Discover more from The Rotten Apple
Issue #24 2022-02-07
Undercooked hamburgers, precision fermentation and fertiliser woes
Rare hamburgers (but why?)
Precision fermentation, a quick primer
Quick notes: Australian produce rules, American water testing rules and British burger guidance
Food fraud incidents and horizon scanning updates from the past week
Welcome to Issue 24 of The Rotten Apple. This newsletter is about to get to 500 subscribers, which is super-exciting for me!
What’s most thrilling is that 80% of subscribed email addresses are work/company emails. That means you are trusting me with your inboxes, and not just signing up with your everyday, spam-ready, throw-away personal accounts. Thank you! [By the way, does anyone else still have a hotmail account from 1998? Just me? I’m told it’s so old-school retro that it actually sounds cool - like funky-grandma cool - to 20 year olds.]
This week I’ve learned more about fertiliser than I ever expected. I also learnt that I cannot type fertiliser properly, missing the first “i” Every. Single. Time.
Also this week: if you want to eat rare minced-meat burgers, the Brits have some new safety rules. I think they’re quite good. Plus, since we’re hearing so much about precision fermentation these days, I thought I’d find out exactly what is meant by that term in 2022.
As always, this issue ends with a list of food fraud incidents and food fraud horizon scanning updates - including an orange juice alert for USA supply chains.
Thanks for reading!
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The ol’ rare hamburger debate
Do you eat rare (pinkish) minced meat burgers? Most food safety professionals I know wouldn’t touch one with a ten-foot pole! Less than thoroughly-cooked ground (minced) meat can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli in levels high enough to cause serious illness or death.
In some places rare burgers are “illegal”. Now the UK’s FSA has released updated guidance for food service establishments that want to serve rare hamburgers. I reckon it’s pretty good. They permit establishments to use one of three control methods to achieve safe burgers that remain pink in the middle: (1) sous-vide, (2) sear and shave and (3) source meat control.
The sear and shave method initially confused me, since it doesn’t seem suitable for minced meat burgers. However, it works like this: the outer layers of a whole muscle cut are shaved off after an initial high heat (sear) grill process, and the whole cut is then minced to form a burger that can be lightly cooked. That should work, if done with care.
The source meat control method relies on food establishments and their meat suppliers having very robust food safety management systems. These include microbial testing of raw materials, a “validated [cooking] system for reducing bacteria by at least four logs”, plus consumer messaging. It’s great in theory, but it could be difficult to get it right consistently.
The sous-vide method requires the burgers to achieve 70 degrees (C) for 2 minutes. This has presumably been properly validated and shown to be effective.
If you are in the UK, you can provide feedback on the revised guidance. The FSA wants to make sure its easy to follow and that the impacts have been sufficiently assessed.
In short: 🍏 Less-than-thoroughly-cooked minced meat is dangerous 🍏 The UK FSA has created guidance to help food businesses make pink-in-the-middle burgers that are safe 🍏 The FSA is seeking feedback from stakeholders 🍏
What exactly is precision fermentation anyway?
Okay so there’s fermentation, and we all know what that is, right? It’s when microorganisms grow in and produce good-to-eat end products. Like beer, sauerkraut and yoghurt. Yum. But what is precision fermentation and why are we hearing this term all over the place these days?
Beer and yoghurt are products of traditional fermentation, in which we consume food that’s been changed by microorganisms. Humans also perform fermentations for the purpose of eating the organisms themselves. Quorn is a food made from fungal mycelium, the fibrous vegetative parts of the fungus Fusarium venenatum. The production process for Quorn and other mycoprotein food ingredients is called biomass fermentation because we eat the biomass that is produced in the fermentation process.
With precision fermentation, we don’t consume either the food/substrate or the organisms themselves. In precision fermentation the compounds that are produced by the organisms are the end goal, and we filter out the biomass when the fermentation is complete.
We use precision fermentation to make compounds that are too difficult or expensive to obtain through traditional harvesting methods.
The microorganisms used for precision fermentation are genetically modified to produce the desired compounds efficiently. Cheese-making rennet, which used to be obtained from calf stomachs is now almost exclusively derived from precision fermentation processes*.
While precision fermentation for food enzymes and flavour compounds has been around for decades, we are hearing about it more often now because of its role in producing major components of novel foods. One high profile example is the “brewed milk” (eeeuwww)* technology that is currently being perfected by companies like Perfect Day.
Perfect Day, Impossible Foods and other food technology start-ups are high profile because most rely on large injections of investor funds. And investors love a good press release.
The first commercialised product of Perfect Day is not actually a “brewed milk” but a non-animal whey protein isolate, beta-lactoglobulin, produced by a genetically manipulated strain of the fungus Trichoderma reesei. The non-animal whey protein is being successfully used to make climate-friendly, vegan imitation ice cream that is said to have a genuine dairy taste.
Fun fact, T reesei was discovered in World War II when soldiers in the Pacific Islands noticed mysterious holes in their canvas clothes and equipment. The holes were the result of the T reesei “eating” the cellulose in the canvas.
