Is ‘best if used by’ better than ‘best before’

Kristen Leigh Painter of the Star Tribune reports date labels on food don’t quite represent the peril that people think.

use_by_egg1For years, foodmakers have put sell-by and use-by dates on a number of products. But some food experts and environmentalists have argued that people are throwing out perfectly good food because of those dates. And now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed.

The department’s food safety division released new industry guidance that recommends that manufacturers use the phrase “best if used by” rather than “sell by” or “use by” when putting dates on food.

Infant formula is the only food product required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to date its products to ensure the nutrient levels match what is on the nutrition label.

No other products require dates, but manufacturers put them on labels to signal to retailers and consumers when products taste best. The USDA estimates that nearly one-third of all food is thrown away uneaten, something the agency is trying to reduce through better policies or simple packaging changes.

“Research shows that this phrase conveys to consumers that the product will be of best quality if used by the calendar date shown,” the USDA wrote in its guidance. “Foods not exhibiting signs of spoilage should be wholesome and may be sold, purchased, donated and consumed beyond the labeled ‘Best if Used By’ date.”

Because the U.S. has no uniform date labeling standard, a variety of terms are used. A “sell-by” date is not a safety issue but is meant to help a retailer know how long to display a produce for sale. A “use-by” date is also not a safety issue, but is the last date recommended to consumers for peak quality.

This guidance is part of the Agriculture Department and Environmental Protection Agency’s goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030, an initiative announced last year.

The USDA says food can be consumed after its “best if used by” date so long as there are no signs of spoilage.

“Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such spoilage characteristics, it should not be eaten,” wrote the USDA.

The exception is pathogenic bacteria, which is undetectable. If an unlucky consumer purchases a food product carrying this pathogen, however, the expiration date won’t protect them regardless.

21st century snake oil: Rough week for homeopathy

Over the counter homeopathic remedies sold in the U.S. will now have to come with a warning that they are based on outdated theories ‘not accepted by most modern medical experts’ and that ‘there is no scientific evidence the product works.’

jagged-little-pillFailure to do so will mean the makers of homeopathic remedies will risk running afoul of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The agency argues that unsupported health claims included in the marketing for some of these remedies are in breach of laws that prohibit deceptive advertising or labelling of over the counter drugs.

The body has released an enforcement policy statement clarifying that homeopathic drugs are not exempt from rules that apply to other health products when it comes to claims of efficacy and should not be treated differently. In order for any claims in adverts or on packaging not to be ‘misleading’ to consumers it should be clearly communicated that they are based on theories developed in the 1700s and that there is a lack of evidence to back them up, the statement says.

It adds that the FTC will ‘carefully scrutinise the net impression of [over the counter] homeopathic advertising or other marketing … to ensure that it adequately conveys the extremely limited nature of the health claim being asserted’.

Timothy Caulfield of the University of Alberta urges Canadians to follow the U.S. lead, which states homeopathic products – which are, to be absolutely clear, nothing more than water or sugar pills – “must be substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence” or the label must say “there is no scientific evidence that the product works.”

This is a ridiculously sensible move. Homeopathy, a practice meant to treat disease symptoms through non-existent doses of substances that (allegedly) produce similar symptoms, has become a multi-billion dollar industry, is one of many popular complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) products that have been thoroughly and consistently debunked.

dehydrated-waterThere is no credible evidence that homeopathy works for any health condition. More important, homeopathy is scientifically preposterous .

Bottom line: Homeopathy doesn’t work and there is no way it could work, at least beyond producing a placebo effect. It is pure quackery.

Due to Health Canada’s relatively lax regulations, many pharmacies sell homeopathic products that make claims of therapeutic benefit that would clearly infringe the new FTC policy.

Indeed, a recent study led by my colleague Ubaka Ogbogu found that a significant number of pharmacists recommend homeopathic remedies.

In addition, provincial governments have done much to facilitate the spread of unscientific CAM services. In Ontario, for instance, there is a College of Homeopaths – an entity created and surreally legitimized by provincial legislation. In addition, homeopathy is one of the most common services provided by naturopaths, a CAM practice that has enjoyed a recent uptick in provincial support.

