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Walmart to introduce new food label, with an eye toward reducing food waste

This month, Walmart plans to introduce a new food label that it hopes will help reduce food waste while keeping food prices low.

“With 795 million people in the world reportedly going hungry, food waste is an ugly problem to face,” said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Walmart. “In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that consumers throw away $ 29 billion worth of edible food each year in their homes. Walmart is especially concerned with reducing food waste, not only because we’re the world’s largest grocer, but also as an integral part of our [everyday low cost] philosophy that provides you everyday low prices. Two culprits of food waste are confusion caused by food labels and the tossing of imperfect — but perfectly usable — fresh produce.”

According to Yiannas, current labeling is confusing to consumers as food-safety indicators. “Most of the labels are created based on peak quality,” he said in a recent blog. “Adding to the confusion is the different language used on labels, including ‘best by,’ ‘use by’ and ‘sell by.’ That’s why, in the last year, we started requiring suppliers of nonperishable food products under our Great Value private label to use a standardized date label, ‘Best if used by’.”

The switch will go into full effect this month and involves thousands of products. Yiannas said the change was motivated by the release of a report by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America in 2013.

“My team has been working on a solution since then,” he added. “I expect the standard labels to have an even bigger impact on waste reduction since many of our suppliers sell products under their own labels outside of Walmart. This is significant, as the global economic impact of food wastage comes to about $ 750 billion each year.”

John Forrest Ales, Walmart’s director of corporate communications, spoke with The Produce News in mid-July to talk about the problem of food waste and ways in which the company is addressing the issue. “At the heart of who we are is everyday low cost,” he said. “We take that incredibly seriously.”

Ales said Walmart has developed its own distribution system to source fresh produce on a global basis. “We have a unique supply chain. We have standards beyond the Food and Drug Administration as to what produce should look like,” he said. “Our farmers pack and sort according to these standards.”

Recently, questions have arisen about food waste and what has been termed “ugly” or “wonky” produce. Fresh produce that falls into this category may not look perfect on the outside, but still provide consumers with high-quality fresh produce when consumed because the flaws are cosmetic only. An example, Ales said, is a three-legged carrot growing from a common green top.

“Farmers find alternate uses for these in most cases,” he explained, saying that the volume of product that does not fit with Walmart’s standard is relatively small. “There’s not a lot of that moving through the supply chain. You can’t just create three-legged carrots.”

In some instances, Ales said Walmart works with its network of farmers to move whole lots of produce that may have been affected by weather conditions. Freezes are examples, he said, of more global events that might have an impact upon the quality of fresh produce.

In the meantime, Jordan Figueiredo, a municipal recycling agent in Castro Valley, CA, and food nutritionist Stefanie Sacks are planning to submit a petition to Walmart at its Bentonville, AR, headquarters on July 20 signed by persons who encourage Walmart to address food waste by making produce that is less than perfect cosmetically available at its stores.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Hen housing trade offs: Food safety, workers and consumers

As it turns out, the food stores and restaurant chains promising to sell only cage-free eggs by some date in the future and egg producers have been doing their due diligence when it comes to the housing of laying hens.

Recently released findings of the Laying Hen Housing Research Project by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply looks at the advantages and disadvantages of three types of hen housing in five areas:

  • chickensonrun_406x250

    Cage-free does not mean the same thing as free range.

    animal health and well-being;

  • food safety and quality;
  • environmental impact;
  • worker health and safety; and
  • food affordability.

The three housing types included in the study were conventional cages that are also called battery cages, enriched colony set ups, and cage-free aviary operations. The research was conducted over two years and involved two flocks living in type of each housing system.

Hens in all the housing systems shed Salmonella at similar rates and the prevalence of Salmonella associated with egg shells was low and did not differ between housing systems, according to the researchers.

The highest environmental microbial levels were found in the aviary system litter area and on the enriched system scratch pad. Aviary floor eggs also had significantly higher levels of microorganisms that other types of eggs sampled.

batterycage_406x250

This is an example of a battery cage egg operation.

Housing systems did not influence the rate of egg quality decline though 12 weeks of extended storage and U.S. egg quality standards and grades were found to be adequate for all three housing systems.

The coalition — led by McDonald’s, Cargill Kitchen Solutions, the American Humane Association, Michigan State University, the University of California-Davis and the Center for Food Integrity — also found housing types did not result in differences in the immune systems of hens or the effectiveness of their Salmonella vaccinations.

Aviary forage areas and scratch pads in enriched colonies had the highest levels of total aerobes and coliform. Aviary floor eggs had the highest total aerobes and coliform levels.

The researchers also found the dry belt manure removal system impeded the detention of Campylobacter spp.

“It’s important to note that management practices likely had the greatest influence on environmental and off shell microbiology,” said the researchers. They said egg quality was not effected by the housing type, but hen dietary nutritional changes did make a difference.

In findings outside the food safety concerns, the study found cage-free aviary eggs would cost consumers 36 percent more than conventional battery cages. Enriched systems would cost 14 percent more than conventional.

The higher costs are driven by higher feed, labor, pullet and capital costs.

Worker health and safety is another major downside for cage free systems. The study found workers were exposed to significantly higher concentrations of airborne particles and endotoxin — toxic components of bacteria — when working in aviary houses than in conventional or enriched houses.

Workers tasked with gathering eggs from floors also faced “ergonomic challenges” in addition to respiratory hazards.

The research focused on indoor only systems because those are the most commonly used in commercial egg production.

All housing types were studied at the same location, a farm in the Midwest. Funding came from the Center for Food Integrity, which provided about $ 3 million each for MSU and UC-Davis. The conventional housing accommodated about 200,000 hens while the aviary and enriched units each housed 50,000 hens.

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Food Safety News

FirstFruits Marketing donates over 350,000 pounds of apples to local food banks

FirstFruits Marketing of Washington finished its sixth annual Take a Bite Out of Hunger program at select retailers with a collective donation of 350,000 pounds of apples to local food banks. This brings the total program donation to approximately 1,600,000 pounds over six seasons.
 
TAB-logo 1 FirstFruits created Take a Bite Out of Hunger with the goal of helping feed the underserved while bringing attention to the problem of food insecurity in the United States. In its sixth year, FirstFruits continues to partner with retailers and wholesalers to make fresh apple donations. Donations are made in a retailer’s name to local food banks with the retailer contributing the cost of freight. This year’s participating retailers and wholesalers included Ahold, Charlie’s Produce, Dave’s Marketplace, Good Food Stores, Harvey’s, McKay’s Markets, Northwest Grocers, Red Apple Markets, Roundy’s, Stater Brothers, Super 1 Foods, Thriftway and United Supermarkets.
 
“The Take a Bite Out of Hunger program continues to grow every year thanks to the continued support and dedication from our partners,” said Chuck Zeutenhorst, general manager of FirstFruits.  “Their participation is not just about the donation, but also about engaging and educating consumers about the issues surrounding hunger.”
 
Hunger isn’t just about being hungry. It’s about food insecurity, or not having regular access to safe, affordable and nutritious foods. As of 2014, 14 percent of all U.S. households were food-insecure according to the USDA. Of those, households with children reported food insecurity at a higher rate than those without children — 19 percent compared to 12 percent.
 
The Take a Bite Out of Hunger™ program provides full retail support with campaign-themed polybags and merchandisers, point-of-sale cards and ad slicks. At the conclusion of the program, local press is invited to cover the food bank donations.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Handling food for DNC convention: Just another day in the lab

When 400 pounds of samples from food bound for the Democratic National Convention arrived at a certain lab in Virginia, it was just another day at the office for scientists there.

Carrie Waggy chemical terrorism FERN

Carrie Waggy, chemical terrorism scientist on the Food Emergency Response Network team, prepares meat to be shipped to six labs across the country for testing in preparation for the Democratic national convention. (Photos by Christopher Waggener, the Virginia lab’s lead scientist for microbiology and training coordinator for FERN.)

