Monthly Archives: September 2012

Reading the Grain: Arsenic Levels in Rice

Source: Pure Bliss Nutrition

For the average consumer, it may be quite shocking to see a word like “arsenic” associated with a food product. Organic arsenic is something that shows up in the food chain quite regularly and is a result of natural causes.  Inorganic arsenic comes from man-made factors like pesticides/chemicals. An investigation by Consumer Reports called on the FDA to address the issue, as it found levels of inorganic arsenic to be “significant” in numerous rice products. This comes after a debate concerning arsenic in apple juice filled the national headlines earlier this year.

The high levels of arsenic in rice reported by Consumer Reports have launched a spirited debate on food quality. Some critics, like the USA Rice Federation have called “reports on arsenic levels alarmist,” while Consumer Reports affirmed: “The goal of our report is to inform – not alarm – consumers about the importance of reducing arsenic exposure.”

The tone and the focus of the debate has put the FDA at the center of the discussion.  As of September 19, 2012, the FDA was reported as having “not found enough scientific data to recommend changes to consumers in regard to consumption of such products.” The examination of arsenic levels continues to currently be a high priority, despite the initial findings by the FDA.  FDA Deputy Commissioner. Michael Taylor explained: “The F.D.A.’s ongoing data collection and other assessments will give us a solid scientific basis for determining what action levels and/or steps are needed to reduce exposure to arsenic in rice and rice products.”

Further discussion about not only inorganic, but also organic forms of arsenic is expected to follow, along with discussions discussing “permissible” levels in food. In the meantime, the FDA is recommending balance in diets continues to be a way of proactively minimizing risk from health risks, including the consumption of potential carcinogens.

Featured Column: Straight from the Source – Part 2

From August through October, “The Wide Line” blog will feature a series of columns authored by Dan Strongin, a well-known name in the food industry.

Below is the second part of my interview with Diane, a product manager from Nelson-Jameson.

Diane: We are not trying to be everything to everyone. We know our niche: food. We don’t carry items for heavy industry or oil fields like other suppliers. Even in lab products, we focus on products geared towards the food industry; we know who we are and whom we serve, in order to help those we serve find solutions.

Dan: Can you tell me a bit about training for customers and how does the training work?

Diane: Since we supply solutions, not just products, we are not interested in just dropping a product at a customer’s door. We help put it to good use, providing clear, well-written procedures, and we may even help set up and run a sample where we provide hands-on training.

Training and support depend on the product. Sometimes it is done with a manufacturer’s representative and sometimes with our internal experts. We end up helping out a lot with lab and safety equipment: certain types of items for explosion prevention, for instance. Sales people will even take our tech people on the road in order to demonstrate.

In ingredients, often someone goes into the plant to run a trial, as every plant is different. In sanitation, we may provide samples of items like brooms and brushes, lab coats, and hairnets to ensure they meet their needs.

Sometimes we provide training seminars in partnership with outside organizations. These are not to generate sales or offer a pitch, but are training oriented and focus only on education.

Dan: How can Nelson-Jameson make things easier for a business?

Diane: It is easier to buy a bunch of supplies from one supplier than one product from a bunch suppliers. Cut just one PO for multiple items and you can be sure you’ll get things that work. We can help identify a product or solution even with only a loose description. We are a time saver, especially for frequently bought items and we can help with substitutes as we have multiple sources. [Try and do that when you buy direct.- Dan] They can get a combined pallet of many products, allowing them to keep their money working and not tied up in inventory. It’s not just taking an order for us, it’s helping a customer.

We are proactive, making the extra effort to understand. With pumps, which we work with a lot, there are questions we ask to ensure they get the right one for the job. It is a single phone call where there is a lot of information exchanged. We want to understand what they want to accomplish: to find the best solution.

Dan: How does Nelson-Jameson Keep informed on audits and regulatory information?

