Food security: how drought and rising prices led to conflict in Syria

In 2015 the Welsh singer and activist Charlotte Church was widely ridiculed in the right-wing press and on social media for saying on BBC Question Time that climate change had played an important part in causing the conflict in Syria.

From 2006 until 2011, [Syria] experienced one of the worst droughts in its history, which of course meant that there were water shortages and crops weren’t growing, so there was mass migration from rural areas of Syria into the urban centres, which put on more strain, and made resources scarce etc, which apparently contributed to the conflict there today.

Goaded on by the tabloids, Church reaped a whirlwind of public ridicule:

But what she said was correct – and there will be an increasing convergence of climate, food, economic and political crises in the coming years and decades. We need to better understand the interconnectivity of environmental, economic, geopolitical, societal and technological systems if we are to manage these crises and avoid their worst impacts.

In particular, tipping points exist in both physical and socio-economic systems, including governmental or financial systems. These systems interact in complex ways. Small shocks may have little impact but, a particular shock or set of shocks could tip the system into a new state. This new state could represent a collapse in agriculture or even the fall of a government.

In 2011, Syria became the latest country to experience disruption in a wave of political unrest crossing North Africa and the Middle East. Religious differences, a failure of the ruling regime to tackle unemployment and social injustice and the state of human rights all contributed to a backdrop of social unrest. However, these pressures had existed for years, if not decades.

So was there a trigger for the conflict in the region which worked in tandem with the ongoing social unrest?

Syria, and the surrounding region, has experienced significant depletion in water availability since 2003. In particular an intense drought between 2007 and 2010, alongside poor water management, saw agricultural production collapse and a mass migration from rural areas to city centres. Farmers, who had been relatively wealthy in their rural surroundings now found themselves as the urban poor reliant on food imports. Between 2007 and 2009 Syria increased its annual imports of wheat and meslin (rice flour) by about 1.5m tonnes. That equated to a more than ten-fold increase in importing one of the most basic foods.

Cereal imports by weight and value to Syria from 2006 to 2010. Source: UN Comtrade Database.

Complex system

There is a tendency these days to believe that global trade will protect the world from food production shocks. A small production shock in one region can be mitigated by increasing, temporarily, imports of food or by sourcing food from another region. However, certain shocks, or a set of shocks, could create an amplifying feedback that cascades into a globally significant event.

The food system today is increasingly complex and an impact in land, water, labour or infrastructure could create fragility. A large enough perturbation can lead to a price response in the global market that sends a signal to other producers to increase their output to make up for any shortfall. While increased prices can be beneficial to farmers and food producers, if the price increase is large enough it can have a significant impact on communities that are net food importers.

Additionally, food production is concentrated both in a relatively small handful of commodity crops such as wheat, rice and maize as well as from a relatively small number of regions, for example the US, China and Russia. This concentration means any disruption in those regions will have a large impact on global food supply. Reliance on global markets for sourcing food can therefore be a source of systemic risk.

Rising prices

In 2008 the global price of food increased dramatically. This increase was the result of a complex set of issues including historically low global food stocks, drought in Australia following production lows in several other areas over the previous few years, and speculation and an increase in biofuel production in North America.

This spike in global food price in 2008 was a factor in the initial unrest across North Africa and the Middle East, which became known as the Arab Spring. As prices peaked, violence broke out in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

In Syria a local drought which coincided with this global shock in food prices resulted in dramatic changes in the availability and cost of food. In response small groups of individuals protested. The government response, combined with a background of rising protests, existing social tensions and instability in the wider region, quickly escalated into the situation we are experiencing today.

The events in Syria, then, appear to stem from a far more complex set of pressures, beyond religious tension and government brutality, with its roots in the availability of a natural resource – water – and its impact on food production. This is worrying as decreasing water availability is far from a localised issue – it is a systemic risk across the Middle East and North Africa. Over the coming decades this water security challenge is likely to be further exacerbated by climate change.

To better manage these types of risks in the future, and to build societal resilience, the world needs to understand our society’s interdependence on natural resources and how this can lead to events such as those that unfolded in Syria. We need analytical, statistical, scenario or war game-type models to explore different possible futures and policy strategies for mitigating the risk. By understanding sources of political instability we hope to get a better handle on how these types of crisis arise.

The Conversation

Aled Jones, Director, Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image: EPA/Russian Defence Ministry Press Service

Pioneering craft brewery evolves into whisky distillery

ONE of Australia’s early craft breweries has grown up to become a premium whisky distillery.

The Steam Exchange brewery in Goolwa, South Australia, has been rebadged Fleurieu Distillery, realising a lifelong dream for head distiller Gareth Andrews.

The distillery, on the edge of the River Murray about and hour’s drive south of Adelaide, released its first single malt whisky just before Christmas and has almost sold out despite its $260 a bottle price tag.

The next release is due in April while a new 36-hectolitre still is expected to be delivered before the end of the year.

Andrews has resumed distilling after a hectic tourism season at his waterside cellar door, which sits between the Goolwa Steam Ranger train station and the wharf where river cruises on vintage paddle steamers regularly depart.

The unpeated first release was matured in 100-litre ex-Seppeltsfield port barrels for about “three summers” resulting in a “big thick, oily, punchy, gutsy whisky”.

Whisky from the five barrels was selectively blended to produce 600 bottles, allowing Andrews to maintain consistency and produce something he felt reflected the “whisky terroir” of the Fleurieu Peninsula.

While 350 bottles of the first release were pre-sold as whisky bonds before bottling, the remaining 250 bottles are being sold at the cellar door, through the distillery’s website and by the nip at specialty bars such as Hains & Co in Adelaide. Only about 70 bottles remain.

“They’re first-use barrels so they are at their maximum strength and we’ve had them cut down to 100-litre barrels,” Andrews said.

“We are looking at the premium end so we released at 52 per cent.

img - Fleurieu Distillery_Tall

“The next one will still be port barrel but it will be what I call a medium peat and we are looking to produce that one at full-on cask strength – around 62 per cent straight out the barrel with no watering down.”

The distillery also produces G-Town Gin and still brews beer but both are only sold at the cellar door along with a selection of boutique Langhorne Creek wines.

“We also have whisky sitting in sherry barrels from McWilliams both peated and unpeated but our sherry barrel whiskies won’t be out until next year,” Andrews said.

“At the moment we’re using first-use barrels so it’s big thick, oily, punchy, gutsy whiskies.

“The customers we’re looking for are obviously not people who want to mix it with Coke, we’re looking for adventurers who don’t mind paying that extra for a very high-quality product that stands out.

“We’re looking for people who want to travel that winding road and live a life less ordinary.”

Andrews said he was trying to source bourbon barrels to mature his next batch in.

He said the “maritime” conditions at Goolwa, less than 3km from where Australia’s longest river meets the Southern Ocean, were ideal for maturing whisky because of its fresh sea breezes, fluctuating temperatures range and mild summers.

Goolwa is at the southern end of the Fleurieu Peninsula, which is also home to the McLaren Vale wine region and the McLaren Vale Distillery.

Andrews began the brewery in 2004 and was one of only three craft breweries in South Australia at the time.

The success of the business allowed him to eventually become a distillery, which had been a long-term goal. The businesses focus is now 90 per cent whisky, 5 per cent gin and five per cent beer.

“As the craft beer game evolved people became really fixated with the IPA style whereas I am a big fan of the more traditional style English ales,” Andrews said.

