This week, the attention of the leading voices in food, beverage and agriculture production briefly shifted away from the pandemic to focus on other long-term concerns:

  • The safety of poultry, produce and packaging
  • The sustainability of protein products
  • The strikes at processing plants

Salmonella Shakedown

Conversation around food safety has been uncharacteristically quiet since scientists determined that COVID-19 cannot be spread through food. This week, the topic returned to the fore with regulators addressing Salmonella in poultry and onions, as well as PFAS in food packaging.

  • On Oct. 19, USDA Food Safety Inspection Service launched an effort to reduce the incidence of Salmonella poisoning from poultry products by 25%. Deputy Under Secretary Sandra Eskin explained: “Time has shown that our current policies are not moving us closer to our public health goal. It’s time to rethink our approach.”
  • Consumer Reports Food Policy Director Brian Ronholm commented, “We’re hopeful that these steps laid out by USDA will result in more consumer confidence about the safety of the poultry products.”
  • The National Chicken Council affirmed: “We pledge to continue to do our part — the industry will remain committed to investing significant resources — at the hatchery, feed mill, farm and plant — to further enhance the safety profile of chicken products.”
  • USDA’s action was likely prompted by a September 2 letter from Coalition for Poultry Safety Reform petitioning the agency to update its standards for Salmonella and Campylobacter. The group includes a diverse set of stakeholders, including advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, processor Tyson Foods and several academics.
  • The FDA announced an investigation on October 20 regarding a Salmonella outbreak linked to whole fresh onions (red, yellow and white) imported from Mexico. To date, 652 people have been sickened.
  • On October 18, the EPA outlined a strategy to reduce the use of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have been used in grease- and water-resistant packaging.

Exuberance Check

Climate concerns top the list of reasons why plant-based and cultured proteins resonate. But debate rages on about how environmentally efficient these products will be at scale. Recent discussions brought up a wrinkle in the plant-based argument, at least in the eyes of investors. But the general outlook and acceptance for plant-based anything remains very high.

  • Julie Creswell’s The New York Times article pumped the brakes on the journalistic exuberance that usually accompanies alternative protein, mostly based on a lack of comprehensive sustainability metrics ESG investors are looking for. “As consumers and investors move to hold Big Food more accountable for its emissions, the fact that two of the leading plant-based food companies don’t offer these disclosures is a source of frustration for watchdogs.”
  • On Twitter, World Resources Institute researcher Richard Waite used the article to provoke discussion, arguing that plant-based is less resource-intensive.
  • NYT opinion editor Spencer Bokat-Lindell’s piece on cultivated meat fell in line with most coverage: high praise. His article begins: “Humanity’s love of eating animals should worry you, even if humans are the only animals you care about.”
  • Agfunder summarized a comment by Danish Crown CEO Jais Valeur, who said beef production will subside over climate concerns. The leader (slagteriboss) of Denmark’s biggest meat company said, “[Beef] will be a bit like champagne — namely, a luxury product — that we eat when ‘we need to pamper ourselves.'” We nearly missed his point, distracted as we were by that awesome job title “slagteriboss.”
  • Ahead of the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change’s assessment due for release in February, Food Ingredients First summarized how the Good Food Institute is promoting the ways alternative proteins can help mitigate climate change.
  • While we’re on the subject, Los Angeles Times published a five part “guide to the future of cultured and plant-based meats.”

The Union Comeback

As “Striketober” rages on, U.S. workers continue to push back against employers by walking off the job. Fueled by frustration over pandemic conditions and empowered by the labor shortage, workers are organizing to demand higher wages and better benefits, while some employers invest in union avoidance measures.

  • America is currently witnessing the biggest strike wave in a generation, proclaimed Vice. Many factors are motivating workers to fight for change, with one Kellogg’s mechanic stating: “The main issue really is our future. Our future is not for sale.”
  • Bloomberg noted that labor unions “are having a moment after decades of erosion in both influence and powers, giving workers their best chance in recent memory to claw back lost ground.”
  • The cost of union avoidance is high for HelloFresh. In an attempt to foil an organizing campaign by workers, the meal-kit company is paying “union avoidance” consultants. HuffPost reported that federal disclosure forms list seven consultants and suggests “the company could spend more than $20,000 in a day if all the consultants were deployed.”
  • Buffalo-area Starbucks workers, who are attempting to organize, have accused corporate management of using imported managers “to intimidate workers, disrupt normal operations and undermine support for the union.” (The New York Times)
  • America’s ongoing labor shortage can’t solely be attributed to the pandemic. Barron’s theorized about where all the workers went, as well as why they continue to stay away despite wage increases.
  • The New Hope Network cited burnout as the top reason frontline workers are leaving their jobs. While poor compensation made it on workers’ list of reasons, it came in fourth following burnout, lack of appreciation and lack of interest.

“Eating a variety of delicious fruits should be a pleasure, not a medical duty.”

Marion Nestle, Blogger, Food Politics

Worth Reading.

Some important points of view worth checking out this weekend.

Nonfat Pudding Is the Worst

Tufts University unveiled a “novel nutrient profiling system” known as Food Compass. There’s some complicated science and math involved, but what the project comes down to is scoring more than 8,000 different foods on a 100-point scale. We all knew that cappuccino is better than corn flakes, but at least now we have the data to back it up.

‘Genetic Jackpot’

Food Manufacturing reported on a new self-pollinating almond created by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in the San Joaquin Valley. The Yorizane almond has been described as having won the “genetic jackpot” not only for its self-pollinating ability, but also its high ratings for aroma, texture and harvest from the Almond Board of California.

A Cherry in the Rough

Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle reliably posts a summary of industry-funded research that supports its sponsor’s messaging every Monday. This week, she finally found one that doesn’t. The Cherry Marketing Institute published a study that found Montmorency tart cherries do “not modulate the gut microbiome, inflammation, or improve glycemic control in a healthy, diverse group of adults.”

Swap Tarts

Pop Tarts made the list in Top Class Actions newsletter after a plaintiff sued Kellogg’s because she expected “the product had more strawberry than it did and certainly did not expect more pears and apples, individually, than strawberries … Consumers seek strawberries for their nutritive properties because, according to WebMD, they can ‘protect your heart, increase HDL (good) cholesterol, lower your blood pressure and guard against cancer.” Pop Tarts are great, but … cancer prevention?!