for locally-sourced food, a sizable share of surveyed Millennials also take advantage of online shopping opportunities “to help support their busy, mobile lifestyles,” the report says. It notes that 41% of parents with kids use online grocery ordering, either for delivery or pick-up at the retailer, at least once a month, compared to 29% of total U.S. shoppers.

Some of these findings are, of course, dependent on where surveyed individuals live. For example, the small town I live in appears to have a relatively small population of Millennials – judging from my personal observations as I’m out and about and shopping and dining locally. And none of the town’s food stores – there are three: A Walmart, a Food Lion and a locally-owned smaller-than-super market – offer online food shopping opportunities.

I would venture to guess that most comparably-sized towns (pop. roughly 3,500) offer comparable shopping amenities and online food shopping opportunities – which is to say, a fraction of what you’d expect to find in an urban area or city.

That’s not meant to downplay the importance of  Agosta’s study. But it and similar research, such as was reported recently by Mintel, suggests Americans in general are taking healthier approaches to what they eat and how much they exercise. In so doing, they are encouraging both restaurants and supermarkets to focus more on fresher, healthier foods, and more produced within 50 miles or so of where they’re sold.

Local sourcing is stressed by all three of the local food markets, particularly in the produce section. And the locally-owned store is well recognized as the go-to place for top-grade meat offerings.

Citing the Agosta report, Nutraceuticals World said men, especially dads, are shopping more and having more impact on buying patterns than ever before. “Due in part to generational differences and economic factors, more U.S. males are spending time grocery shopping. Men suffered the most job losses during the recession, and data indicates that the number of stay-at-home dads continues to grow. Couple that with Millennials (and their modern perspective on hands-on parenting) now starting families of their own, and the result is dramatic shifts in the number, frequency and attitude of male grocery shoppers. These guys like to food shop.”

Millennial dads in particular, often having waited longer to get married and have children, are approaching fatherhood without the gender role norms of older generations.

“These dads are proactively engaged in child rearing and taking on more household tasks, including grocery shopping,” Acosta said. “In fact, Mintel reports that 80% of millennial dads claim primary or shared grocery shopping responsibility.” Dads typically spend more, particularly on organic products, and shop more frequently. Mintel also noted that dads are doing more of the food shopping these days, and it recommends every possible effort should be made to market to them.


Trimming The Fat: U.S. Government Attacks Childhood Obesity


With little fanfare, the U.S. government has been spending considerable sums – tens of millions of dollars annually – over the past decade to address an obesity problem so severe it affects more than one-third (34.9%, or 78.6 million) of all U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a single generation, the obesity rate among children has tripled. The rate has doubled within the adult population in 20 years, according to The Campaign To End Obesity.

That organization estimates healthcare costs related to obesity and conditions it contributes to amount to some $210 billion annually – 21% of all national health care spending. Its web site quotes the Congressional Budget Office as noting that when non-health costs related to obesity are factored in, the total per-annum cost is in the neighborhood of $450.

It’s little wonder, then, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and such other federal agencies as the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NHLBI) are spending what they are annually to educate various segments of the population about the causes and risks of obesity. The USDA alone spent nearly $70,000,000 in 2010 alone on Childhood Obesity Grants!

One of the programs that resulted from the studies those grants supported is one called Hip Hop To Health. This is that program’s sixth, and possibly final, year, unless further funding is allocated. As it certainly should be.

Hip Hop to Health is described as “an evidence-based healthy eating and exercise curriculum developed for children ages 3-7 years.” It’s clever, it’s catchy, and it works: The project’s web site notes that, “results of a comprehensive randomized evaluation study showed that children who received the Hip Hop to Health (HH2H) Jr. curriculum showed smaller increases in their body mass index at both a 1-year and 2-year follow-ups than children who received a general health curriculum. Thus HH2H was successful in taking these children off the trajectory to overweight and obesity.”

So if it happens, as it’s been reported, that the government “spent $3.5 million on anti-obesity hip hop songs,” you can assume from the results that was money well spent. (Your tax dollars truly at work!)

HH2H was developed by Dr. Melinda Stolley, who has spent much of her career creating health behavior programs for children and adults. Now an associate director at the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Cancer Center, she earned a BS in education at Northwestern University, did a stint as a kindergarten teacher, then returned to Northwestern to complete an MA in counseling psychology and a PhD in clinical psychology.