“We decided that was not the style we were interested in and we wanted to go off and do other things.

“There comes a point where you have to ask ‘what am I most passionate about’ and focus on that.

“For us down here our passion for whisky has grown and grown and the beer side has become less important – we’ll always have our Steam Exchange brand but it’s in the background now.”

The similarities between making beer and whisky have helped Andrews reach his distilling goal, which he said was simply not an option when he opened the brewery 15 years ago.

“Even in 2004, just to find brewing equipment was really hard so back then the concept of setting up a distillery was unheard of because you just couldn’t access the equipment,” he said.

“Effectively from a distiller’s perspective, making whisky wash is very close to making beer without hops in it. There’s a few things you’ve got to change like mashing temperatures and a few chemistry issues you’ve got to deal with but effectively it’s the same process.”

The distillery’s 12-hectolitre still, custom made by Knapp Lewer in Tasmania, is a small version of the still at Islay distillery Caol Ila – one of Andrews’ favourites.

Andrews has engaged Knapp Lewer to make him a larger 36-hectolitre version of the still, which he hopes to have before the end of the year.

His wife Angela – who has worked for more than 20 years as a librarian/teacher is becoming more involved in the business from next week by taking a year off from her job to learn the distilling ropes.

“Basically by October/November she will be able to walk in and do her own cuts – heads and tails – and create her own whisky,” Andrews said.

“We are going to train her to become South Australia’s first female whisky distiller.”

“The promotion of women into whisky is fairly important so Angela is going to set up a blog and every week go through what it’s like going from being a librarian to being a whisky distiller.”

This article first appeared on The Lead.

Parrot pie and possum curry – how colonial Australians embraced native food

The relationship between European settlers and native Australian foodstuffs during the 19th century was a complex one. While the taste for native ingredients waxed and waned for the first century of European settlement, there’s ample evidence to demonstrate that local ingredients were no strangers to colonials’ kitchens or pots.

British settlers needed to engage with the edible flora and fauna of the continent almost immediately upon arrival. The journals of First Fleet officers record not only their reliance on native food, but the relish with which they enjoyed it. For example, First Fleet surgeon George Worgan noted in his diary a feast held to celebrate the King’s birthday:

We sat down to a very good Entertainment, considering how far we are from Leaden-Hall Market, it consisted of Mutton, Pork, Ducks, Fowls, Fish, Kanguroo, Sallads, Pies & preserved Fruits.

S. T. Gill’s sketch of a ‘Butcher’s Shamble’ from 1869.
State Library of Victoria

But despite the colonists’ reliance on native ingredients to supplement their diet, they were regarded with deep suspicion. Cooks – mainly women – relied on traditional British methods to transform these raw materials into something that they deemed culturally recognisable and appropriate.

Journals and other written accounts record these efforts. Kathleen Kirkland, a migrant who settled in Australia in the 19th century, wrote about the kangaroo soup, bush turkey and parrot pie she prepared for New Year’s Day 1841. She also praised the wild mushrooms from which she made a ketchup.

A contemporary of Kirkland, Louisa Meredith, describes eating kangaroo, wattle bird and echidna, although admitting that her tastes were not shared by all. But at least enough agreed with her that Phillis Clark, who was born in Tasmania in 1836, could compile a manuscript cookbook of recipes copied from other books and newspaper clippings. This personal collection contained a number of dishes featuring native ingredients like kangaroo, as well as detailed instructions for butchering the animal.

Kangaroo steamers

These examples notwithstanding, the settlers went to considerable trouble to maintain British food habits, in order to maintain a British identity.

Mrs Allan Macpherson, who settled in northern New South Wales in 1856, recounted that a dish of rock wallaby had a “very close resemblance to the hare” specially when cooked the same way and eaten with currant jelly. This application of European cooking techniques made it impossible to “distinguish them apart”.

Frontispiece of The English and Australian cookery book : cookery for the many, as well as for the upper ten thousand, by an Australian aristologist.
National Library of Victoria

Suspicion extended to traditional Aboriginal food practices such as using cooking vessels made from from bark or tree gnarls and wrapping food in leaves. They were disdained entirely, even if the ingredients used by Indigenous Australians were not.

It is in this manner that native ingredients appear in Australia’s first cookbook, The English and Australian Cookery Book, written by Tasmanian politician Edward Abbott and published in 1864.

In a section dedicated to game meats, Abbott featured recipes for kangaroo, emu, wombat and other native fauna. There were a number of recipes for “kangaroo steamer”, a dish that had been popular for at least almost half a century across the colonies.

Kangaroo steamer was a colonial adaptation of the traditional British dish of jugged hare and involved slowly cooking kangaroo meat with bacon and other seasonings. The dish would be cooked in a glass jar or earthenware vessel and sealed so it could be stored for an extended period.

Engaging with Indigenous food methods

One of the few cookbook writers to fully engage with Aboriginal people and their food methods was Wilhelmina Rawson. Born in Sydney, Rawson spent long portions of her life in northern and central Queensland.

State Library of NSW

It was here that she began gathering the recipes that would appear in her first cookbook, Mrs Lance Rawson’s cookery book and household hints, first published in 1878.

This book holds the distinction of being the first cookbook written by a woman in Australia. From the outset, Rawson noted the abundance of edible native ingredients that her readers could rely on such as kangaroos, bush turkeys and bandicoots. She urged her readers not to think of these foods as ingredients of last resort but rather, to consider them as a “sumptuous repast” not far from their kitchen.

Rawson’s adventurous palate extended beyond fauna and included such things as wild mushrooms and the young shoots of the rough leaved, fig tree which had been pointed out to her by Aboriginal informants.

In her 1895 book The Antipodean Cookery Book, Rawson noted that “I am beholden to the blacks for nearly all my knowledge of the edible ground game” and that “whatever the blacks eat the whites may safely try”.

Rawson’s relationship with Aboriginal people was complex and nuanced. Demonstrating an understanding of the dispossession of land occurring in Queensland at the time, she wrote sympathetically of

The lessons white men should learn from the blacks before the work of extermination which is so rapidly going on has swept all the blacks who possess this wonderful bush lore off the face of the earth.

Here she was voicing common sentiments about the predicted demise of the Aboriginal race. Rawson’s long periods of living in remote rural locations throughout Queensland had most likely placed her in closer contact with Aboriginal people than cookbook writers who lived in towns or cities.

British settlers, especially those living away from metropolitan centres, consumed native ingredients both out of choice and out of necessity for most of the 19th century.

However, this consumption was mediated by deeply held cultural prejudices. The transformation of native ingredients into recognisable British dishes can be regarded as part of the broader colonising process taking place.

The Conversation

Blake Singley, Curator, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top Image: Tea and Damper by A . M. Ebsworth. From Digital Collection of the State Library of Victoria.

Changing climate has stalled Australian wheat yields: study

Australia’s wheat yields more than trebled during the first 90 years of the 20th century but have stalled since 1990. In research published today in Global Change Biology, we show that rising temperatures and reduced rainfall, in line with global climate change, are responsible for the shortfall.

This is a major concern for wheat farmers, the Australian economy and global food security as the climate continues to change. The wheat industry is typically worth more than A$5 billion per year – Australia’s most valuable crop. Globally, food production needs to increase by at least 60% by 2050, and Australia is one of the world’s biggest wheat exporters.