It didn’t matter that the meat and poultry was part of the menu for the likes of convention delegates, political leaders and possibly the next president of the United States. The same precision, attention to detail and sense of urgency the scientists used for the Philadelphia-bound food is part of daily routine at Virginia’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services.

“I hope the average Joe would realize that you don’t have to be running for president to have safe food,” said Angela Fritzinger, deputy director of the state’s consolidated laboratory.

“We do this every day to ensure the safety of food for the public.”

Fritzinger said for the convention food samples scientists at the Virginia lab were tasked with receiving, documenting, dividing and packaging it, before sending it to six other labs across the country for actual testing. As with evidence in a criminal case, the samples required a strictly documented chain of custody to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the tests.

Once the other labs in the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) received the samples they were tested for pathogens such as E. coli and listeria monocytogenes, just like samples randomly pulled for testing from grocery stores by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

However, the convention food had to pass additional tests. Fritzinger said the meat and poultry was also tested for substances such as anthrax and the bacteria that causes botulism poisoning, as well as poisons such as arsenic and strychnine. The labs also checked the meat for any traces of radioactive substances.

Marc Carpenter, a USDA scientist who works with the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), helps prepare samples to be shipped to six labs across the country from Virginia’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services in preparation for the Democratic national convention.

Marc Carpenter, a USDA scientist who works with the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), helps prepare samples to be shipped to six labs across the country from Virginia’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services in preparation for the Democratic national convention.

Results of the tests were to be reported Friday, 10 days before the start of the July 25-28 convention. Fritzinger said she “couldn’t reveal the test results if she wanted to” because of national security concerns. If a problem was detected, the July 15 result deadline would have given convention organizers enough time to secure new food and have it tested.

Virginia’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services was also involved in food safety testing for food used at the 2012 political conventions and President Obama’s 2013 inauguration.

The lab in Richmond, VA, is a back-up lab for the Republican National Convention that starts today and runs through Thursday in Cincinnati. Fritzinger said the staff will be on stand-by in case a need for emergency or surge testing comes up during the event.

A number of federal agencies are working to ensure the safety of the food at the conventions, according to a statement from the Food and Drug Administration. As is the case every day, the USDA is in charge of meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and catfish, while FDA has jurisdiction over all other foods.

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Food Safety News

Hydrogen sulfide greatly enhances plant growth: Key ingredient in mass extinctions could boost food, biofuel production

TGF-FruitImageApr. 17, 2013 — Hydrogen sulfide, the pungent stuff often referred to as sewer gas, is a deadly substance implicated in several mass extinctions, including one at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago that wiped out more than three-quarters of all species on Earth.

But in low doses, hydrogen sulfide could greatly enhance plant growth, leading to a sharp increase in global food supplies and plentiful stock for biofuel production, new University of Washington research shows.

“We found some very interesting things, including that at the very lowest levels plant health improves. But that’s not what we were looking for,” said Frederick Dooley, a UW doctoral student in biology who led the research.

Dooley started off to examine the toxic effects of hydrogen sulfide on plants but mistakenly used only one-tenth the amount of the toxin he had intended. The results were so unbelievable that he repeated the experiment. Still unconvinced, he repeated it again — and again, and again. In fact, the results have been replicated so often that they are now “a near certainty,” he said.

“Everything else that’s ever been done on plants was looking at hydrogen sulfide in high concentrations,” he said.

The research is published online April 17 in PLOS ONE, a Public Library of Science journal.

At high concentrations — levels of 30 to 100 parts per million in water — hydrogen sulfide can be lethal to humans. At one part per million it emits a telltale rotten-egg smell. Dooley used a concentration of 1 part per billion or less to water seeds of peas, beans and wheat on a weekly basis. Treating the seeds less often reduced the effect, and watering more often typically killed them.

With wheat, all the seeds germinated in one to two days instead of four or five, and with peas and beans the typical 40 percent rate of germination rose to 60 to 70 percent.

“They germinate faster and they produce roots and leaves faster. Basically what we’ve done is accelerate the entire plant process,” he said.

Crop yields nearly doubled, said Peter Ward, Dooley’s doctoral adviser, a UW professor of biology and of Earth and space sciences and an authority on Earth’s mass extinctions.

Hydrogen sulfide, probably produced when sulfates in the oceans were decomposed by sulfur bacteria, is believed to have played a significant role in several extinction events, in particular the “Great Dying” at the end of the Permian period. Ward suggests that the rapid plant growth could be the result of genetic signaling passed down in the wake of mass extinctions.

At high concentrations, hydrogen sulfide killed small plants very easily while larger plants had a better chance at survival, he said, so it is likely that plants carry a defense mechanism that spurs their growth when they sense hydrogen sulfide.

“Mass extinctions kill a lot of stuff, but here’s a legacy that promotes life,” Ward said.

Dooley recently has applied hydrogen sulfide treatment to corn, carrots and soybeans with results that appear to be similar to earlier tests. But it is likely to be some time before he, and the general public, are comfortable with the level of testing to make sure there are no unforeseen consequences of treating food crops with hydrogen sulfide.

The most significant near-term promise, he believes, is in growing algae and other stock for biofuels. Plant lipids are the key to biofuel production, and preliminary tests show that the composition of lipids in hydrogen sulfide-treated plants is the same as in untreated plants, he said.

When plants grow to larger-than-normal size, they typically do not produce more cells but rather elongate their existing cells, Dooley said. However, in the treatment with hydrogen sulfide, he found that the cells actually got smaller and there were vastly more of them. That means the plants contain significantly more biomass for fuel production, he said.

“If you look at a slide of the cells under a microscope, anyone can understand it. It is that big of a difference,” he said.

Ward and Suven Nair, a UW biology undergraduate, are coauthors of the PLOS ONE paper. The work was funded by the UW Astrobiology Program.

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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Washington. The original article was written by Vince Stricherz.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. Frederick D. Dooley, Suven P. Nair, Peter D. Ward. Increased Growth and Germination Success in Plants following Hydrogen Sulfide Administration. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (4): e62048 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062048

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

USDA: Food Prices to Climb This Year

WASHINGTON — Total food prices this calendar year will rise 2.5% to 3.5%, according to a forecast just released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Much of the rise will result from the delayed effects of last year’s drought in the Midwest.

Even though the drought was severe, destroying a huge amount of field crops, food prices remained flat during 2012.


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That’s because, while prices rose for beef and veal, poultry, fruit and other foods, those hikes were offset by drops in the price of pork, eggs, vegetables and nonalcoholic beverages. Other food categories remained flat.

Read more: Fresh Food Prices Set to Rise in 2013

In addition, while the drought ravaged corn and soybean crops, which does affect food prices, it typically takes months for commodity price changes to show themselves at retail, according to the ERS.

“Most of the impact of the drought is expected to be realized in 2013,” the ERS report states.

Not surprisingly, beef prices are already up 1.7% in May over last year in May. Conversely, a decline in exports and an increase in hog production have kept pork prices almost flat. In fact, May pork prices were down 0.2% from May a year ago.

USDA’s ERS bases its forecast on current conditions and inflation.

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Supermarket News

World’s food supply got a little more plentiful: Resistance gene found against ug99 wheat stem rust pathogen

June 27, 2013 — The world’s food supply got a little more plentiful thanks to a scientific breakthrough.

Eduard Akhunov, associate professor of plant pathology at Kansas State University, and his colleague, Jorge Dubcovsky from the University of California-Davis, led a research project that identified a gene that gives wheat plants resistance to one of the most deadly races of the wheat stem rust pathogen — called Ug99 — that was first discovered in Uganda in 1999. The discovery may help scientists develop new wheat varieties and strategies that protect the world’s food crops against the wheat stem rust pathogen that is spreading from Africa to the breadbaskets of Asia and can cause significant crop losses.

