A Storm is Brewing in the Produce Section

Years ago, food recalls were typically initiated from a malfunction or mechanical error.

The times have changed. Recalls are reaching deeper into consumers’ diets creating greater fear, that something’s wrong with the system. Products aren’t merely recalled for poor processing, slaughterhouse accidents, or canning glitches…there are dangerous new challenges.

Strawberries were tainted with E. coli from human waste improperly transferred to fields. Spinach was found with E. coli contamination inside the leaves (because cow manure from nearby farms contaminated groundwater that fed the plants), so proper washing and sanitation were ineffective at removing internal pathogens. There’s always another failure. There’s always something new to frighten the public.

Products recalled during the demise of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) should have forever changed public perceptions of food safety. In most previous recalls, only one brand was effected; but salmonella contamination of peanut products was “encapsulated” in an ingredient. Multiple companies used raw materials from the same source (PCA), so few brands remained on the shelf. (Historically when one brand made a mistake, consumers switched to an alternate product; but what if all brands used the same contaminated ingredients?)

Executives from big corporations who bought tainted peanut products were interviewed. The consensus from these leaders: it’s impossible to guarantee quality products are manufactured if their suppliers provide (undetected) contaminated ingredients. (It’s not possible to make good products without good ingredients.)

The adjoining truth is that food doesn’t have to be a commodity. The best solution is correction at the source. (Implement hazard analysis and control measures from the farm to the family home.) Instead, the government might use outbreaks as political fuel for further processing regulations. Processors are tasked with managing worker hygiene, equipment and finished products; so their next step would require radiation or thermal treatments for all foods. Those measures could deliver results, effectively killing E. coli potentially present, but not every consumer wants to eat ‘nuclear vegetables.’ Greater questions of hygienic behavior when implementing radiation treatment lies in whether sanitation standards would suffer because everything would be ‘treated.’ Sanitation might significantly relax because of radiation treatments. (There is already an industry with this philosophy. They manufacture pet foods.)

While the industry chases the fastest and cheapest way to manufacture foods that excite the palate, there’s a growing movement to transition toward natural organic foods. Eating lower on the food chain can dramatically reduce risk. With fresh ingredients assembled at home, sanitation is controlled by end-users and nutritional value increases. Some contamination risks are minimized by following a plant based diet, but proper storage and hygiene are important for extending the integrity of all foods. This won’t help if plants are internally contaminated, but that’s a more compelling reason to know the farmer!

How can average consumers transition to safely preparing and storing raw foods at home? The short list includes sprouting equipment, an organic sanitizer, and ways to extend shelf life beyond growing season: pickling supplies, a dehydrator, and perhaps a kefir starter. A quality juicer or high-speed blender will complete the raw food kitchen, and stocking cabinets with raw superfood powders makes the transformation complete.

Exporting Foods and Selling-Out

Maybe you’ve heard about the buyout of Smithfield Foods by a Chinese firm in 2013.

Baby pig in a pigsty

As usual, the mainline media got the story wrong, in favor of catering to the direction of the political winds at the time.

Yes, the Chinese have taken over one of the USA’s largest pork producers.  That’s about the only thing the cable news media ever mentioned.  The rest of the tale is more unsettling.  Tom Philpott digs much deeper into the facts with his Mother Jones article.   There is another reason he didn’t write about.  On one hand, I’m concerned, while on the other, I think there are sinister implications – which is perhaps why he left it out of the story.

The article lays out these important facts:

1.) US pork exports to China surged over 750% from 2003-2012.  {From 57,000 to 430,000 metric tons/year.}

2.) The US sells that pork to China at prices nearly 18% less than the Chinese can produce it domestically.

3.) Some reasons for the cost differential include industrial effluent and sewage in China that hinders production efficiencies.  {Some of this is pig waste and the rest is elemental or technology waste materials like cadmium.}

What’s Missing?

The US continues to push the meats industry into a “commodity corner” where food safety cannot exist.  The reason we can sell the bacon so cheaply, is that farming is subsidized.  We are now paying taxes to feed people in China who are paying a premium for imported foods – simply because they don’t trust domestic pork {with good cause} and those subsidies are going directly to the bottom line of a company in China where the problem originated.  Not only is this corporate welfare, but it is an international exchange of taxpayer funds that equates to nothing less than destroying one country for the sake of another country that’s already been ravaged by the same corporatism.