There is some good news, though. So far, despite poorer conditions for growing wheat, farmers have managed to improve farming practices and at least stabilise yields. The question is how long they can continue to do so.

Worsening weather

While wheat yields have been largely the same over the 26 years from 1990 to 2015, potential yields have declined by 27% since 1990, from 4.4 tonnes per hectare to 3.2 tonnes per hectare.

Potential yields are the limit on what a wheat field can produce. This is determined by weather, soil type, the genetic potential of the best adapted wheat varieties and sustainable best practice. Farmers’ actual yields are further restricted by economic considerations, attitude to risk, knowledge and other socio-economic factors.

While yield potential has declined overall, the trend has not been evenly distributed. While some areas have not suffered any decline, others have declined by up to 100kg per hectare each year.

We found this decline in yield potential by investigating 50 high-quality weather stations located throughout Australia’s wheat-growing areas.

Analysis of the weather data revealed that, on average, the amount of rain falling on growing crops declined by 2.8mm per season, or 28% over 26 years, while maximum daily temperatures increased by an average of 1.05℃.

To calculate the impact of these climate trends on potential wheat yields we applied a crop simulation model, APSIM, which has been thoroughly validated against field experiments in Australia, to the 50 weather stations.

Climate variability or climate change?

There is strong evidence globally that increasing greenhouse gases are causing rises in temperature.

Recent studies have also attributed observed rainfall trends in our study region to anthropogenic climate change.

Statistically, the chance of observing the decline in yield potential over 50 weather stations and 26 years through random variability is less than one in 100 billion.

We can also separate the individual impacts of rainfall decline, temperature rise and more CO₂ in the atmosphere (all else being equal, rising atmospheric CO₂ means more plant growth).

First, we statistically removed the rising temperature trends from the daily temperature records and re-ran the simulations. This showed that lower rainfall accounted for 83% of the decline in yield potential, while temperature rise alone was responsible for 17% of the decline.

Next we re-ran our simulations with climate records, keeping CO₂ at 1990 levels. The CO₂ enrichment effect, whereby crop growth benefits from higher atmospheric CO₂ levels, prevented a further 4% decline relative to 1990 yields.

So the rising CO₂ levels provided a small benefit compared to the combined impact of rainfall and temperature trends.

Closing the yield gap

Why then have actual yields remained steady when yield potential has declined by 27%? Here it is important to understand the concept of yield gaps, the difference between potential yields and farmers’ actual yields.

An earlier study showed that between 1996 and 2010 Australia’s wheat growers achieved 49% of their yield potential – so there was a 51% “yield gap” between what the fields could potentially produce and what farmers actually harvested.

Averaged out over a number of seasons, Australia’s most productive farmers achieve about 80% of their yield potential. Globally, this is considered to be the ceiling for many crops.

Wheat farmers are closing the yield gap. From harvesting 38% of potential yields in 1990 this increased to 55% by 2015. This is why, despite the decrease in yield potential, actual yields have been stable.

Impressively, wheat growers have adopted advances in technology and adapted them to their needs. They have adopted improved varieties as well as improved practices, including reduced cultivation (or “tillage”) of their land, controlled traffic to reduce soil compaction, integrated weed management and seasonally targeted fertiliser use. This has enabled them to keep pace with an increasingly challenging climate.

What about the future?

Let’s assume that the climate trend observed over the past 26 years continues at the same rate during the next 26 years, and that farmers continue to close the yield gap so that all farmers reach 80% of yield potential.

If this happens, we calculate that the national wheat yield will fall from the recent average of 1.74 tonnes per hectare to 1.55 tonnes per hectare in 2041. Such a future would be challenging for wheat producers, especially in more marginal areas with higher rates of decline in yield potential.

While total wheat production and therefore exports under this scenario will decrease, Australia can continue to contribute to future global food security through its agricultural research and development.

The Conversation

Zvi Hochman, Senior Principal Research Scientist, Farming Systems, CSIRO; David L. Gobbett, Spatial data analyst, CSIRO, and Heidi Horan, Cropping Systems Modeller, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why Australian supermarkets continue to look to the UK for leadership

The poaching of Tesco veteran Claire Peters by Australia’s largest supermarket Woolworths is the latest in a line of British trained retail executives who made their way to Australia. Sadly, the shortsightedness of Australian retail management and years of complacency has forced supermarket boards to look further afield for retail talent.

Not since the likes of Woolworths’ Paul Simons and Roger Corbett and ex-Coles Myer Chairman Solomon Lew have we seen excellent strategic retail leaders. Then came along UK retail executive Ian McLeod in 2008, with his no nonsense, low cost strategy approach to food retailing. Taking up the reigns at Coles, his “down, down” campaign was soon replicated across Coles’ fuel and convenience division and more recently in the US.

Since 2008 more and more UK supermarket executives have been head-hunted to take up strategic roles within the Australian supermarket and retail arena, particularly at Coles. Archie Norman, credited with turning around UK supermarket Asda, has been advising Coles since 2007.

Former Coles managing director, Ian McLeod and current Coles Express director, Richard Pearson, hail from UK supermarket Asda. Current Coles boss John Durkan, spent 17 years with UK supermarket Sainsburys, along with Andy Coleman (operations and supply director) and Kate Bailey (head of Coles brand marketing), and until recently, Stuart Machin (ex-Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda) was heading up Coles operations and Target.

However, it’s not just Coles showing interest in British trained retail executives. In 2015, David Jones announced John Dixon, a 30 year Marks & Spencer veteran, would take up the CEO role. Dixon had be instrumental in turning around the Marks & Spencer food business, an area David Jones has flagged it wants to pursue.

So it should come as no surprise that Woolworths has finally looked to the UK for direction.

Despite varying retail brands and different positions, all of the above mentioned British trained executives have one common leadership quality; an ability to turn a retail business around, during a period of change and uncertainty.

British parallels

Australian customers share similar tastes, culture and behaviours of their UK counterparts. Research has shown aspects of Australians’ sense of individuality and indulgence correlates closely with those in the UK. Hence, transplanting British supermarket innovations and strategies works well here.

Woolworths’ move into smaller format stores, replicates recent British supermarket strategies. Figures from the commercial real estate company CBRE show that the big four UK grocery retailers now run more small stores then large format supermarkets.

The growth of private label products in UK supermarkets since the 1990s is mirrored in Australia, and demonstrates how far we are yet to go in this space. The development of “dark supermarkets” by both Coles and Woolworths, to expedite their online channel, has been simply lifted from Sainsbury’s. These “dark supermarkets” are a type of distribution point, allowing staff to pick and pack online orders without the hassle of shoppers getting in the way.

The next strategy to be potentially copied from Britain is “time convenience”, getting groceries ordered online and delivered, same day, if not within an hour.

Even ex Marks & Spencer Chief John Dixon has identified the Australian/British food and grocery sector parallels, saying:

“The emergence of the food discounters here is remarkably similar to the UK for the last two years – ALDI and Lidl had been in the UK 20 years before they really got a foothold around 2008 or 2009, probably because the big four [chains] had had it their own way for a long time.”

Complacency

This sort of relationship between Australia and the UK in supermarket strategy has prevailed, until a small German discounter arrived and shook things up. Much like they did in the UK.

Prior to Aldi’s arrival, and still today, Australian supermarkets deliver comparatively higher margins relative to other developed nations like the UK, US and EU.

