April 8, 2022
This week, discussions about upticks in prices continued to capture headlines. Things like gas, eggs and fertilizer are all important staples in food production and facing headwinds for different reasons, but they all contribute to higher food costs. Meanwhile, food safety raised a few eyebrows in both detection and regulation. And on the labor front, unionization and strikes gained momentum with workers industrywide in their quest for better pay and benefits.
Despite a lull in major foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S., food safety remains front-of-mind for many influential figures in the industry. Concerns aren’t limited to consumer-facing brands either: the topic holds sway everywhere from farm fields to ivory towers.
- In Meatingplace, Texas Tech food safety professor Mindy Brashears considered what on-farm conditions can and can’t do for meat safety.
- Consumer Reports supported an FDA rule that sets safety standards for water used to grow produce, but worried the rule “leaves too much to the discretion of the farmer.”
- On March 31, Yelp added inspection ratings to its listings in the Chicago area. This comes full circle, as back in 2019 the CDC analyzed Yelp reviews to track foodborne illness outbreaks.
- The National Grocers Association suggested Listeria management strategies for retailers that prepare food on-site. NGA also shared a map showing how up-to-date states are on adopting FDA’s Food Code.
- Food safety attorney Shawn Stevens wrote that food processors are beginning to realize that recalls are no longer considered “a single failure during a single shift of production.”
- The Acheson Group warned that food price inflation increases the risk of “economically motivated adulteration by unethical suppliers.”
- A North Carolina State University study found that one-quarter of home cooks could use more safety education: study participants contaminated salads by washing or sharing prep areas with raw poultry.
As union wins inspire more industry workers to organize in foodservice, retail and transportation, the efforts have a fair share of critics.
- Amazon is determining its next steps after Staten Island workers voted in favor of unionization last week; Alabama workers rejected a bid to organize for the second time (Supermarket News). The New York Times asked whether the labor movement needs to get more disorganized after the win in Staten Island by the Amazon Labor Union, “a little-known independent union that didn’t exist 18 months ago.”
- Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said that companies are “being assaulted in many ways by the threat of unionizations” during an open forum with employees (Nation’s Restaurant News).
- Eater outlined how the growing momentum for unionization among Starbucks workers may inspire workers at other chains to organize, considering the company has “often acted as a bellwether in the restaurant industry, for better and worse.”
- Nearly 47,000 Southern California grocery workers signed a three-year contract with Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions, barely averting a planned strike, reported the Los Angeles Times.
- With contract negotiations looming for west coast dockworkers represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Modern Farmer outlined the potential impact a strike could have on agriculture. Worker slowdowns during contract negotiations in 2014 caused billions of dollars in losses.
- The Wall Street Journal summarized Walmart’s strategy to attract truck drivers by raising starting salaries to as high as $110,000 a year. The company will also start an internal training program that offers workers in other roles the chance to become a certified truck driver and join the company’s internal fleet.
Lite of Our Lives
Just in time for National Beer Day on April 7, Miller Lite released Beer Drops, a liquid flavor enhancer meant to make other light beers taste more like Miller Lite (Food & Wine). Dissatisfied light beer drinkers can add Beer Drops to their subpar flavored brew to enjoy “the irreplaceable taste of a fine pilsner.”
Lard It Up
Grub Street writer Chelsea Peng featured NYC restaurants proudly proclaiming to use lard in their menus. Calling it a “divisive” ingredient, Peng reflects that “somehow, the idea of lard remains associated with cheap, grease-trap cooking that will leave yellow clumps on your artery walls — even though the reality is that it’s an inexpensive, versatile fat with a relatively high smoke point and rich, aromatic flavor, an ingredient that also happens to contain less saturated fat than almighty butter.”
Taste the Database
Food Business News highlighted Tastebase, a digital food and beverage database for “certified snackers” that allows users to discover and rate new brands in the snack world. “Tastebase was created to fill that gap and allow for discovery of new food and beverage products and … for new, emerging brands to easily reach prospective consumers,” said CEO Phil Chen.
Two Stories About Number Two
The war in Ukraine has prompted increased discussions about a global fertilizer shortage and, in turn, more talk about using manure to fertilize crops. Reuters reported that there’s a shortfall of farm-friendly feces as a lack of fertilizer also sapped supplies of manure. In Eater, cookbook author JJ Goode brought up the topic in a culinary context. “For almost two decades I’ve written about eating and never even considered acknowledging the aftermath,” Goode said.
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