Allergens and Food Safety

We have grown weaker rather than stronger. 

Our immune systems are teetering on the verge of complete collapse and the solutions in science are all chemical and pharmaceutical rather than nutritional context.

Eight allergens have emerged and are now affectionately referred to as the “Big Eight.”

  1. Milk (and dairy products)
  2. Shellfish
  3. Fish
  4. Eggs
  5. Peanuts
  6. Tree nuts
  7. Wheat
  8. Soy

Allergic reactions can vary from mild response to life threatening and they are typically instantaneous upon consuming the offensive compound.  (The Big-Eight do not represent a complete list, and the number of cases appears to be increasing logarithmically by generations…with our children ten times more sensitive, and their children potentially becoming 100 times more sensitive.)

It’s interesting to me, that four are animal products and the remaining four are “cheap-atives.” (That’s my term for common additives used to make foods cheaper.)

“Cheapatives” tend to be the same food substances that are added everywhere.  In the process of adding soy, wheat, treenuts, and peanuts to virtually every manufactured food product, we’ve created a mono-culture in the supermarkets wherein people’s immune systems defy the imbalance of nature.  Similarly, the presence of HFCS in nearly every item in a grocery store may be a significant factor in the incredible incidences of diabetes.

Some of the causes can be traced to the increased sanitary life of sanitized hands, refusal to get dirty, and excess use of antibiotics.  In sharp contrast, a child who is raised in slightly “dirty” conditions will develop an immune system that refuses to overreact to allergens when exposed; as if to say, ‘I don’t have time to resist this soy, because I’m fighting off some really big microbes instead.’  Cleaner isn’t necessarily better when we fail to inoculate ourselves from the simpler things in life.

As we look to improve our health, the detoxification process is best supported by a complete elimination of all eight of the usual suspects.  Even if one returns to eating some of these proteins, it’s best to eliminate them all for a detox intensive.  One of the greatest ways to detoxify the body long-term is to consume a variety of plant-based foods, and thereby expose the body to multiple micro-nutrients, enzymes, and co-factors.  Science really hasn’t identified or extracted all the components and nutrients within a whole foods diet, but nature has hidden the secrets of radiant health there, for those who seek a transformed life.

EMA – You’re NOT Getting What You Paid For

The US Food & Drug Administration has coined the term – Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA), to describe a host of unethical and sometimes illegal activities related to food.

These practices have been around forever…at least as long as commerce, but it’s getting more complicated.

  • “Thumb on the scale” is an early example of increasing profit dishonestly:

In the purest sense of the phrase, you still got what you paid for; though you paid too much.

  • Butchers have been grinding ice into hamburger for ages:

It immediately chills the meat, extends the robust color, and pulls the blood into the absorbent wrap without drawing any consumer attention, and five pounds of ice costs less than five pounds of beef.  Yield weight is money, and money makes the world go ’round.

  • Dolphin in tuna isn’t new either:

Those poor mammals were “unintentionally” caught in the nets, but the motivation to leave them in the haul is straightforward.  It’s expensive to stop and toss dolphin carcasses back in the ocean, and time is money.

  • The most common food fraud is probably the sale of seafood products that aren’t what they claim:

Your “market-price” wild Alaskan salmon, may not be wild.  Or Alaskan.  Or salmon.

{This Atlantic article, addresses mis-labeling of tuna, and its’ nasty side effects.}

Some menus address the uncertainty, using brand names like “Filet-0-$ish,” while others generically advertise white fish.  With less information, the only consumers deceived are the few who ask.

They don’t know what kind of fish is in your sandwich.  It was manufactured a thousand miles away and tons of seafood was processed that day, so you likely get several kinds of fish, and an “acceptable level” of non-target and hopefully harmless compounds too.  Did you want fries with that?

  • Most insidious, is the adulteration of products like infant formula, using chemistry intentionally designed to bypass quality tests:

The Chinese melamine scandals are the most infamous to date, but this is an ongoing challenge.

US food manufacturers are racing to implement GFSI, the broadest regulatory changes since the ’50′s and yet there two other races underway (think “Radar” and Radar-Detector”), between those seeking to verify safety, and those who want to beat the system.

Sometimes it takes a thief to catch one…

  • Do we need to hire criminals to teach us how to protect our food-supply?

Are The Cows Still Mad?

It’s been about seven  years since BSE was first detected in the United States.

A little over a year ago, another cow (the fourth, ever in the US) tested positive for BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), better known as Mad Cow Disease.

