Issue #16 2021-11-29
New foods causing outbreaks, plus top 3 food fraud non-conformances
Plant-based protein foods: will they really be more sustainable?
New trends in food safety infections
Top 3 food fraud non-conformances
Pumpkin time (just for fun)
Food fraud incidents and horizon scanning updates from the past week
Welcome to Issue 16 of The Rotten Apple.
New food sources for food-borne illness outbreaks are on the menu in this week’s newsletter. Fish and nuts are the two biggest categories and Salmonella plays a starring role.
Also this week, I ponder the claim that ‘fake’ cheese will cost just one fifth of real cheese within the next decade. Pundits claim that precision fermentation will replace traditional animal food production, and that the meat and dairy industry is on a crash course with bankruptcy. I’m not so sure.
As always, this issue ends with a list of food fraud incidents that have been added to the Food Fraud Risk Information (Trello) database in the past week.
Thanks for reading!
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Sustainable Supply Chains
Crystal-ball gazing: the future of plant-based proteins
Replica meat and dairy foods made with precision fermentation tech are predicted to be 50 to 80 percent cheaper than traditional meat and dairy by 2030 (source, as always, is below).
Yup, ‘fake’ cheese will cost just one fifth of real cheese (they say).
The reason? You can produce heaps of biomass really quickly and cheaply using genetically modified yeasts and bacteria. The organisms can be engineered to produce specific animal proteins, lipids (=fats) and enzymes that can be used to add flavours and textures to plant foods so that they mimic animal foods like meat, eggs and dairy. Or they can be combined to create whole foods, without any plant-based ingredients. This is called precision fermentation.
The group that made this ambitious price prediction reports that precision fermentation technology will lead to a severe and rapid shift in production and consumption. They say this will cause the US beef and dairy industries to be effectively bankrupt by 2030.
Seems to me like you would need an AWFUL lot of capital-intensive heavy processing equipment to replace a single cheese factory using this tech. And I wonder where the money for that equipment will come from, since the demand for these high-tech foods is supposedly going to be driven by super-low consumer prices for that food. I’m not sure investors will be excited about building expensive processing facilities to make very low-priced food. But I guess we will have to wait and see.
What about energy efficiencies? I checked the research and it surprised me. It turns out that making protein in huge man-made fermenters uses much less energy than traditional meat production.
Yes, recent, expert and credible research shows that feeding a cow on grass grown with (free) solar power needs more energy than manufacturing the same weight of protein using single-celled fermentation tech. That includes the energy costs of all the heating, stirring, pumping, filtering and bio-mass recovery phases of fermentation production. So high techs foods are more energy efficient.
Does this mean the end of traditional animal foods?
- Pundits from wealthy countries are calling for consumers to eat less meat to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But we all know that people rarely eat what they should (did you have 5 serves of veg yesterday? Me either!)
- If meat and dairy simulants do become much cheaper than the ‘real thing’ (I’m sceptical), we might see changes in consumption patterns. But…
- 70% of the world’s food eaters live in developing countries, where investment in mass-produced precision fermentation foods is unlikely to happen any time soon.
From a global perspective, I don’t reckon traditional animal foods are going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
In short: 🍏 Precision fermentation is predicted to slash the cost of protein production 🍏 Pundits are predicting that plant-based and single-cell-fermentation foods will all but replace traditional animal foods within a decade 🍏 An expert group has predicted the imminent collapse of the US beef and dairy industries 🍏 Major reductions in world-wide greenhouse gas emissions are promised 🍏 Did the pundits forget that 70% of the world’s food consumers almost certainly won’t have access to these new high-tech foods? 🍏
More reading on ‘the protein revolution’:
New food sources of food borne illnesses
Different foods are making people sick these days. No surprises there: people are eating different food and we are sourcing foods from different places and distributing them more widely than in previous decades.
What’s interesting is that the outbreaks caused by these ‘novel’ food sources - at least in the US - are much bigger and more deadly than ‘traditional’ vehicles for food borne illness. Also interesting is that Salmonella is responsible for more than half of all ‘novel’ food outbreaks, with the second most common pathogen being Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC).
