Monthly Archives: February 2013

European Union: Horse Meat Scandal Update



Regrettably, the end is not yet in sight for the European horse meat scandal. DNA testing has revealed the mislabeled meat has been sold as beef in numerous EU countries. “Burgergate,” as it has become known in some circles, continues to draw unwanted press globally.

Carol G. Williams, in a recent article from the Los Angeles Times, discusses that the effects are sending some shockwaves in the EU: “the short-term consequences of the horse meat ruse for Europe’s food industries are already being felt.  An online poll conducted Feb. 14-15 by Consumer Intelligence of Britain found that nearly 1 in 4 of the 2,200 respondents said they were consuming less meat. And 65% said they now mistrust food labels, Reuters news agency reported.”

Beyond consumer confidence, health concerns have entered the fray due to the presence of phenylbutazone in the meat, a pain killer for horses. Both EU-specific countries and international operations like IKEA have been pulled into the controversy. IKEA’s meatballs were found to contain horse meat in several European countries. The company stated that the North American market was not affected.

Of course, to some consumers the connection might feel a little closer to home with recognizable companies like IKEA being in the headlines. For stakeholders in the food industry, should there be concerns about consumer perception? We would like to extend the conversation this week. How can the government, the industry, and academia answer to fears about food safety issues not only here but also issues abroad…to reassure the American public?

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Hopefully, Not a Horse for a Course

MP900438778You made have heard rumblings in the news that the European Union has faced some unpleasant news when it comes to their meat supply. Several products have been pulled from European markets, due to the inclusion of horse meat in various products that had been listed and sold as containing beef. One may think “whew…distance is a good thing on this one…better that they are fielding it and not us!”

Naturally, in a globalized world, the story might reverberate a bit closer to home. How so? Thankfully, such a troubling event isn’t presently occurring within our borders, but it points to two themes that might be worth considering.

First of all, this does bring some renewed focus on dealing with food imports. Though the United States has not been affected by the events in Europe, it may provide some renewed vigor in terms of discussions about the Food Safety Modernization Act and policies on the importation of foods from abroad.

A more striking theme comes in the discussion of traceability. Some sources have claimed that this case of consumer fraud proves that the European tracing standards work; whereas, numerous other voices have contended that the EU’s supply chain is “convoluted” and needs greater attention.

The global reach of this fraudulence draws a great deal of attention to the EU, but may also serve as a usable case study as specifics of the Food Safety Modernization continue to formalize. Time will tell what kind of wake has been left from this event, but authorities and consumers are sure to keep the “Horse Meat Scandal of 2013” in mind for some time to come. What are your thoughts? Will this play a major role in shaping policy in the United States, or is this event isolated enough that it should not have any lasting repercussions? We would love to hear your thoughts.

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“Hot” Foods for 2013

Food-Safety-300x300It’s the beginning of a new year, and most Americans welcomed 2013 with resolutions, contemplations and a glass of bubbly. The food processing industry, however, has its own way of welcoming a new year—with an abundance of research-driven food trend predictions. Forecasting what will be in our refrigerators and on our plates is crucial to our customers’ success. But it’s also critical to our success as a distributor to those food processors. Anticipating customer needs and understanding the end consumer makes us a more responsive, solution-oriented channel-partner—thereby cementing our value as an integral part of the supply chain. Interpreting these trends also helps our company to grow by discerning which customers and industry segments may be poised for growth.

Trade organizations, specialty publications, news outlets, consultants and even the United Nations (it’s the year of quinoa—haven’t you heard?!?) have taken stabs at predicting what foods are going to be hot in 2013. However, the most reliable information seems to come from our own customers. Nestle USA, for example, prides itself on operating the largest research and development network of any food company in the world. Below, is an edited list of oft-repeated food trends for 2013:

The Kids are Alright. The emphasis on better nutrition for the youngest consumers is growing. Look for whole grain added to kids’ meals and more sophisticated pre-packaged food offerings targeted toward children. But, just as children’s tastes are becoming more cultivated, it seems that adults long for the days of unrefined comfort food. Watch for comebacks by traditional childhood favorites such as pot pie, burgers and casseroles.

