Issue #63 | Baader-Meinhof What? | Toxic Gasses | Muddy Waters for Fishy Claims |
Microplastic Contamination, Now With Toxic Gasses
Consumers Versus Food Businesses, The Muddy Waters of Eco-Claims
Updates and deja vu: Cronobacter in Infant Formula and Salad Greens Contamination Again
News and Resources Roundup (hand-crafted goodness)
Food fraud incidents, updates and emerging issues
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Today begins with a 👏👏👏 huge and grateful shout out to Elise 👏👏👏, who last week became a ‘Good Apple’ supporter of this publication. Her financial contribution makes a real difference to my ability to keep providing high-quality, ad-free, independent information for you every week. Even better, as a ‘Good Apple’ she is providing 5 extra yearly subscriptions for students and academics. If you’d like one of those, get in touch by replying to this email.
Welcome to Issue #63 which is a testament to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
Named after an urban guerilla group founded in West Germany in 1970, the Baader Meinhof phenomenon describes the experience of noticing something more often after it has been brought to your attention. It’s also (boringly) known as the frequency illusion. And I seem to have a bad case of it this week.
Everywhere I looked in the past seven days there were new stories about topics we’ve covered here recently. There’s brand new research about microplastics hazards in food and new survey results showing disconnects between consumer expectations and ecolabels.
But I’m not the only one repeating myself. In food fraud news this week, I share a link to the story of a supplement company that made questionable efficacy claims about its products, did not properly disclose ingredients and failed food safety inspections repeatedly over a nine-year period.
Also in this issue, more talk from the FDA about Cronobacter in infant formula and more Salmonella in leafy greens (sigh). Next week I’ll continue the revisiting process with an update on the investigation into poisonings caused earlier this year - probably - by tara flour, an obscure ingredient from South America. At the end of the email you’ll find the usual food fraud incidents and horizon scanning updates, for paying subscribers.
Thank you for reading, have a great week,
P.S. Got a friend or colleague who would enjoy this email? Please share it with them and help grow our international community of food safety champions 💪.
Cover image by Jules D. on Unsplash
Microplastic Contamination Again (This Time It’s Non-Stick Cookware)
In last week’s issue, we considered the food safety risks - or not - of micro and nano plastic contaminants in food. This week it’s just-published research which shows that PTFE-coated (Teflon) cookware can release thousands of micro and nano-sized particles of PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) with every use.
We don’t know if particles of PTFE pose dangers when eaten, but, thanks to new research from Flinders University (Australia), we now know that one surface crack in the coating of a Teflon pan releases more than 9000 tiny particles of PTFE. Because PTFE belongs to a family of chemicals known as PFASs (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), which can cause adverse health effects in humans, the researchers behind the study sounded the alarm.
More research is needed to understand the health effects of eating micro and nano sized teflon particles. Because PTFE is quite inert at body temperature, larger pieces might just ‘go straight through’, but, as we learned last week, particles less than 10 micrometres across are thought to be absorbed or taken up by the body.
I, for one, will take a good look at all the mismatched cookware jumbled in my (highly disorganised 😄) kitchen cupboards. I’m not sure I will be able to toss out my favourite scrambled eggs pan, but perhaps the knowledge that it’s a seething bed of loose nano-particles of PFASs will make me think twice before using it next.
… toxic gasses too???
🍏 … Speaking of non-stick cookware, did you know that heating PTFE-coated (Teflon) cookware to temperatures greater than 280 degrees Celsius releases toxic gasses? The gasses from hot pans and other PTFE-coated items frequently cause the death of domesticated birds. Yup.
It’s called Teflon toxicity and it affects humans as well as birds, though mostly it’s birds that die.
Cookware makers claim that pans do not reach temperatures greater than 280 degrees (C ) during household cooking but if birds die when their owners cook, it seems to me that pans must get hotter than that, at least sometimes.
🍏More reading on toxicity concerns from PTFE-coated cookware 🍏
Environ Sci Pollut Res Int . 2017 Oct;24(30):23436-23440 - PubMed
Avian Dis. 2000 Apr-Jun;44(2):449-53 - PubMed
Chemosphere. 2015 Jun;129:46-53 - PubMed
Nature. 2001 Jul 19;412(6844):321-4 - PubMed
Analyst. 2005 Sep;130(9):1299-302 - PubMed
Environ Int. 2013 Oct;60:242-8 - PubMed
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Consumers Versus Food Businesses, The Muddy Waters of Eco-Claims
Eco-claims and green labelling are increasingly seen on food products in developed countries. But as consumer awareness of environmental issues grows, so too do the risks to food businesses that make these claims and that might unwittingly mislead consumers about their green credentials.