During the development phase, the HH2H program received feedback from early elementary teachers, parents and school administrators. Its effectiveness was evaluated through a study led by Dr. Marian Fitzgibbon, a professor at the University of Illinois.

She also has a PhD in clinical psychology and is an expert in the area of childhood obesity. She served on the Institute of Medicine Committee that developed the strategic plan for addressing childhood obesity in the U.S.  She and Dr. Stolley have been colleagues for many years, the project’s web site says.

The program’s simple-to-execute makeup belies its depth and scope. In addition to hip hop songs, a genre chosen because children readily take to it and have fun with the songs, the program employs a spectrum of teaching exercises and an assortment of physical exercises. HH2H can be ‘worked’ in a classroom setting, childcare centers, parks, at afterschool programs and in homes.

With luck, for children who are potentially obese adults, HH2H will be refunded, and many lives as well as millions of dollars will be saved in decades to come.

Many Hospitals Lack Taste In Food Service Offerings



The symbol for the Food Services and Nutrition Department at J.C. Blair Hospital, Huntingdon PA, where the mission is to serve “tasty, appealing and nutritious meals.” Sadly, many hospitals’ food service operations don’t share this mission statement.

Who better than the non-profit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to evaluate the healthiness or lack thereof in hospital food service?

The Committee, which has 12,000 physician members, recently obtained and closely analyzed patient menus and the types of foods offered to hospital staff and visitors from 24 hospitals across the U.S. They were a representative sampling of 262 hospitals surveyed by the Committee, including the country’s 50 largest public hospitals and at least one facility in every state.

Some of what they discovered was, in a word, shocking! An incredible number of hospitals not only have contracts with fast feeders such as Wendy’s and Chic-fil-A, many also encourage or acquiesce to demands that they do all they can to boost the sales of ordinarily-seen-as-unhealthy foods to boost either the fast food company’s or the hospital’s profits.

Such contracts fly in the face of Harvard research presented at an American Heart Association meeting last year that found study participants who ate fried foods up to three times a week saw an 18 percent increased risk for heart disease. The risk increased with the frequency of fried food consumption, with about a 25 percent increased risk if eaten four to six times a week and up to 68 percent if eaten seven times or more a week. This information is, of course, readily available to hospital administrators – and actively ignored by many of them.

One of the most surprising and hard-to-believe un-noted findings of the Committee’s study was the apparent unconcern that hospital staff, presumably including a fair number of doctors, exhibit about the food offerings of the facilities where they work. Not only does hospital staff seemingly accept without question the quality of food offered to them, they also seem to be less than acceptably concerned about what’s fed to their patients. The latter, of course, rightfully anticipate their health is the primary concern of those treating them and the institution itself.

These days, one doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of health issues related to the consumption of too much fat, etc., to appreciate that putting profit before nutrition is something hospitals should not be doing. And the PCRM is fighting back, with the likes of a hard-hitting campaign against the 20 U.S. hospitals, including four in Texas, that feature Chick-fil-A outlets and the not-very-healthy foods they offer. This advertising campaign, which started January 25, includes billboards, street kiosks and other sites where Chick-fil-A’s advertising is mocked with a photo of three white-coated doctors holding signs saying “Eat More Chickpeas.” The ads encourage viewers to “Ask your local hospital to go #FastFoodFree!” A website,, lists Twitter handles and other contact information for hospitals that host Chick-fil-As. Additionally, large bus shelter ads are positioned near Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta.

“Many of the hospitals that host Chick-fil-As are in states with high rates of diet-related diseases, making hospitals part of the overall toxic food environment,” says Angie Eakin, M.D., M.S., one of the doctors who appears in the advertisements. “Hospitals should be fast-food-free, and patients should eat more chickpeas, vegetables, fruits, and other foods that can promote healing and prevent disease.”

Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta has a “percentage rent” agreement with McDonald’s, meaning the more artery-clogging burgers and shakes sold to patients, the more money the hospital makes. When Grady’s McDonald’s contract expires in June 2016, it should consider expanding the healthful options in its cafeteria.

Several hospitals named in the Physicians Committee’s previous reports have recently improved their food environments by closing McDonald’s restaurants. These include Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Texas, Memorial Regional Hospital in Florida, Riley Children’s Hospital in Indiana and the Cleveland Clinic. Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minnesota has announced it will soon close its McDonald’s, ending its contract early.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, MS and others that host fast-food restaurants earned lower scores in the 2016 report.