Other Kansas State University researchers include Harold Trick, professor of plant pathology; Andres Salcedo, doctoral candidate in genetics from Mexico; and Cyrille Saintenac, a postdoctoral research associate currently working at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in France. The project was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Borlaug Global Rust Initiative.

The team’s study, “Identification of Wheat Gene Sr35 that Confers Resistance to Ug99 Stem Rust Race Group,” appears in the journal Science.

It identifies the stem rust resistance gene named Sr35, and appears alongside a study from an Australian group that identifies another effective resistance gene called Sr33.

“This gene, Sr35, functions as a key component of plants’ immune system,” Akhunov said. “It recognizes the invading pathogen and triggers a response in the plant to fight the disease.”

Wheat stem rust is caused by a fungal pathogen. According to Akhunov, since the 1950s wheat breeders have been able to develop wheat varieties that are largely resistant to this pathogen. However, the emergence of strain Ug99 in Uganda in 1999 devastated crops and has spread to Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen, though has yet to reach the U.S.

“Until that point, wheat breeders had two or three genes that were so efficient against stem rust for decades that this disease wasn’t the biggest concern,” Akhunov said. “However, the discovery of the Ug99 race of pathogen showed that changes in the virulence of existing pathogen races can become a huge problem.”

As a first line of defense, wheat breeders and researchers began looking for resistance genes among those that had already been discovered in the existing germplasm repositories, he said.

“The Sr35 gene was one of those genes that was discovered in einkorn wheat grown in Turkey,” Akhunov said. “Until now, however, we did not know what kind of gene confers resistance to Ug99 in this wheat accession.”

To identify the resistance gene Sr35, the team turned to einkorn wheat that is known to be resistant to the Ug99 fungal strain. Einkorn wheat has limited economic value and is cultivated in small areas of the Mediterranean region. It has been replaced by higher yielding pasta and bread wheat varieties.

Researchers spent nearly four years trying to identify the location of the Sr35 gene in the wheat genome, which contains nearly two times more genetic information than the human genome.

Once the researchers narrowed the list of candidate genes, they used two complimentary approaches to find the Sr35 gene. First, they chemically mutagenized the resistant accession of wheat to identify plants that become susceptible to the stem rust pathogen.

“It was a matter of knocking out each candidate gene until we found the one that made a plant susceptible,” Akhunov said. “It was a tedious process and took a lot of time, but it was worth the effort.”

Next, researchers isolated the candidate gene and used biotechnical approaches to develop transgenic plants that carried the Sr35 gene and showed resistance to the Ug99 race of stem rust.

Now that the resistance gene has been found, Akhunov and colleagues are looking at what proteins are transferred by the fungus into the wheat plants and recognized by the protein encoded by the Sr35 gene. This will help researchers to better understand the molecular mechanisms behind infection and develop new approaches for controlling this devastating pathogen.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

ShopRite’s virtual supermarkets serve Baltimore’s food deserts

Baltimore’s Virtual Supermarket Program, a nationally award-winning program that increases food access in neighborhoods designated as food deserts by providing online ordering and delivery options, has recently expanded.

The Virtual Supermarket Program — the flagship component of Baltimarket, the Baltimore City Health Department’s suite of community-based food access and food justice programs — enables residents to place grocery orders online, and offers free delivery to designated community sites. Residents can pay for groceries using cash, credit, debit or EBT/SNAP. Baltimore’s Virtual Supermarket is the first community-based program in the country to accept EBT/SNAP for online grocery ordering and delivery.

ShopRite of Howard Park, MD, is the second ShopRite store to partner with the Baltimore City Health Department to offer the Virtual Supermarket Program. This past summer, the Virtual Supermarket Program was re-launched in partnership with ShopRite of Glen Burnie, MD, which is operated by Collins Family Markets.

“My family and I are committed to serving the community by providing fresh food at great prices, and we are excited to extend this service to our Baltimore neighbors through the Virtual Supermarket Program,” Marshall Klein, vice president of retail operations for Klein’s Family Markets, which owns and operates nine ShopRite stores in Maryland, said in a press release. “Customers placing online orders will receive all of ShopRite’s weekly sales and traditional low prices, and each order will be hand selected by our team of personal shoppers. We are proud to join the Baltimarket program in its mission to provide fresh, healthy food to the City of Baltimore.”

“This expansion is about making life better for too many Baltimore City families who lack easy access to groceries, more than 30,000 of which are our children,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “That is absolutely unacceptable to me. In partnership with our community and business partners, we are taking action to help residents in some of our most challenged neighborhoods access healthy foods to feed their families.”

Approximately 20 percent of Baltimore City residents live in food deserts, which are defined as areas where the distance to a supermarket exceeds a fourth of a mile, where the median household income is at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, and over 40 percent of households lack access to a vehicle.

“Access to healthy foods is vital to the prevention and control of chronic disease, so expanding the Virtual Supermarket Program to even more Baltimore families is excellent news as we strive to provide healthier and more cost-effective food options across the city,” said Jacquelyn Duval-Harvey, interim health commissioner for Baltimore City.

“This virtual supermarket will be a tremendous resource to the residents of Perkins Homes and the surrounding community,” said Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano. “The ability for our seniors, families and children to have access to healthy and nutritious foods is a necessity that will greatly improve their quality of life.”

“Since Perkins Housing development is in the middle of a food desert, it is vital that our residents have access to fresh meats and produce,” said Travis Street, site manager and coordinator for POWER House, Living Classrooms Foundation. “The Virtual Supermarket Program, in partnership with the ShopRite of Howard Park, is helping our community to bridge the gap for eating better and living longer.”

The Virtual Supermarket is made possible through the support of United Way of Central Maryland and the Kaiser Foundation. The Baltimarket.org website is made possible through the support of the Delmarva Foundation.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

ShopRite’s virtual supermarkets serve Baltimore’s food deserts

Baltimore’s Virtual Supermarket Program, a nationally award-winning program that increases food access in neighborhoods designated as food deserts by providing online ordering and delivery options, has recently expanded.

The Virtual Supermarket Program — the flagship component of Baltimarket, the Baltimore City Health Department’s suite of community-based food access and food justice programs — enables residents to place grocery orders online, and offers free delivery to designated community sites. Residents can pay for groceries using cash, credit, debit or EBT/SNAP. Baltimore’s Virtual Supermarket is the first community-based program in the country to accept EBT/SNAP for online grocery ordering and delivery.

ShopRite of Howard Park, MD, is the second ShopRite store to partner with the Baltimore City Health Department to offer the Virtual Supermarket Program. This past summer, the Virtual Supermarket Program was re-launched in partnership with ShopRite of Glen Burnie, MD, which is operated by Collins Family Markets.

“My family and I are committed to serving the community by providing fresh food at great prices, and we are excited to extend this service to our Baltimore neighbors through the Virtual Supermarket Program,” Marshall Klein, vice president of retail operations for Klein’s Family Markets, which owns and operates nine ShopRite stores in Maryland, said in a press release. “Customers placing online orders will receive all of ShopRite’s weekly sales and traditional low prices, and each order will be hand selected by our team of personal shoppers. We are proud to join the Baltimarket program in its mission to provide fresh, healthy food to the City of Baltimore.”

“This expansion is about making life better for too many Baltimore City families who lack easy access to groceries, more than 30,000 of which are our children,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “That is absolutely unacceptable to me. In partnership with our community and business partners, we are taking action to help residents in some of our most challenged neighborhoods access healthy foods to feed their families.”

Approximately 20 percent of Baltimore City residents live in food deserts, which are defined as areas where the distance to a supermarket exceeds a fourth of a mile, where the median household income is at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, and over 40 percent of households lack access to a vehicle.

“Access to healthy foods is vital to the prevention and control of chronic disease, so expanding the Virtual Supermarket Program to even more Baltimore families is excellent news as we strive to provide healthier and more cost-effective food options across the city,” said Jacquelyn Duval-Harvey, interim health commissioner for Baltimore City.