This information is based on a paper published by researchers from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention who compared data for foodborne illness outbreaks from 1973 to 2006 with data from 2007 to 2016.
They identified 28 foods that had not been previously implicated in an outbreak. These 28 novel foods were linked to 36 outbreaks between 2007 and 2016.
The most common types of novel foods were fish (6), nuts (6), fruits (4), vegetables (3), and meats (3). Fish outbreaks were mostly caused by naturally occurring toxins like scombroid toxin and ciguatoxin. The meat outbreaks were all bacterial (STEC, Salmonellae and Campylobacter). The nut-based food outbreaks were almost exclusively caused by species of Salmonella. The nuts and nut foods were raw cashew cheese, sprouted nut butters, pine nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts and chia seeds.
So Salmonella and nuts are a definite trend. Other Salmonella-linked novel foods were quite diverse: moringa leaf (a herb/supplement), papaya, sugar cane, mini peppers (vegetable), blueberries, pepper (spice), unpasteurised tempeh and frog meat.
Lessons? The researchers commented on problems with the efficacy of epidemiological investigation methods in the USA, mentioning jurisdictional conflicts and the propensity of questionnaires to focus on ‘traditional’ rather than novel food sources. Unsurprisingly, they called for more awareness about these new sources of food borne illnesses, among members of industry, public health partners and consumers. Spread the word!
In short: 🍏 Food-borne illnesses from novel food sources (in the USA) cause larger, more deadly outbreaks than outbreaks from traditional foods 🍏 Nut-based foods and Salmonella are notable as ‘novel’ food infections 🍏 Salmonellae species were responsible for more than half of all outbreaks associated with novel foods 🍏 Researchers are calling for more education of public health officials and consumers about these ‘new’ sources of infection 🍏
Top 3 food fraud non-conformances
It’s easy to stuff up a food fraud prevention program.
According to certification body SAI Global, the top three non-conformances food companies get from auditors, when it comes to food fraud prevention, are:
(1) Vulnerability assessments of materials that don’t include a rating or ranking
(2) Not considering food fraud vulnerabilities in the supplier risk assessment process
(3) Not having good enough mitigation measures (or any!)
I often see vulnerability assessments that underestimate risk and I also frequently see mitigation plans that don’t address the risks that have been identified.
Food fraud prevention programs have been a requirement of the major food safety standards for more than three years now, so most programs should be relatively ‘mature’. But there is always room for improvement.
Food fraud prevention program ‘tweaks’ are a great opportunity to demonstrate continuous improvement. Perhaps this could be your next continuous improvement project?
In short: 🍏 Food fraud prevention programs always have room for improvement 🍏 Ranking vulnerabilities and choosing appropriate mitigation activities reduce non-conformances 🍏 Supplier risk assessments should include food fraud risks as well as food safety risks 🍏
Just for fun
Ninety four million Americans carved a pumpkin in 2021. That’s a lot of pumpkins. It’s estimated that US farmers grow 1.4 billion pounds of pumpkins per year.
If you are curious about the economics of pumpkins in the USA, check out this entertaining article by TheHustle: https://thehustle.co/the-economics-of-pumpkin-patches/
And if you are interested in pumpkin pies, the largest ever baked was 20 feet wide. Crazy! https://www.foodnetwork.com/fn-dish/news/2014/10/this-massive-pumpkin-pie-required-40-chefs-and-two-excavators-to-make
Food Fraud Incidents and Horizon Scanning
Food fraud incidents added to Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week
A man and his family members have been arrested after authorities found evidence that he had been making commercial quantities of fraudulent organic, extra virgin olive oil by adding low quality oils - Spain
A dairy food company and its former quality manager have been convicted and fined after authorities found they had forged milk testing reports, calibration records, packaging integrity test reports and water treatment tests. The company also admitted to failures in hygiene training and microbiological testing - Republic of Ireland
Here’s what you missed last month:
“Are we really sure that COVID-19 can’t be transmitted through the food chain?” (latest research summarised). Find that in Issue #11