Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Dec 28 2015

Chipotle’s food safety problems: an update

I’m fascinated by reports of Chipotle’s ongoing problems with foodborne illness.

  • The main interest of the press in these episodes is their effect on Chipotle’s stock prices.
  • The outbreaks have been linked to a bunch of different pathogens: E. coli O157:H7, E. coli STEC O26, Salmonella, norovirus, and, possibly, hepatitis A.  This means they are due to different causes at different outlets.
  • The food, foods, or individuals responsible for these outbreaks are uncertain, making them hard to know how to prevent.
  • Hence: conspiracy theories.

The outbreaks

The most recent CDC report (December 21) counts 53 cases of E. coli 026 from 9 states, with 20 hospitalizations.

12-18-2015: Epi Cruve: Persons infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O26, by date of illness onset

The FDA reports (December 22) that there are 5 more recent cases of illness caused by a different type of E. coli 026 among people eating at Chipotle.

Food Safety News summarizes the previous Chipotle outbreaks.

  • Seattle: July 2015, 5 people sick from E. coli O157:H7, from unknown food source.
  • Simi Valley, CA: August 2015, more than 230 sick from norovirus (most likely from an ill worker).
  • Minnesota: August and September 2015, 64 people sick from Salmonella Newport (tomatoes?).
  • Boston: December 2015, at least 136 people sick from norovirus.

The consequences

  • Nearly 500 people have become ill after eating in a Chipotle since July this year.
  • Stock prices are down 30 percent from a high of $757.77 in August.

The conspiracy theory

The title says it all: “ANALYSIS: Chipotle is a victim of corporate sabotage… biotech industry food terrorists are planting e.coli in retaliation for restaurant’s anti-GMO menu.”

I don’t think so.

You don’t need conspiracy theories to explain poorly designed and executed food safety procedures.

What is to be done?

The New York Times attributes the inability to identify the food source to Chipotle’s record-keeping:

One of the challenges here has been that we have been able to identify the restaurants where people ate, but because of the way Chipotle does its record-keeping, we have been unable to figure out what food is in common across all those restaurants,” said Dr. Ian Williams, chief of the outbreak response and prevention branch of the C.D.C.

That, at least, should be an easy fix.

For the rest, Chipotle has initiated a new food safety program, and has recruited a leading food safety expert, Mansour Samadpour, to set it up.  I met Samadpour at Earthbound Farms when he was helping that company prevent further problems after the spinach outbreak of 2006.  He knows what he his doing.

Chipotle needs to follow his advice—in letter and in spirit.

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler advises Chipotle to follow a 12-step program to create an effective culture of food safety from top down and bottom up within the company.  For example, he advises the company’s CEO, Steve Ells to say:

  • It is time to have a culture of food safety added to the “integrity” of the food. I have now learned that bacteria and viruses do not care a whit if my food’s ingredients are organic, sustainable, non-GMO and humanely raised.
  • I am going to hire a vice-president of Food Safety. That person will report directly to me and to the Board of Directors. Like Dave Theno being brought in to address the Jack-in-the-Box crisis of 1993, this person will have the resources and access to decision makers to create a culture of food safety from the top down.
  • The company’s new mantra – “Safe Food with Integrity” – will be completely transparent and shared with all – including our competitors.

Will Ells take his advice?  I hope so.

Dec 26 2015

Weekend Reading: Food Wars

Tim Lang and Michael Heasman. Food Wars:The Global Battle for Mouths, Minds and Markets.  Second Edition.  Taylor & Francis, 2015

I did a blurb for this as well as for its first edition.

What’s so terrific about this book is its basis in theory applied to real-world, cross-cutting food issues involving government, business, and civil society.  The authors emphasize the need for all of us to advocate for healthier and more sustainable food systems, for food peace rather than food wars, and to do so now.

Dec 25 2015

Holiday greetings from Food Politics

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Thanks to this site for the image.

 

Dec 24 2015

The FDA’s question for Christmas Eve: What is “natural?”

The FDA is extending the comment period for the meaning of “natural” on food labels until May 10, 2016.  This, it says, is

In direct response to requests from the public…Due to the complexity of this issue, the FDA is committed to providing the public with more time to submit comments. The FDA will thoroughly review all public comments and information submitted before determining its next steps.

The “complexity of this issue?”  Isn’t it obvious what “natural” means when applied to food—minimally processed with no junk added?

Not a chance.  “Natural” is too valuable a marketing term to forbid its use on highly processed foods.  To wit:

Here, as the agency explains, is what complicates the meaning of “natural”:

The FDA is taking this action in part because it received three Citizen Petitions asking that the agency define the term “natural” for use in food labeling and one Citizen Petition asking that the agency prohibit the term “natural” on food labels.  We also note that some Federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, have requested administrative determinations from the FDA regarding whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labeled as “natural.”

Are foods containing genetically modified ingredients or HFCS “natural?”

The FDA says

It has long “considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic  (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.

However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.