A quick scan of websites for Canadian naturopathic clinics finds numerous examples of misleading claims about the efficacy of homeopathy and other bogus services. Worse, many of the claims made on these websites relate to the use of a homeopathic product as an alternative to vaccination.

Let’s reverse this trend. Let’s take steps to ensure that the Canadian public gets scientifically accurate information about the healthcare products and services they are buying.

There are numerous regulatory tools that can be used, right now, to help curtail the spread of misleading health information.

So, Canada, let’s all follow the FTC lead and stop the tolerance and facilitation of homeopathic bunk.

USDA: Everything you ever wanted to know about labeling needle- or blade–tenderized beef

Compliance Documents

Q1. Where can I find information on the new “mechanically tenderized beef products regulation per 9 CFR 317.2(e)(3)?

Information on “mechanically tenderized beef products” is available from the following locations:

Labeling Issues

Q2. Under this final rule, will the product need to be labeled with the specific method of mechanical tenderization used to prepare the product?

tenderizedmeat2_custom-949f4ddbfc4f2cb411923f9296e69966fe69d995-s1100-c85No, the label need not include the specific type of mechanical tenderization used. To provide flexibility, FSIS is allowing the phrase ‘‘mechanically tenderized’’ to be used as the descriptive designation on any type of mechanically tenderized product. In addition, in lieu of “mechanically tenderized,” such product may be labeled as ‘‘needle tenderized’’ or ‘‘blade tenderized,’’ as applicable.

Q3. Can “needle injected” be used as the descriptive designation on the labels of raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized?

No, needle injected may not be used as the descriptive designation. The terms “needle tenderized” or “mechanically tenderized” must be used as the descriptive designation for needle tenderized raw or partially cooked beef products and the terms “mechanically tenderized” or “blade tenderized” must be used as the descriptive designation for raw or partially cooked blade tenderized beef products.

Q4. Are the descriptive designations “mechanically tenderized,” “blade tenderized,” or “needle tenderized” only required on raw or partially cooked beef products?

Yes, unless the product is destined to be fully cooked or to receive another full lethality

treatment at an official establishment, such product must be labeled accordingly.

Q5. Do the new labeling requirements apply to mechanically tenderized pork, lamb, or goat products?

No. The rule applies only to raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized.

Q6. Can establishments put both mechanically tenderized beef products and non- mechanically tenderized beef products in the same immediate container and label it with the descriptive designation “mechanically tenderized?”

No. To label product as “mechanically tenderized” when it was not would be false and misleading.

needle-tenderize-crQ7. If we sell mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef or veal products in protective coverings, must the protective coverings meet the mechanical tenderization labeling requirements when the immediate container of this product is labeled “For Institutional Use Only?”

No. Under 9 CFR 317.1(a)(1), protective coverings should not bear any mandatory labeling information.” In this case, the immediate container, which also serves as the shipping container, is required to be labeled with the descriptive designation and bear validated cooking instructions and all other applicable labeling features.

Q8. Is beef cubed steak is subject to the new labeling requirements?

No, this regulation will not apply to raw or partially cooked beef products that have been cubed. The regulation is specific to needle and blade tenderized beef products. FSIS stated in the final rule:

The descriptive designation will only apply to raw or partially cooked beef products that have been needle tenderized or blade-tenderized, including beef products injected with marinade or solution. Other tenderization methods, such as pounding and cubing, change the appearance of the product, putting consumers on notice that the product is not intact. Moreover, most establishments already label cubed products as such. (80 FR 28157)

Q9. Must the labels for raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products be submitted to the FSIS Labeling and Program Delivery Staff (LPDS) for approval?

No. The descriptive designations, “mechanically tenderized,” “blade tenderized,” and “needle tenderized” are not considered special statements or claims under 9 CFR 412.1(c). Therefore, as stated in the final rule, simply adding the descriptive designation and validated cooking instructions to a label would not require LPDS approval, given the label is otherwise in accordance with FSIS’s regulations.