As such, other than fighting one another, there was no real motivation to innovate or change. To some extent, both Coles and Woolworths co-existed in a highly profitable, protected market, in the same way the big British supermarkets had done.

The impact of Aldi and its continued growth within the Australian marketplace has significantly altered the industry and forced the two established supermarkets, Woolworths and Coles, to cut prices, invest in their stores and expand private-label products. Changing consumer behaviour has also influenced the industry’s trading conditions, with shoppers now visiting more frequently, seeking quality, good value and convenience.

Local versus international retail talent

Margarethe Wiersema’s research of Fortune 1000 firms in the 1990s found that firms have a greater likelihood of experiencing significant changes in strategy when they choose successors from outside the organisation. She found firms that promote from within are more likely to experience consistency and less change. Hence, bringing in “new blood”, with new unencumbered views, is a breath of fresh air for supermarkets that have struggled with innovation and strategic foresight.

While looking abroad for executive talent can bring about innovative, unencumbered ideas, that lead to change, it’s not always smooth sailing.

Take Coles’ appointment of Steven Cain in early 2000. Referred to as “Mr Ruthless”, Cain was paramount in turning Asda around in the late 1990s, and pushing ahead with an aggressive private label strategy.

In the 14 months with Coles, Cain brought about sweeping changes, merging back office operations, centralising businesses to Melbourne, reducing duplication, which naturally led to job cuts. While it may have been his energetic and at times aggressive approach to turning around a troubled supermarket, it may have been Coles’ huge bureaucracy and unwillingness to change at the time that lead to him moving on.

Cain’s position was then filled with US retail executive, Hani Zayadi, who at the time was running Kmart and had no grocery experience. He left less than two years later.

Australian supermarkets are expected to deliver global standards and experience. As such, domestic retailers will continue to look abroad for leadership, knowledge and strategic direction. Yet, the question remains – are our supermarkets ready and willing to embrace change?

The Conversation

Gary Mortimer, Associate Professor, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top Image: Phil Noble/Reuters

 

Bribing kids to eat vegetables is not sustainable – here’s what to do instead

How can you get a fussy child to eat vegetables? It’s a question that plagues many frustrated parents at countless mealtimes. Some take to hiding morsels in more delicious parts of meals, while others adopt a stricter approach, refusing to let little ones leave the table until plates are clear.

One “alternative” idea touted recently is for parents to essentially bribe their children, depositing money into a child’s bank account as a reward when they eat vegetables – an idea actually backed up by research.

A US study in 2016 showed that the technique continued to encourage primary school age children to eat their greens for up to two months after these incentives were stopped. Children who were incentivised for a longer period of time were more likely to continue eating vegetables after the deposits ended too.

The core idea here is that, providing children have the cognitive ability to understand the exchange, they will learn to eat healthily as well as learn the value of money. After a while, they will continue eating the food, not because of the reward, but because they will get into the habit of eating healthy.

But one study is really not enough to draw conclusions and suggest action – especially as there was not a control group to compare money with other types of incentives, or no incentive at all.

And monetary incentives can actually decrease our motivation to perform the activity we are paid for, and eventually we lose interest. So, even if bribing kids with cash to eat their greens works at first, it is not sustainable in the long term.

Non-monetary rewards aren’t much better either. The phrase: “You can have dessert as long as you eat your sprouts”, will ring a bell for most people. This, though said with the best intentions, may increase the intake of the target food in the short term, but can convey the wrong message to its receipents: “This food must be really bad if I am getting something for eating it!”. It not only places dessert as a food of high value – a trophy that is earned – but also teaches kids to dislike the target food.

A familiar sight for many parents.
www.shutterstock.com/Oksana Kuzmina

Better methods

So what can you do instead? First and foremost, start early. Formation of food preferences start in the womb, and the first months of life are crucial in developing eating habits. The older children get, the more exposures they need to a novel vegetable in order to consume it. Which brings us neatly to the next point.

Vegetables must be offered frequently, without pressure – and you mustn’t get discouraged by the inevitable “no”. Even if you have missed the first window of opportunity, all is not lost. Parents can lose hope after offering the same vegetables between three and five times, but, in reality, toddlers in particular might need up to 15 exposures.

You also need to let your children experience the food with all of their senses – so don’t “hide” vegetables. Yes, sneaking a nutritious veggie into a fussy eater’s food might be one way to get them to eat it, but if the child doesn’t know a cake has courgettes in it, they will never eat courgettes on their own. It can also backfire if children can lose their trust in food when they realise they have been deceived.

Likewise, don’t draw unnecessary attention to specific foods that you might think your child is not going to like. Sometimes our own dislikes get in the way, and create the expectation that our child is not going to like it either. Our food preferences are formed through previous experiences, which children don’t have. Praising and bribing are commonly used, especially when we don’t expect children to like the food offered, but it can be counterproductive. Instead, serve food in a positive environment but keep your reactions neutral.

This isn’t just about what is on the plate, it’s about a relationship with food. So if your children are old enough, let them help in the kitchen. It can be very messy and time consuming, but it is an excellent way to create a positive atmosphere around food.

It is also important to have frequent family meals and consume vegetables yourself. It’s been shown that children who eat with family do eat more vegetables. Kids often copy adult behaviours, so set a good example by routinely serving and consuming vegetables.

There is sadly no single answer as to what will work for your children, and it might be a case of trial and error. But these actions can create positive associations with all kinds of foods, and you can help your kids lead healthier lives – saving yourself a bit of cash while you’re at it.

The Conversation

Sophia Komninou, Lecturer in Infant and Child Public Health, Swansea University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Breast milk banking continues an ancient human tradition and can save lives

HealthAround 2000 BC breastfeeding was considered a religious obligation.

Now we understand why breast milk is the ideal food for babies, with evidence showing it provides substantial benefits to health even beyond the period of breastfeeding.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding for around six months, followed by introduction of solid foods and continued breastfeeding. In Australia, over 90% of infants start breastfeeding, and 39% are exclusively breastfed at four months of age.

Although the majority of mothers can breastfeed, some are unable or choose not to. Infant formula is a readily available option. But as the nutritional and developmental value of breast milk becomes better known, more people are trying to source breast milk from another mother.

Breast milk banking provides a safe source of human breast milk in some states in Australia, but greater accessibility is highly desirable.

What’s so good about human breast milk?

The nutritional value of human breast milk is uniquely matched to the needs of human babies. Nutrients such as iron and zinc are provided in a form that is easily absorbed by baby’s immature digestive system and are highly bioavailable; that is, they are in a form that is usable by the body. This ensures nothing goes to waste, and the demands on the mother’s body are minimal.

Specific kinds of fats known as long-chain fatty acids in breast milk are absorbed by the infant, and incorporated into brain and eye tissues.

Breast milk also contains many other valuable bioactive components such as oligosaccharides, immunoglobulins and a molecule called epidermal growth factor.

Oligosaccharides are carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion, remaining relatively intact as they transit through the gut. An example is “bifidus factor”, which acts as a prebiotic (food for bacteria) to promote the growth of the healthy gut bacteria Lactobacillus bifida. Other oligosaccharides stop disease-causing bacteria from attaching to the surface of the gut and urinary tract.

Immunoglobulins are antibodies that help provide immunity, and coat the lining of the gut to prevent attachment of disease-causing bacteria.

Epidermal growth factor stimulates growth and maturity of the infant gut.