Other precision fermentation ingredients that have been approved for food use or that are in development are soy leghemoglobin, the blood-like component of plant-based Impossible Burgers and vegan egg proteins made by Every Company.
Expect to hear more about precision fermentation and its role in “future foods” in 2022 and beyond.
🍏 Next week, what exactly is ‘3D printed food’ 🍏
* For the pedants: More precisely, the fermentation-derived enzyme chymosin is now used in place of calf rennet.
** Eeeuwww = I’m not objecting to the tech itself, but to the phrase “Brewed Milk”, which sounds warm and sticky and generally gross.
In short: 🍏 Precision fermentation is high tech production of specific compounds using genetically modified microorganisms. 🍏 It’s been used for decades for food enzymes and flavour compounds 🍏 It is recently receiving more attention because of new demand for non-animal-derived dairy, meat and egg proteins 🍏
Lawton G (2021) Brewing Milk New Scientist Issue 3347 pp 46–49
Sustainable Supply Chains
Why are fertilizer prices “soaring” and why should we care?
Fertiliser prices for 2022 are predicted to be double, or even triple 2021 prices, at least for some global regions. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that is bad news for food production.
Fertiliser production is also greenhouse gas intensive, which adds another layer of challenge to sustainable food production.
Fertilisers are used to “feed” plants by adding nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to the soil. The introduction of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers in the mid-1900s contributed to the massive increase in per-capita food production between 1950 and 1970 which is known as the “Green Revolution”.
Much of the fertilizer used today is nitrogen-based and produced from ammonia feedstock. An industrial process called the Haber-Bosch process is used to manufacture the ammonia. The hydrogen component is sourced from natural gas, while the nitrogen is extracted from air.
The process is energy intensive as well as relying on fossil fuels. Natural gas prices have a significant impact on the cost of fertiliser, as does the cost of energy. Higher gas prices mean higher fertiliser prices.
Sub-Saharan Africa is one region where small-scale farmers are already using less fertiliser because of huge local price increases. This is predicted to affect the size of the harvest of important regional staples like corn, rice, sorghum and millet. And this in a region where 20 million people are already on the brink of famine!
Much of the developed world’s focus on food production and climate change is meat and dairy farming, but the role of fossil fuels and energy in fertiliser production is also important. While wealthy consumers like me applaud the positive climate impacts of vegan ice-cream, farmers in Africa are struggling to get the nutrients they need for their staple food crops. Makes ya think, doesn’t it?
In short: 🍏 Fertiliser production, prices and availability impacts our climate and our food supply chains 🍏 Fertiliser prices are sky-rocketing 🍏 Commentators are worried that fertiliser supply issues will severely impact food security in Sub-Saharan Africa 🍏 Probably more important than the climate contributions of vegan imitation ice-cream 🍏
You might be interested in…
🍏 Water testing for farms – kind of boring but kind of important for food safety
The US FDA has found “challenges” with the implementation of pre-harvest agricultural water testing rules and is proposing to change the testing requirements to a more risk-based approach. You can comment until 5th April 2022.
🍏 Aussie berries, leafy veg and melon growing rules
FSANZ is seeking more consultation on its proposed changes to food safety standards for berries, leafy veg and melons. By 16th Feb.
🍏 Rare hamburgers consultation (UK)
In case you missed it in the article above, you can comment on the FSA’s revised guidance for rare hamburgers before 27th April 2022.
Food Fraud Incidents and Horizon Scanning
Food fraud incidents added to Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week
The US FDA has issued a new import alert for honey adulteration. The new alert contains new guidance for FDA field personnel. The most recent import actions were in December 2021 for honeys from Vietnam – USA
A vanilla flavour company agreed to pay fines and change its labels after allegedly misleading consumers by using the words "Pure Vanilla Extract" and displaying images of vanilla flowers and beans on its labels. The retail product contained vanillin derived from cloves as well as additives - Australia
A Dutch food exporter has been accused of declaring frozen fish and other foods as chicken on export paperwork. The purpose may be to reduce duties and taxes for the importers - The Netherlands and Africa
Officials raided factories after receiving information that sunflower oil was being adulterated with palm oil - India
Nine people have died after consuming liquor from a store that mixed/made it with 'noxious' substances - India
Food fraud horizon scanning (other updates to the Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week)
Florida, responsible for 90% of US orange juice production, might have the smallest harvest since 1945 this year. This is due to a citrus tree disease, huanglongbing, plus weather conditions that caused low fruit set and high fruit drop. The small harvest can be expected to increase orange juice prices and the cost of concentrates and other orange juice products, which can increase the likelihood of fraud. Fruit from disease-affected trees has a lower sugar content and higher acid than fruit from healthy trees. This might make it more likely that undeclared sugars could be added to juices or concentrates. 20/01/2022
Here’s what you missed last month
66% of British consumers said they wouldn’t be willing to try lab-grown meat (find that in the crystal-ball section of Issue #21)
Scientists have discovered a way to graft monocot plants… and this could be a way to save Cavendish bananas from extinction (Issue #21)
Thanks for reading, see you next week!