Specifically, the FDA asks for information and public comment on questions such as:

  • Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural,”
  • If so, how the agency should define “natural,” and
  • How the agency should determine appropriate use of the term on food labels.

If you want to weigh in on this, you now have until May 10 to do so.  Go to http://www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box.

Here are the background documents:

May your holidays be happy, healthy, and natural, of course.

Dec 23 2015

Five more industry-sponsored studies with results favorable to the sponsor. The score since mid-March: 95:9

Systematic Review of Pears and Health. Holly Reiland, BS Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD.  Nutrition Today November/December 2015 – Volume 50 – Issue 6 – p 301–305.  doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000112.  

  • Conclusions: Animal studies with pears suggest that pears may regulate alcohol metabolism, protect against ulcers, and lower plasma lipids. Human feeding studies with pears have not been conducted. In epidemiological studies, pears are combined with all fresh fruits or with apples, because they are most similar in composition. The high content of dietary fiber in pears and their effects on gut health set pears apart from other fruit and deserves study.
  • Funding: The authors received a grant from USA Pears in the past. The authors provided their own funding to allow this article to publish as Open Access.
  • Comment: Pears are a great fruit but the marketing purpose of this study is evident from this press release from the Pear Bureau Northwest: “While the body of evidence connecting pear intake and health outcomes is still limited, USA Pears has been contributing to research efforts by commissioning independent studies to learn and affirm the heath attributes of pears. Visit www.usapears.org for additional pear research, nutrition resources and recipes.”

Whole Grain Intakes in the Diets Of Malaysian Children and Adolescents – Findings from the MyBreakfast Study.  Norimah AK , H. C. Koo, Hamid Jan JM, Mohd Nasir MT, S. Y. Tan, Mahendran Appukutty, Nurliyana AR, Frank Thielecke, Sinead Hopkins, M. K. Ong, C. Ning, E. S. Tee.  PLoS ONE 10(10): e0138247. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138247

  • Conclusion: Whole grain is consumed by only a minority of Malaysian children and adolescents and even among consumers, intakes are well below recommendations. Efforts are needed to firstly understand the barriers to whole grain consumption among Malaysian children in order to design effective health promotion initiatives to promote an increase in whole grain consumption.
  • Funding: The Nutrition Society of Malaysia received an unrestricted research grant from Cereal Partners Worldwide, Switzerland and Nestleé R&D Center, Singapore. This financial support was provided in the form of salaries for authors but the funders did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis or decision to publish. Frank Thielecke was an employee of Cereal Partners Worldwide at the time this study was conducted. He now works for Nestec SA. Sinead Hopkins is employed by Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW), Switzerland and Moi Kim Ong and Celila Ning are employed by Nestleé R&D Center, Singapore….Nestlé and Cereal Partners Worldwide have a commercial interest in breakfast cereals.
  • Comment: I learned about this study from a comment on Retraction Watch, which reported that PLoS One had filed a correction to the funding section.  The correction says that the salaries were for research assistants, not authors.

Walnuts Consumed by Healthy Adults Provide Less Available Energy than Predicted by the Atwater Factors.  David J Baer*, Sarah K Gebauer, and Janet A Novotny. J Nutrition First published November 18, 2015, doi: 10.3945/​jn.115.217372.

  • Conclusion: Consistent with other tree nuts, Atwater factors overestimate the metabolizable energy value of walnuts. These results could help explain the observations that consumers of nuts do not gain excessive weight and could improve the accuracy of food labeling.
  • Funding: This research was funded by the USDA and the California Walnut Commission… DJ Baer was funded by the USDA and the California Walnut Commission.

Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Body Fatness, and Submaximal Systolic Blood Pressure Among Young Adult WomenPrasad Vivek Kumar, Drenowatz Clemens, Hand Gregory A., Lavie Carl J., Sui Xuemei, Demello Madison, and Blair Steven N.  Journal of Women’s Health, 2015 ahead of print. doi:10.1089/jwh.2015.5307.

  • Conclusion: CRF, BF%, and BMI seem to have critical roles in determining SSBP with CRF and BF% being more potent at lower intensity exercise, whereas BMI was more strongly associated at higher intensity exercise.
  • Funding for this project was provided through an unrestricted grant from The Coca-Cola Company. The sponsor played no role in the study design, data collection, analysis, and interpretation, or preparation and submission of this article. The authors thank the Energy Balance staff and study participants for their contributions. No competing financial interests exist. 
  • Comment: This is one of the papers produced by participants in the now defunct Global Energy Balance Network formerly sponsored by Coca-Cola.

