Is Diet Coke Plus really a plus?

It’s no secret.  The obesity epidemic is still raging in the United States.  Documentaries such as Super Size Me and TV shows like Big Medicine have helped to bring the public’s attention to the obesity problem in the US, but there is still a long way to go to encourage consumers to adopt proper eating habits and exercise regiments.

There have been quite a few fad diets out there that guarantee the latest “quick fix” for a spare tire around the waist or love handles.  The health food market has also exploded with new products offering few calories and added vitamins and minerals.  Consumers are also looking for products not only to help them lose weight, but also stay healthy by consuming products, like functional foods, to help prevent cancer.  Functional foods, any fresh or processed food claiming to have a health-promoting and/or disease-preventing property beyond the basic nutritional function of supplying nutrients, are also being researched and developed by many scientists.

Functional foods are fast becoming a part of everyday life.  Two-thirds of adults made an effort to buy more fortified foods in 2006 – up 17% over 2005. One-third of young adults age 18–24 regularly drink energy beverages, and more than half of mothers of preteens bought organic foods last year.

With the majority (69%) of Americans pursuing a preventive lifestyle and 27% taking a treatment approach, not surprisingly, products that offer specific health benefits that make it easier for consumers to address their individual needs are enjoying explosive sales growth.

How does the market classify whether or not a food is considered functional food? The FDA regulates food products according to their intended use and the nature of claims made on the package. Five types of health-related statements or claims are allowed on food and dietary supplement labels:
http://www.ific.org/nutrition/functional/index.cfm
    * Nutrient content claims indicate the presence of a specific nutrient at a certain level.
    * Structure and function claims describe the effect of dietary components on the normal structure or function of the body.
    * Dietary guidance claims describe the health benefits of broad categories of foods.
    * Qualified health claims convey a developing relationship between components in the diet and risk of disease, as reviewed by the FDA and supported by the weight of credible scientific evidence available.
    * Health claims confirm a relationship between components in the diet and risk of disease or health condition, as approved by FDA and supported by significant scientific agreement.

Could junk food be advertised with health claims?  Diet Coke Plus was introduced in 2007 by The Coca-Cola Company as an alternative to Coca-Cola Classic.  The ingredient list includes the following added vitamins and minerals: magnesium sulfate (declared at 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for magnesium in the Nutrition Facts panel), zinc gluconate (declared at 10% of the DV for zinc), niacinamide (declared at 15% of the DV for niacin), pyridoxine hydrochloride (declared at 15% of the DV for vitamin B6), and cyanocobalamine (declared at 15% of the DV for vitamin B12).

Diet Coke Plus has just come under fire for using the word “plus” in their product name.  According to the FDA, Diet Coke Plus is “misbranded … because the product makes a nutrient content claim but does not meet the criteria to make the claim.” Muhtar Kent, the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company received a warning letter from the FDA last week detailing regulations for using the word “plus” and Diet Coke Plus’ abuse of the word, along with the statement that the “FDA does not consider it appropriate to fortify snack foods such as carbonated beverages.”

I’ll be honest; I’ve bought Diet Coke Plus at the grocery store.  I might’ve been trying to rationalize my caffeine addiction.  It said Plus, it must be ok to drink.  If they ever come out with an Organic Coke I’m sure people will be clamoring to buy it, supposing that it will be “all natural”.

The FDA has allowed Coke 15 days to prepare a letter detailing the actions that Coke plans to take in response to the warning letter, including an explanation of each step being taken to correct the current violations and prevent similar violations.  “We take seriously the issues raised by the FDA in its letter,” Coke spokesman Scott Williamson said in a prepared statement.  “This does not involve any health or safety issues, and we believe the label on Diet Coke Plus complies with FDA’s policies and regulations. We will provide a detailed response to the FDA in early January."

A Hoser in North Carolina

I’m a total food safety nerd. I even use big food safety events to remember when things in my life happen.  Had I not emailed Doug in the winter of 2000 looking for an on-campus summer job at Guelph, I’m sure I wouldn’t be doing that.

The story would be a lot cooler if I had sought out Powell as a potential employer because I was interested in the stuff he did, but I didn’t. I had no idea what he did — and being a bit of an idiot, I didn’t bother to look it up. I emailed Doug on the advice of a friend, and former Powell Lab-ite, Lindsay Core. Lindsay knew I was desperately looking for a job, and didn’t tell me much else about the dude or what he filled his days with. Lindsay just said "I think you two will get along".  I didn’t really know what that meant, but really had no other prospects.  So I emailed him. And he hired me to pull news.

