Issue #17 2021-12-06
Emerging food pathogens and the 3 'F's of carbon emissions in food systems
Carbon emissions in food systems (why I don’t want to hear about green labelling initiatives!)
Jaggery: a ‘healthy’ sweetener and a food fraud risk
Nasty new food-borne pathogens you haven’t heard of - yet
Food fraud incidents and horizon scanning updates from the past week
It’s been a massive week for food fraud updates and horizon scanning! This issue is crammed - bloated?! - with incidents and horizon scanning predictions. You can find those at the end of this (much-too-long (sorry!)) email.
Welcome to Issue 17 of The Rotten Apple. Last week I wrote about emerging food sources of food-borne illness outbreaks. This week it’s emerging pathogens. Nipah virus, Cronobacter and four other nasty new pathogens are described in brief. Unfortunately, there’s yet another reason not to eat raw fish…. but I do so love sashimi!
Also this week, why food safety officials in India are forcing manufacturers to install CCTV in their factories and the three ‘F’s of sustainable food systems.
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Sustainable Supply Chains
We keep getting the carbon conversation wrong
At a basic level, food production does not create excess carbon. It is net-zero for carbon. So why is the food industry constantly hand-wringing about its high emissions?
Last month, a top science-government guy in the UK* addressed food scientists about how we can reach net zero carbon. He suggested that consumers and industry do the following actions to work towards net zero: eat less animal protein, use gene editing, do more vertical farming, use wetland agriculture practices, implement (and pay attention to) environmental claims on labels, reduce food waste.
What worries me is that lists like this fail to focus on net carbon production and instead on total carbon production.
Net carbon is different from total carbon and the difference is important. Earth has a natural carbon cycle. When we grow food, including meat, we are capturing carbon from the air via photosynthesis (the cows eat the grass that has captured the carbon using photosynthesis). When we eat food, that carbon is returned to the air in the carbon dioxide we exhale. Likewise, when food waste rots, a similar process occurs.
Overall, in normal, small-scale food production, carbon is captured from the air by plants, we consume it as plant or animal food and then we breath it back to the air. At a basic level, food production does not create excess carbon. It is net zero.
But, despite this, the global food system is a net producer. Food production and supply systems do result in excess carbon. By ‘excess’ I mean carbon that isn’t naturally recycled back in the earth’s normal carbon cycle.
In food systems, the excess carbon - the stuff that wrecks the earth’s naturally-balanced carbon cycle - mostly comes from two sources: (1) we dig up and burn fossil fuels for agriculture, food processing, storage and transport. (2) we cut down forests to grow food.
Fossil fuels are used in global food systems for making electricity to keep our food cold, for fuelling the trucks that move our food around and for firing the gas-powered ovens, kettles and boilers we use in manufacturing. Obvious!
Less obvious is our use of fossil fuels to create fertiliser to grow food crops. According to one source (which is, as always, below), the production of fertiliser can account for more than 50 percent of total energy use in commercial agriculture. Much of the world’s fertiliser is made by capturing nitrogen from the air using a chemical process known as the Haber-Bosch process. It’s an energy-intensive process that is usually powered by natural gas. Three percent of the world’s carbon emissions are from the Haber-Bosch process. That’s big!
Cutting down forests is the other major source of net/excess carbon in food systems. The problem with cutting down forests, from a carbon cycle perspective, is that a forest stores a lot more carbon than a field of soybeans or a paddock full of cows. More carbon in the forest = less carbon dioxide in the air. Forests and croplands also store different amounts of carbon in their soils, although the scientific opinion on which stores more is changing.
Excess carbon from food comes from the 3 Fs: fossil fuels, fertilisers and (loss of) forests. Green labelling initiatives? Pfffoooey! Here’s what we should be doing to reduce excess carbon emissions in global food systems:
- use renewable energy instead of fossil fuels to cool, cook and transport food.
- urgently fund research to find viable alternatives to the Haber-Bosch process for fertiliser production.