Diane: NJ has a designated department focused on compliance for the people we serve, a full-time job in most companies, keeping up with government and audit requirements, and it is getting even more time consuming. We can help minimize the work load, and ensure it is up to standard, enhancing the completeness and turn around time for required documentation. Nelson Jameson recently completed it’s own SQF audit so we can relate to what our customers are experiencing.

Dan: What about logistics and turnaround times?

Diane: Depending on their location, and how much they buy, we help lower logistical costs. Depending on the volume ordered, we provide dedicated route deliveries weekly, every other week, or monthly. We can ship UPS, FED EX, and LTL if needed, from our regional warehouses, to help keep the price of these services down.

If near one of our regional warehouses, customers can call orders in just a few days ahead of scheduled delivery. If needed quicker, we can ship UPS and FedEx, often the same day. Beyond that, our sales and warehouse people are aware of when we normally deliver to a company, so if orders are missing, these people have been know to ask customer service to call them. We look out for each other.

Dan: How does Nelson-Jameson address shortages of product?

Diane: We rarely run out of a mainline product as we see shortages coming, and since NJ has multiple sources for most items, we have options. We try to be proactive, even temporarily limiting individual orders, to keep everybody running.

Dan: What about working with suppliers?

Diane: Suppliers don’t have to guess at our customers’ needs; we give them good input and work together to develop products to meet those needs.   For instance, the industry is becoming more electronic, and more specialized. We work to help vendors anticipate our customers’ needs. In the color coding of products we pioneered working with our suppliers to go from three colors to a rainbow of colors. Nelson-Jameson works with a multiple manufacturers and volume commitments necessary to develop new colors in a variety of products where the individual customer cannot.

Dan: What problems do you solve for customers when they take full advantage of the NJ system?

Diane: As a single-source supplier we can help them with most of the problems they have, and when we can’t we will direct them to another company. Our job is to lookout for the customer!”

Note: A thanks to Diane. Our conversation made me ponder further what is this magic that makes the people that make up a company like Nelson-Jameson walk the walk, not just talk the talk? We will explore this in the next post, taken from an interview with top management.

Parking Lot Prevention: Food Safety and Tailgating

The average American sports fan tends to feel conflicted during this part of the year. With Major League Baseball’s season winding down and the start of pro and college football, there are a lot of decisions to be made. What game should we go to?  What are we going to eat? This second question can be an exciting one especially for tailgaters of all varieties. Amongst the celebration, amongst the camaraderie, and amongst friends, food safety issues can still pop up…talk about spoilsports!

Transporting, preparing, and preserving food properly demands a concise game plan. Amongst many other considerations, a key to mantra to remember is “temperature, temperature, temperature!” Adhering to proper temperatures for food storage and proper cooking temperatures can take care of a lot of potential food safety concerns that come up. Penn State’s Department of Food Science advocates that tailgaters should not let food spend too much time in the “Temperature Danger Zone:” being between 40 and 140º F. When it comes down to the basics, you should keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. The USDA advocates for tailgaters to get themselves ready for the parking lot in several ways, including using food thermometers and thermometers for coolers and other cooling devices.

While Nelson-Jameson offers an array of thermometers designed for the food processing industry, a few models would be ideal additions to any tailgater’s checklist. Our refrigerator environmental chamber thermometer models are great for coolers and fridges, while our probe style thermometers are perfect for meat preparation.

Monitoring temperature is one great offensive move your tailgating team can make, but realize that there’s a lot more information out there on how to make your next tailgating session a safe one. If you didn’t get to earlier in the piece, check out this helpful document from Penn State’s Department of Food Science called “Food Safety Tailgating Tips.” Sticking a helpful guide like this one into your tailgating gear would be a great play to call this season!

