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March 2020

Beyond the Basics Conference Recap… Part Two!

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Welcome to part two of the Beyond the Basics Food: Safety, Supply & Sustainability conference that was held February 21 at the Edina Country Club. 

 After a short break it was time for our second speaker of the day, Brenda Jacob, RDN, MPD, LD.  Brenda is a Labeling Manager at Land O’Lakes.   Her presentation, “Making Sense of Changes in Food Label Information” was extremely helpful in breaking down the very complicated world of labeling!


She began by explaining the rulemaking process for label changes: Congress passes a law and directs agency (FDA/USDA) to create regulations –> Agency then publishes  Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR)  in the Federal Register. This is when the  notice/comment process begins —> Individuals/Groups can post comments (these can come from ANYONE) –>Agency proposes rule/regulation.  She noted that this is a very long process and takes years.  The new nutrition label process started in 2016 with a compliance date of 2018.  In 2017 that date was extended to January 2020.  However, food companies were concerned about food waste so they were granted an extension to July 2020 so they were able to sell food products with the old label already printed.

So why did we need a new food label? The new label reflects updated scientific information (link between diet, chronic disease and public health),  the updated serving size reflects amount of food people actually consume, and the new format draws attention to calories and serving size. There are several changes to daily values including increases for: total fat, fiber, calcium, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin D and decreases for: carbohydrates, sodium, and vitamin A.  There is a new addition of “added sugars” which has been a challenge to food producers.  The daily value for added sugars is 50 g per day.  Added sugars is defined as: added during processing or packaged as such; includes free, mono- and disaccharides, sugars from syrups, honey, & concentrated fruit or vegetable juices.  Naturally occurring sugars (e.g., dairy products, whole fruits and vegetables) is not considered added sugar .  The challenge? Analysis cannot differentiate total sugar from added sugar and record keeping is required to verify labeled added sugars.

Brenda then went into a discussion of bioengineered (BE) and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling.  Many think bioengineered is the same as GMO but it is not. The USDA defines bioengineered as:  “contains genetic material that has been modified through in-vitro recombinant DNA and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.” The term GMO has a more broad definition and includes anything that has had its genes altered, including by nature, such as plants or animals.  BE labeling disclosure is required for BE food or foods that contain BE food ingredients.  Any highly refined foods (e.g., sugar, oils, food starch) or ingredients that do not contain detectable modified genetic material are not considered BE. The list of BE foods include:  alfalfa, some apple varieties, canola, corn, cotton, some eggplant varieties, some papaya varieties, some pineapple varieties, potato, some salmon varieties, soybean, summer squash and sugarbeets. Labeling is mandatory for items on the BE food list or known BE + detectable rDNA.  Labeling is voluntary for itmes from the BE food list with no detectable rDNA or highly refined ingredients from BE food list: oils, sugars, modified food starch.  Food items that are exempt from labeling include: organic, incidental additives, animal products (meat, poultry, milk, eggs), animal feed, or below 5% threshold for adventitious presence.  Simple, right?  NO!

Brenda gave a great example of where confusion can lie.  Where an ingredient lies in the ingredient list determines whether labeling is mandatory, voluntary, or exempt!  A soup with order of ingredients: broth, corn, chicken, etc. is subject to BE disclosure because chicken is 3rd ingredient- not the second after broth.  However–soup with chicken as 2nd ingredient (broth, chicken, corn, etc.) is exempt from BE disclosure.  Another example was breaded chicken nuggets with ingredients of chicken breast, breadcrumbs (wheat flour, corn flour, etc.) is not subject to BE disclosure because chicken is the most predominant ingredient- it doesn’t matter if corn flour is from BE corn.  

The last section of her presentation was about Standards of Identity (SOI).  SOI includes required and optional ingredients, may specify manufacturing procedures, may include added nutrients and amounts, and may include specific methods of analysis.  There are 280 SOI foods (37% of the foods are dairy items!).  They were established  in the 1938 Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act.  The purpose of SOI is to  promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers, prevent food fraud (must meet minimum level of a valuable ingredient), to create a “level playing field” for food producers, ensure products meet consumers’ nutritional and expectations/needs.  A food is deemed misbranded if it does not conform to the definition and standard or it must be labeled “imitation”.  In March 2018 the FDA determined modernizing SOIs as an important step to update for technology advancements, promote innovation and provide flexibility to produce more healthful foods.

Brenda acknowledged that these new labeling regulations are likely to cause some confusion among consumers.  For instance, right now the old label and the new label can be found on products on shelves until July 2020.  One might grab a pint of ice cream and see two different serving sizes and think one is more “healthy” than the other.  She closed with saying that as consumers are now less familiar with agricultural practices, it’s becoming more important  to help consumers know “what is in my food”.  It is our role as food and consumer science professionals to help!    

3rd Annual Beyond the Basics Conference–Food: Safety, Supply & Sustainability Recap

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Hello FCS Professionals and other readers interested in the world of food and consumer science!   We gathered almost one month ago when life was much less complicated for our annual Beyond the Basics conference.  When I’m able to take a break from my new role as teacher (and let’s face it–referee) for my kids I’ll be posting recaps of the conference speakers.  First up is our keynote speaker, Dr. Julie Miller Jones.  Enjoy! 