- work on ways to support farmers so they don’t want to chop down forests.
* The Chief Scientific Advisor of the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
In short: 🍏 Food growing and eating is part of the earth’s natural carbon cycle 🍏Excess carbon from food systems results from (1) our use of fossil fuels and (2) cutting down forests 🍏 Our efforts should focus on (a) using renewable energy for cooling, cooking, storing and transporting food, (b) replacing the Haber-Bosch process for fertiliser manufacture and (c ) supporting farmers so they don’t want to chop down forests 🍏
(the fertiliser energy source): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2935130/
(the soil carbon source): https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03306-8.epdf
(the Haber-Bosch source): https://www.wired.com/2016/05/chemical-reaction-revolutionized-farming-100-years-ago-now-needs-go/
(the carbon cycle source): https://essd.copernicus.org/articles/11/1783/2019/
(the DEFRA chief presentation source): https://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/Article/2021/10/25/Environmental-impact-of-food-production-how-can-it-be-cut
Jaggery just got horizon-scanned by the government
Jaggery is a sweetener made from dried, unrefined sugar cane juice or palm tree sap. It is sold as a grainy-textured block and has a taste similar to brown sugar. Jaggery has more minerals and trace elements than refined sugars and is considered a ‘healthy’ sweetener by some consumers.
There is rapidly increasing demand for jaggery in India. Manufacturers, who are unable to keep up with rapidly increasing demand, may be tempted to perpetrate (more) food fraud, according to food safety authorities in Tamil Nadu in India.
The food safety authority has ordered all jaggery manufacturers to install closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) in their facilities to prevent food fraud and adulteration.
An association of food merchants has complained that manufacturers are adulterating palm jaggery and gur with sugar and chemicals including superphosphate, sodium bicarbonate and artificial colouring agents.
Authorities are educating consumers that unadulterated jaggery has a dark brown colour, which adulterated products are paler and can be yellow or orange coloured.
In short: 🍏 Government authorities recognise the potential for food fraud in jaggery as demand exceeds supply 🍏 They have implemented rules that require jaggery manufacturers to install CCTV to try to prevent adulteration/substitution food fraud in jaggery 🍏
Emerging food pathogens you need to know about
Last week I wrote about emerging food sources of food-borne illness outbreaks. This week it’s emerging pathogens.
Why are new pathogens emerging?
- Changing food consumption habits,
- Changing supply chains, plus
- Increasing vulnerabilities in certain populations
Here’s a list of new and/or less well known food-borne pathogens. There’s some pretty scary organisms here. Thankfully, most are rare, for now at least. The usual food safety controls apply for most of these pathogens too: prevent cross-contamination from raw food and unclean water and cook food thoroughly.
Aeromonas hydrophila (bacterium)
Food sources: Fish, seafood, pork, poultry, raw milk.
Causes gastroenteritis and infections in young children and immune-compromised people. Rarely causes foodborne illness in healthy humans. Fun fact: A hydrophila can also be transmitted by leeches (okay, not exactly fun!)
Cyclospora cayetanensis (protozoan)
Food sources: Raw fruit and veg, contaminated drinking water.
Causes gastroenteritis, including travellers diarrhoea. In developed countries, this used to be only seen in travellers who had returned from developing countries; however it is now causing outbreaks from imported raw foods
Arcobacter species (bacteria)
Food sources: Chicken, pork, beef, raw milk, molluscs, vegetables.
Causes gastroenteritis. Arcobacter species used to be part of the Campylobacter genus
Cronobacter sakazakii (bacterium)
Food sources: Baby formula, milk powder.
Can survive in dry foods for > 2 years. Causes meningitis and sepsis in newborn babies, with a > 40% fatality rate. Also causes serious infections in adults, although probably not from a food-borne route. Previously part of the Enterobacter genus.
Streptococcus agalactiae (also known as Group B strep) (bacterium)
Food source: Raw freshwater fish.
