Food production took a long look at climate change, while the nation’s food safety leaders expanded rules designed to prevent rather than respond to foodborne illness outbreaks.

  • Coinciding with Climate Week, leaders in food production outlined climate commitments, with some setting goals decades away.
  • Government agencies underscored their focus on food safety, introducing a number of new rules and road maps.

“People have pushed past the earth’s natural limits. Healthy societies, resilient economies and thriving businesses rely on nature.”

Kathleen McLaughlin, chief sustainability officer, Walmart (News Release)

Committed to Climate

The Climate Group, an international organization focused on reducing carbon emissions, held a virtual Climate Week NYC conference this week. Several prominent food and beverage companies, including Walmart, Unilever and AB InBev, participated. Unrelated to the event, Chinese leader Xi Jinping committed to carbon neutrality in China by 2060, a statement many said directly challenged the United States (The New York Times). Influential food companies also made environmental stewardship announcements and commitments this week. Here are some of the most interesting:

  • Walmart committed to achieve “zero emissions by 2040 and aims to protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030.” The world’s largest retailer is seeking to “go beyond sustainability” by stressing this regenerative approach.
  • McDonald’s announced a joint effort with the Walmart Foundation, World Wildlife Fund and Cargill to launch the Ranch Systems and Viability Planning (RSVP) program to restore grassland and address climate change. McDonald’s chief sustainability officer Francesca DeBiase called it “an important step toward scaling climate solutions across the supply chain.”
  • As part of an online Climate Week panel, Kellogg’s chief sustainability officer Amy Senter, emphasized the need for food manufacturers to partner throughout the supply chain on sustainability efforts as they most often have no relationship with farmers and don’t sell directly to consumers (Food Business News).
  • General Mills pledged to reduce GHG emissions by 30% by 2030, advance regenerative agriculture, reduce food loss and waste by 50%, and “advance respect for human rights.”
  • The Hershey Company published its 2019 Sustainability Report, stressing the company’s commitments to ethical sourcing and “wrapping each moment in something we can all feel good about.” Nice, but feels about a year late.
  • Curious about where companies along the food and agriculture continuum stand on climate commitments? On September 23, Field-to-Harvest published a comprehensive “Compendium of Climate Commitments” among its stewardship-focused members.

Roadmap to Food Safety

Food safety regulators took action this week to expand the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act and advance public health goals outlined in Healthy People 2030. With new rules enacted and new guidance opened for public comment, government agencies reinforced their food safety priorities.

  • On September 18, the USDA FSIS released its road map to reduce Salmonella, a leading cause of foodborne illness, in meat, poultry and egg products by 2030. The agency also hosted a public meeting on September 22, in conjunction with USDA’s Office of Food Safety, to discuss the latest science driving the agencies’ efforts.
  • Food Safety News explored details of a proposed food traceability rule introduced by the FDA this week, leading with “FDA floats rule for tracing records on some foods, from some sources, some of the time.” The Counter elaborated further on the lawsuit that set a September 2020 deadline for FDA to meet.
  • For the first time, FDA exerted its authority under the Produce Safety Rule and issued a permanent injunction against a processor of sprouts and soy products for violating safety standards.
  • Earlier this month, Feedstuffs reported on the modernization of egg product inspection rules, requiring federally inspected plants to establish hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) systems and operating procedures.
  • Meat+Poultry interviewed new FSIS Administrator Paul Kiecker, who took over in March as the pandemic emerged. The commentary focuses on the agency’s efforts to ensure safety of the country’s meat, poultry and egg supply.

“In today’s modern visual age, we see a future where you can walk into a grocery store, scan a product, know where it came from in seconds.”

Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response, FDA (USDA FSIS Public Meeting)

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Fooling Human Biology

The New Yorker’s Nicola Twilley summed up recent consumer and corporate attempts to reduce sugar consumption: “The looming impact of new nutrition standards, combined with regulatory pressure and public sentiment, has led to something of a panic in the industry, and a flurry of innovation.”

Actually, Don’t Say ‘Uncle’

Following through on commitments made in June, both Mars and B&G Foods, owners of the Uncle Ben’s and Cream of Wheat brands, respectively, announced branding and packaging changes. NPR’s Brakkton Booker described Uncle Ben’s rebranding to Ben’s Original, and referenced the Mars news release titled, “We’ve listened. We’ve learned. We’re changing.” Ad Age’s Jessica Wohl covered B&G Foods’ decision to drop the image of a Black chef from its packaging. Wohl quoted Bader Rutter’s chief creative officer, Ned Brown, who commented on the “thoughtful and understanding” rebranding approach to this sensitive topic.

De-escalation Training

In another sign of “unprecedented times,” the National Restaurant Association (NRA) released de-escalation and conflict management training resources this week. “The feedback we’ve gotten from restaurants and hotels is that they continue to face scenarios where difficult situations arise around adherence to new processes and procedures,” said Sherman Brown, NRA executive vice president of training and certification.

Martian Guac

Food & Wine’s Mike Pomeranz described research from Australia’s University of Queensland that found avocado shoots can be cryogenically frozen and stored for future use, even on, say, Mars. Researcher Neena Mitter said, “It is really about protecting the world’s avocado supplies here on earth and ensuring we meet the demand of current and future generations for their smashed ‘avo’ on toast.”