Food U

From Stanford to Michigan State to The University of Maine undergraduates have decided agriculture and the food industry are industries to invest in for the future. Looking at supply and demand as a way to gauge employment opportunities, students are seeing that “Demand for skilled workers in the industry [ag related careers] shows no signs of letting up, in part because some predict agriculture productivity will have to increase 70% by 2050 to feed the world’s growing population.” In these trying economic times, students have paid close attention to the economic realities and need for ag- and food-related positions.  For instance, at Ohio State, “About 92 percent of OSU’s ag grads also find a job or enroll in graduate school within six months, a number that hasn’t dropped since the economy soured five years ago.”

Yet, it is not only the green to be made in ag and food industry careers and the promise of gainful employment that has drawn in students. Food safety, local and sustainable agriculture, fighting obesity, and even the development of biofuels are some of the interest areas students are citing for enrolling in agricultural and food-related paths of study. They see careers in the field as positions from which to affect change and development locally, nationally, and globally.

Gregory Weidemann, the dean of the agricultural college at Connecticut, states: “The skills taught in ag programs also tend to offer a clear career path once students earn a diploma.” The idea of a talent pool developing from these programs is generally welcomed by most in the agricultural and food industries, however some concerns remain.

One case of concern comes in the future of food safety. In Food Safety News, Paul L. Knechtges, writes that at least in regards to food safety, a part of many “agricultural” programs now, some further development and discussion is needed: “Along with the issues of workforce enumeration, career paths and salaries, we must also establish minimum educational standards for entry to the food safety profession.” This could include “A minimum set of uniform educational requirements should be established for students entering the food safety profession (as opposed to food safety technicians).”

As witnessed above, one of the challenges/pluses of taking on the food chain in the 21st Century is that a wide range of careers and opportunities often fall under the label of “agriculture” in today’s universities. From food safety to hydroponics students have a wide array of choices to make and potential careers to pursue. A challenge, amongst all of this growth, is to have clear pathways reinforced that will allow students to connect their educations to the realities of an ever-changing food supply, and to meet the needs of those concerns, like Knechtges’s, that are out there. However these pathways continue to develop in an ever-changing market, it might be worth it to pay attention, as these trained new minds will be the future of the agricultural and food industries.

Featured Column: Straight from the Source – Part 1

For the next two months, “The Wide Line” blog will feature a series of columns authored by Dan Strongin, a well-known name in the food industry.

A Conversation with Diane Sutton, Product Manager, Nelson-Jameson, Inc.

I wanted to let you hear from someone working for Nelson-Jameson to see how they perceive the company and its role in the food and beverage industries, from their point of view. I will do this for a couple of posts, and then give the owner, and top management  a chance to chime in as well.

So Diane and I arranged to “sit down” over the internet, and have a chat. What follows are excerpts, in no particular order, of Diane’s perspectives on Nelson-Jameson:

“We service small, medium and large customers, and try to provide the same service to all. New customers usually call for a specific need. You have to respect their situation at the time, but we also take the opportunity to send the buyer’s guide, ask questions, let them learn about us, and get a taste of how Nelson-Jameson is unique.

Of course, you will always have people who cherry pick: using the internet to look for the lowest cost of an item. We gladly serve them, but try then to point out the total cost of procurement including the cost of purchase order, transportation, multiple shipments, paperwork, receiving, paying separate bills versus having only one purchase order, one delivery, and one payment.  We let them know how we reduce total costs. Often buyers look at the cost per item, but not with the cost of freight in mind.  Often this can be someone else’s department; they may not even see it.

A significant percentage of customers get it, if not right away, then in time. They then take advantage of the full offering. It’s hard to put a number on it, but if you get the time with them to explain, people are grateful. Of course, how quickly depends on their organization, as, naturally, they all want to do a good job for their company, and we respect that. To get not only the buyer, but their company to look at things as a whole can take some time. We are patient, as we are proud of what we provide, and for us, the investment in getting them to buy into the concept is worth it. Once in their system, there might be other buyers who look at what we do…who find the catalog, or who are working at cost savings for the whole company. It is building relationships, not pushing a hard sell, and they appreciate that.

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