Causes blood poisoning in healthy adults after consumption of contaminated raw freshwater fish. S. agalactiae can also cause non-food borne illnesses, including serious infections in pregnancy and babies.
Here’s yet another reason not to eat raw fish (but I do so love sashimi!). As far as I could determine, this has only been associated with farmed freshwater fish so far.
Nipah virus (virus)
Food source: Raw fruit and fruit products, especially dates and date palm juice. Dates can be contaminated by bat saliva while on the tree. Bats are carriers of Nipah virus.
Nipah causes acute respiratory illness and fatal encephalitis, with up to 90% fatality rate among patients from a food-borne outbreak. As well as food transmission, Nipah can be transmitted directly from animals to humans and also person-to-person.
In short: 🍏 I describe six emerging food pathogens, including their food sources and symptoms 🍏 Some are nasty 🍏 Yet another reason not to eat raw fish 🍏 Get this information in tabular format by writing to me (reply to this email) 🍏
Sources: This list was inspired by Mahoney, D. (2021) Keeping a focus on emerging foodborne pathogens. Food Australia, Vol 73 (4), p 36 – 38. (Paywall link: https://www.aifst.asn.au/food-australia-Journal )
In addition, nine more sources were used. Reply to this email to ask me for a list, or to request the information in a tabular format.
Food Fraud Incidents and Horizon Scanning
Food fraud incidents added to Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week
Authorities seized counterfeit and adulterated liquor that was being smuggled in two separate operations - Columbia https://www.lanacion.com.co/licor-adulterado-y-de-contrabando-fue-decomisado-en-municipios-del-huila/ and https://www.elheraldo.co/judicial/policia-incauta-598-litros-de-licor-de-contrabando-en-el-centro-de-barranquilla-866339
A counterfeit alcohol operation was uncovered by authorities. The alcoholic drinks were being counterfeited and taxes and duties were being avoided - Italy https://it.geosnews.com/p/it/puglia/fabbrica-clandestina-di-alcool-nei-guai-per-contrabbando-due-uomini-di-cerignola-video_36140396
Milk mixed with water and chemicals was seized and disposed of by authorities - Pakistan https://www.urdupoint.com/en/pakistan/pfa-disposes-off-3020-liters-adulterated-milk-1397534.html
Fake mustard oil and/or adulterated mustard oil was found in raids. The oil was made by blending rice bran oil with essences and colourants – India https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/185-spurious-mustard-oil-cans-seized-in-burrabazar/articleshow/87938067.cms
A facility making fake or adulterated honey was shut down by authorities. Investigators said that the amount of sugar syrup purchased by the company matched the amount of "honey" sold. Drums of invert syrup were photographed on the premises – Brazil https://www.gov.br/pf/pt-br/assuntos/noticias/2021/11/pf-mpf-e-mapa-combatem-fraude-na-producao-de-mel
Fake honey made with sugar syrup, chemicals and unauthorized colour was seized from a manufacturing facility by authorities – Pakistan https://www.urdupoint.com/en/pakistan/pfa-discard-1225kg-spurious-honey-raw-mater-1392254.html
A man was arrested for smuggling alcohol, tax avoidance and handling counterfeit alcoholic beverages - Morocco https://www.bladi.net/saisie-alcool-contrebande-tanger,88005.html
Pepper, cumin, turmeric (curcuma), saffron, paprika/chilli and oregano samples were found likely/'suspicious' of adulteration at levels ranging from 6% to 48% (n = approx 300 ea). Chilli/paprika was the 'best' with 6% adulteration. Saffron, cumin, turmeric were 11% - 14%, pepper averaged 17% and oregano was the 'worst' at 48%. – Europe https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/agri-food-fraud/eu-coordinated-actions/coordinated-control-plans/herbs-and-spices-2019-2021_en
Commentators have alleged widespread food fraud in country of origin claims for pork, chicken and eggs in Malta 30/11/2021 https://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2021-11-30/local-news/Government-failed-to-combat-food-fraud-PN-says-6736238716
Authorities found and discarded 6000L of milk adulterated with water and detergents – Pakistan https://www.urdupoint.com/en/pakistan/pfa-disposes-off-6000-litres-adulterated-milk-1416571.html
