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5 Important Food Lessons From This Past Week

Over the past few days, several important food-related stories captured top headlines.

Rather than dedicate a lengthy blog post to each, here is the Small Bites’ Cliff’s Notes version.

What’s the deal? What are the important takeaways? Here’s your cheat sheet:

1) Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Outbreak

The Story: “Mad cow” is back (wow, the ’90s really are back with a vengeance!), this time at dairy farm in California. This Food Safety News article has the latest grizzly details.

The Lesson: The industrialized meat complex is a food safety terror, barely held together by a deeply flawed model that continually puts our health at risk. Despite USDA’s — and the beef industry’s — unequivocal assertion that beef and milk are both perfectly safe to eat and drink, there is reason to believe the picture isn’t quite as rosy.

Mother Jones‘ Tom Philpott explained why milk shouldn’t be off the hook, and here’s a most frightening tidbit courtesy of the always illuminating Dr. Marion Nestle’s blog — “The USDA tests about 40,000 cows a year out of the 34 million slaughtered.” That’s less than one percent. Yikes.

2) Multi-State Sushi-linked Salmonella Outbreak

The Story: “Tuna scrape” (the sushi tuna equivalent of “pink slime”) is responsible for 190 illnesses in 21 states.

The Lesson: This once again comes back to a food system where cutting corners trumps food safety. Another fact we need to look at — over three-quarters of seafood consumed in the United States is imported. Guess how much of that in inspected upon arriving to these shores? A mere two percent.

3) Kashi’s Genetically Modified Debacle

The Story: Laboratory testing revealed GMO soy in some of Kashi’s “natural” products. An extra tidbit many people are not aware of: Kashi is owned by Kellogg’s.

The Lesson: Don’t be deceived by “natural” — a term that means close to nothing. The Food & Drug Administration does not have a clear definition; instead, it allows food manufacturers to claim a product is ”natural’ as long as it free of artificial flavors, artificial dyes, and synthetic ingredients (i.e.: artificial sweeteners). Everything else — including GMOs — is fair game.

To avoid GMOs, look for organic certification. For extra peace of mind — especially when it comes to soy and corn — look specifically for mentions of “non-GMO “.

4) Nutella Lawsuit

The Story: Woman sues makers of Nutella (a sweet hazelnut spread) for advertising it as a healthful product — and wins. “In settling the lawsuits for $3 million, Ferrero agreed to change its marketing campaign, modify its product label, create new TV ads and change the Nutella website,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Lesson: Advertisements are meant to sell you a product, not necessarily tell you the whole truth. No matter what a product’s front of package or  commercial claims, always take a look at the ingredient list and Nutrition Facts label. In Nutella’s case, the first ingredient is sugar (hello!), and a two-tablespoon serving delivers the sugar of 27 Skittles (21 grams).

Stick to nut and seed butters that have either one ingredient (i.e.: peanuts, almonds) or, at most, two — nuts/seeds and salt.

5) “Meat Glue”

The Story: Though it was a hot topic in Australia a few years ago (see this short video), it’s the latest PR nightmare for the beef industry. “Meat glue” is a powder known as transglutaminase which serves as “filler” and as a possible trap for E.Coli. Yum.

The Lesson: More food industry deception. “Meat glue” is one way in which cheap scraps of beef can be passed off as higher quality — and sold at a premium price. If you eat meat, you need to be extremely mindful of — and informed about — your source. If possible, get to know the various people who supply your food; establish rapport, get to know them, and ask questions. Social interaction within your community is the new black, hadn’t you heard?

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8 Comments

  1. Sinead said on April 28th, 2012

    Testing 1/2% of all the food items seems like a reasonable number to me. Are there any countries that test a higher percentage?

  2. Andy Bellatti said on April 28th, 2012

    Sinead,

    I point out the small percentage of food inspected because many people with whom I have spoken with about this issue have been under the assumption that the FDA inspects anywhere from 50 to 100% of imported food. The average American is unaware of how few resources the FDA has as far as food safety is concerned.

  3. Quinn said on April 28th, 2012

    Thanks, Andy. I found the mad cow outbreak particularly unsettling. It’s hard to read about how under scrutinized our food is in regards to safety and regulations, and then try to square that with politicians saying we need less regulation. Sometimes I feel like we (group we, culturally) are in a rickety wagon going downhill at an increasingly unsafe speed. The crash is going to be spectacular.

  4. gail said on April 28th, 2012

    Come on – the food in the US is the safest in the world the cow was a dairy cow and it never got into the system. When are you people going to realize that we live in a great country. Go back to Venezuela or where ever you people come from and help those people get up to at least half of our standards.

  5. Mary said on April 29th, 2012

    The U.S. and Canada are tied for fourth for food safety (Australia, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are ahead of us). I suspect that if we didn’t question our food quality, we’d slip lower. Being engaged in the process strengthens it.

  6. Andy Bellatti said on April 29th, 2012

    Exactly, Mary. You understand the big picture and everything that is at stake.

  7. Adam said on April 30th, 2012

    Is one sick cow an outbreak? One could say that since not all cows are tested there could be more, but it seems premature to me to use the word outbreak for one confirmed case.

  8. Stan Starsky said on May 3rd, 2012

    For cry’an loud thanks for ruining my day…Seriously, thank you for reporting on these issues.

    There are so many scary and disgusting meat stories. It really is pretty sickening. I did not realize that only 2% of imported food is inspected…I hate to admit it I also bought into Kashi’s all natural marketing. I will cross them off of my grocery list…Thanks again

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