Location, Location, Location. Given a lack of standard regulations, the organic distinction is dubious at best. What is a concerned consumer to do? Buy local, eat local—the less distance food has to travel to your plate often cuts down on both contaminates and preservatives. 2013 will see a strong uptick in consumer demand for locally-sourced produce, meats and seafood. To save money and meet demand, look for food processors to adopt a “make it where you sell it” production model—more money will be invested in regional production of both frozen and prepared foods to ensure freshness and convenience.

Eat Your Vegetables. No longer satisfied playing bit parts on dinner plates, veggies will take on a starring role in 2013. As food processors continue to make progress in increasing the nutritional value of food, vegetables will champion the main course. In particular, potatoes are expected to enjoy some time in the spotlight. According to the U.S. potato industry, potato consumption has increased over 40% in the past year.

It’s a Small World After All. More than 85% of the U.S.’s population growth is coming from multicultural population segments. Look for food processors to concentrate on connecting with consumers’ ethnicity, as research shows that family food traditions are important to 80% of the multicultural population. The U.S. market for Hispanic food and beverages is expected to increase 30% over the next four years, and traditional Asian dishes are poised to become the next big thing in comfort food. Currently, the top ethnic food choices among all American consumers are Mexican and Italian.

Well, Isn’t That Special? The specialty food market has experienced big growth over the last year, with sales jumping 11% in just the last 6 months. Specialty foods are defined as foods of premium quality that are often made by small or local manufacturers. They often have ethnic, exotic or distinct flavors. The top specialty food categories are chocolate, olive oil/specialty oils and cheese/yogurt/kefir. Though currently third in specialty food sales, the cheese/yogurt/kefir category has experienced the most growth over the past year. Greek yogurt has enjoyed triple-digit increases in sales over the past year, and almost 800,000 people on Facebook list “Cheese” as an interest. Apparently, the cheese no longer stands alone. Continue reading

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Focusing on the Issues: Isolating Foodborne Illness



Some new focus has come to the world of food safety thanks to the publication of: “Attribution of Foodborne Illnesses, Hospitalizations, and Deaths to Food Commodities by using Outbreak Data, United States, 1998–2008.” in the latest issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

In the study, produce was responsible for 46% of foodborne illness cases in the time period examined. In produce, leafy vegetables led the pack in attributed illnesses, with norovirus being the most common culprit affecting the market.  The greatest number of deaths were attributed to land animal commodities. About 19% of the deaths reported were connected to poultry, with many of these cases linked to Listeria or Salmonella.

In all, seventeen commodities were examined in the study that covered 1998-2008.    So, what is to be made of these findings? The authors describe that the study is a useful step in addressing foodborne illness, but a great deal of work needs to be done in order to effectively follow up on these results. “The attribution of foodborne-associated illnesses and deaths to specific commodities is useful for prioritizing public health activities; however, additional data on the specific food consumed is needed to assess per-serving risk.” If you would like to learn more about the study (methods, results, etc.), you can check out the article in full here for free on the CDC’s website.

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It’s a Matter for Discussion: Keeping Up with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

In early January, you may have heard, the FDA released two long documents concerning new proposed rules for the farm and for the food industry. The “Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food” and the “Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption” equaled out to hundreds of pages of reading. These proposed new rules would affect a spectrum of businesses, large and small. As a stakeholder in the food industry, you may feel overwhelmed or concerned by such documents and developments. You are not alone.

Thankfully, piece by piece, it is manageable! First, keep in mind that these are proposed rules. The FDA is actively seeking out commentary and insight from industry interests. From policies on personal hygiene in the fields to risk-based preventative controls in food processing operations, there is a chance to get your voice involved in the process of formalizing these new standards. There is also opportunity to clarify and ask questions of the new rules.

Secondly, there are resources out there that can assist in familiarizing yourself with the sweeping changes that are being dealt with in this new FSMA era.  Below are two links that may assist in getting the big picture and possible areas of interest that you may want to check out in greater detail.   

If you would like to get a general overview of the document that helps break things down a bit, or would like to read the documents yourself, you can click here.

If you are interested in learning more about the Food Modernization Act, the FDA has produced a video primer. The approximately four-minute video can be found here.

Be sure to also be in touch with your FDA representative with any questions or concerns that may arise, as clarity will be key!

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