Issue #30 2022-03-21
Food-borne viruses and sanitisers (not good news), allergen management, regenerative agriculture, and who's doing what in Russia
Now you can listen instead of reading!
Regenerative is the new sustainable. What you need to know
Who’s still trading with/in Russia?
Not good food safety news about hand sanitisers and viruses
Food fraud incidents and horizon scanning updates from the past week
Welcome to The Rotten Apple, an inside view of food integrity for professionals, policy-makers and purveyors. Subscribe for weekly insights, latest news and emerging trends in food safety, food authenticity and sustainable supply chains.
This is Issue 30, our first listenable newsletter! Click here to listen.
This week I introduce the new concept of regenerative agriculture, and talk about how food companies are managing their presence in Russia.
In food safety, the big topic is hand sanitisers and their efficacy (or not!) against important food-borne illnesses. This is after the release of new research into hepatitis E and alcohol-based sanitisers.
Finally, an awesome free tool for allergen management in food facilities.
As usual, this issue ends with a list of food fraud incidents from the past week.
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Sustainable Food Supplies
Regenerative is the new sustainable. Here’s what you need to know…
Sustainable supply chains are – for me at least – important to the concept of ‘Food Integrity’. So, it’s kind of upsetting to find out that the term ‘sustainable’ just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Newsflash from the ‘green’ frontlines: sustainable is out, regenerative is in
When you think about the language, though, a shift away from the word ‘sustainable’ makes sense. When you ‘sustain’ a business, or a relationship, or anything, really, you are just holding it together, you are not making it better, you are not growing or improving it.
Proponents of the concept ‘regenerative’ argue that we need to work to repair and improve our food production processes, not just sustain practices that have caused damage to the planet.
Enter regenerative agriculture. What is it? It’s farming that produces food or fibre while simultaneously improving the environment. Most commentary around regenerative farming focuses on soil health, and particularly on carbon levels in soil. More carbon in soil equals “better” soil and reduces the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
If you think this sounds like a concept for small-plot farmers, think again. Better soils equal better yields – more food per acre - and big ag players are paying attention. McDonalds have initiated a project that aims to explore the impacts of regenerative farming techniques on beef cattle production. The project is in its second year in the United Kingdom and is showing soil and pasture improvements compared to conventional grazing techniques.
Another big food company, General Mills, has committed to getting one million acres of American land converted to regenerative agriculture by 2030. To do so they are providing farmers with soil health testing assistance, biodiversity assessments, one-on-one coaching, cover crop seed and technical assistance. Oat, wheat and dairy farmers are participating. For General Mills, regenerative ag means more than just soil health. It also encompasses the concepts of biodiversity, water systems, herd health and economic resilience in farming communities.
There is no single, well-accepted definition for regenerative agriculture right now. As with the General Mills and McDonalds projects, regenerative can mean different things to different organisations.
Perhaps in response to that, at least two certification providers have established standards for regenerative practices. Their certifications cover food, fibres and personal products made using regenerative practices. Links, as always, can be found below.
Food companies need to be careful when making ‘regenerative’ claims. The devil is in the definitions and in the methods used to measure ‘regeneration’. But I think we can all agree that it’s a worthy goal; to give back to the land that feeds us.
In short: 🍏 The green movement is promoting ‘regenerative’ as a concept to replace ‘sustainable’ 🍏 No one’s really sure what it means yet 🍏 Regenerative agriculture includes soil improvement practices and can also mean other things 🍏 Certification companies have developed standards 🍏
Sources and more information:
Global Food Trade
Who’s Doing What in Russia?
With Russia being sanctioned both officially and by populist sentiment by non-allied countries, hundreds of major brands have withdrawn from Russia in the last three weeks. Among them are Ikea, Adidas, Heineken and McDonalds.
At first glance, it seems like a cut-and-dried issue. Don’t do business with Russia. However, for some companies that is a tougher proposition than others. Compare service and tech service providers, like Deloitte and eBay which have few physical assets in the country, to infra-structure heavy companies like BP and Exxon. All four of those companies have completely cut ties with Russia, but BP and Exxon have had to divest huge capital assets to do so. BP reportedly accepted a possible loss of $25 billion dollars in the process.
Food companies face a dilemma. Among food companies that have continued to do at least some business in or with Russia are Mars, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Nestle and Pepsico. These companies say they are keen to avoid creating hardship for ordinary Russians by causing food shortages, disrupting supplies of essentials like infant formula, or by abandoning their employees. Commodity traders, like Cargill, who continue to operate in Russia argue that world food supply chains would be even more disrupted if they stopped.
One could argue that the whole point of economic sanctions is to create hardship and disruption. Such hardships are supposed to encourage a sanctioned country’s leadership to rethink its actions or encourage a suffering population to rise up against its leaders.
A professor at Yale School of Management (USA) has published a list of companies that have cut ties with Russia and is publicly naming and shaming those that haven’t, likening them to companies that assisted Hitler with “constructive engagement” prior to World War Two.
For a food company, it’s a tough position. Do you continue to do business in Russia to avoid hurting ordinary people and your own employees, or take the high moral ground and hope that the sanctions bite hard enough to end the war? There are no easy answers. My thoughts are with every food company employee and board member facing these difficult issues right now.
In short: 🍏 Sanctions against Russia are more painful for some companies than others 🍏 Suppliers of essential foods such as infant formula have difficult decisions to make regarding sanctions 🍏 Food companies that remain in Russia are being shamed for engaging with the ‘bad guys’ 🍏 There are no easy answers 🍏
Viruses and hand sanitisers
Most waterless hand sanitisers use alcohol as their active ingredient. Ethanol and isopropyl alcohol are both used. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are generally considered to be effective for preventing the spread of clinical infections such as skin infections and wound infections in hospital settings. They are also thought to be effective at reducing the transmission of cold and flu viruses from hands and surfaces.
