Author Archives: jhgiese

Is “Just Mayo” Mayonnaise?

Capture00As a food technologist, I avidly follow certain reports in the news. A recent one of interest has been the widely reported saga of a food product called “Just Mayo” manufactured by Hampton Creek. Inc., a food processor, of San Francisco, Calif.

The tradition of ersatz food products is a long and colorful one. These substitute foods are especially common during times of food scarcity.  A prominent example is the production of coffee substitutes during wars. To protect consumers, many countries develop standards of identity for food to ensure that products known by certain names are, indeed, what they claim to be. (as a side note, appellation d’origine contrôlée or AOCs are similar standards.)

Standards of identity are mandatory requirements, set by regulatory agencies, to ensure that a food product, marketed under a certain name, must contain the proper ingredients that define the product. When I was an undergraduate (many years ago!), we spent a lot of time pouring over U.S. federal standards of identity for mayonnaise, salad dressing, and imitation sandwich spreads. Did the food label accurately reflect the contents of the jar for consumers? For more on standards for food dressings, see the CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Part 169:   http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=a572c500d050d311d0082b97f1c69940&mc=true&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title21/21cfr169_main_02.tpl

The story of “Just Mayo” has had many twists. But, for me as a food technologist, it boils down to this: according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the product, as originally labeled, was misbranded. Indeed, on August 12, 2015, the U.S. FDA sent a warning letter to the company. The Warning Letter to Hampton Creek Foods 8/12/15 makes this clear on several points: http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2015/ucm458824.htm.  In particular, as item 3 in the letter states: “…Just Mayo and Just Mayo Sriracha products are misbranded within the meaning of section 403(a)(1) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 343(a)(1)] in that they purport to be the standardized food mayonnaise due to the misleading name and imagery used on the label, but do not qualify as the standardized food mayonnaise as described under 21 CFR 169.140. The name “Just Mayo” and an image of an egg are prominently featured on the labels for these products. The term “mayo” has long been used and understood as shorthand or slang for mayonnaise. The use of the term “mayo” in the product names and the image of an egg may be misleading to consumers because it may lead them to believe that the products are the standardized food, mayonnaise, which must contain eggs as described under 21 CFR 169.140(c). Additionally, the use of the term “Just” together with “Mayo” reinforces the impression that the products are real mayonnaise by suggesting that they are “all mayonnaise” or “nothing but” mayonnaise. However, your Just Mayo and Just Mayo Sriracha do not meet the definition of the standard for mayonnaise. According to the labels for these products, neither product contains eggs. Additionally, the products contain additional ingredients that are not permitted by the standard of identity for mayonnaise, such as modified food starch.”

After receiving the letter, the company agreed to work with FDA and make labeling changes to ensure its products are labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading. I urge all food technologists to read the warning letter and consider it as a case study in current food labeling practice. Although, and despite the federal standard of identity, I am still left with an odd feeling that I, now, do not know what exactly mayonnaise is.  Certainly, this product is not mayonnaise according to the standard. 

Can You Believe Front of Package Claims?

Have you ever wondered what exactly “natural” on a food label means? Not only food technologists, but other consumers have wondered as well. In response to questions by consumers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided to explore the use of the term “natural.” The agency is asking the public to provide information and comments on the use of this term in the labeling of human food products.

The FDA is taking this action in part because it received three Citizen Petitions asking that the agency define the term “natural” for use in food labeling and one Citizen Petition asking that the agency prohibit the term “natural” on food labels. FDA also notes that some Federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, have requested administrative determinations from the FDA regarding whether food products containing ingredients produced using genetic engineering or foods containing high fructose corn syrup may be labeled as “natural.”

Although the FDA has not established a formal definition for the term “natural,” it does have a longstanding policy concerning the use of “natural” in human food labeling. The FDA has considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. That seems like a reasonable definition. However, the FDA policy does not address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or other health benefit.

The FDA is now seeking public comment on questions such as: Whether it is appropriate to define the term “natural;” if so, how should the agency define “natural;” and, finally, how should the agency determine the appropriate use of the term on food labels.