“This virtual supermarket will be a tremendous resource to the residents of Perkins Homes and the surrounding community,” said Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano. “The ability for our seniors, families and children to have access to healthy and nutritious foods is a necessity that will greatly improve their quality of life.”

“Since Perkins Housing development is in the middle of a food desert, it is vital that our residents have access to fresh meats and produce,” said Travis Street, site manager and coordinator for POWER House, Living Classrooms Foundation. “The Virtual Supermarket Program, in partnership with the ShopRite of Howard Park, is helping our community to bridge the gap for eating better and living longer.”

The Virtual Supermarket is made possible through the support of United Way of Central Maryland and the Kaiser Foundation. The Baltimarket.org website is made possible through the support of the Delmarva Foundation.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Managing Moisture to Prevent Pests in Food Facilities

(Patricia Hottel is technical director at McCloud Services in South Elgin, IL, a leader in integrated pest management solutions serving the food supply chain of custody.)

The improper handling of water and organic debris in food facilities during food preparation and cleaning can contribute to pest problems such as cockroaches and small flies. The proper management of water in food facilities is crucial in reducing pest survival and contributes to the overall image of your brand.

Below are tips that can be helpful in reducing pest success in commercial kitchens due to moisture:

Beware of high-pressure hoses. High-pressure hoses are a more energy-efficient and less labor-intensive method for cleaning floors but have a tendency to push food debris into inaccessible areas. In addition, power washing can lead to more rapid deterioration of floor coatings and tile grout, increasing the attractiveness of floors for pest development. Mopping helps reduce these issues and is preferred. If mopping cannot be done, raising equipment off the floor can help reduce the organic debris collection points underneath the equipment. Where such design changes are not possible, place these hard-to-clean areas on a regular cleaning schedule to insure that food deposits are not available for pest development. In addition, placing equipment on wheels will help provide additional access for cleaning staff.

Use epoxy grouts instead of tile grout. Tile grout can deteriorate overtime allowing for organic material to accumulate between and underneath floor tiles. Epoxy grouts are now available, which are more resistant to high-pressure hoses than other grouting materials, and will last longer.

Clean floor mats daily. Floor mats are an area where moisture and organic debris can accumulate. Mats should be picked up each night to allow for proper floor cleaning and drying.

Clean ramps installed to move carts in and out of proofers, freezers and coolers. Areas sometimes neglected during the cleaning process are ramps. This can be another point where organic debris can be pushed during power washing of floors. Ramps either need to be tightly sealed or removed on a regular basis for proper cleaning.

Keep countertop cracks clean and sealed. Serving counters are designed with numerous cracks and crevices. It is hard to design them without some cracks and crevices and they are subject to lots of water and food spills. Place these countertops on a proper maintenance schedule to insure joints and edges are properly sealed. Sometimes what looks like sealant is caked food debris. Add a little moisture and we can have fruit fly or other small fly issues. Keep countertop cracks clean and sealed.

Avoid using partition walls. Partition walls, especially along cook lines, can be an area of cockroach harborage. A more open layout without partition walls is advised whenever possible.

Use flexible gas lines for cooking equipment. Flexible gas lines for cooking equipment are recommended so that the area behind the equipment can be accessed and cleaned. Due to the warmth of this area, it is an area common for cockroach activity.

Ensure that all floor drains can be easily accessed for cleaning. Unfortunately, floor drains used for water management can be located under equipment and cabinets. Hard-to-reach drains can be difficult to inspect and clean. If cabinets are located above a drain which staff cannot easily access for cleaning cut a hole in the cabinet so it can be accessed. Equipment on wheels can also help staff access floor drains. Special drain caps are now available to help seal drains to allow water flow into the drain while excluding pests.

Food Safety News

Food Safety News Hands Santa Nice List Nominees for 2014

Merry Christmas!

Whether today finds you celebrating the birth of Christ, the Winter Solstice, or about to observe Kwanzaa, the one thing everyone can agree on is that we need more nice people in this world.

Food Safety News is pleased to present our sixth-annual nominations for Santa’s nice list. As we did during the past five years, we’ve compiled a list of people who we think would be missed from the world of food safety if they were not doing what they’re doing.

Without further delay, here’s our list of nominees and why we picked them. Santa, the rest is up to you!

Jeff Almer

Six years ago this Christmas morning, Jeff Almer of Savage, MN, found himself opening presents from his mom, who had died four days earlier on Dec. 21. Shirley Mae Almer, 72, who beat cancer twice, was killed by eating peanut butter.

Shirley Almer was one of nine people who died after being infected with a deadly Salmonella strain that had contaminated peanut butter products made in Blakely, GA, by the Peanut Corporation of America.

When the jury trial of peanut-industry executives began in Albany, GA, last July, it was a surprise that he was there representing the victims and serving as a point of contact for them. Government attorneys prosecuting the case also fulfilled their duty to communicate with victims by relying on Jeff.

The trial took almost two months, but it finally delivered the justice for which Jeff had waited so long. Guilty, guilty, and guilty went the verdicts on a total of 98 federal felony counts. Jeff then got the word out to his network of other victims and friends back in Minnesota.

We expect Jeff will be back in Albany for the sentencing of the peanut-industry executives, and, in the meantime, he’ll be keeping other victims updated on what’s going on.

Tom Vilsack

We’ve decided it was nice of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to stick around. We think his longevity is turning out to be a positive thing for food safety. Six years ago, there was enough to make people suspicious of the former Iowa governor. His total food-safety experience was exempting a popular Iowa restaurant from the food code section on cross-contamination.

As Secretary of Agriculture, however, his food-safety accomplishments are piling up, and he’s no longer judged merely by his statehouse record. His service continuing into President Obama’s second term is significant. No Secretary of Agriculture has “gone the distance” since former Minnesota Gov. Orville L. Freeman held the office for eight straight of the Kennedy-Johnson years.

In his year-end message, the only thing Vilsack says about food safety is that USDA answered 1.3-million questions on the subject from consumers. He should have talked about his poultry inspection reforms. But since he is staying around, maybe he’ll use the next opportunity to get that done.

Dana Dziadul

When the Wake Forest, NC, girl was just 3 years old, she ate cantaloupe that was contaminated with Salmonella Poona and became infected with the pathogen.

Today, 16-year-old Dana Dziadul has written a children’s book about food-safety practices and distributes it without charge. The young victim-turned-advocate wrote “Food Safety Superstar” to teach kids four safety practices: hand-washing, table and counter cleaning, keeping cold and fresh foods cold, and making sure food is thoroughly cooked before eating it.

Her work has gotten the attention of FDA, and the book got a release at the U.S. Capitol. Nice, Dana!

Mike Taylor

If he played major-league baseball, sportswriters would be saying he is already a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame candidate and he is still on the field.

When Bill Clinton was president 20 years ago, Michael R. Taylor was the young attorney who served both as administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Acting Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA. His meat-industry reforms were the most significant in 100 years and included banning E. coli O157:H7 from beef products.

When Barack Obama became president in 2009, Taylor returned to government, first as senior advisor to the FDA commissioner. About a year later, he was named Deputy Commissioner for Foods, heading up the agency’s new Office of Foods.

This time, Taylor is reforming FDA’s regulation over food by implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). It puts him at the helm of the FDA team working on regulations to implement the new law. We have no doubt Taylor is going to get the job done by his open and flexible approach.

And that’s nice. (And, yes, he’s the same Mike Taylor who once worked for Monsanto.)

Sandra Eskin

The food-safety shop at The Pew Charitable Trusts, run by Sandra Eskin, continues to be an irreplaceable resource we rely upon, benefiting readers in ways that are not alway obvious. We don’t want to disclose any secrets, but sometimes, like when Congressional action is occurring in a dark tunnel somewhere, we’ve often turned to Sandra and her staff to shed some light on what’s happening.