Q10. Do the new labeling requirements apply to raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products that are produced at establishments that use a validated intervention during the production of such products?

Yes, the new labeling requirements would apply to products treated with a validated antimicrobial intervention, unless the establishment applies a lethality treatment that achieves a 5-log reduction in pathogens. Mechanically tenderized beef product treated at an official establishment with an intervention or process, including HPP, that has been validated to achieve at least a 5-log reduction for Salmonella and Shiga Toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) organisms (including E. coli 0157:H7) would not be subject to the requirements in this final rule because it has received a full lethality treatment. (See 80 FR 28153)

Q11. Do the new labeling requirements apply to mechanically tenderized beef products labeled or prepared at retail stores?

Yes, the new labeling requirements would apply to raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products produced, packaged, and labeled at a retail store.

Cooking Instructions

Q12. Is there compliance guidance available on validating cooking instructions for mechanically tenderized beef products?

Yes, at:

FSIS Compliance Guideline for Validating Cooking Instructions for Mechanically Tenderized Beef Products

Q13. Where can I find scientific studies on validated cooking instructions?

Attachment 1 of the above FSIS Compliance Guideline for Validating Cooking Instructions for Mechanically Tenderized Beef Products contains a summary of published scientific support for cooking instructions.

Q14. Do the new labeling requirements apply to raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products that are too thin to practically measure their internal temperature using a food thermometer?

No, the new labeling requirements do not apply to raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized (including through injection with a solution) beef products that are too thin to measure their internal temperature using a food thermometer, such as beef bacon or carne asada. FSIS does not intend to enforce the requirements for these products because they are customarily prepared in a manner that is sufficient to destroy pathogenic bacteria.

Note that the thickness of many food thermometers used by consumers is approximately 1/8,” making it difficult to measure the end product temperature of products 1/8” thick or less through use of a thermometer.

Q15. Where on the label of raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products can the validated cooking instructions appear?

Validated cooking instructions must appear on the immediate containers of all raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef products destined for household consumers, hotels, restaurants, or similar institutions. These instructions can appear anywhere on the product label.

Mechanically Tenderized Beef With Solutions

Q16. Must the label of a raw or partially cooked mechanically tenderized beef product that contains added solution also declare the percentage of added solution?

Yes. However, there are different options for declaring the total amount of solution added. See 9 CFR 317.2(e)(2).

Q17. Do the new labeling requirements apply to raw or partially cooked beef products that have been marinated in a tumbler or vacuum tumbled?

The rule only applies to raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized by needle or blade. This rule does not apply to other processes, such as tumbling or vacuum tumbling, unless the product is also mechanically tenderized by needle or blade.

needle-tenderize-beef

Maybe they replaced it with pot: Australian suppliers caught selling oregano mixed with other leaves

Before marijuana could be bought at a dispensary – Australia, you’re so behind the times on this, same-sex marriage and asylum seekers – would-be middle-school dealers would often pass off bags of oregano as weed.

oregano-marijuanaThose who smoked it got a headache: they did not get high.

A couple of Australian supermarkets were caught doing a similar bait and switch.

Food fraud.

Esther Han of the Canberra Times reports Aldi and supermarket supplier Menora have admitted to selling nearly 190,000 units of adulterated oregano products over a one-year period and have promised never – never ever double secret probation promise — to do it again.

The budget grocery chain and Menora have signed court enforceable undertakings with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, committing to conduct annual testing of the composition of their herb and spice products.

Aldi sold more than 126,800 units of its Stonemill oregano across its 400 stores in 2015, documents show. And 61,480 Menora-branded products were sold at Coles, Woolworths, IGA and other stores in NSW, Vic, WA and SA in the same year.

They claimed the products were 100 per cent dried oregano leaves, despite a “substantial presence of olive leaves”.

“This is extremely bad behaviour. I don’t think it’s in anybody’s head that you’re getting anything other than pure oregano and our message to retailers is: ‘Check the products you’re selling,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims.

“The offer of refunds is there. If you take back the empty container you’ll get a refund, take back proof of purchase, you’ll get a refund.”