The FDA started accepting public comments in Nov. 2015. To electronically submit comments to the docket, visit http://www.regulations.gov and type FDA-2014-N-1207 in the search box. Comments on the rule must be received by Feb. 2016.

In this issue of the journal, a group of researchers analyzed front of package (FOP) claims to determine if they are good indicators of the nutritional quality of a food product. The goal of the research was to examine if the presence and number of all FOP nutrition claims seen in the market can differentiate between products of various levels of nutrition quality among U.S. breakfast cereals and prepared meals.

From Journal of Food Science:  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1750-3841.13021/full

Escherichia coli Infections Linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill Restaurants

Since the primary obligation of food technologists is to ensure a safe food supply, it is instructive to understand and determine what lessons can be learned from foodborne illness outbreaks. With this in mind, I followed the multistate foodborne illness outbreaks linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill in 2015.

Some of the details of the case can be found in the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website, “Multistate Outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O26 (STEC O26) Infections Linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill Restaurants” at http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2015/o26-11-15/

As of December 22, 2015, the CDC was tracking two different outbreaks of STEC O26 linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants. The most recent was an outbreak in three states: Kansas, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. The Kansas and North Dakota cases ate at the same restaurant in Kansas. The three separate Oklahoma cases all ate at the same Chipotle restaurant. In the earlier outbreak, 53 people were infected with a different strain of STEC O26 across nine states. Twenty ill people have been hospitalized. There have been no reports of hemolytic uremic syndrome and no deaths. The majority of illnesses have been reported from Washington and Oregon during October 2015.

At this time, the epidemiologic evidence suggests that a common meal item or ingredient served at Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants in several states is a likely source of the outbreak. The investigation has not identified what specific food is linked to illness. In the earlier outbreak, of the 52 ill people interviewed, 46 reported eating at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in the week before their illness started. In the second outbreak, the Kansas and North Dakota cases ate at the same restaurant in Kansas. The three separate Oklahoma cases all ate at the same Chipotle restaurant.

Chipotle Mexican Grill chain is assisting public health officials with understanding the distribution of food items served at locations where ill people ate, and this work is ongoing.

Separately, Chipotle is under investigation by federal authorities concerning a norovirus outbreak at a California location in August 2015 that sickened 234 people, including 17 employees.

Such a large number of illnesses and problems at different locations indicate a serious issue. According to a press release from Chipotle, the company is updating their food safety program and doing a comprehensive assessment of their practices. The company is partnering with a Seattle-based food safety testing and consulting group called: IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group.

The food safety steps they are taking include: enhanced safety testing of ingredients using a series of DNA-based tests on ingredients before they are shipped to restaurants; a thorough review of how each ingredient in the restaurant is handled and prepared; enhanced employee food safety training; and more frequent food safety audits, including third-party assessments.

More information on Chipotle’s food safety measures can be found at the company press release here: http://chipotle.com/food-safety?_ga = 1.178807140.156192303.1451321491

Also, here is the website of the IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group: http://www.iehinc.com/

Recently, the U.S. Justice Dept. has increased its enforcement of food safety laws, including several with record fines and prosecutions. The past year included a case where a former owner of a food company, Peanut Corp. of America, was sentenced to 28 years in prison. A prison term was also given to a QA manager in the case. Another recent example is that the Justice Dept. launched a criminal investigation of Blue Bell Creameries LP over listeria contamination that was linked to three deaths and multiple illnesses.

The  Journal of Food Science has a regular section, Food Microbiology and Safety, featuring studies on food safety. One example highlighted here is on microbiology of par-fired potatoes. Other studies highlighted this month include a study on consumer acceptance of soymilk; the use of MSG, and successful sensory testing.

From Industrial Application Briefs: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1750-3841.13025/full

 

Does Knowing Your Sugar Change Your Choice?

nci-vol-2627-72

Source: National Cancer Institute, Renee Comet (Photographer)

Beet and cane sugars, the primary sources of commercial sucrose, are nearly identical in terms of their chemical composition, composed of more than 99% sucrose. Despite their similar chemical identities, researchers have identified differences between beet and cane sugars based on volatile profiles, thermal behaviors, minor chemical components, and their functionality in some foods. The advantages and disadvantages of beet vs. cane sugars are bandied about by chefs, the media, and bloggers. Some regard the sugars as the same, while others argue that there is a noticeable difference between them.