Likewise, the work of her unit is also top-drawer. Whenever you hear that victims of foodborne illness are on Capitol Hill or at some statehouse telling their real-life stories, chances are it’s because Pew organized it.

Pew’s food-safety shop also benefits from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center’s expertise in surveys on social and demographic issues that are known for being thorough and spot-on. If you’re looking for a read that will get your brain going, check out the Pew Research Center’s “14 striking findings from 2014.”

Michele Simon

She is often on fire, especially if her target is a big corporation, but we’ve never heard anyone say that Michele Simon, JD, MPH, is not nice. A frequent contributing writer for Food Safety News, she had a breakout year of her own in 2014.

Simon is a public-health lawyer with a focus on food-industry marketing and lobbying tactics. She’s the author of “Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health,” and, “How to Fight Back,” and now she is also president of Eat Drink Politics, a watchdog consulting business.

The Oakland, CA, resident has been a food-industry writer/researcher since 1996. As an attorney, she also provides legal services to food and beverage companies (we presume the more enlightened ones) from Foscolo and Handel PLLC, The Food Law Firm, based in Sag Harbor, NY.

Amy Nordyke

A mother looking for a way of improving her children’s immune systems, she hit upon the idea of giving them raw (unpasteurized) milk to drink.

“I read that as long as I knew my farmers and knew that they took all the appropriate safety measures, my family would be safe from scary bacteria. So I jumped in and added it to our diet,” wrote Nordyke in a guest commentary published by Food Safety News last Oct. 14.

It started out well enough, even with the need to travel some to keep supplied. “We really liked raw milk,” she said. Then Seamus, her 18-month-old son, was sickened with bloody diarrhea that would quickly evolve into hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS, a potentially life-threatening attack on his kidneys.

Seamus would recover, and Amy had the courage to tell her family’s story, which opened her up to comments from all sides challenging her decisions as a mother. But she hung in there and answered most of them one by one.

Nice, Amy. By sharing your thinking with other parents, you made a difference in a way that we don’t often see. Thank you!

Food Safety News

The Food Safety News Nominees for Santa’s 2014 Naughty List

How did the media, our professional associates in corporate and government information, Maine Governor Paul R. LePage, Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel, Sheldon Lavin, POTUS (the president of the United States), and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg end up on the Food Safety News 2014 naughty list?

It’s complicated. Make yourself an eggnog and sit back. (You may need something to stiffen that eggnog.) But here’s the view as we look down on food-safety news land and as we all get ready to enjoy Christmas, or just use this much-needed break to rest up.

We, the media

We, the media, produced the Ebola scare for the U.S. because it generated ratings and readers. We made up stories and sold them to magazine editors who were both gullible and lazy. We helped instigate riots when we presented information we knew was incomplete.

The Ebola scare in the U.S. was so intensely hot for awhile that it was the most searched-for word of 2014, according to Google. Would a foreign army landing on the beaches of the Gulf Coast have gotten more panicked coverage than one man sickened with Ebola got when he landed in Dallas?

The panic ended when no cases originated in the U.S., the White House named an Ebola czar and stopped talking about it, and someone made the merciful decision to stop CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden from doing anymore TV interviews.

When the scare ended, so did almost all coverage of the real Ebola crisis in Western Africa.

How far back this sent infectious disease reporting remains to be seen. Few American who got that hot shot of Ebola scare reporting were left with any useful understanding of the far greater risks we face on a routine basis, including the foodborne variety. The damage from all that sloppy reporting is outside our wheelhouse, but other than to put paper sacks over our heads, there is not much we can do about it. But we know naughty when we see it, and 2014 was a very bad year for the media. Sorry about that.

Our professional associates in corporate and government public information

We are talking here about the corporate public-relations people and the so-called public information officers (PIOs) we work with daily.

There are some exceptions, we might call them old-school types, who still know how to develop working relationships with reporters based on trust and professionalism. No Christmas presents are exchanged, but these are the folks who still have a human face.

Unfortunately, old-schoolers, including some who are in their 20s, are rare today. We’ve come to find that corporate public relations exists to create an illusion of openness for the company without any intention of ever delivering.

An even more disturbing trend is underway among the government PIOs, whose salaries are paid by the taxpayers. It used to be that PIOs would be driven by the information they could quickly get out from their agencies. The really good ones could be quoted by their bosses.

Today, PIOs are on a mission, which, again with rare exceptions, is to minimize or extinguish the information coming from their agency or department. Anyone doing real journalism is viewed as a threat, and your tax money is now going for those communications tools where the government has total control of the message and is able to meter the real information down to a trickle.

These are not new trends, but the feeling that they’ve reached a tipping point was very much part of the journalistic atmosphere in 2014.

Gov. Paul R. LePage

Moving on to a single individual, Maine Gov. Paul R. LePage falls on the naughty list for a very specific reason.

It’s not that, during 2014, the narrowly re-elected Republican governor let the Maine Center for Disease Control go without the leadership of a director or state epidemiologist, or even the agency’s weird decision to keep secret the name of a restaurant where someone worked while infected with Hepatitis A.

No, LePage falls on the naughty list because he really messed up what might have been a teachable moment regarding when a state’s top public health authority may, or may not, order someone held in quarantine. Everyone remembers the healthcare worker traveling home from West Africa, first to New Jersey and then home to Maine.

LePage took time out from his close campaign to put state police outside the woman’s Fort Kent house, and, for three days, he made one strong statement after another.

“Maine has established protocols for the monitoring of any individual who returns to Maine after traveling from West African regions that have been impacted by Ebola,” he said. “These protocols include monitoring the individual for 21 days after the last possible exposure to Ebola. Twenty-one days is the longest time it can take from the time a person is infected with Ebola until that person has symptoms of Ebola,” he continued, adding, “But we must be vigilant in our duty to protect the health and safety of all Mainers, as well as anyone who may come in contact with someone who has been exposed to Ebola.”

“We commend all healthcare workers for their humanitarian work in West Africa and other regions of the world, and we are proud that they are always ready to help others,” LePage went on. “Upon the healthcare workers’ return home, we will follow the guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for medical workers who have been in contact with Ebola patients. Additionally, we will work with the healthcare worker to establish an in-home quarantine protocol to ensure there is no direct contact with other Mainers until the period for potential infection has passed. We will help make sure the healthcare worker has everything to make this time as comfortable as possible.”

The quarantined nurse went bicycle riding and hired an attorney, who went to a lower state court and got her sprung short of her 21-day quarantine period. LePage then just said he did everything he could, but the judge had lifted the restrictions and he’d abide by state law.

Maybe his campaign polling showed he was on the wrong side of the issue. Governors usually don’t accept lower-court decisions, and they can get their appeals heard all the way up to the state supreme court pretty fast.

State quarantine laws have not been used much in recent years, but, a generation or two ago, people commonly accepted orders to stay put until some infectious disease was brought under control. One thing is for certain: Such laws were never intended for use just to make a politician look tough during a campaign — or not.

Ben Brancel

Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel, himself a dairy farmer for 22 years and who still runs Angus and Hereford cattle, took over the helm of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in January 2011, six months before an outbreak from contaminated raw milk at a Racine elementary school. He makes his way on to our naughty list because he managed to keep the name of the dairy farm associated with that outbreak secret for 3.5 years.

Brancel, who now serves at the pleasure of WI Republican Gov. Scott Brown, is representative of those state departments of agriculture which sometimes put their mission to protect and promote their farm and ranch sectors ahead of food safety.

When state health departments or state agriculture departments attempt to hide such basic information — such as who, what, and why — from the public, they are only harming themselves by generating ever more reason to distrust government. Brancel certainly should know that. He also headed Wisconsin’s agriculture department under former WI Gov. Tommy Thompson.