What methods have women used to share milk over history?

Wet nursing is a human tradition that has existed for at least 4000 years. It was the only alternative feeding available for babies before the introduction of bottles and formula. Anecdotally, this is still practised in Australia, with sisters or friends with similar aged babies sharing breast feeding.

A wet nurse breast feeding the Duke of Burgundy, grandson of Louis XIV.
Wellcome Images via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

An increasing trend is informal milk sharing, where mothers seeking breast milk post a request on a dedicated social media page. Examples include Human Milk 4 Human Babies (HM4HB, which has about 4000 Australian members) and Eats on Feets.

Health professionals warn of the small, but real, potential risks of transmission of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C through unscreened breast milk. Some donors provide lifestyle information and antenatal blood screening results to recipients, and these are usually private arrangements between individuals.

Women need to be fully informed about the potential risks of using unscreened milk, and balance these with the decision to use formula. Risks associated with formula include a higher incidence of ear infection, gastroenteritis and respiratory infections in infants, and an increased incidence of diabetes, obesity, leukemia, allergy and asthma in later life.

In circumstances where people pay for breast milk, extra caution must be exercised, as there have been reports of dilution of breast milk with water or cow’s milk.

What is a human milk bank, and where are they in Australia?

A human milk bank collects, stores, processes and dispenses donated human milk.

Milk banking was quite common until the 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic sparked concerns about viral transmission through milk. There is now a re-emergence of milk banking in Australia, with five milk banks currently operating;

Who donates breast milk to banks, and how it is processed?

Donors of human milk are often mothers of a premature infant, women who have milk surplus to their needs, or mothers in the community.

Donors undergo rigorous screening, similar to blood donors. Their blood is collected and tested for diseases that could be transmitted through the milk, such as HIV, hepatitis B and C and syphilis. Lifestyle questions related to drug and alcohol use are also used to identify risk of diseases.

Milk is expressed in the donor’s home, or in the neonatal unit (in the case of mothers of a premature infant) under hygienic conditions. It is then frozen for transport to the milk bank. Milk is then thawed, tested for bacterial count and pasteurised, usually using the Holder method, where the milk is heated to 62.5ºC for 30 minutes and then rapidly cooled. The milk is then re-tested for bacterial count, and frozen for dispensing. The combination of freezing and pasteurisation kills harmful viruses and bacteria.

Sterile collection of human milk with a breast pump.
from www.shutterstock.com

Who can access banked milk in Australia?

Of the five milk banks currently operating in Australia, only the Mothers Milk Bank supplies milk to babies in the community. All other milk banks supply milk exclusively to premature and sick hospitalised infants.

Australian milk banks do not pay their donors, nor can the milk be bought. The cost of milk banks associated with neonatal units is absorbed within the health system. Community milk banks may ask for a donation.

The most recent statistics report there were 7,887 babies who required care in neonatal intensive care units in 2013. Representing 2.6% of all live births, these highly vulnerable infants stand to benefit the most from access to safe human breast milk.

Breast milk protects high risk infants against life threatening conditions such as neonatal sepsis (a dangerous, multi-system infection) and necrotising enterocolitis (a severe disease of the intestine). It has been estimated using donor human milk will provide cost savings of $13 million per year to the Australian health care system by reducing the number of necrotising enterocolitis cases alone.

What happens in states without milk banks?

In Australia, 18 out of 24 neonatal intensive care units do not currently have access to pasteurised donor human milk. As a result, approximately three out of four babies with a high risk of developing necrotising enterocolitis or other neonatal complications do not have access to pasteurised donor human milk.

Although there are significant cost savings linked with preventing necrotising enterocolitis in premature infants on a national basis, the expense of establishing and running a milk bank is often prohibitive for small neonatal intensive care units with relatively low numbers of high risk premature babies.

Recently the Australian Red Cross Blood Service has been considering establishing a national human milk bank, in line with its blood bank service. This would be a welcome adjunct to neonatal units and an important health initiative to improve health outcomes for these vulnerable infants. While this is still in the planning phase, we look forward to hearing more about this possibility soon.

The Conversation

Jacqueline Miller, Senior Lecturer and SAHMRI Fellow, Flinders University and Carmel Collins, Senior Research Fellow and Head of Neonatal Nutrition Research Unit SAHMRI, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Robotics company is complete package for South East Asian food industry

PACKAGING robots from Australia fitted with cameras to allow remote troubleshooting are helping to streamline South East Asia’s surging food and beverage industry.

HMPS is based in Adelaide, South Australia, and is one of the largest automation manufacturers in the country.

It designs and develops bespoke machines to fill specific industry needs, including packaging, organising, weighing and x-raying materials to ensure there are no foreign substances.

HMPS machines are being been used in a number of countries in South East Asia including the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. It also has machines operating across Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

The company won the Export Achievement Award at the 2015 Auspack Awards for their unique dual-function machine they supplied Nestlé in South Africa. The device processes sachets of food into boxes and trays simultaneously.

img - industries_manufacturing_technology_HMPS_P2Design, prototype, final build and testing all happen at the local HMPS factory near Adelaide Airport.

HMPS Business Development Manager Linh Bui said its base location in Adelaide made it ideally placed to service South East Asia because of time-zone similarities and geographical proximity.

He said the region’s rising middle-class growth and the expansion of its food and beverage industries had created demand for effective packaging systems.

“We provide a whole gamut of turnkey products for packaging food and drinks,” he said.

“We provide remote monitoring options for our products where we include a modem and camera on the machine.

“As soon as we get a phone call we can review footage and identify what the problem is and where it occurred and work with the customer to resolve it quite quickly.”

HMPS has more than 300 machines in the field and has grown by almost 30 per cent in the past three years.

It is in the process of developing other niche products including machines with Internet of Things (IoT) technology to further improve its remote servicing.

The company is trialling the technology in Australia and plans to roll it out to its international clients if it proves successful.

“We are developing a way in which the customer and us would be able to monitor performance and put in preventative procedures during production,” Bui (right) said.

“For example, if you’re looking after multiple sites, you would be able to monitor the situations on your mobile or tablet while you are traveling, and make sure the machines in the factories are working how they should.”

HMPS will showcase its machines in Thailand in June, at ProPak Asia 2017.

ProPak is Asia’s largest processing and packaging event and this year’s show will feature more than 1200 exhibitors from more than 20 countries.

This article first appeared in The Lead.

Complete water solution for bottling operations

Success for producers bottling still and sparkling water requires a focus on output and efficiency, combined with an uncompromising commitment to food safety. By taking a holistic view of the production cycle, a fully connected line can be optimised through a combination of lightweight packaging, great efficiency and hygiene, always keeping the total cost of ownership (TCO) as low as possible.

Water is a precious commodity. Increasing urbanisation in developing countries – and the resulting need for regular access to drinkable water, and the move away from sugary beverages in more mature markets has driven a growth in demand for bottled water around the world. Global sales climbed in volume by 6.7% between 2014 and 2015 to reach 193 billion litres with still water accounting for 86% of this total. The material of choice in this growing market is PET, covering 86% of all projected bottled water packaging sales in 2016.

With more than 40 years’ experience with complete line solutions and the world’s largest installed base of Combi integrated blow-fill-cap systems, Sidel has helped producers to reach and exceed their targets, time after time.