This could have been cause for alarm, but the media seemed to pass along news and reassurances from the authorities that all was well, and not to worry.  The facts in ‘this’ case were simple: the diseased animal was found through routine testing (at a pet food facility).  This animal was never presented for slaughter, so the food supply was never at risk. (Incidentally, BSE is not transmitted through milk.)

Why is there still no line at the salad bar?
For most Americans, nothing comes between us and our next meal, even if risk is involved. Rather than moving toward strict vegetarianism, some have followed advertising advice from an imminently successful chicken sandwich empire by eating more chicken.

Chicken sales are soaring, but is it reasonable to believe that this will protect the public health?

I wonder…

The Devil’s in the Details:
Cows usually become BSE infected by eating a diet containing spinal cords or brains from other cows (Specified Risk Materials).  These SRM aren’t allowed in any bovine feeds in the USA, and the recent infection was declared “Atypical BSE,” a rare form of infection that’s not caused from eating the banned diet. (Atypical BSE has never been linked to health issues in humans, and has never been shown to transfer to other cows.)

If the normal cause of BSE is from cows eating meat (they’re supposed to be herbivores), then how long will it take for similar issues to arise in chickens if their diets are further manipulated?

Credible health risks are associated with every “flesh food,” because toxins become concentrated in all animal flesh.

Is it reasonable to think that any alternative meat is safe?

Meat-eating is the choice for most of you, but I decided to choose life: a plant-based diet.  It doesn’t eliminate food-safety risk, or guarantee that there won’t be unintended cross-contamination, but eating lower on the food chain can decrease many of those risks.

Blender Meats

A picture made its’ way around the internet a while ago, that can still be found at Snopes fact finding site, revealing a pink sludge that resembles soft-serve ice cream; said to contain chicken parts that would later become nuggets for the fast food industry.

Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver has a video on the same Snopes article describing his failed attempt to enlighten American children that fast food, isn’t necessarily healthy food.  Snopes does a wonderful job of separating the facts from the smear campaign, yet my issue with the entire concept is much simpler, much broader, and much easier to grasp.

Regardless of what the industry does to maximize profits and minimize waste, the larger implication to eating meat is this: all ground meat is potentially dangerous.

The processing industry routinely recalls meats for contamination due to issues in processing or handling. If the first cow into the meat grinder is contaminated with a dangerous pathogen, each and every single successive pound of meat that is processed that day will also be contaminated. (Americans tend to eat about three times as much meat as the rest of the world.) Apparently, no one’s paying any attention to the risk.


Businessman with gas mask and apple

Bruce Willis’s character in the movie adaptation of Fast Food Nation comments that the danger in hamburgers is why they’re cooked, and this is a truth. Another truth that hits closer to home is that the average person is probably unaware that they must wash their hands after handling raw meat (rather than wiping on their apron) or they can potentially cross contaminate the meat, which defeats the purpose of cooking.  {Also, note: washing your hands and turning-off the faucet is another opportunity to re-contaminate those hands if you touched the faucet when your hands were soiled.}

From a food safety perspective, I see absolutely no issue with using a blender to process an entire cow, chicken, hog, fish, or any other creature if the sanitation levels are world class. {I can’t help but think of Dan Akyroyd’s “Bass-o-matic” skit.}  But I digress…sorry about that rabbit trail.  This can probably only be accomplished if you clean and sanitize the blender after each animal is processed. That isn’t going to happen in any industry, anywhere.

Think about that when you consume products that share multiple sources: hamburger, ground turkey, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, milk, or commercial (liquid) eggs from a restaurant.  For me, the issue isn’t one of an evil in manufacturing but a lack of understanding in the general public. If one chooses to eat highly processed food, they must understand the risks.

Extra areas you may want to study are BSE (mad cow disease), salmonella, and e-coli O157:H7 to grasp a better understanding of what’s at stake.

It’s your life, and limb.

Changing Food as an Industry

What makes us change?

Are we inspired or challenged to do it differently?

A lifetime ago, the food-world changed when Sinclair penned The Jungle 

I’m thinking now, that a thousand undercover videos and well-written articles like this one from Rolling Stone, can’t and won’t make that kind of impression on the food industry because the consumer is so addicted to the low-cost and high-availability of every imaginable product that’s dependent on the factory model. What will you do if you can’t get through that drive-thru in under three minutes?