After another school-related outbreak occurred in Wisconsin last September, causing numerous illnesses, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel decided it had had enough. The newspaper enlisted open-records advocates and used state law to force the release of the names of the involved raw-milk farms.

“It’s outrageous. The public has the right to this information. Who is the state of Wisconsin trying to protect, the public or bad operators?” said Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

Naughty, Mr. Secretary.

Sheldon Lavin

With $ 6 billion in worldwide revenue, OSI Group Chairman and CEO Sheldon Lavin could not have gone into 2014 on a higher note. He’d just been inducted into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame. He was introduced in November 2013 to the elite gathering at the Drake Hotel in Chicago by McDonald’s President Jeff Stratton, who spoke of Lavin’s connection to the “McFamily,”a reference to OSI’s meat-supplying relationship with McDonald’s going back to the legendary Ray Kroc.

Then 2014 dawned and brought an international food-safety crisis that landed Lavin on this year’s naughty list. That’s a bit of a step down from the Forbes 100 list of largest privately owned companies.

OSI Group in 2014 spanned the world, with the company supplying meat in China and Japan to McDonald’s, Yum! Brands’ KFC and Pizza Hut restaurants, and many others.

Then last summer, Dragon TV struck with a report that OSI’s Shanghai Husi Food Co. Ltd. was selling meat to these fast-food outlets that was past its expiration dates and that production facilities were far from sanitary.  The Chinese public reacts strongly to food-safety threats, especially where American companies are involved.

Almost immediately, contracts were cancelled and the Shanghai unit closed down except for staff to deal with the investigation. Levin was forced into crisis mode. OSI continues to have expansive operations in China, but the cleanup from that Dragon TV airing will continue well into 2015.

POTUS

More than a year ago, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen left government service, leaving open the position of Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA. According to the law, the position shall be filled by presidential appointment and confirmed by the United States Senate.

Leaving this position open is not an option. And it’s enough to put President Barack Obama on the naughty list, no matter how meritorious his overall record on food safety.

When USDA was reorganized by Congress in 1993, the added currency of the agency’s top food-safety officer being a presidential appointment with Senate confirmation was recognized as being in the public interest.

Both the White House and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack have shown their flexibility and creativity in keep the food-safety shop in good hands. They’ve done it with an “Odd Couple” pairing. Brian Ronholm, who was Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety under Hagen, then named Acting Under Secretary after she departed, recently assumed the Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety title again.

Then, in late September, FSIS Administrator Al Almanza was also named USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. In other words, there are now two deputies at the agency, but the president did not make an appointment to the top job.

Only POTUS (the president of the U.S.) can move this one off the dime. It would be unfortunate if his food-safety legacy is scuffed by leaving the appointment of the next Under Secretary for Food Safety to whoever follows him into the Oval Office. Mr. President, the clock is ticking, and you shall not pass this way again.

Margaret A. Hamburg

Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg. Perhaps you’ve heard of her. But, if you are involved in food safety, even if you attend a lot of the various conferences and seminars held throughout the year, chances are you’ve never laid eyes on the commissioner.

It’s not unusual for the FDA Commissioner to spend most of his or her time on the drug side of the house. Approval of drugs and medical devices is where the glamor and big bucks can be found once you leave public office. Besides, when you’ve got talent like Mike Taylor holding down the food side, why not just let it be?

Still, we’ve been watching from afar for a long time and could not help but notice the only published remarks Hamburg made before a food group in 2014 were to the World Spice Congress in Cochin, India, last February. To be fair, she did also speak in Washington, D.C., last February on the nutrition facts label.

We understand favoring one kid over the other. We’d just like to see her around campus sometime.

Food Safety News

Chinese Lawmakers Mull Tougher Penalties for Breaking Food Safety Laws

The bi-monthly legislative session of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, being held Monday through Saturday in Beijing, is considering a draft revision to China’s food safety laws that would include detention for offenders.

Anyone who adds inedible substances to foods could go to jail for up to 15 days, states the submitted bill language. Current law mandates fines and certificate revocation for such violations, so “administrative detention” (imposed by police without court proceedings) is considered a tough penalty in China.

Those suspected of committing more serious offenses would be subject to China’s criminal law. Lawmakers had argued in August that the current food safety law is not clear about what action should be considered a criminal offense.

The draft bill also adds punishments for adding expired material or additives to products. A high-profile event occurred back in July when Shanghai Husi Food Co., which supplied McDonald’s and KFC, was found to be using reprocessed expired meat in its products. Six of the company’s senior executives were subsequently arrested.

The fine for producers would be 10 to 20 times the total product value if worth more than 10,000 yuan ($ 1,600). For products worth less than that, the fine would be 50,000 to 100,000 yuan (approximately $ 8,000 to $ 16,000). Production certificates would be revoked for serious offenses.

The latest version of the bill also allows for the prosecution of anyone who leases out production sites and allows illegal activities on their property, but it exempts distributors from punishment if they can show they followed procedure and were unaware of suppliers’ practices.

The bill would also require producers to label products that contain any genetically modified ingredients. A member of the committee noted that the public needs more specific labeling information since general awareness of the issue is not as high as it could be.

“Labeling does not mean that genetically modified foods are unsafe, but the public might not see it that way,” said Xu Weigang.

Food Safety News

Chinese Lawmakers Mull Tougher Penalties for Breaking Food Safety Laws

The bi-monthly legislative session of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, being held Monday through Saturday in Beijing, is considering a draft revision to China’s food safety laws that would include detention for offenders.

Anyone who adds inedible substances to foods could go to jail for up to 15 days, states the submitted bill language. Current law mandates fines and certificate revocation for such violations, so “administrative detention” (imposed by police without court proceedings) is considered a tough penalty in China.

Those suspected of committing more serious offenses would be subject to China’s criminal law. Lawmakers had argued in August that the current food safety law is not clear about what action should be considered a criminal offense.

The draft bill also adds punishments for adding expired material or additives to products. A high-profile event occurred back in July when Shanghai Husi Food Co., which supplied McDonald’s and KFC, was found to be using reprocessed expired meat in its products. Six of the company’s senior executives were subsequently arrested.

The fine for producers would be 10 to 20 times the total product value if worth more than 10,000 yuan ($ 1,600). For products worth less than that, the fine would be 50,000 to 100,000 yuan (approximately $ 8,000 to $ 16,000). Production certificates would be revoked for serious offenses.

The latest version of the bill also allows for the prosecution of anyone who leases out production sites and allows illegal activities on their property, but it exempts distributors from punishment if they can show they followed procedure and were unaware of suppliers’ practices.

The bill would also require producers to label products that contain any genetically modified ingredients. A member of the committee noted that the public needs more specific labeling information since general awareness of the issue is not as high as it could be.

“Labeling does not mean that genetically modified foods are unsafe, but the public might not see it that way,” said Xu Weigang.

Food Safety News

Hy-Vee improves food access with free shuttle

A Hy-Vee store in Ottumwa, Iowa, is improving food access in two counties by providing free shuttle transportation to shoppers who live up to 40 miles away.

The service, which is funded by Hy-Vee, is part of that store’s involvement in a consortium of local businesses and non-profits led by the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation to bring together siloed efforts that address food deserts and food insecurity in Wapello County, Iowa. At 14.2% the 35,000-resident county has the second highest food insecurity rate in the state.

Through interviews with community members and data analysis, consortium members learned that a lack of transportation in area food deserts is so hindering that it prevents SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants and Children program) recipients from expending all of their  benefits each month, Amber Payne, consultant and coordinator for Growing Wapello Together, told SN

“That’s their purchasing power and they’re not even able to use it,” she said.

Even when community members in food deserts are able to access public transportation — which stops running at 5 p.m. on weekdays and doesn’t run at all on the weekends — the bus system limits the number of bags riders are permitted to travel with. Compounding the issue is the fact that benefit recipients often have small children in tow and the winters are especially harsh.

