Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why peanut butter instead of grey poupon and other top headlines

Why does the salmonella foodborne illness outbreak have to implicate peanut butter - the only food some of our kids like and the comfort food for the kid in all us - rather than a product like grey poupon, which is a food oddity most of us know only through whimsical commercials? I'm sure many parents and peanut industry leaders are wondering the same thing. Doug Powell of the Food Safety Network passes on this account from The New York Times: Many consumers, apparently disregarding the fine print of the salmonella outbreak and food recall caused by a Georgia peanut plant, are swearing off all brands of peanut butter, driving down sales by nearly 25 percent.
TK: Better safe than sorry, as they say, except for the fact that once again (as with tomatoes) the impact of a recall is felt on the whole industry, no matter the nuanced messages of the FDA. From the NYT

The contaminated peanut butter traced to the Georgia plant represents a small percentage of the total $800 million in annual sales by the peanut butter companies in the United States. But the public relations problem for the rest of the industry is unlikely to ease anytime soon.

So far, the salmonella outbreak has been linked to 575 illnesses and eight deaths, and more than 1,500 products have been recalled, including cookies, ice cream and pet food.

Three states — California, Idaho and Minnesota — were told to remove peanut products for school lunch programs. They received the peanut butter or roasted peanuts from the federal government, which bought them from the Peanut Corporation, in the last two years.

No illnesses have been reported from students eating tainted peanut butter provided by the government.

TK: It seems the public doesn't mind punishing an entire industry for the misdeeds of one apparent bad actor. The advancement of traceability technologies and "lessons learned" by FDA may not change this sober truth.

Other top headlines from this weekend:

Eating well can be done on a diet If we don't know how to eat on a budget after this recession, it won't be because we haven't seen enough of these stories. Top tips: Eat less meat, make smart f/v choices, don't drink your grocery bill

Researcher develops apple resistant to fungal disease
Schuyler Korban, professor of molecular genetics, and University researchers in the Department of Molecular Genetics recently developed the Winecrisp, an apple resistant to fungal disease.

Korban has been working on the project since 1981, and he said it is an important development because it reduces the number of chemicals used, the costs and labor required from the grower.

Korban said development of the Winecrisp took almost 30 years because the breeding of fruit trees is such a gradual process. Each breeding cycle takes between six and seven years, and several breeding cycles were necessary to create the desired traits.

"The program was originally an effort to get rid of a fungal disease called apple scab," Korban said. "We found that by breeding other varieties of apples with crab apples we could make an apple resistant to scabbing."

Korban said hybrids such as the Winecrisp have to go through several generations in order to strengthen the desired traits. It is possible to have something that is scab resistant after one generation, but it will not be ready for sale. After several generations of careful breeding, Korban said they had developed a product that was both scab resistant and tasty.

"An apple that is resistant to apple scab requires much less fungicide to keep it healthy and viable for a market," Korban said. "The average apple grower in Illinois has to spray his crops with several different sprays 15 to 20 times a season."

Korban said that the reduction in fungicides used helps reduce the effects of the chemicals on the environment. It also cuts down on labor costs for the grower because they do not need to hire someone to spray the fields.

"Anything that cuts out all of those unnecessary chemicals is a good idea," said Chelsey Scott, a Schnucks employee and a graduate of Parkland College. "As long as it maintains what I expect in an apple I am all for it."

The University is working in conjunction with Rutgers and Purdue universities to test how well this species does in terms of growing across the country.

"It seems like a big step forward," said Jake Samaan, junior in LAS. "Advances such as that could be great for this country and around the world."

Right now, the Winecrisp apple trees on campus are bare, but in the spring, they will start to grow.

"Right now, we are trying to make it available to growers and have a patent pending," Korban said. "We have already been contacted and are inviting any interested growers to apply for a license."

European trends in fresh cut, prepacked produce From 4Hoteliers: Based on Rabobank analysis
From the story:

In these leaner times, not all European consumers are prepared to pay for convenience and, in the short term, may abandon high priced fresh-cut options for cheaper unprocessed fruits and vegetables.

“Although the fresh-cut fruits and vegetables market is vulnerable to an economic downturn, the general trend of consumers requiring convenient, healthy and flavourful products is not likely to reverse,” concludes the report.

The history and future of sustainable agricultural production From Lancaster Farming

Unusual vegetables to try in 2009 From the Daily Freeman
Exotic veggies consumers should try and perhaps try to grow

Pineapple giant cuts work week From Business World
Pineapple giant Dole Philippines, Inc. (Dolefil) has cut its working days to five from six, the Labor department said, to cope with a slump in orders.

Tomato: the love apple
A Valentine's Day love story

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