Tag Archives: Research

TEXT MSSG: “Your milk is starting to spoil. Dump & replace it.”

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Jonathan Coleman (center) and materials science team members at Trinity College, Dublin. (Photo: Trinity)

 

Imagine getting a text on your phone advising you that the milk carton in your fridge is almost empty (so it’s time to order, or pick up, a new one!), or that the milk in that carton is starting to spoil. It is extremely likely that will not only be possible, but be happening before you’ve experienced too many more birthdays.

A team of materials scientists at Trinity College in Dublin have figured out how to make that happen; They just need more time to work out some critical details, Smithsonian.com reported this week. Citing a more technical report published this month in the journal Science, Smithsonian noted that the key is a first-ever 2-D transistor made of a form of graphite – a natural material “that’s dug out of the ground,” said as leader Jonathan Coleman put it. The honeycomb lattice of carbon they’re working with is has a depth of one atom, making it suitable for an “unimaginable” range of potential uses, Coleman said.

One would be that milk carton label. Others could – and likely will – include supermarket price labels that update themselves, wine bottle labels that can warn you when the bottles (and thus the wine) are being stored in too warm a location.

Perhaps best of all, the new 2-D printed electronics are cheaper than current versions, and they don’t have the same performance limitations having to do with stability and energy conversion.

If you can print electronics very cheaply, you can imagine things that are almost unimaginable,” Coleman said.

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Beer Edges Out Wine as Bevvie of Choice

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A survey taken at the end of last month by The Harris Poll revealed beer to be a near favorite over wine among adult imbibers.

While many consumers will increasingly drink across all three major adult beverage categories (beer, wine and liquor/spirits), they still have their preferred type,” Danny Brager, SVP of Neilsen’s beverage alcohol practice, told Beverage Daily.com.

Nearly four in ten (38%) of U.S. adults who drink several times a year or more told the pollsters they choose beer as their go-to bevvie, and 31% named wine as their sippy selection. Those favoring as their first choice the liquor/spirits amounted to 28% of the 2,148 surveyed.

These numbers, by category have pretty much flipped in the last decade, with liquor/spirits losing ground, particularly, to wine.

Hardly surprisingly, wine is favored over any other kind of alcoholic beverage by women.

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.

Are College Kids ‘Hungry’? or ‘Food Insecure’? Researchers Want You To Believe They Are

A new study from the University of Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (UConnPIRG) suggests that a sizable share of college students are either ‘hungry’ or ‘food insecure’. This is the first time (to our knowledge) that anyone has give a lot of research time to studying college students’ food issues.

Sadly, the researchers in this instance may have reached conclusions as obvious as the fact that a sizable share of dogs will, given the opportunity, suggest to you (by begging or salivating) that they are hungry and/or food insecure.

College students, like dogs, are habitual creatures – or, put in a nicer way, creatures of habit. Like Pavlov’s dogs, which associated the ringing of a bell with food, college students associate the words  ‘pizza’ and ‘hungry’, and, separately, ‘energy bars’ with ‘good [things] to eat’. Neither of these word associations of students have much to do with reality, as pizza is only marginally healthy (read ‘true satisfiers of hunger’) as energy bars may be good for giving a boost when an all-night study session is at hand. But energy bars aren’t, like much else that students eat, particularly nutritious.

Anyone who knows or has in recent years known a college student shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that, given all the pressures on them to succeed in class (and, too often, in activities involving alcohol), close to one-quarter of the 3,800 surveyed said they were hungry and nearly half said they are food insecure.

Food insecurity was defined by the researchers – from a number of campus-based groups, including the University of Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (UConnPIRG), the College and University Food Bank Alliance, and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness – as the lack of reliable access to sufficient amounts of affordable, nutritious food. Very low levels of food security qualified students as hungry, a HealthDay report said yesterday (Sunday, Oct. 16).

The students were talked to by researchers at eight community colleges and 26 four-year colleges in 12 states.  Hunger rates were 25% among community college students and 20% among those talked to at 4-year colleges, the research shows.

Food insecurity was reported by 57 percent of black students, compared with 40 percent of white students. Fifty-six percent of students whose parents didn’t attend college were food insecure, compared with 45 percent of students who had at least one parent who attended college, the study authors said.

“Hunger is an actual reality for far too many college students,” UConnPIRG’s Matt Talley said in a news release from the group.

“This problem threatens thousands of students who want to focus on academics but instead are left worrying about where they are going to get their next meal,” he said.

Food insecurity was a problem even for students who had jobs, were enrolled in a campus meal plan, or received some form of financial aid, the study found.

“The typical food insecure student in this study is working part-time, receives financial aid, and is reaching out for assistance from aid programs — and is still struggling to get by,” Talley said.

“When we have so many students who are doing everything right but still can’t afford food, it means we’re failing to provide these students with a viable path to success in their higher education,” he added.

OK, so much for what the researchers ‘found’, and supposedly believe. We (which in this instance means I) strongly suspect that, as anyone who pays attention to competing political surveys knows, you can, by asking the right questions, get the answers you want – or, put another way, confirm a pre-conceived notion, or idea.