A study in this month’s issue of Journal of Food Science takes an interesting approach to the cane/beet sugar discussion. Brittany Urbanus, Shelly Schmidt, and Soo-Yeun Lee assessed the effect of information labels that specified the sugar source in an orange-flavored beverage to overall liking of that beverage. The researchers found that specifying the sugar source on the product label, in this case an orange-flavored beverage, does not influence the general populations’ overall liking of the product. Panelists placed more value on the sensory properties of the products than the product label specifying sugar source when evaluating overall liking. For this reason, specifying the sugar source on the product label may not lead to higher acceptability for the general population. However, they did find that providing information does increase acceptance regardless of the sugar source, so providing accurate information on the label may be a marketing strategy to consider.

Beet and cane sugars, the primary sources of commercial sucrose, are nearly identical in terms of their chemical composition, containing greater than 99% sucrose. Though their chemical identities are comparable, researchers have identified differences between beet and cane sugars in regard to their analytically determined volatile profiles, thermal behaviors, minor chemical components, and their functionality in some food products The reputation of beet and cane sugars and their functionality in products has also gained attention in the popular press, including Internet articles and blogs. Some users regard the sugars as the same, while others argue that there is a noticeable difference between them. The objective of this study was to assess the effect of information labels that specified the sugar source in an orange-flavored beverage to overall liking of that beverage.The researchers hypothesized that consumer liking for the beverage would change depending on the information condition (blind or informed) in which they were evaluated and the sugar source (beet or cane) that the beverage contained. They hypothesized that consumer liking of the beverage containing beet sugar would decrease when evaluated in informed conditions compared to blind conditions. They found that specifying the sugar source on the product label, in particular an orange-flavored beverage, does not influence the general populations’ overall liking of the product. Panelists placed more value on the sensory properties of the products than the product label specifying sugar source when evaluating overall liking. Specifying the sugar source on the product label may not lead to higher acceptability for the general population. However, providing information does increase acceptance regardless of the sugar source.

Does Information about Sugar Source Influence Consumer Liking of Products Made with Beet and Cane Sugars? 

Brittany L. Urbanus, Shelly J. Schmidt, Soo-Yeun Lee

What Makes a Good Fresh Tomato?

Source:National Cancer Institute, Renee Comet (Photographer)

Source: National Cancer Institute, Renee Comet (Photographer)

Ah, the pleasures of a recently-harvested sliced tomato on a hot summer day. Consumers rate this experience highly and frequently complain that fresh tomatoes they purchase lack the characteristic taste and flavor they desire.

A group of researchers from North Carolina State Univ. conducted a study to establish what attributes consumers desire in fresh tomatoes. The most important tomato attribute was color, then juice when sliced, followed by size, followed by seed presence, which was at parity with firmness. An attractive tomato was red, firm, medium/small sized, crisp, meaty, juicy, flavorful, and with few seeds. The group found that if samples strayed far from these features, the tomato was rejected by consumers. The group used conjoint analysis, a research technique that collects a large amount of data from consumers in a format designed to be reflective of a real life market setting and can be combined with qualitative insight from focus groups to gain information on consumer consumption and purchase behaviors.

The study established that the most important fresh tomato attributes were color, amount of juice when sliced, and size. There were distinct consumer clusters around preference for color/appearance, juiciness, and firm texture.

For more, see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1750-3841.12638/abstract

I Scream, You Scream, Yes, We All Scream for Ice Cream

nci-vol-2690-72

Photo: National Cancer Institute, Renee Comet (Photographer).

A minor story of interest to food technologists grabbed headlines briefly this summer. This event was widely reported, and one example can be found here: “Walmart-brand ice cream sandwich won’t melt in 80-degree heat” from the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/Wp/2014/07/31/video-walmart-brand-ice-cream-sandwich-wont-melt-in-80-degree-heat/). The reports led to an admirable number of everyday science experiments; many of which were captured on YouTube. (Search for keywords: melt, ice cream, and sandwich.)

