Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dairy Foods Partners: Let’s Do the Right Things in 2016.

‘Tis that time of year when predictions and lists are posted in abundance. I promise to keep these points brief and simple. I won’t even number them, as they all sort of meld together. They are common sense, with your conscience guiding you the right way.

It’s hard to ignore Chipotle these days. The company has become fodder for all media outlets and a case study for advertising and marketing professors. For microbiologists and food scientists, Chipotle just makes us shake our heads and think this could have been prevented.

The fact is that the company may never know the ingredient source of the E. coli outbreak that occurred about a month ago. This is because the infecting inventory was no longer in house when the quick-service chain that prides itself on fresh and natural ingredients was identified by the Center for Disease Control as the provider of the deadly pathogen. By that time, the food had either been served or tossed. One thing Chipotle does know is that it will be much more discriminating with its suppliers on food safety precautions, as all of its sourcing practices may sound appealing to today’s consumers, until someone gets sick, then “food with integrity”—the company’s tagline—is not all that attractive.

There’s something for all in the food industry to learn from Chipotle. Technologies—ingredients, processes and packages--have been developed and incorporated into the evolving food chain for a reason. To be fair, for some, adaptation is purely selfish. It’s all about the bottom line. But for many, and I do believe that is most of the dairy industry, it has to do with ensuring safety and delivering on quality at an affordable price to provide balanced nutrition.

Chipotle’s mantra of fresh, never frozen, minimally cooked and unprocessed, has come to haunt the company. A key lesson for all in the food industry is to refrain from negative marketing of traditional food practices. Chipotle says it now plans to slice and dice at off-site commissaries and deliver cleaned and trimmed produce to its stores. How’s this different than purchasing the same ingredients from an approved food manufacturer following good manufacturing procedures and a proper HACCP plan?

This commissary approach comes with a hefty price tag. There’s rent, labor, packaging materials and transportation. It does not sound like a sustainable approach to sourcing ingredients. It sounds like a company that dug itself in a hole and is not sure how to get out.

Then there’s the bashing of artificial ingredients Chipotle has made in its advertising campaigns, all while the company continues to source tortillas made with chemical preservatives that inhibit the growth of mold, yeast and some bacteria. The company states on its website “We are working with our tortilla suppliers to reduce and eventually eliminate artificial preservatives from our tortillas.”

Your efforts are appreciated Chipotle, but there’s a reason why those preservatives are in the shells, and why so many others in the food industry rely on them. It’s to reduce food waste, a major issue in the U.S. and around the world.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that about one third of the food produced globally for human consumption--approximately 1.3 billion tons every year--is lost or wasted. Accidental or intentional, this discard at both the retail and consumer levels has far-reaching social, economic and environmental ramifications. Seems to me that a little preservative makes those tortillas a more sustainable product. Natamycin in cheese, yogurt and sour cream, especially in products intended for foodservice or require lengthy shelf lives because of distribution chains, also makes sense, as do other food safety technologies.

Jayson Lusk, president-elect of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, told U.S. News & World Report, “If you want to make products fresh, that means you’re not going to use a preservative or it’s going to be unprocessed. It does provide a real tradeoff in terms of providing a safe product for the consumer.”

The dairy industry must unite and protect our powerful, effective food safety practices…from farm to fork. This includes medicines for maintaining the health of cows all the way to pasteurizing milk. But that does not mean we cannot do some things better.

The Listeria outbreaks in ice cream and soft cheese this year hurt all of us. The problem with Listeria is that it is everywhere. About 10% of humans are carriers without even knowing it. It’s found in soil, water and the intestines of some animals. Most infected animals show no symptoms, so the bacterium can be transferred to raw foods such as unpasteurized dairy products, raw vegetables and raw meats. Further, unlike other types of foodborne pathogens, Listeria grows at refrigerated temperatures. When it invades a manufacturing facility, it can survive and thrive for many years. Extra testing and proper sanitation are paramount, so is proper pasteurization. Heat kills Listeria. Pasteurization is not an unnecessary technology. It’s a proven food safety technique.

In closing, I would like to say reach for the low-hanging fruitful opportunities in 2016 to make your products more appealing to today’s consumers. Maybe it’s time to revisit product formulations and simplify them. I cannot tell you the times that product developers have said that the only reason an ingredient was added to a formulation was to fix a problem, rather than eliminate the problem. Some ingredients—often ones with not so nice names--function only as a bandage. This includes the full spectrum: from stabilizing ingredients to sweeteners to colors.

Let’s not give anyone a reason to critique our products or practices. Dairy foods have a healthful halo. Let’s—together—make that halo stronger in the New Year.

The Daily Dose of Dairy Friday blogs will resume on January 8th. The daily new products will continue to be sent Monday through Thursday during the holiday season. Many will have a holiday theme, such as the YoCrunch Marshmallow Hot Cocoa yogurt that opened this blog. We must never lose sight of the fact that dairy foods should be safe, delicious, nutritious, affordable, and yes, at times, fun. After all, there’s always raw almonds and kale leaves.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.
Donna Berry

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