The undertakings follow an investigation by consumer group Choice, which in April said laboratory tests showed seven out of 12 popular oregano products were less than 50 per cent oregano leaves. They were instead bulked out with olive and sumac leaves.

The worst offender was Master of Spices, which was only 10 per cent oregano, followed by Hoyt’s, at 11 per cent, and Aldi’s Stonemill, at 26 per cent.

The test results showed Spice & Co and Menora’s products were only a third oregano, Spencers was 40 per cent and G Fresh was 50 per cent.

Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said as dried oregano was a fixture in most kitchens across the country, the undertakings were a real win for Australian consumers.

“We need be able to trust what is written on the labels of the foods we purchase in our supermarkets,” he said.

Has that mango been irradiated or you just happy to see me

A trans-Tasman review into the necessity of labelling food treated with ionizing radiation has drawn a mixed response from industry groups, consumers and activists.

Radura.mangoWhile most industry groups and corporations that produced submissions to Food Standards Australia New Zealand were supportive of removing the labelling, all but one of the private citizen submissions were against the idea.

The body will not propose a removal of the current labelling requirements at this stage, but asked respondents whether they thought the countries’ approach to signaling irradiated food was effective or necessary at present.

Irradiation, which is used as both a pest control method and way of extending food’s shelf life, is a rare practice in the two countries, used mainly as a final quarantine measure to prevent the spread of fruit flies.

Some mangoes are treated using irradiation.

Five FSANZ studies over the last 15 years and numerous World Health Organisation reports have found the irradiation process is safe, but food manufacturers are required to add a label informing consumers food has been processed in this way.

The wording of the labelling is not proscribed, though manufacturers can add an optional Radura symbol, the internationally recognised identifier of irradiated food.

Food fraud: 22 tons of expired food ingredients, 250 kg of seafood uncovered in Taiwan

Prosecutors uncovered 22 tons of expired food ingredients, some of which were seven years past their due date, in Taichung, while 250 kilograms of seafood, including frozen shrimp which expired three years ago, was found in New Taipei Tuesday.

taiwan.food.fraudThe discovery triggered a new round of alarm over food safety in this country, which is still reeling from a spate of food scandals involving plasticizers and adulterated edible oils over the past few years.

Taichung City’s health officials said Hsiung Hsun Co. Ltd., based in the city’s Dali District, is suspected of selling expired black tea powder, ham seasoning, garlic powder, rosemary spice, soy milk powder and other raw materials to downstream manufacturers since 2014.

A big customer of Hsiung Hsun’s expired products is the Nantou factory of food giant CP Taiwan, where local health officials have cordoned off more than 7,608 boxes with a combined weight of 10,959 kg that had been used in seven products.

Officials from CP Taiwan, also known as Charoen Pokphand Enterprise (Taiwan) Co., said they have asked their downstream sellers to remove the affected products from shelves as a precaution. The recalled products will be destroyed, according to Natou County’s Department of Health.

Some of Hsiung Hsun products have been sold to a company in Kaohsiung City, whose health officials have demanded that the company recall all products made from the expired ingredients.

Taichung prosecutors and police said Hsiung Hsun Co. is suspected of committing forgery by changing the expiry dates of its products to make illicit profits.

In New Taipei, health and prosecution officials said they have cordoned off 250 kg of sea food at Ocean International Co. Ltd., which is also suspected of forging the expiry dates of its frozen products before selling them to restaurants and eateries.

Doering: Label raw milk cheese

Ronald L. Doering, BA, LL.B. MA, LL.D., a past president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and now counsel in the Ottawa offices of Gowling WLG, writes in his Food in Canada column that the science keeps piling up.

ron.doeringIt is not safe to consume raw milk and its products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced studies that show again that pathogens from raw milk including tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid, Salmonella, Listeria, and many other bacterial infections make it unsafe for human consumption. A comprehensive study was released last month by Belgian authorities that concluded that “raw milk poses a realistic health threat due to possible contamination with human pathogens.” Interestingly, the same study found that there was “no substantial change in the nutritional value of raw milk or other benefits associated with raw milk consumption,” but that’s a story for another day. And, of course, the unfortunate proof keeps coming, with hundreds of outbreaks, many deaths and thousands of illnesses just in the last few years due to raw milk and raw milk cheese.