Pulling news meant that I surfed through the tubes of the interweb for anything food risk-y (food safety, GE crops, animal disease, etc) and the stories I found (along with the other news pullers) become the content for FSnet and the other listserv postings Doug puts together every day.  Doug’s philosophy fit in with what I was looking for — he never really cared where I was as long as I could be found with an email and that I would get something to him when he needed it.

About three weeks in, I fell in love with the content and became hooked on food safety communication. That’s when an E.coli O157 outbreak linked to Walkerton Ontario’s town water system hit. I was already interested in disease (maybe it was because of Outbreak or the Hot Zone?), but the coverage and discussion within the Powell lab around Walkerton (how the outbreak was handled and communicated to the folks drinking the water) drew me in. I knew it was time to move from molecular biology and genetics to food safety. So finding what I really liked is linked in my mind to the 2000 Walkerton outbreak.

That’s where it all started.

I equate a May 2003 trip to Dani’s graduation from Dalhousie in Halifax with the news of the first Canadian BSE case. On the way home, I saw Doug on the in-flight CBC newscast talking about how CFIA has handled things (and thought, even when I’m away from Guelph for three days Powell and food safety follow me).

In 2006 I was about to leave for a trip to Kansas to visit Doug, and begin the initial evaluation of the food safety infosheets, when the E.coli O157:H7/spinach outbreak broke. When I arrived in Manhattan it was all E.coli O157 and spinach for us. The picture that Christian created with the skull and leafy greens (right) became a signature picture amongst the food safety infosheet pilot participants. Those pilots, and conversations with Doug and Amy in their living room, evolved into video observation of food safety practices — one of the things I’ve spent the past couple of years on.

I’ll always remember 2008 for a bunch of personal things (having a kid, getting hitched, getting a position at NC State and moving to North Carolina) — and will probably equate it to Maple Leaf Foods, Listeria monocytogenes and Michael McCain (who was just named Canadian Business Newsmaker of the Year — kind of like OJ being named US Sports Newsmaker of the Year?).

In my time spent in the various incarnations of FSN/iFSN/barfblog/Powell’s lab, I’ve seen Doug’s hair catch on fire; been accosted in a hot-tub (not by him) while in Phoenix with him; got lost on a trip with him in snowy, -20C Montreal without my coat; threw up in his backyard; talked about a ridiculous amount of pop culture with him; started a company with him and Katija; translated Kiwi accents for him; and, maybe most importantly, went to see Neil Young with him.

We’ve golfed, played squash and hockey together. Each of which he beat me at, and often reminds me of it. He also likes to point out, and I never argue with him, that I owe him. I do; although it’s a bit like owing something to Tony Soprano.

There’s lots of stuff I’ve left out of the post because it’s hard to write about 8 years in 750 or so words, but through all the fun stuff and late-night emails, Doug has shown me how to create a lifestyle around food safety where working and vacations blend together.

Doug’s got lots of friends, former friends and never-friends. The ratio is probably about 1:1:1. Some food safety folks have told me that they wish he was nicer. I’m glad he’s not. His skepticism and cynicism (and sometimes lack of tact) makes him great at what he does, and have made him the perfect mentor for me.

So enough of this post being about Doug, it’s really about me. On Monday I start a faculty position in the Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family & Consumer Sciences at NC State University as food safety extension specialist.  I’m excited as I get to support extension agents throughout North Carolina; develop food safety programs to be delivered from farm-to-fork; and, conduct applied research on food safety. It doesn’t sound like a job to me. $550 for season tickets to the Hurricanes, and about three hours to Myrtle Beach are added bonuses.

Dani, Jack and I left Canada a week ago for the USA. Our furniture will arrive sometime next week, so for now we’re minimalists. We’re currently camping indoors, with only an air mattress, lawn chairs and a 42" television (I guess the TV isn’t really camping equipment, but whatever).

On Tuesday night we picked a whole chicken up at Target and decided we’d roast it, but forgot that in our equipment-less situation we didn’t have our trusty PDT 300 to take the temp. 

The juices were running clear.  The chicken was piping hot (even a bit crispy) but after I had my first couple of bites I noticed that the meat close to the center looked pretty raw.

We went and got an interim thermometer at Target yesterday.???

The Monday start date hinges on me not coming down with Campylobacter or Salmonella.

