Thursday, April 9, 2009

Government's food pyramid is like a pyramid scheme

If you're like me, you find the government's newest version of the food pyramid downright pathetic. For an obese nation, we need a pyramid that knocks the side of the head with information on how to eat.

What's purple? Should you eat less of red than green? Is the green actually larger than red, or is it an optical illusion?

Being confusing is one thing but if you'll dig deeper, I think you can tell who was lobbying for the project.The new pyramid is actually grouping legumes and fish with beef! And get a load of the blue - it's dairy! If I'm reading this right - and it's hard to do so - you should eat about the same amount of dairy as you do fruits and vegetables combined! And counting orange juice as a fruit serving?

It's criminal to not be clear but to purposely dilute the truth in such an important image. In theory this image will be in classrooms across the U.S.

This is where my heart-felt thanks go out to Oldways the widely-respected non-profit that translates the complex details of nutrition science into the familiar language of food. It created the Mediterranean Food Pyramid.

Oldways also creates and organizes a wide variety of other educational activities, conferences and materials about healthy eating, drinking, lifestyle and the traditional pleasures of the table. Its educational programs are for consumers, scientists, the food industry, health professionals, chefs, journalists and policy makers.

Their food pyramid for children delivers the facts, plain and simple. There's a reason why people living near the Mediterrean live longer and healthier lives.

Sample food safety rules

Food safety is often a matter of institutionalized good sense. As I read up about what we, as a grower, packer, shipper of produce, do for food safety it all makes good common sense. 

I'ts just a huge amount of bureaucratic paperwork to make sure everyone is on and stays on the same 'good sense' page. It's common sense not to like bureaucracy, and it's downright justifiably so to not worry about the food you eat..

The food safety audit checklist is broken into 15 sections.  Here are some examples of the rules on the checklist:

  1. Potable water is available to all workers.  Document how workers access fresh water and how you know it's potable.
  2. Workers with diarrheal disease or symptoms of other infectious diseases are prohibited from handling fresh produce.  Document how you determine and who determines if someone is sent home.
  3. Workers are instructed to seek prompt treatment for clean first aid supplies for cuts, abrasions and other injuries.  Document how you do this.
  4. Document where do you locate the field sanitation units - toilets with hand-washing facilities, water and towels.
  5. Document the procedure for when a light bulb breaks and possibly contaminates food.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How another supermarket handles food safety

In March 2007, Spartan Stores became the largest food store chain ($2.6 billion in sales) in the U.S. to adopt NSF Shop Fresh certification in its stores and warehouse facilities.  Its a program that combines regular microbial sampling with on-site inspections and unannounced audits to reduce food-related risks.

A part of the NSF program is FastCheck which provides an immediate response to customers complaining of food-realted illness and includes testing of suspect products.

GAPs and GHPs - what it takes to be a safe food producer

Food safety is a big topic amongst the grocery chains, wholesalers and foodservice professionals. As well it should be.

Food safety is more than words. For the agricultural community it's a set of procedures that may have been ignored in the past, but it's getting harder and harder to ignore, and the future will only be more so. Produce buyers are driving the change. You have to farm right to sell what you grow.

Being in agriculture, food safety runs both sweet and sour; the priority is juxtaposed on how it can possibly be achieved. There are no easy cheap answers. And if you like inexpensive fresh fruits and vegetables, you don't want the expensive answers either.

Procedures are backed by documented proof that you did the procedures. It's the Sarbanes-Oxley of farming.

In a recent article in 'Fresh Cut' magazine, Dick Lehnert summed it up by saying

On the mundane level, it means no more letting your dog run about during harvest operations. Walk to the porta-potty - no more ducking behind a handy tree. Control things like problem wildlife. Know what to do if an employee on the packing line cuts his finger or sneezes on the product.

And you need to write it all down: write a manual spelling out the standard operating procedures on your farm or in your packing house, train your employees, document that they are following the manual, then hire "certifiers" to come onto your farm once a year to verify all of the above.

Unlike Sarbanes-Oxley, there's currently no legislation. It started in 2007 with the government putting together Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Handling Practices (GHPs) and then demanding that food products it, the government buys for its nutrition programs be produced in conformity with these practices.

Leading produce buyers like Wal-Mart, Publix or say a Gerber Products started demanding the same from their suppliers. It's gathering momentum.

The company I work for is known for its premium tropical produce and was amongst the first wave of companies to be food safety certified. When we sell to customers that don't impose such requirements on their suppliers, it makes it hard to compete with other produce importers (most tropicals are grown outside the US). Produce is still very much a commodity market. The cost of achieving food safety certification is not cheap.

Yet the cost of not making food safety procedures standards is outbreaks of food borne illnesses that we've seen in organic spinach, tomatoes/peppers and peanut butter.

It's the old adage, nothing worth doing is easy to do.

Papaya Daiquiri

Papaya Daiquiri
½ oz Caribbean Red Papaya pureed
2 ½ oz light rum
½ oz lime juice
¼ oz syrup
3 Fresh basil leaves (torn)

Shake ingredients vigorously over ice and fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with a fresh basil leaf

Courtesy of Gerber Bars in Atlanta

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What one supermarket does for food safety

What can a super market do to make sure their produce is not tainted? What an awful subject, a topic that would never have occurred to me 5 years ago.

Concern for me started with the E. coli outbreak in spinach in 2006. A double whammy that involved tainted organic spinach. Organic anything is suppose to be good, right? Horribly, 6 people died a little wiser.

What are grocery stores doing about it?

Here’s the scoop on a regional chain called Wegmans (NY, NJ, PA, MD, VA). During my previous life in NJ, I shopped Wegmans. It’s shopping as an experience. It’s being able to buy meals instead of just ingredients, or the best ingredients for a great meal.

These are some excerpts from an interview with Bill Pool, manager of agricultural product and research for Wegmans in Fresh Cut 4/09 magazine.

Wegmans has in place a good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and has had it in place since 2005. Suppliers of raw product are expected to take the training program especially if they supply the 5 vulnerable commodities: leafy greens, tomatoes, netted melons, herbs and green onions.

Webmans uses USDA GAPs as a benchmark for its growers. The USDA covers water quality, personal health and hygiene, field sanitation, proper toilets, hand washing, manure control and more.

Other grocery stores have GAPs in place, such as Publix a southeastern chain of grocery stores.

I think it’s important to note that Wegmans does not make a distinction between conventional and organic produce. Often times organic enterprises are assumed as having resolved all food safety issues before they can be labeled ‘organic’.