Just because raw milk and raw milk cheese are not as safe as if they were pasteurized doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be banned. That is why regulations around the world are so inconsistent. The sale of raw milk is illegal in Scotland, but legal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (indeed our future king will drink nothing else, a fact that could be used by both sides of the debate!). South of the border the states are roughly evenly divided, but interstate commerce is banned. Raw milk and most raw milk cheeses are banned in Australia but legal in New Zealand. In Canada, the sale of raw milk directly to consumers is prohibited by a variety of provincial provisions and it is a federal crime to sell unpasteurized milk under B.08.002.2(1) of the Food and Drug Regulations.

Canada continues to allow the sale of raw milk cheeses aged over 60 days, but provides this clear warning: “Health Canada’s ongoing advice to pregnant women, children, older adults and people with a weakened immune system is to avoid eating cheese made from raw milk as it does present a higher risk of foodborne illness than pasteurized milk cheeses. If consumers are unsure whether a cheese is made from pasteurized milk, they should check the label or ask the retailer.”

raw-milk-cheeseWhen I first wrote about this issue three years ago I pointed out the regulatory absurdity of the last sentence in the Health Canada (HC) warning. There is no requirement to label and most retailers have no idea if the cheese is made from raw milk, and have no means to determine if it is. At the time I received an informal response to my article from a senior official advising me that before moving to mandatory labelling, HC was going to partner with FDA to do a risk assessment of raw milk cheese, focusing specifically on the risk of illness from Listeria monocytogenes. The results of this risk assessment were released last summer: “The risk of listeriosis from the consumption of soft-ripened cheese made from raw milk is substantially larger than that for consumption of soft-ripened cheese made from pasteurized milk and the 60-day aging regulation actually increases the risk of listeriosis for consumption of raw milk cheeses.” The risk was found to be from 50 to 160 times greater. This resulted in HC issuing a Voluntary Guidance to manufacturers that included suggestions to industry to do regular testing of both the raw milk and the cheese and that “Manufacturers should consider labelling their products with the words ‘made from raw or unpasteurized milk’ on the front panel display and/or in the list of the ingredients.”

The Guidance document seeks feedback from stakeholders before developing new “policy and/or regulatory options.” Here’s mine, again: stop the bureaucratic dithering and do what the Americans, Brits and Europeans have already done – make it mandatory for all manufacturers to label their raw milk cheeses. It’s useless, as they say, to try to reason someone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into, so if we can’t stop people from consuming raw milk and its products, then let’s at least ensure that it is not consumed unknowingly particularly by children, the elderly or expectant mothers. HC now requires unpasteurized juice to be labelled. Who’s against mandatory labelling of raw milk cheese?

‘News, it just repeats itself’ What to do about Listeria

Chipotle is trying old-school PR with its legal whinging and free diarrhea burritos.

Outbreaks and recalls related to Listeria can provide new-school lessons.

lettuce.skull.noroBut don’t expect industry to adopt any of the suggestions.

In 2008, Maple Leaf Foods cold cuts laden with Listeria killed 24 Canadians and sickened another 50.

At the time, CEO Michael McCann was praised for his communication and management efforts to reign in Listeria.

I, and several others, were underwhelmed.

So it’s time to dust off that 2008 checklist and see how Dole, CRF Frozen Foods in Pasco, Wash. and SunOpta of Crookston, Minn. go.

There are arguments to be made about the U.S. zero-tolerance for Listeria policy (other countries have set limits) but that could take years to be resolved. Meanwhile, product is/was going out the door, disease trackers are getting really good at picking up previously undetectable outbreaks using whole-genome sequencing, and consumers need a confidence builder.