“Smarter solutions and innovations are essential to meeting the needs of the rapidly expanding and ever-changing bottled water market. A complete line approach recognises the roles that lightweight and safe packaging, top quality equipment, optimised line design, smart automation and ongoing services all have to play in meeting the market challenges. It offers producers full control and transparency throughout the bottling process,” says Simone Pisani, Category Marketing Director Water at Sidel.

Value adding innovations by in-house experts

With the aim of improving bottle strength and performance while reducing costs and ensuring the brand stands out on the shelves, Sidel scientists and in-house packaging designers work on more than 250,000 new bottle concepts every year. At 5 packaging centres and 4 in-house R&D laboratories around the world, they help producers to qualify and industrialise specific packaging solutions that satisfy consumer needs and help to differentiate products on the shelf. Creating and evaluating bottle samples and performing many different laboratory tests, they take care of the safety and quality of customers’ beverages, as well as of the best product’s performance throughout the supply chain, and enhance their value proposition to consumers.

One of Sidel’s many recent innovations within bottled water production is the development of the Sidel Rightweight bottle. This design reduces bottle weight and energy consumption during production, while improving the container’s performance across the entire supply chain and delivering a superior consumer experience. The resulting 0.5 litre bottle weighs 35% less than the average commercial alternative, yet achieves 32% greater top-load performance than the lightest commercial bottle, resulting in cost savings of up to EUR 1.74 million per year.

Sidel_CompleteLine_Water

Sidel has also developed a new PET base for still water. Sidel StarLite has a unique shape that significantly increases base resistance and stability. Through this solution – which can even be applied to existing lines – overall package weight is lowered without affecting beverage quality.

With StarLite, bottles for sparkling water can also benefit from improved protection against stress-cracking, a similar reduction in base-weight and improved bottle performance.

Compact and reliable water solution

Sidel’s fully integrated, hygienic and innovative solutions – gained from extensive cooperation with leading water brands – help producers to optimise uptime and operating costs. The portfolio includes a range of modular equipment and components, able to increase line efficiency and speed while ensuring food safety and hygiene.

The Sidel Matrix Combi, offering blowing, filling and capping processes in one machine, optimises the production line layout with a smaller footprint. It efficiently combines the benefits of the Sidel Matrix blower with those of the SF100 FM filler for still water or the SF300 FM filler for sparkling water. By eliminating intermediate conveyors and reducing the volume of the production environment to be kept under control, hygiene and food safety are improved. Additionally, the Combi offers faster changeovers with savings in power consumption, labour, raw materials, maintenance time and spare parts, lowering operating costs by up to 12%. More importantly, Combi systems offer high performance with efficiency levels up to 4% better than standalone machines.

Integration of carbonating and filling processes

The Sidel Matrix Combi also features Sidel’s Blendfill configuration, combining carbonator and filler in a single system for top quality sparkling water. Utilising the Sidel Matrix Carbonator SM100 beverage tank as a shared tank with the filler, the configuration avoids redundant pressure and level control functions, while reducing consumption of CO2 as well as the footprint of the equipment.

Optimised cleaning while saving resources

Smart cleaning technology also reduces energy and chemical use by up to 70%. Sidel’s compact Integrated Cleaning System (ICS) is a simple and hygienically designed solution that, combined with the filler skid, ensures quick preparation of cleaning agents so that all equipment parts that come into contact with the water are effectively cleaned.

Reduced waste for improved safety and hygiene

As many factors can affect the amount of product splashing within a filling process – speed, bottle shape, neck dimensions, fill-level to name but a few – Sidel uses all its expertise and in-house simulation tests to help producers overtake the issue. Virtual modelling and real-life testing help avoid any splashing and maintain safety of the filling environment, especially at very high speeds.

Giving the final package a memorable look

Labelling is an essential factor to ensuring a product stands out on supermarket shelves. Roll-fed technology uses plastic labels, which have physical and functional qualities making them very attractive to consumers and beneficial for beverages producers. The Sidel Matrix SL70 efficient roll-fed labelling station delivers precise and controlled handling and application for containers of any shape. It is capable of outputs of up to 60,000 bottles per hour. With shorter changeover times for containers of different shapes and dimensions, this ergonomic and reliable system maximises operator safety, uptime and productivity by reducing maintenance time by 40%, while enhancing sustainability as it uses up to 40% less power.

Flexible pack configurations, quick changeovers and optimised transportation

The secondary packaging – the finished pack that the consumer sees at the point of sale – represents a strong opportunity to reinforce brand recognition and so needs to be appealing, durable and functional to catch attention. Carrying the labelled bottles onto the secondary packaging process, Sidel’s smart conveyors can be automatically adjusted to handle different formats. Gently feeding the bottles to maintain consistency and quality, the packers also protect them from elements such as weather, pressure and temperature change. To minimise overall costs, they also optimise the use of heat, glue, cartons and film. All Sidel’s packers ensure quick changeovers for flexible handling of multiple stock keeping units (SKUs).

Sidel_services_packaging_c2c_bottle_test_lab

Sidel palletisers allow easy changeovers in layer formation to organise the right number of single bottles onto – for example – trays, dollies or packs onto pallets. In this way they achieve smart pallet patterns of various sizes and formats of bottles, in order to optimise efficiency during transportation and storage.

Maximum uptime and minimum TCO

Once a line is up and running, Sidel Services offers a tailored portfolio to help maintain, regain and even improve performance throughout the equipment’s lifetime. From customised maintenance, through to line improvement, to spare parts and logistics services, the company combines customer proximity with global experience to shorten lead times and improve customers’ efficiency.

However, it is difficult to improve what is not being measured. The market is looking for systems with “built-in intelligence” capable of translating raw data into actionable information. Sidel’s Efficiency Improvement Tool (EIT) handles production issues to meet ongoing challenges and also anticipates them through trends and forecasts based on historical and multi-plant analysis.

“By taking a global view of the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and the entire working life of a production line, as new technologies and solutions are developed, Sidel offers existing line owners options and upgrades, line conversion and training services to ensure that installed equipment does not get left behind, while strengthening operators’ skills. In this way the company is always working to help producers optimise operating costs and reach the lowest possible TCO” adds Simone Pisani.”

 

Eating standing up – is it really bad for you?

These days, many of us are flooded with advice on what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. Alongside this calorie and nutrient-based advice you may even have heard that you should avoid eating while standing up or lying down, as was common in Ancient Greece or Rome. It may seem to make sense, but how much scientific evidence is there to back this advice?

If we consider these three eating positions: lying down, sitting and standing, what challenges do they present the body with and which should we choose as our standard eating position?

The first of these positions, eating lying down, was fashionable to the ancients. This may not solely have been through laziness or a show of wealth and power – as some researchers have suggested, lying down on your left side reduces the pressure on the antrum or lower portion of the stomach, thus relieving discomfort during a feast. As few of us truly feast nowadays – at least in the Roman sense – this might not be so important.

There is some evidence that we absorb carbohydrates at a slower rate when eating lying down compared to sitting, and this is likely due to the rate of gastric emptying. Slower absorption of carbohydrates is generally considered to be healthy as it avoids large spikes in insulin.

Alternatively, eating lying down may increase the risk of developing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD), a condition where the stomach’s contents return back up into the oesophagus through the cardiac or oesophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle that controls the passage of food from the throat to the stomach. This condition is found with increasing prevalence worldwide, and can cause significant discomfort, often being mistaken for a heart attack.