The roadways were clear and ninety plus members and guests gathered on Friday, February 21 at the Edina Country Club for the 3rd annual Beyond the Basics conference!  This year’s theme was Food: Safety, Supply & Sustainability and did not disappoint!

The morning began with a light breakfast of mixed fruit, assorted pastries, juice and coffee.  Colleen Zenk, FCS Professionals member and organizer of this event welcomed all and gave an overview of the day. Attendees were notified of an upcoming webinar from the Food Safety Partnership of Minnesota that was held Wednesday, March 4 from 9:00-noon.  Click here for more details.  Next it was time to introduce keynote speaker, Dr. Julie Miller Jones, with her presentation, “The Consumer, the Food Supply, and the Food Safety Dilemma.”

Dr. Jones set the stage by examining our current environment.  About half of the leading causes of death are diet related however we are scared about the wrong things!  People are very concerned about pesticides, GMOs and chemicals and over-emphasize a risk that simply is not there while under-emphasizing the risks posed by diabetes and obesity caused by a poor diet.  Consumers have very conflicting viewpoints as well which adds to the dilemma—for example wanting more local, organic free-range yet wanting to use less land!

What about our current food safety challenges?  The FDA and WHO lists their priorities for food safety risk as:

1. Microbial contamination

2. Nutritional imbalance

3. Environmental contaminants

4. Naturally-occurring toxins

5. Pesticide residues

6. Food additives

This is opposite of what you hear from bloggers, celebrities, and the people making noise in the world.  Their main focus is food additives/pesticides etc.  Consumers are confused between toxic vs. hazard.  She reminded us that everything has a toxicity! It is all about dosing.  Water at a certain level is toxic to humans.

Consumers want a short list of recognizable ingredients, a long “free from” list, minimal processing, sustainability & transparency, and certifications (such as organic, non-GMO).  But are these things actually better and healthier? 96% of dairy illnesses come from consuming raw milk which is “minimally processed”.  Bread without some sort of preservative easily forms carcinogenic mold. She gave an example of three foods:  Impossible Burger, Vegan Cheddar Cheese, and Organic Potato Chips.   The potato chips had the shortest ingredient list: potatoes, vegetable oil, and salt.  Is it the healthy choice?

Each April the Environmental Working Group (EWG)  promotes their “Dirty Dozen” list.  These foods are said to contain the highest levels of pesticides and should be avoided if they are not organically grown.  But is this true?  Researchers have found that there was no observable effect level (NOEL)  in the “Dirty Dozen.” The ten most frequently detected pesticides on any of the “Dirty Dozen” commodities were FAR BELOW Reference Doses (rFd). Dr. Jones noted that April is the EWG’s biggest fundraising month of the year–which coincides with when they advertise the Dirty Dozen.  So what is the difference between conventional and organic products?  Pesticide residue is lower in organic foods but very low in regular produce and at this point it is unclear if it  matters to health.  Toxic metals  in organic grains show a lower cadmium level, in produce no difference.   Bacterial contamination risk is no different between the two if the manure is treated.  With organic practices there is a lower risk of resistant bacteria.

Dr. Jones is supportive of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as a solution.  IPM combines conventional and organic farming technologies.  “By studying their life cycles and how pests interact with the environment, IPM professionals can manage pests with the most current methods to improve management, lower costs, and reduce risks to the environment.”  IPM tools include: altering surroundings, adding beneficial insects/organisms, growing plants that resist pests, disrupting the development of pests, disrupting insect behaviors, and use of pesticides.

From a nutritional standpoint, Dr. Jones is very concerned about the low/no-carb trend with regard to neural tube defects in infants.  The fortification of grains with folate has lead to a fifty percent reduction in spina bifida cases, and a thirty percent decrease in other neural tube defects since introduced.  It has been said that fortification was in the top ten most important public health measures of the past decade.  Organic vs. conventional milk, grass fed vs. grain fed beef was also discussed.

Locally grown and minimally processed is “in” when it comes to our food–but is it always better?  Not always!  There are many factors to consider–it may actually be more environmentally sound to consume frozen peas than fresh from the farmer’s market when considering food waste management and fuel costs.  Dr. Jones stressed, “Making a rule and having it apply to everyone is silly!”  In some cases, one method is more environmentally sound than in others.  Her example, “Which is better– cloth diapers or disposable?”  If you live in California where water is in short supply—then it’s disposable! But in another region where water is plentiful–then cloth.

Dr. Jones concluded with some simple advice:

  • Reduce waste  – less waste with many processed foods and additives
  • Plan well  – concentrate on what can be controlled
  •  Make healthy choices
  •  Consider GMO as a technology
  •  Be skeptical of simple solutions
  • If there is a simple answer, the article may have a bias or use only a few of many criteria.

Dr. Jones took time to answer many excellent questions from attendees.  Thank you Dr. Julie Miller Jones for providing such a wonderful start to a fascinating day of learning!