It’s too bad that Maya Warren and Richard Hartel’s paper, “Structural, Compositional, and Sensorial Properties of United States Commercial Ice Cream Products,” published in this month’s journal was unavailable at the time. Warren and Hartel study a wide range of commercial ice cream products in the U.S. detailing how compositional and microstructural aspects of ice cream affect the behavior of ice cream products, as well as sensory properties. Having read the paper, I think the mystery of the melting ice cream can be found in its ingredients. A combination of gums, calcium sulfate, and, I would guess, the percentages of moisture and fat translate into this product being easier to make into a “sandwich” as well as decreasing its melting rate. The next time questions about frozen dairy novelties come up, we know where to turn for answers. As Warren and Hartel point out, there is a wide range of commercially-available ice cream products with different formulations, including novelty items such as ice cream sandwiches. We can expect an equally wide range of sensory characteristics such as melt rates in these products.

According to Warren and Hartel, ice cream is a complex, partially frozen food composed of partially-crystalline individual fat globules, partially-coalesced fat globules (partially crystalline), ice crystals, and air cells, all dispersed in an unfrozen fluid phase. In this complex mixture, microstructural components (fat globules, ice, and air) are critical to the overall structure and properties and differ greatly depending on the formulation and the processing conditions used to make ice cream. These microstructural components also affect meltdown/drip-through behavior and sensory properties. The researchers analyzed commercial vanilla ice cream products from the United States (full fat, low-fat, and nonfat) for their structural, behavioral (i.e., melt rate and drip-through), compositional, and sensory attributes. To determine relationships and interactions, principle component analysis and multivariate pairwise correlation were performed within and between the instrumental and sensorial data. They found that greasiness and creaminess negatively correlated with drip-through rate, and creaminess correlated with percent total fat and percent fat destabilization. Percent fat did not determine the melt rate on a sensory level. However, drip-through rate at ambient temperatures was predicted by total fat content of the samples. Based on sensory analysis, high-fat products were noted to be creamier than low and nonfat products. Iciness did not correlate with mean ice crystal size and drip-through rate did not predict sensory melt rate. The researchers also found that greasiness was positively correlated with total percent fat destabilization and mean air cell size was positively correlated with denseness. Commercial ice cream products in the U.S. vary widely in composition, structure, behavior, and sensory properties.

For more, see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1750-3841.12687/full

Consumers Changing Attitude to Transgenic Tomatoes?

Tomatoes are a good source of lycopene, vitamin C, vitamin E,
and carotenoids. However, tomatoes have relatively small amounts
of flavonoids compared with other vegetables. The flavonoids are
a subclass of plant polyphenols, which have shown to have healthpromoting
effects. Genetic engineering has been used to enhance
the flavonoid content of fruits and vegetables. For example, a
single CHI gene from Petunia hybrida suffices to increase flavonol
content in tomato peel, while Delilah (Del) and Rosea1 (Ros1)
genes extracted from snapdragon were stacked and introduced to
tomatoes, resulting in an increased anthocyanin content and purple
colored tomato peel.
Consumers, however, generally have formed negative but
vague perceptions of transgenic foods which prevent them from
knowingly purchasing such products. Researchers at Kansas State
Univ. evaluated how the color, flavor, texture, and overall liking of
transgenic tomatoes with enhanced flavonoid content compared
to wild-type tomatoes were evaluated by an untrained consumer
panel.
The researchers indicate that although recent studies reflect a
new willingness on the part of consumers to buy transgenic vegetables,
almost no attempts have been made to conduct consumer
taste tests with transgenic tomatoes. The few tests that have been
conducted involved transgenic tomatoes thatwere tested by trained
professionals or small consumer groups with no controls for differences
in sample demographics. This study used an untrained
consumer panel to score flavor and overall liking of between 2
transgenic tomatoes and wild-type tomatoes. The panel reported
no difference in liking of texture or color between the 3 tomatoes.
After participating in the sensory study, 14% of the panelists
changed their attitudes positively toward transgenic vegetables and
96% of the consumers on the panel reported that they would buy
transgenic food if they believed that it would promote health.

For more, see Consumer Sensory Analysis of High Flavonoid Transgenic Tomatoes