So:

  • A full accounting of who knew what when, from both the companies involved and regulators. But more important from the companies, because they do thousands of Listeria tests annually. In 2014, Maple Leaf performed more than 180,000 tests across its operations to detect any bacteria or pathogens as part of the company’s food safety program. Great.
  • Make those test results publicly available.
  • Warning labels. Someone will say, like Mr. McCann in 2008, that listeria is everywhere, and that, “All food plants and supermarkets have some amount of listeria.” Maybe a label should say, “Listeria is everywhere, don’t feed deli meats or other refrigerated ready-to-eat foods to pregnant women and old people. They may die.” Or do what Publix supermarkets, based in Florida, does. Cheese and cold-cuts sliced in the deli are put in a bag with a label that says, “The Publix Deli is committed to the highest quality fresh cold cuts & cheeses. Therefore we recommend all cold cuts are best if used within three days of purchase. And all cheese items are best if used within four days of purchase.”
  • Don’t tell us the plant passed an audit or is inspected. That is a minimal standard, and why do outbreaks keep happening from food that was audited or inspected or both?
  • Market food safety efforts at retail.

Because listeria is everywhere.

Do labels work? Should sprouts come with a warning label?

NPR reports that for something many deem a “health food,” sprouts regularly appear on official outbreak lists. Since 1998 there have been at least 49 foodborne outbreaks, including 24 multi-state outbreaks and 1,737 illnesses tied to sprouts, according to a tally kept by Colorado State University.

amy.sprouts.guelph.05Sandwich chain Jimmy John’s experienced multiple outbreaks linked to sprouts in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012. Sprouts are still on the menu, but place your order online, and a less than appetizing warning pops up: “The consumption of raw sprouts may result in an increased risk of foodborne illness and poses a health risk to everyone. Click ‘Yes’ if you understand the potential risks, or ‘Cancel’ if you’d like to continue without adding sprouts.”

Jimmy John’s may feel comfortable behind their warning label, but offering sprouts is a risk that Kroger and Wal-Mart no longer take — both grocery retailers have deemed sprouts too dangerous to sell. In announcing its decision in 2012, Kroger said it was based on a “thorough, science-based” review.

Sprout seeds need warmth and humidity to grow — which also happen to be ideal conditions for pathogens to flourish. Because of the number of outbreaks associated with sprouts, the FDA developed special requirements for sprout growers within the Food Modernization and Safety Act that is just going into effect. A few years ago, the agency also helped launch the Sprout Safety Alliance, with the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Linda Harris, a microbiologist at University of California, Davis, says sprouts continue to be a problem because they’re challenging. Whether they’re alfalfa, mung bean, red clover or radish sprouts, they’re grown in warm environments and usually eaten raw.

“Efforts to reduce risk include testing seed, testing seed water. Soaking seed in sanitizers is another — none of which are foolproof,” says Harris. “It reduces risk, but the fact is, we still see outbreaks on a regular basis.”

Continued outbreaks are one reason lawyer Bill Marler has been crusading for a warning label similar to the one adopted by Jimmy John’s. At least, until a magic bullet emerges to fix the problem. Harris says that hasn’t happened yet.

“I think there’s been an effort to find some solution, but honestly, as a microbiologist, I think [sprouts are] always going to be a higher-risk product, at least under current technology,” says Harris.

Can labels of tenderized beef prevent E. coli illness?

Labels are a lousy information vehicle; but they’re a start.

According the this report from CBS, needle or mechanical tenderizing is where cuts of meat is pierced with needles or sliced with blades to break down collagen and make it taste better. But the meat could make you sick if not cooked properly.

needle.tenderize.crBrian Buckley, who works for the Institute of Culinary Education, said the process drives surface contaminants, including potentially lethal E. coli, deeper into the meat so cooking is less likely to kill them.

“If you don’t cook the meat thoroughly to 160 degrees all the way through, you could expose people who east more medium to medium rare to E. coli,” he explained.

The problem is there’s no way to know if the meat you’re buying is tenderized. There are no labels to alert consumers.

Between 2000 and 2009 there were five documented outbreaks of E. coli linked to mechanically tenderized beef, leaving 174 people sick, and one dead.

Starting in 2016, tenderized beef in the U.S. will have to be labeled as such, along with cooking instructions. Labels are already required in Canada.

About 25 percent of beef sold in stores is tenderized.