So for hospital settings, respiratory illnesses and skin infections, alcohol-based sanitisers are ‘good’.
Food-borne viruses, however, are a different story.
Let’s talk about three important food-borne viruses; Norovirus, hepatitis E and hepatitis A.
Norovirus causes the most food-borne illnesses globally. Norovirus causes severe, but usually short-lived gastrointestinal symptoms. Victims experience vomiting, cramping and diarrhoea, usually about 24 hours after eating contaminated food. The illness usually self resolves within 2 or 3 days. It rarely results in complications or death.
Norovirus is a pretty special thing. The reason it accounts for so many cases - the most recent estimate, is 685 million cases per year - is that it is the most infective agent known to man. It’s thought that as little as three viral particles can cause illness. This means that one person with just a trace of Norovirus-containing faecal matter on their hands can infect thousands of people. Which is what (most likely) happened in 2011, when frozen berries from a single source made at least 11,000 people sick. The source, as always is below.
Norovirus is a non-enveloped virus, making it structurally different from cold and flu viruses, which have a lipid membrane (‘envelope’) around them.
Bad news: Norovirus can withstand alcohol-based sanitisers. Yes that’s right, the microorganism that causes more food-borne illness than any other is resistant to the active ingredient in most waterless hand sanitisers. Crazee!
Now it’s been shown that Hepatitis E, another important food-borne pathogen is also resistant to alcohols. Hepatitis E is the most common cause of acute viral hepatitis worldwide, with an estimated 3.3m symptomatic cases worldwide every year. Like Norovirus, hepatitis E is non-enveloped when it is in the environment (it becomes ‘quasi-enveloped’ inside an infected person).
Hepatisis A is another virus that causes food-borne illnesses. Like Norovirus and hep E, it is spread mostly through the faecal-oral route. That is, it’s spread by people who wash their hands poorly or not at all after using the toilet. Hepatitis A is completely unrelated to hepatitis E. They are both called hepatitis simply because they cause liver problems.
The non-enveloped nature of Norovirus and hepatitis E is thought to confer their resistance to alcohol-based hand sanitisers. Hepatitis A is also non-enveloped, and is resistant to alcohol and some other common chemical disinfectants on hard surfaces.
Takeaways: 🍏 Alcohol-based waterless hand sanitisers are not effective at preventing food-borne illnesses caused by viruses and shouldn’t be used as stand-alone hand hygiene solutions in the food industry. 🍏 Water-and-soap hand washing should be the first line of defence against the spread of Norovirus, hepatitis E and hepatitis A. 🍏
Norovirus sources: https://www.cdc.gov/norovirus/trends-outbreaks/worldwide.html
Hep E source: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-e
New research on Hep E and sanitisers: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhep.2022.01.006
Hep A sources: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-a
Allergen Management: An Awesome Free Tool
My favourite free resource of the week is a fabulous interactive tool for food allergen management. It is an interactive map of a food manufacturing facility. Food professionals can use it to learn about where allergen risks occur in a facility and how to reduce the risks.
The tool includes tips and advice for all aspects of food manufacturing, from the R&D pilot plant to equipment design, cleaning and best practices for managing rework.
The map was created by the Allergen Bureau, a food industry body established in Australia in 2005.
🍏 Access it here: https://info.allergenbureau.net/infographic/ 🍏
Food Fraud Incidents and Horizon Scanning
Food fraud incidents added to Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week
Food samples including paneer, dried milk, sweets and turmeric powder were found to be adulterated with unauthorised colours, in a survey of 217 samples – India
Lamb products including curries, koftas, burgers and minced lamb from takeaway stores and meat retailers were found to frequently contain significant levels of beef and pork meat - United Kingdom
Tea powder alleged to be coloured with unauthorised substances including Persian blue, Bismarck brown or indigo colour has been reported in media - India
Spices containing unauthorised flavour enhancer (monosodium glutamate) were seized by authorities when they raided a factory. Expired spices were also seized – Pakistan
Food fraud horizon scanning (other updates to the Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week)
Fertilizer prices are at an all time high on a North American index. Russia was the world’s fifth largest exporter of fertilizer in 2021. With higher prices comes risks of adulteration, misrepresentation of geographical origin and quality - Global 18/03/2022
Animal farmers in Southern Europe fear that they may have to cull their herds as availability of grain-based animal feed is falling and prices have ‘spiked’. 18/03/2022
Wheat prices are up by more than 50% in the US due to supply concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Most exported wheat from Russia and Ukraine is purchased by The Middle East and North Africa - Global 15/03/2022
In Egypt, wheat is now more expensive than it was in 2008, when high prices contributed to food riots – Egypt 11/03/2022
Governments in some countries are banning food exports in an effort to protect local supplies and keep food costs lower for their citizens. Moldova, Hungary, Serbia, that have banned some grain exports; Egypt has banned exports of flour, wheat and pasta. Indonesia has tightened controls over palm oil - Global 11/03/2022
Here’s what you missed last month
Coriander icecream = yum? or not? (Issue #27)
How food fraud law works in the USA (Issue #27)
An insider reveals bagel fraud (Issue #27)
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Great issue! I really like the Allergen infographic and will share that (and a link to this issue) in my March newsletter in my "Interesting Links" section. I am a huge fan of infographics and I'd love to know how Allergen Bureau created this interactive version.