My interest in this topic stems from its sometimes-too-close relationship to food fraud… not all problematic green claims are the result of misunderstandings; some are made deliberately. I write about this topic here because many food safety champions are also expected to perform label compliance checks for their food business employers so this information could be helpful to you.
Carbon neutrals in court
Last month, after Danone was named in court proceedings for their carbon neutral claims, I discussed the risks to food businesses, particularly those related to the use of carbon offsets. Read that post in Issue #61.
Within days I was reading that a study of American university campuses that claimed to be carbon neutral found that only 23% of their emissions reductions were direct reductions, with the remaining 77% coming from ‘sketchy’ sources that relied on “accounting tricks”, according to one source. Disappointing.
Fish in the firing line
Now, the well-known MSC blue fish ecolabel is under fire. The MSC blue fish label is a certification mark owned by the nonprofit Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). In the organisation’s own words, its standards and certification schemes aim to “incentivize sustainable fishing practices globally” and make it “easy for everyone to identify and choose sustainable seafood”.
The problem is that consumers and the Marine Stewardship Council seem to have wildly different ideas about what ‘sustainable seafood’ actually is. When I think ‘sustainable’ I think of neutral or negative greenhouse gas emissions and policies that support biodiversity, whereas the MSC seems to have different ideas.
A survey of consumers* found almost half of respondents believe that a seafood ecolabel should mean there are limited carbon emissions associated with catching the eco-labelled seafood product. However, the MSC definition of sustainability is all about fish stock status, not about the climate impacts of fisheries.
This disconnect between the MSC standard and consumers’ current ideas about what it means to be ‘sustainable’ could get the MSC into serious trouble.
Furthermore, the MSC certification scheme takes a definite stance on the controversial issue of the sustainability of wild-caught versus aquaculture-raised seafood. The MSC blue fish label can only be used on wild-caught seafood but some experts argue that some aquaculture-sourced seafood is actually more - not less - environmentally friendly than wild-caught equivalents (find evidence to support that argument in this research paper).
Consumers’ environmental sentiments are constantly evolving, which means that food businesses that use green claims and ecolabels on their products need to regularly review their claims. Green claims need to be ‘in-tune’ with current understanding, or they risk being found misleading by regulatory and enforcement authorities. And that can be expensive for brands and bottom lines.
*The survey was conducted as part of a review of the certification standards used by the Marine Stewardship Council for their ecolabel scheme. The review was conducted by the organisation ‘On The Hook’, which was established to “address growing concerns amongst many conservationists, academics and ocean advocates” about the MSC ecolabelling program. Its structure and ownership is murky, but a footer on its home page claims it is mostly funded by a UK seafood importer.
Inspiration for this piece came from New Food Magazine https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/news/169111/are-seafood-ecolabels-living-up-to-expectations/
News and Resources
Expertly curated news and resources, free from filler, fluff and promotional junk. Click the preview box below to access it.
Update: Cronobacter and the FDA + Deja Vu - Pathogens in Leafy Greens Again
Cronobacter Infant Formula Recall
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published further insights into the Abbott Infant Formula Cronobacter debacle, in which FDA employees explain the challenges they faced.
🍏 See also Issue #27 and Issue #31 🍏
Salmonella in lettuces (sigh)
We learned why bacterial pathogens cause major problems in certain leafy greens, including Romaine lettuce in Issue #53.
Here’s another leafy greens recall, though the details are sparse. Butter lettuce, Romaine lettuce and ‘Krunch’ lettuce whole heads have been recalled due to Salmonellacontamination. No illnesses have been reported, so it is possible these lettuces were tested as part of surveillance activities by the FDA. I wrote about the surveillance activities in Issue #56
🍏 Reminder! You can search a list of all past posts/emails for topics like E. coli in leafy greens here (for paying subscribers) 🍏
What you missed in last week’s email
What is food laundering (and why should we care)?
Microplastics in HACCP Plans
A new way to serve pumpkins, or hippo torture, you decide!
Below for paying subscribers: Food fraud news and incident reports, plus 🎧 audio 🎧. This week’s audio version features a bonus flying insect on backing vocals
📌 Food Fraud News 📌
This week’s food fraud news includes
is Starbucks putting undeclared potassium in their coffee???
fake lab reports for food safety tests
fake “Scotland-grown” tea (yes seriously!)
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