Does low-energy sweetener consumption affect energy intake and body weight? A systematic review, including metaanalyses, of the evidence from human and animal studies. PJ Rogers, PS Hogenkamp, C de Graaf , S Higgs , A Lluch , AR Ness , C Penfold , R Perry , P Putz , MR Yeomans and DJ Mela.  International Journal of Obesity advance online publication, 10 November 2015; doi:10.1038/ijo.2015.177

  • Conclusion¨The preponderance of evidence from all human randomized controlled trials indicates that LES [low-energy sweeteners] do not increase EI [energy intake] or BW [body weight], whether compared with caloric or non-caloric (for example, water) control conditions. Overall, the balance of evidence indicates that use of LES in place of sugar, in children and adults, leads to reduced EI and BW, and possibly also when compared with water.
  • Conflict: This work was conducted by an expert group of the European branch of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI Europe). The expert group received funding from the ILSI Europe Eating Behaviour and Energy Balance Task Force. Industry members of this task force are listed on the ILSI Europe website at www.ilsi.eu.
  • Comment: ILSI is funded by food companies.
Dec 22 2015

Coca-Cola reveals who it funds in England—organizations, researchers, other individuals

Last Friday, Coca-Cola UK joined its US counterpart in revealing the names of the organizations, researchers, and individuals it funds and the amounts it pays for these services.

As Jon Woods, General Manager of Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland, explains:

Earlier this year, my colleagues in the US published a list of the health and wellbeing partnerships, research and individuals funded there, dating back to 2010. In October, I committed to do the same and today we have published the details of what we have funded in Great Britain.  I believe this is the right thing to do…The total amount of funding we have provided in GB since 2010 is £9,328,095.

Like the US list, which has been analyzed extensively by Ninjas for Health, this one is interesting to read.

Here is a small sample from the list of organizations:

  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council — £20,000
  • British Dietetic Association — £5,600
  • British Feeding & Drinking Group Annual Meeting — £1,200
  • British Nutrition Foundation — £33,000

A sample from the list of scientists and other individuals (not otherwise identified, alas):

  • Fiona Hunter
  • Prof. Ken Fox
  • Lynne Garton
  • Dr. Geoffrey Livesey
  • Dr. Sigrid Gibson
  • Dr. David Haslam
  • Prof. Marion Hetherington
  • Penny Hunking
  • Angie Jefferson
  • Prof. Ian Macdonald

I’m sure British public health advocates will have fun looking up what these people have said about sugary drinks and obesity.

The Times of London explained who some of them are:

The advisers include Stuart Biddle, of Loughborough University, who was chairman of a health department group on obesity in 2010; Alan Boobis, a director at Public Health England, who stopped receiving funding in 2013; Ken Fox, who advised the government on obesity in 2009; and Carrie Ruxton, now on the board of Food Standards Scotland. In 2010 Dr Ruxton co-wrote a study sponsored by the UK Sugar Bureau, an industry group, that found no proven association between sugar intake and obesity.

According to Der Spiegel, Coca-Cola plans to reveal everyone it sponsors in Europe.  All of this is further fallout from August’s New York Times’ revelations of Coca-Cola sponsorship of the now defunct Global Energy Balance Network.

More to come, no doubt.  Stay tuned.

Dec 18 2015

Weekend Reading: Mark Pendergrast’s Fair Trade

Mark Pendergrast: Beyond Fair Trade: How One Small Coffee Company Helped Transform a Hillside Village in Thailand.  Greystone Books, 2015.

fair trade

Mark Pendergrast is the author of the definitive history of Coca-Cola, For God, Love, and Coca-Cola, about which I have warmly appreciative things to say in my own contribution to that genre, Soda Politics.  

He writes a “semi regular”column on coffee for the Wine Spectator, and this is his second book on coffee.  The first was Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed the World.

Here, he focuses on the Doi Chaang Coffee Company, the result of a business partnership between a Canadian coffee company and a coffee-growing hill tribe in Thailand.  This is an inspiring story of social entrepreneurship at its best. Sometimes these things work.  It’s worth reading about how this one did.

Dec 17 2015

House spending deal: food issues summarized

Thanks to Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico Pro for doing the homework on food issues covered by the omnibus spending deal just agreed to by the House.  Here’s my quick summary of her summary.

  • GMO labels: the effort to preempt local and state GMO labeling initiatives failed as a result of the efforts of 30 representatives who opposed the measure.
  • Country of origin labels repealed: the meat industry scores a win in the House vote to repeal the measure.
  • Dietary guidelines: I discussed this one in yesterday’s post.  The House wants to block their release on the grounds that they are not sufficiently scientific (translation: the meat industry doesn’t like advice to eat less meat).
  • The Clean Water Act: it survives.
  • GMO salmon: it will have to be labeled.
  • Food safety funding: up more than $132 million to $2.72 billion in discretionary funding. This is a big win for the FDA. It also proposes $1 billion for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, also above the president’s request.
  • Trans fat ban”: delayed until FDA’s formal rules go into effect in June 2018.
  • School lunch flexibility: Riders allow schools to ignore whole grain requirements and block sodium restrictions pending further research.
  • Chinese chicken out of schools: Prohibits purchasing chicken that was processed in China for school meals or other federal nutrition programs.
  • More kitchen equipment: Schools get another $30 million for school equipment grants.
  • Horse slaughter: Banned.

Caveat: this is the House deal only.  The House has to vote on the actual bill, then the Senate.  Then the two bills need to be reconciled and the President needs to sign.  Until then, everything is up for grabs.

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