Investigators in Kerala allege that local food safety officials are colluding with food companies and bribing food testing labs so that adulterated food is not identified, or not sending food for testing at all. Other fraudulent activities have also been alleged - India https://keralakaumudi.com/en/news/news.php?id=699546&u=
Food fraud horizon scanning (other updates to the Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week)
Decreasing supplies of domestically grown kimchi ingredients plus an increase in imports of kimchi ingredients and alleged fraudulent claims about the country of origin of kimchi is leading to concerns about kimchi food fraud in South Korea. 01/12/2021 https://www.foodnavigator-asia.com/Article/2021/12/01/Kimchi-deceit-South-Korea-goes-digital-to-prevent-origin-adulteration-amid-leap-in-ingredient-imports
See story above
Pepper samples were found likely/'suspicious' of adulteration at 17% (n = 421) when tested by the EC Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality. The adulterants were non-declared plant materials, including starchy plants and mustard seed, an allergen - Europe 25/11/2021 https://ec.europa.eu/food/system/files/2021-11/food-fraud_action_herbs-spices_report_jrc126785_0.pdf
Cumin samples were found likely/'suspicious' of adulteration at 14% (n = 250) when tested by the EC Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality. Approximately 4% contained mustard seed DNA. Mustard is a human food allergen. Seven samples contained a significant amount of caraway and others contained coriander, mustard, linseed and pumpkin seed above the allowable levels for extraneous substances - Europe 25/11/2021 https://ec.europa.eu/food/system/files/2021-11/food-fraud_action_herbs-spices_report_jrc126785_0.pdf
Turmeric (curcuma) samples were found likely/'suspicious' of adulteration at 11% (n = 316) when tested by the EC Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality. Sudan I dye was found in one sample and tartrazine was found in two of the samples. High levels of lead and chromium were found in one sample. Approximately 8% of curcuma samples contained more than allowed levels of extraneous plant matter including possible fillers such as maize, rice and other cereals - Europe 25/11/2021 https://ec.europa.eu/food/system/files/2021-11/food-fraud_action_herbs-spices_report_jrc126785_0.pdf
Saffron samples were found likely/'suspicious' of adulteration at 11% (n = 141) when tested by the EC Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality. Eight types of unauthorised colourants were found in 12 saffron samples: Sudan I, Sunset Yellow, Acid Yellow 3, Tartrazine, Allura Red, Auramine O, Azorubine, Carminic Acid. Four samples contained mostly safflower plant material and one contained marigold - Europe 25/11/2021 https://ec.europa.eu/food/system/files/2021-11/food-fraud_action_herbs-spices_report_jrc126785_0.pdf
Paprika/chilli samples were found likely/'suspicious' of adulteration at 6% (n = 462) when tested by the EC Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality. Ten unauthorized colourants were identified in testing, including Sudan I, Allura red, Bixin, Azorubine and Sunset yellow - Europe 25/11/2021 https://ec.europa.eu/food/system/files/2021-11/food-fraud_action_herbs-spices_report_jrc126785_0.pdf
Oregano samples were found likely/'suspicious' of adulteration at 48% (n = 295) when tested by the EC Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality. Olive leaves were the most common adulterant. Forty five oregano samples contained elevated levels of copper compounds - Europe 25/11/2021 https://ec.europa.eu/food/system/files/2021-11/food-fraud_action_herbs-spices_report_jrc126785_0.pdf
Industry stakeholders, including laboratories, importers, researchers and exporters reported in a survey that the highest priority in fighting olive oil fraud should be given to identifying and preventing the illegal mixing of deodorized oils into olive oils. Misrepresentation of geographical origin and mixing olive oils with lower quality products are also areas of concern - Europe. 01/06/2021
What you missed last month
Issue #15 had an important warning about an emerging food fraud risk for plant-based foods. Definitely check it out!