The Chick-fil-A contract with the University of Mississippi Medical Center asks the medical center to “make every reasonable effort to increase the sales and business and maximize the Gross Receipts.” This means the hospital is promoting fried chicken and other foods tied to serious chronic diseases including heart disease and diabetes.

“Hospitals that are fast-food-free and instead have rooftop gardens earn the highest scores,” says Karen Smith, R.D., senior dietitian for the Physicians Committee. “Hospital gardens provide fresh vegetables for hot soup and other plant-based patient meals that can prevent or reverse diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.”
Hospitals earning the highest Patient Food Scores include Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island (NY), which has a rooftop garden, Aspen Valley Hospital in Aspen, CO., C.S. Mott children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI, and Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

Are You SURE You Want To Eat That Chicken/Pork Chop/Sausage? (How About Those Eggs?)


It’s widely known that many factory farms horribly mistreat some of the animals they take in, raise, kill and process into food for humans (and sometimes for human’s pets). It’s also common knowledge that much of what goes on in facilities that – let’s be honest – are parts of big businesses, businesses in business to provide humans (and their pets) with a form of nourishment. Fortunately, as people seek fresher, healthier food, a lot of what those facilities produce is falling out of favor with a growing segment of the population. People particularly concerned about their cholesterol and/or fat intake – not to mention their concern about the way farmed and even supposedly ‘free-range’ animals are dealt with by food processors are, sometimes at the suggestion of their primary care physician, reducing their red meat intake. Others, because of the widely-reported abuses of chickens in facilities where they are raised and, eventually, killed, steer clear of that branch of the poultry family, too.

Consider these facts: [1] pigs often are grossly mistreated – dragged, alive, across floors with a hook, have their throats cut when they’re still alive (in total violation of Federal law), and all that after being made to live in and be coated with their own waste; [2] chickens are so tightly confined – whether they’re intended for eggs or food – that they can’t even turn around, and they’re fed antibiotics (that humans eventually consume) and other substances to increase their growth rate, to twice the normal amount in a six-week period, after which the meat-oriented ones are killed; The egg-producers carry on for as long as two years, until they can no longer produce eggs; Then they become, more than likely, the prime ingredient of chicken broth or soup; [3] cattle, which used to roam free and eat grass, now are made to grow far faster than nature intended thanks to combinations of antibiotics and other ‘stuff’ (plus a bit of real nutrients) that, slowly but surely, is contributing to humans’ inability to benefit from some antibiotics because of the immunity they acquire from animal-meat consumption.

The fact that all that happens is bad enough: What’s worth is that ‘big ag’, which mass-farms much of the meat and eggs we eat, is increasingly winning state legislatures over – through, of course, their massive lobbying might – to enact what at known as ‘ag-gag’ laws. They are designed to make it illegal for anyone to secretly record or even verbally report to a reporter, or a legislator, that this farm or that one is conducting its business in an inhumane way. The penalties for violating those laws can run to fines of up to $5000 per day a ‘whistle’blower’s’ message has been ‘out there’.

There are people running for president today who are all for reducing the impact of government on American citizens. There’s a congress in place that has, for years, refused to fund the Department of Agriculture or any other agency to a point where it can monitor and deal with abusive issues in the production of the animals we eat.

Meanwhile, the American public is spending, not entirely voluntarily, tens of millions of dollars on a space program – aimed at sending people to unreasonably-far-distant planets and at working, through land- and space-based telescopes, to answer unanswerable – and totally pointless – questions, such as what does it all mean?, where did we come from?, Why are we here?

When all is said and done, who gives a flying frankfurter when there are starving, jobless people in this country (and in others with similarly pointless pursuits).

There are plenty of idealists, and dreamers, and other odd types who things something as abstract as space exploration makes sense. They, each of them, need to do a __/__/____ check  — on their birthday.

If they’re over 50, it’s unlikely that in their lifetime we will be dis-engaged from Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Syria. Or that Israelis will get to grip with reality and allow the Palestinians a ‘state’ of their own.

If you want to do something worthwhile this year, lobby your congressman, senators and state-level representatives to block ag-gag laws. We need more – not less insight – into how our protein food is produced and processed. And we, as people, need to be more concerned, and vocal, about the abuses going on ‘factory farming’.

You might also think about contributing to Farm Forward, the only national organization dedicated to stopping factory farming. Their web site contains a wealth of information both about the issue and what they are doing about it.


Developments concerning food — from research to farm to factory to restaurants and home.