Although there is almost no published research specifically investigating the effect of eating lying down on the symptoms of GORD, the American College of Gastroenterology advises avoiding lying down for two hours after eating, which would suggest that eating lying down itself is probably unwise. As GORD slightly increases the risk of developing more serious conditions including Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer, this is probably bad news for those of us who want to adopt the Roman banqueting lifestyle.

Banquet scene from the Casa dei Casti Amanti, Pompeii.
WolfgangRieger/Wikimedia Commons

Sitting v standing – the pros and cons

Whether we sit down or stand up for a range of activities throughout the day is a topical issue. Sitting down, which alongside lying down makes up our sedentary behaviour, is increasingly linked to poor health, although there is some contention around this. But when it comes to eating our meals, it seems for once sitting down might be the preferable choice. People might be more likely to take their time over a meal if seated, although this has not been seriously studied. Eating more slowly is considered to be healthy as it more rapidly increases fullness and decreases appetite, leading to a potential reduction in calorie intake.

As for eating while standing up, there is no real evidence that it has any negative effects on digestion and it isn’t included on any lists of prohibited activity by healthcare professionals. Although gravity isn’t needed for most of the function of the gut, it does help with preventing GORD, which is why many sufferers raise the head of their bed at night.
Standing during eating does have the benefit of promoting more energy expenditure, with estimates of around 50 extra calories an hour burned by standing compared with sitting down. Over an extended period this would add up.

So is it better to eat sitting, standing or lying down? While there is not enough scientific evidence to confidently state that eating in either position is more appropriate, it’s likely that as long as you take your time and eat mindfully, either standing or sitting to eat your meals should be absolutely fine and a healthier alternative to eating lying down.

The Conversation

James Brown, Lecturer in Biology and Biomedical Science, Aston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top image: Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock.com

 

New method for converting wastewater nutrients into fertiliser

Researchers from Aalto University in Finland have developed a new, energy-efficient method for capturing nitrogen and phosphorus from different liquid waste fractions. In laboratory studies, with the help of the method, it is possible to separate 99 per cent of the nitrogen and 90-99 per cent of phosphorus in wastewater and produce granular ammonium sulphate (NH4)2SO4 and phosphorus precipitate suitable for fertilisers.

“There are many different methods for removing nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater, but none of them meets the need of capturing their nutrients. It is estimated that the industrial production of nitrogen used for fertilisers is responsible for approximately two per cent of the entire world’s energy consumption. By capture of nutrients from communities’ wastewater it is possible to supplement six per cent of the industrially produced ammoniacal nitrogen and about one-tenth of phosphorus used for fertilisers”, said Riku Vahala, professor of water and wastewater engineering at Aalto University.

The construction of pilot equipment at the laboratory of Water and Environmental Technology at Aalto University will begin in spring 2017. The main objective is to develop an economically profitable process and operation chain for the recycling of nutrients of liquid waste fractions. Simultaneously, entrepreneurs in the field will be encouraged to migrate towards efficient wastewater treatment. Increased efficiency in nutrient capture will reduce nutrient load in the Baltic Sea, reduce the costs of wastewater treatment and promote recycling of nutrients.

“The specific beneficiaries in the project include wastewater treatment plants, sludge producers and handlers, biogas plants and the end users of fertilisers, who will get a sustainable fertiliser product for their use”, said Surendra Pradhan, DSc (Tech).

The capture method is based on the use of calcium hydroxide Ca(OH)2 to convert ammoniacal nitrogen NH4+ into ammoniacal gas NH3, which are separated through a semi-permeable membrane. Following this, the ammonium is dissolved into sulphuric acid to produce ammonium sulphate. In the process, the phosphorus is precipitated with the help of calcium salt.

“A patent application for the method is currently under way, and the aim of the project is to find company partners who could make use of the patent in the best possible manner, create products with its help and market the new process. If successful, the new process will also create a competitive export product,” said Anna Mikola, DSc (Tech).

The method also has significant positive impacts on the environment.

“Nutrient emissions to waterways will decrease, and the energy savings and reduced use of chemicals in the production of fertilisers will lower the amount of greenhouse gases”, said Vahala.

Should over 50’s avoid that afternoon coffee? Maybe.

Sleep is good. This is one thing both experts and the person in the street can agree on about that knitter up of the unravelled sleeve of care [1]. Getting decent sleep not only leaves you feeling refreshed, but lack of good quality sleep is associated not just with fatigue and lower life quality, but can also increase the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and type II diabetes.

Sadly, as we age we are less likely to get good sleep, we sleep less deeply than when we were younger, wake more and are more likely to be disturbed in our sleep.
Recently the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) published 20 recommendations that would help people over 50 years of age to have better sleep.

Now in reporting this did the newspapers focus on the recommendations to not drink alcohol three hours before bed time, keeping mobile phones and tablet devices out of the bedroom or keeping pets out of the bedroom?

No, they focused on the recommendation to avoid caffeine after lunch time, with headlines such as “Sleep tips: Avoid afternoon coffee, over-50s advised” and “Middle aged and want a good night’s sleep? Don’t have a cuppa after lunch”.

Well, that’s disappointing, I like my afternoon cuppa

Yes, as does my Mum and thousands of Australians rich in years.

The advice is sensible though. After all, caffeine is a stimulant, and who amongst us has not used strong coffee to try and stave off sleep. Ironically enough, moderate coffee consumption is associated with lower risks of Dementia and type II diabetes.

The effects of caffeine can persist some time, taking 400 milligrams of caffeine can cause you to lose up to an hours sleep and have to have more disturbed sleep up to six hours after you have taken it.

But, you are going to say “But …” aren’t you

But, 400 milligrams of caffeine is roughly the equivalent of chugging four espressos at once, and is the maximum recommended daily caffeine intake. And you really shouldn’t consume more than 300 milligrams in one go.

A typical afternoon cuppa will have between 50-100 milligram caffeine, depending on whether it is tea or coffee, instant or brewed. This is 1/8th to ¼ the amount used in the sleep study. Here are some representative levels of a variety of caffeinated beverages per typical serve.

375 ml Iced Coffee: 68 mg caffeine
Average espresso:   75-85 mg Caffeine
Instant coffee:   ~ 65 mg Caffeine
Tea:                50-80 mg caffeine
Colas:              30- 70 mg caffeine
Energy Drinks:      80-160 mg caffeine

Now, you won’t drink 400 milligrams of caffeine in one hit usually, people typically have between 2-4 cups per day. This makes calculating the amount of caffeine in your body a little tricky, as the amount present in your body accumulates to different levels depending on how often you drink it.

Simulations I have run suggest that the level of caffeine in your body six hours after consuming 400 milligrams of caffeine (the amount that can lose you an hour of sleep) is a bit under the maximum amount of caffeine in your body after consuming 100 milligrams of caffeine [2].

Bllod levels of caffeine simulated after one 400 mg dose of caffeine (top line) or three 100 mg doses taken every three hours (bottom line)
Ian Musgrave

If you drink you last caffeinated drink with 100 milligrams of caffeine in it at 4 pm, then you need to wait around four hours for the caffeine levels to fall below the levels associated with the loss of one hours sleep, make it six hours to be safe and if you have had a beverage with 100 milligrams of caffeine in it at 4 pm, you should be going to bed at 10 pm (or put it another way, if you want to go to bed at 10pm, you last caffeinated drink with 100 milligrams caffeine should be at 4 pm).