Doug sent me an email a couple of nights ago (while we were chatting about the fantastic Canada/US World Junior Hockey Tournament game) that said "you your own dude at NC State" (he’s one arm typing with Sorenne lately).  Yep. That’s true, but I wouldn’t be my own dude here if it wasn’t for him, and I’m excited to work on more great stuff together.

Home test kit for E. coli and Salmonella?

Magna Medical Services (MMS) is pumping out the press releases following high profile outbreaks.  These dudes have been around for a while, and usually after every outbreak they fire out something about testing your food with their high-powered testing.  Today’s says:

With the recent string of food recalls, food and health retailers are scrambling to offer instant food testing kits for E.coli and Salmonella manufactured by Magna Medical Services, Inc. MMS Quick Results Food Testing Kits are home food test kits for E.coli and Salmonella.
“Retailers will be able to sell home kits for E.coli and Salmonella to clients that need to quickly check their food areas and food products for possible bacteria outbreaks,” says Robert Greene, General Manager for Magna Medical Services, Inc “This is a product that should be right next to every home first aid kit.

They also put out releases following the 2006 spinach-linked E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, and another that cites "recent E. coli outbreaks that have affected the Northeastern United States" back in January.  Seem to be capitalizing on public interest in food safety, but I have lots of questions about the product.

Does this product even work (and how would we know)?
Where is the data (because it’s not on their website)?
How sensitive is it? 
What’s the utility of using quick strips on food in your home? 
How do you sample food in your house?
What would happen if a firm,or a temporary food stand, or my mom used these strips, the results showed no contamination, and the food still resulted in an outbreak?

Maybe it’s a good tool, but without some of these questions answered I file MMS into the huckster category, capitalizing on food safety hysteria. Maybe MMS have some good answers, and I welcome any comments on this product here on barfblog.

Some of my food microbiologist friends are struggling with figuring out the best way to use traditional, labour-intensive methods of sampling different foods (especially produce) and there are disagreements on sample preparation. Seems MMS has got it all figured out.  And only for "less than $4 USD"

I think what MMS is trying to sell is a magic bullet — test with our strips and you can be sure about your food.  And without the data, I’m not sure they can say that, I don’t believe that there are magic bullets in food safety, it’s not that simple.

Saving the world one sucker at a time

    The Rhode Island Oyster Gardening for Restoration and Enhancement program at Roger Williams University is putting oysters in the state’s waterways to filter out pollution and rev up the ecosystem.

     Each little sucker takes in up to 50 gallons of water in a day, clearing out pollutants, plankton, and silt so that the water is nice and clean for the aquatic plants below.  These plants, along with tiny fish that like to live in the oyster beds, attract winter flounder and lobster can be harvested for us to eat. The area’s aquaculture producers are happy about that one.

    The oysters also clean up after crop fertilizers.  Nitrogen from agricultural runoff is sucked up and oxygen abounds for our newfound aquaculture. 

    Clean water, more food, and a pick-up system for ag chemicals. I, for one, am impressed. All hail the mighty oyster: saving the world one sucker at a time.

You got a reaction, didn’t you? You took a white orchid turned it blue

Typing "almond" and "pasteurization" into a Google search brings up the Almond Board’s action plan to pasteurize all California almonds, followed by a long list of websites with content criticizing the Board’s decision, including: Mandatory almond pasteurization is WRONG; We like it raw; and Raw food, right now (followed by lots of exclamation marks).

If you read my postings you know that I feel strongly about the need to pasteurize milk. As I read through the almond arguments I see strong parallels between the two debates, and for good reason, they’re both rooted in this burgeoning need to eat as nature intended, without the interference of any sort of large-scale food technology. But I’m much less familiar with the history of almonds and foodborne illness and at this point I can appreciate both the consumer and industry’s point-of-view. I do however agree that pasteurized almonds should not be labeled raw because by definition they are not.

At any rate, I had a good chuckle reading the following excerpt from the Cleansing Blog this morning: 

"Many almond growers, not surprisingly, are hopping mad at the ABC for this “pasteurization tyranny” that will now require almond growers to kill a perfectly good product before they can sell it to consumers. It’s almost like being in the flower business and, after growing beautiful orchids for your customers, some stupid state agency comes along and says you have to cook all the flowers before you can sell them because somebody once stuck their nose in a pot of orchids and sniffed up a creepy crawler. Cooked orchids, alas, are not nearly as beautiful as living orchids."

Thanks to the White Stripes (American rock band) for the catchy title; should attract some fresh faces to the world of food safety communication.