Hy-Vee’s shuttle service, which picks up and drops off groups and individual shoppers from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every Friday, is helping scale many of these hurdles.

“They can take as many bags as they’d like, they can ride after 5p.m. and take as much time at the grocery stores as they want,” noted Ina Cavin, store director at the North Ottumwa Hy-vee. “It’s not like they’re going to miss their ride.”

Shoppers can call ahead to schedule a pick-up or do so on the day of. Fridays were chosen since that is when many residents get paid, and the local community college, which educates a lot of international students, does not hold classes.

In recent weeks there have been as many as 85 passengers on shuttle days, but Carter expects that number to grow now that it’s distributing Spanish-language flyers about the service, and has enlisted a Spanish-speaking dispatcher to set up rides. Direct mail flyers will be sent to homes in particularly high-risk areas to notify residents of the free service.

Supermarket News

Letter From the Editor: CA Law Likely to Increase Egg Prices, But What About Food Safety?

On Jan. 2, a new California law will require that shell eggs sold at retail in the state will come only from hens housed in larger cages, be they resident or non-resident hens. This change comes at a time when egg consumption and prices are both up to historic highs, an increase of 30-35 percent over this time last year.

The California experiment will likely create turmoil in egg markets and push prices higher in 2015. Californians might for a while even find egg counters empty.

The dirty little secret is that the California mandate will mean higher egg prices without buying much in the way of food safety. If we are going to up-end the egg industry with massively costly change, we might have done something more useful — such as invest in more pasteurized egg capacity. But food safety was not really part of the agenda for more elbow room for chickens.

California voters put the state’s egg producers on notice six years ago that, come Jan. 2, 2015, only eggs from hens in larger cages could be sold at retail in the state. Then, after hearing complaints about the disadvantage in-state producers would be under, the California Assembly amended the law to make it apply to out-of-state producers as well.

That was a first. Other states — Michigan, Oregon, and Washington — have adopted their own cage requirements, but only California is restricting trade from other states and foreign countries based on its rules for space requirements for chickens.

Before it took effect, opposing Midwestern egg-producing states were not getting much traction in federal court in California, but that may change once the market dislocation and higher egg prices kick in. Before the new mandate, California egg producers supplied only 1 in 3 eggs consumed in the state.

California consumers demand more eggs from somewhere, and there’s a lot of fog out there about whether enough caging capacity outside of California has been expanded to fulfill that demand within the new constraints of the law. Although they’ve been counting down the years to Jan. 2 since the initiative passed, the new California law does not seems to have had the required impact on how U.S. egg producers shelter their laying hens. And, as many as 95 percent of them might still use so-called battery-cage systems.

That figure might now be reversed within California. The mostly family-owned egg producers inside California have, in the past six years, made the capital investments to comply with Proposition 2 standards, which even they call “vague mandates on housing,” according to the Association of California Egg Farmers.

Changing out battery-cage infrastructure entirely in the U.S. would cost egg producers (or somebody) as much as $ 10 billion. The European Union move to so-called “enriched cages” became effective in 2012, although it is involved in litigation with about a dozen member states that have not gone along. EU producers reportedly spent more than $ 600 million on the changes.

Battery-cage infrastructure not only provides housing for the hens, but also are complex systems for feeding and watering, waste disposal, and collecting the eggs. Egg producers say battery cages help prevent disease and turn out cleaner eggs. Attempts to set a national standard for larger laying-hen cages failed both as standalone bills and as an inclusion to the 2014 Farm Bill.

My take is that, from a food-safety perspective, how cages are managed and operated is more important than design standards for cage sizes.

After the 2010 recalls over the big Salmonella outbreak involving Jack DeCoster’s Iowa egg farms, I was able to tag along with the teams of plaintiff lawyers and experts that the court allowed to go inside that part of the DeCoster kingdom. It was a bio-security area, meaning all these lawyers and experts had to dress up in those “sperm suits” with booties and mesh helmets.

Once inside, however, we all saw birds (including some chickens) freely flying about, rodents, and impressive amounts of manure. Some ares were more crowded than others. While the egg-laying and the feeding and watering continued in a house with about a half-million laying hens, one henhouse wall was literally being busted out from the pressure of all the manure that had been dumped behind it.

The wall was busting out because employees had fallen way behind in removing manure. One told me that heavy spring rains had made it impossible to get the chicken poop removed after it was stored up over the winter. He also said they were short-staffed. It became clear to me that the management and operation of egg-production systems should be the key concern.

It’s easy to think of the size of a cage in isolation, but that’s not realistic for large-scale egg production. These are huge systems that fill barns from floor to ceiling and wall to wall and represent a massive capital investment. Going into this change in California, we have consumers paying $ 4.49 per dozen for grocery store eggs. We can only guess how much more they are going to have to pay for bigger chicken cages.

But it is what it is. California won’t care how many eggs it breaks beginning Jan. 2. There will be all sorts of reactions over the law and treaties. But all that takes time, and everyday people eat eggs. Americans were on track to eat 266 each this year, or 23 dozen for each of us, according to the Egg Industry Center in Ames, IA. We ate five more eggs this year per capita than in 2013, and pricey beef and pork prices are also pushing up our egg consumption.

Every egg comes with some risk of Salmonella. Your risks go up if you often order sunny-side-up eggs, or if you have a taste for lightly soft-boiled eggs, or maybe you opt for Caesar salads. This applies to cage-free farms and even those backyard henhouses, which have been subject to a recent nationwide Salmonella outbreak.

Pasteurized eggs are available in the market. Lansing, IL-based Safest Choice, with an all-natural egg pasteurization process that eliminates Salmonella in eggs, appears to be doing nicely. The process does not change the nutrition or flavor. You can search the Safest Choice website for both nearby retailers and restaurants with pasteurized eggs.

But most eggs are sold raw. And the Salmonella risk is the same whether they are white or brown, conventional or organic. If this truly is the tipping point for somebody spending $ 10 billion to change out the housing for chickens, shouldn’t we get some improved food safety along the way?

Food Safety News

Food retailers spreading holiday cheer

‘Tis the season to be jolly — and if you’re a clever supermarket operator, to deck your halls with creative promotions. The German supermarket Edeka got into the spirit with a viral video featuring its cashiers scanning “Jingle Bells.”

The music continues at both H-E-B and Food Lion. H-E-B’s “Joyville” website provides holiday recipes, a gift guide, and free holiday music downloads from Texas honky-tonk artist Jack Ingram.

At the “Roaring in the Holidays,” site, Food Lion is offering its shoppers the chance to send electroinic gift cards and download a series of holiday songs “sung” by its deadpan spokeslion.

At Price Chopper, shoppers who submit holiday photos on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #CheerBeginsHere are eligible to win one of four $ 1,000 Price Chopper gift cards.

Albertsons has partnered with Nabisco and Coca-Cola on a web program allowing parents to print out personalized “letters from Santa” for their children.

Kroger is asking shoppers to do a good deed, tweet about it, and possibly win a prize in its The site issues a series of challenges for shoppers, ranging from volunteering at a local food bank to building a snowman.

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Supermarket News

Academia Has Most Food Safety Educators, Government Reaches Most Consumers

According to an analysis by the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE), academia, public health agencies and schools are the most active sources of food safety education in the U.S.

PFSE commissioned North Carolina State University to conduct the survey to identify the organizations most involved with food safety education, the audiences they serve, and the channels they use most frequently to communicate safe food handling messages.

The organization released the results of its “environmental scan” at the 2014 Consumer Food Safety Education Conference on Thursday, Dec. 4.

“We were looking to identify as many of the robust sources of consumer education and outreach programming as we could in the United States because it’s very important to how the Partnership does its job and how we plan for the future,” said Shelley Feist, PFSE executive director.

The survey found that academia (including cooperative extension) is the biggest source for consumer educators, followed by public health services, Family and Consumer Sciences teachers and people involved with school food service, the federal government, and non-profit organizations.

