Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jun 29 2009

Gosh. Consumers don’t trust the food supply

I didn’t know that IBM was in the survey business but apparently it has just asked people what they think about the safety of the food supply.  Fewer than 20% of the 1,000 people who responded said (what a surpise) that they trusted food companies to make safe and healthful foods.

More than 60% said they were worried about food safety and – this one really does surprise me – 83% could name a food that was recalled in the past two years, mostly peanut butter.

IBM’s conclusion?  “These findings underscore how the rise in recalls and contamination has significantly eroded consumer confidence in food and product safety, as well as with the companies that manufacture and distribute these products.”   No kidding.

Now if Congress would only pay attention and do the right thing.

Jun 27 2009

At last: some clear thinking about cookie dough

OK, so Bill Marler is a class action lawyer* who makes his living from suing companies that produce unsafe food. I’ll grant that he has a vested interest but I admire the way he never loses sight of the harm done to innocent adults and children.  Cookie dough has a warning label on the package and everyone knows you are not supposed to eat raw cookie dough.  If you eat it, it’s your fault if you get sick, right?  See what he has to say about that one.

In Marler’s view, the warning label on commercial raw cookie dough should read something like this:

THE FDA INSPECTION MEANS NOTHING. THIS PRODUCT MAY CONTAIN A PATHOGENIC BACTERIA THAT CAN SEVERELY SICKEN OR KILL YOU AND/OR YOUR CHILD. HANDLE THIS PRODUCT WITH EXTREME CARE.

And, he asks, “Where is the multi-million dollar ad campaign to convince us of the dangers of uncooked cookie dough, like we do for tobacco?”

I would add a few further questions: What are we going to have to do to get a real food safety system in this country?  By real food safety system, I mean one that requires production of all foods – from farm to table – under science-based food safety plans (HACCP with pathogen reduction), overseen by a single federal agency that unites and rationalizes the current functions of USDA and FDA.

Everyone knows how to produce food safely or a lot more safely than is being done now.  If companies don’t bother, it’s because they don’t have to. You don’t like this?  Complain to Congress!

*Correction: See Mr. Marler’s comment below.  He says he mostly represents individuals.   I do apologize for the error.

Jun 25 2009

Burger King’s latest ad: a hoax?

Given the number of people who have forwarded this to me, the ad agency that dreamed up this idea must be happy.  But it it for real?  I can’t find it on the Burger King website, so maybe it comes from The Onion?  Anyone know the source?

Jun 24 2009

Organic wine: clarification of the rules (?)

You would think that the labeling of organic wine would be simple, but you would be so wrong.  Just for fun, here’s who does what in the federal government when it comes to food and beverages.  For the most part:

  • USDA does meat and poultry
  • FDA does everything else
  • Except alcohol, which is done by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)
  • Except that USDA does all organic food
  • Except for organic wine, sort of
  • Problem solved: USDA and TTB have made a deal.  TTB will do organic wine
  • Except that USDA has just changed the rules

Got all that?

I won’t try to reproduce the rules for organic wines; they look too much like what I’ve just written.  Take a look at judge for yourself.  I’m just happy that all this has been straightened out.

Jun 23 2009

The latest trick in recalled foods: repack and redistribute!

Even I cannot keep up with what the packers of Salmonella-contaminated foods are willing to do to sell their products.  Remember the recalled pistachios?  Turns out the recalled nuts were simply repacked and redistributed.   If you are a packer and don’t like your test results, find a lab that will give you the results you want.  If you don’t know what to do with recalled nuts, put them in new packages and ship them out.

What is it going to take to get the food safety system we need?  How much worse does it have to get?

Jun 22 2009

Organics: letter vs. spirit

My once every three weeks Food Matters column for the San Francisco Chronicle deals this time with a slew of questions about organic foods: what are they, can you trust them, are they worth it, aren’t they elitist?

In response, Scott Exo of the Food Alliance points out that his organization does certifications that go beyond what the USDA requires and include the Alliance’s broader requirements for sustainable food production practices: working conditions, animal welfare, and environmental impact.  I’m glad to know about it.

Jun 20 2009

How could E. coli O157:H7 get into cookie dough?

Thanks to Bill Marler for discussing this question on his blog this morning and for suggesting starting with the ingredient list.  As a typical example, here is the ingredient list for Nestlé’s Chocolate Chunk cookie dough (others can be found at this site):

INGREDIENTS: BLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), SUGAR, NESTLE SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE CHUNKS (SEMI-SWEET CHOCOLATE [SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, COCOA BUTTER, MILKFAT, SOY LECITHIN, VANILLIN – AN ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, NATURAL FLAVOR]), MARGARINE (PALM OIL, WATER, SUNFLOWER OIL, HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, SALT, VEGETABLE MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, SOY LECITHIN, SODIUM BENZOATE, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, BETA CAROTENE COLOR, VITAMIN A PALMITATE ADDED), WATER, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, MOLASSES, EGGS, EGG YOLKS, BAKING SODA, SALT, CORNSTARCH, SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE, VANILLA EXTRACT, VANILLIN – AN ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR

MADE ON EQUIPMENT THAT ALSO PROCESSES PEANUTS/NUTS

CONTAINS: MILK, EGG, SOY, WHEAT INGREDIENTS

For starters, we don’t really know yet whether raw cookie dough is the source of this E. coli outbreak.  It could be something else, and Nestlé will have recalled 300,000 cases purely out of precaution.  The most likely source of bacterial contamination is eggs, but eggs typically carry Salmonella, not E. coli O157:H7.   And besides, the eggs in raw cookie dough are undoubtedly pasteurized, which ought to kill any bacteria that happen to be present.

The usual source of this toxic form of E. coli is cow manure.  Cows that carry this bug do not necessarily become ill, but they excrete it. Recall the spinach E. coli outbreak in 2006?  The spinach field was one mile away from a cattle crossing over a stream.  California investigators identified the particular strain of E. coli that caused the problem in cattle, cattle feces, and water at the cattle crossing, but did not found it in the field.

All they could do is speculate. Their leading hypotheses were runoff, a change in the water table, and (my favorite) wild boar.  Unfortunately for this last theory, when they surveyed wild boar for E. coli O157:H7, they found fewer than 0.5% to carry it.  So how E. coli got into the spinach remains a mystery.

As for the cookie dough, I’m guessing that everyone involved is having a busy weekend testing the ingredients, the packing plants, and everything else they can think of.  Let’s hope they find the source right away.

Jun 19 2009

Cookie dough alert: E. coli O157:H7

As a result of investigations in Colorado, the FDA has just issued one of it’s lovely warnings of “voluntary” recalls, this time of Nestlé ‘s raw Toll House cookie dough (see product list).

I’d like to know if cookie dough is really the problem.  If there is a problem with cookie dough, it’s usually Salmonella. If cookie dough is the culprit, how on earth did this nasty form of E. coli, usually excreted by farm animals, get into it?  Eggs?  Butter?  Chocolate?  Flour?   In the meantime, the tally has reached 65 victims in 29 states: 25 hospitalizations, 7 with severe complications, no deaths.  Here’s the brand new CDC Nestlé Toll House Cookie Dough outbreak page with the statistics.

The roster: spinach 2006, pet food 2007, tomatoes (or was it jalapeno peppers or cilantro) 2008, peanut butter 2009, pistachios 2009. And now cookie dough.

The endless mantra is that we need prevention: HACCP, pathogen testing, and independent third-party verification.

ob-dx048_0619to_d_20090619095937

Page 229 of 336« First...227228229230231...Last »