One highlight of the research was that most food safety education is done in person. According to the survey, 90 percent of the people who consider themselves food safety educators use face-to-face meetings and presentations.

The next most popular channel was the web, which is used by 36 percent of educators — mostly in the federal government.

Other channels include television, print media, phones and poster displays.

While cooperative extension represents the majority of educators who come in contact with consumers, the survey found that the government reaches the most people on an annual basis (through programs such as Food Safe Families, Cook it Safe and Fight BAC!).

Across the three most active groups, children and families with children are the primary targets for education — important since half of all foodborne illness hospitalizations are children.

One disappointing finding was that half of educators reported that they were not monitoring their organizations’ impact or don’t know whether they are.

“This is an area we all intend to work together on improving,” Feist said.

PFSE plans to host a webinar in February to dig deeper into the data and discuss how to allocate resources in the future.

Food Safety News

From Wariness to Welcome: Engaging New England on Food Safety

(This blog post by Michael R. Taylor, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, was published Dec. 4, 2014, on FDA Voice. It is the first of two posts about state listening sessions on updates to four FDA rules proposed to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act.)

What a difference a year makes.

In August last year, my team and I visited New England to talk about the rules proposed in 2013 to implement FSMA. We were met with skepticism and some genuine fear that our produce safety proposals did not take full account of local growing practices and would both disrupt traditional practices and deter innovation. These weren’t easy conversations, but they proved instrumental in FDA’s decision to propose — on Sept. 29, 2014 — updates, or supplements, to four of the proposed FSMA rules overseeing human and animal foods, both domestic and imported. These proposals include significant changes in the produce safety proposal and related elements of the preventive controls rules for food facilities.

Michael R. Taylor

We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we flew to Vermont on Sunday, Nov. 16, for a listening session the next day on the proposed supplemental rules. But the tenor of this visit was dramatically different, and very positive, beginning with the detour we took from our FSMA mission on Sunday to visit leading players in Vermont’s local food movement and artisanal cheese-making community.

Accompanied by Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross, we first toured the Vermont Food Venture Center (VFVC) in Hardwick, a regional food hub that leases space to small food businesses, providing kitchen equipment, food storage and business consultations. The goal of this modern, well-equipped facility, as Executive Director Sarah Waring explained, is to strengthen Vermont’s local food network and agricultural economy.

We then toured Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, a renowned maker of artisanal cheeses. We were welcomed by brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler, who have taken an innovative approach to making cheese using both traditional methods and the latest technology. Their goal is to establish a network of local farms that supply the milk, with Jasper Hill aging and distributing the cheeses in an effort to support small dairy operations.

Our goal was to continue the dialogue we started this year with the cheese-making community to better understand, as food safety regulators, what goes into making artisanal cheeses. We learned a lot, tasted some great cheese, and left impressed by the community-oriented commitment at both VFVC and Jasper Hill Farm and by their use of top-tier tools to strengthen Vermont’s local food system.

When we arrived back in Montpelier on Sunday night, the setting was like something out of a postcard. This picturesque town, the nation’s smallest state capital, was dusted in the season’s first snow, which only accentuated its natural beauty and charm. We were happy to be there.

On Monday morning, we drove to the Vermont Law School in South Royalton for the FSMA listening session. This school, set in the rolling landscape of rural Vermont, is renowned for its commitment to sustainable environmental practices.

We saw familiar faces. Some had come to the meeting directly from their farm — through the snow. There were people from all over the Northeast — people who had participated in our series of listening sessions throughout New England in 2013. But this time, the response and dialogue were different. We heard acknowledgement and appreciation that we had addressed many of their concerns in our revised proposals by making the proposed rules more feasible while still meeting our public health goals.

Much of the discussion focused on implementation of the rules, and, interestingly, some of the concerns echoed those we had heard in a Nov. 6 listening session in Sacramento, CA, a place not only on the opposite side of the country but so different in its production systems. Many are finding the complexity of the proposed rules daunting, such as the technical underpinnings of the E. coli benchmark for water quality and the various boundary lines and exemptions that determine who is covered. We’ve always said that we wouldn’t take a “one size fits all” approach, which has contributed to making the rules more complicated. This only underscores our responsibility to explain the rules clearly and to provide education, technical assistance and guidance.

Secretary Ross said early and often that we need to educate before and as we regulate. And he’s right. I am struck anew by the importance of our partnerships with state leaders. Vermont’s Ross and California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross have been invaluable in helping us develop these rules, as they will continue to be as we move toward implementation.

We were grateful for the participation in the listening session by food safety advocates Lauren Bush and Gabrielle Meunier, who each spoke of the devastating effects of foodborne illnesses. Lauren almost died after eating a salad contaminated by E. coli in 2006, and Gabrielle’s young son fought, and recovered from, a Salmonella infection in 2008 after eating tainted peanut butter crackers. Their stories underscore the underlying reason for the effort that so many are making to implement FSMA — to keep people safe.

Some participants expressed the view that even though we decided to defer, pending further study, our decision on an appropriate interval between the application of raw manure and harvest, some kind of interval is needed to protect crops from pathogens. Some suggested that the 90- to 120-day intervals set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program be adopted as an interim measure.

Others inquired how the FSMA rules would affect them based on very individual scenarios. We asked them, and we’re asking everyone, to comment on the supplemental rules and include those scenarios for us to consider in drafting the final rules. We don’t want to create unintended harmful consequences.

The deadline for commenting on the four supplemental rules for Produce Safety, Preventive Controls for Human Food, Preventive Controls for Animal Food and Foreign Supplier Verification Programs is Dec. 15. Visit our FSMA page on fda.gov for more information.

Our Vermont trip was followed by state listening sessions in Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. I will be filing another FDA Voice blog on what we learned in those Southern states.

Food Safety News

New solutions to reducing food waste

While perusing the National Restaurant Association’s What Hot 2015 Culinary Forecast, an annual survey of close to 1,300 professional chefs, I was surprised to see a prediction that had nothing to do with what’s on the menu. An analysis of long-term trends says food waste reduction and management will be top concerns for restaurants next year.

One of the reasons the NRA cited for increased worries around food waste is the rising cost of food. (The association recently noted that wholesale food price inflation is at a three-year high.)

Obviously, letting food go to waste can be costly for any business, and supermarkets are just as susceptible as restaurants. A 2012 food waste study from the National Resources Defense Council, citing USDA estimates, said that food retailers lose $ 15 billion a year just from unsold produce.

Only about 40% of wasted food at supermarkets is recycled or donated, according to a Food Waste Reduction Alliance infographic released last month. That compares to 93.4% at manufacturing facilities and 10% to 60% at restaurants.

Given that there is still a long way to go to divert all of the food that retailers waste, it’s refreshing to see some companies trying out innovative practices beyond donations and composting.

Twelve Wegmans stores have begun sending food scraps to be turned into energy using anaerobic digesters, reports Rochester, N.Y.-based WROC. Just one store creates six tons per week of food trimmings that can be donated as part of the energy program. Overall, food waste accounts for 30% of Wegmans’ trash.

The anaerobic digester is located at a local farm, which is able to completely power its operations with the food scrap donations it receives.

The scraps converted to energy, combined with related composting efforts, amount to 150 tractor trailer loads of food diverted from landfills, wrote Jason Wadsworth, Wegmans’ sustainability coordinator, in a blog post on the retailer’s website.

Similarly, earlier this year New York’s Fairway Market installed aerobic digesters at nine stores. The Eco-Safe Digesters turn food scraps into gray water that can be sent to a standard sewer line.

Each digester can convert up to 2,500 pounds of food waste daily. Since the machines are located at the stores, they also eliminate emissions that would result from trucking scraps to a landfill.

Here’s hoping 2015 will see even more retailers taking advantage of all available options when it comes to reducing food waste.

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