Of course I have calculated these values based on the average amount of time it takes the body to absorb caffeine and break it down.

You are going to say “It’s complicated” now, aren’t you

Well, yes. The amount of time peoples bodies take to break down caffeine is roughly 4 hours on average, but this can vary from as little as 2.5 hours to as much as 9 hours. This can produce huge differences in the amount of caffeine in the body (roughly three fold between the slowest and fastest rate of breakdown.

As well, the pathways in the brain that are responsible for the stimulant effect of caffeine can vary in sensitivity.

So you can have someone like me who can drink espresso late at night with no apparent effect on sleep, and my partner, who cannot drink a cup of tea after 3 pm without having disturbed sleep.

So what about age, which is the whole point of this

As you age, your body’s ability to break down drugs and natural products is reduced.

However, it turns out that caffeine is not affected; in fact older folk break caffeine down slightly faster than young people. But they also absorb it more slowly, so the effects basically cancel out and older people and young people have very similar levels of caffeine after consuming it.

On the basis of caffeine concentrations alone, the recommendation to avoid caffeine after lunch is being a little over cautious [3].

On the other hand the brain systems that caffeine interacts with to cause stimulation alter with age, and this may make older people more sensitive to caffeine’s effects.

What is the bottom line then?

Getting good sleep is about more than cutting out tea and coffee after lunch.

The Global Council on Brain Health has suggested several approaches to improving sleep quality, so that you can get about 7- 8 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.

These include not drinking alcohol three hours before bedtime (this recommendation will disturb my in-laws most), not eating or drinking generally for three hours before bed [4], getting regular exercise, getting more outdoor light exposure, losing weight if you are overweight, having a regular bedtime routine and not having smart phones and tablet devices in the bedroom at night as the screens light is distracting.

Avoiding (NOT do not drink tea or coffee at all all) caffeine is sensible advice as part of a coordinated approach to better sleep. Slamming back double espressos late at night is guaranteed to disturb your sleep, but an afternoon cuppa is unlikely to bother you (unless of course you are caffeine sensitive).

Be sensible, use a coordinated approach to the recommendations rather than fixating on one thing and hopefully you will sleep better.

[1] Sleeping in the street is not recommended.

[2] These are simplistic simulations, using the data on caffeine breakdown by young and old men from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6886969
Comparative pharmacokinetics of caffeine in young and elderly men and assuming you drink 100 milligrams of caffeine at 10 am, 1 pm and 4 pm.

[3] The recommendation to avoid caffeine after lunch has been widely misinterpreted as to mean having no caffeinated beverages after lunch.

[4] As I write this a large part of Australia is in the grip of a massive heat wave, keeping hydrated, especially for older people, is essential in the conditions, so make sure you are getting plenty of fluids even at night.

The Conversation

Ian Musgrave, Senior lecturer in Pharmacology, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Healthy dose of special fish sauce keeps beriberi at bay

Adding the vitamin thiamine to fish sauce has been identified as the best way to protect Cambodian infants against the deadly beriberi disease.

A joint study by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and the University of Adelaide, found that introducing fish sauce fortified with the thiamine to the Cambodian diet provided enough nutrition to prevent the disease, which is a leading cause of infant death in the country.

The study involved a trial in Cambodia led by the South Australian researchers where varying levels of thiamine (vitamin B1) was added to fish sauce products during the manufacturing process.

Breastfeeding mothers and children who ate the fish sauce were then tested to confirm adequate levels of thiamine was present in their blood to prevent the disease.

Beriberi is caused by thiamine deficiency and in infant cases can quickly progress from mild symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea to heart failure.

With the findings published in the Journal of Paediatrics, Principal Nutritionist and Affiliate Professor at SAHMRI Tim Green said the next step was to lobby for funds to expand the trial in a bid to convince the Cambodian government of the merits of thiamine fortification.

“We’ve done this relatively large randomised controlled trial, but we provided the fish sauce in this case,” he said.

“Our next step is to scale up – to get Cambodian government or Cambodian industry involved and show that it works with 100,000 or 200,000 people.

“And if we can show that works, we can provide evidence to the government and they can also mandate the addition of thiamine to fish sauce.”

While fish sauce has no nutritional advantage over other foods trialled in the study, it was selected because of its near ubiquitous use in Cambodian culture.

img - FishSauce_tall1

Fish sauce is produced in centralised locations, making it easier for government and industry to control, and is already fortified with iron

Fortification is used in many countries around the world, but to be effective it is important to select a foodstuff already consumed by the majority of the population.

“Fortification is used in a lot of different settings – we do it in Australia, for example fortifying wheat flour with folic acid, or salt with iodine,” Professor Tim said.

“However, the important thing to consider is what you fortify may differ from country to country depending on what the staple is.

“We found that fish sauce in South East Asia is a good vehicle because it’s so popular and so widely consumed.”

While the trial was focused on Cambodia, Professor Green said a similar strategy could be adopted in other South East Asian countries affected by beriberi disease.

“Because beriberi isn’t always recognised and the onset from the initial symptoms – which can be quite mild – to death is so rapid, the best thing to do would be to prevent it in the first place,” Professor Green said.

While the study focused on thiamine fortification, the identification of fish sauce as the food of choice for delivery could also be expanded to cover other nutritional deficiencies.

Professor Green said his team had also considered the possibility of using fish sauce to deliver vitamin B2.

South Australia’s capital Adelaide has three long-standing public universities, Flinders UniversityUniversity of South Australia and the University of Adelaide, each of which are consistently rated highly in the international higher education rankings.

This article first appeared in The Lead.

 

What’s driving the worldwide obesity epidemic?

The rise of obesity around the globe has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to urge countries to impose a tax on sugary drinks, which are blamed for the spread of the epidemic.

Countries with such different food cultures as, say, Mexico and Palau are facing the same nutritional risks and following the same obesity trends. Our research aims to understand why, and we have examined the link between various facets of globalisation (trade, for instance, or the spread of technologies, and cultural exchanges) and the worldwide changes in health and dietary patterns.

A recent global study reports that worldwide, the proportion of adults who are overweight or obese increased from 29% in 1980 to 37% in 2013. Developed countries still have more overweight people than developing nations, but the gap is shrinking. In Kuwait, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Libya, Qatar, Tonga, and Samoa, obesity levels among women exceed 50% in 2013.

The WHO identifies unhealthy nutrition patterns, along with increasing physical inactivity, as the main drivers of rising body weight around the world. Diets rich in sugar, animal products and fats constitute important risk factors for non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and different types of cancer.

Sugar consumption is still on the rise.
Steve Smith/Flickr, CC BY

In 2012, cardiovascular diseases killed 17.5 million people, making them the number one cause of death globally. Because more than three quarters of those deaths took place in low- and middle-income countries, causing substantial economic costs for their public welfare systems, the WHO classifies food-related chronic diseases as a growing worldwide threat, on par with traditional public health concerns such as under-nutrition and infectious diseases.

The Western world was the first to experience substantial weight gains of their populations, but the 21st century has seen that phenomenon spread to all parts of the globe. In a widely cited 1993 article, University of North Carolina’s Professor Barry Popkin attributes this shift to the “nutrition transition” by which diets became less dominated by starchy staples, fruits, and vegetables and richer in fats (especially from animal products), sugar and processed foods.

A group of women in Durban, South Africa, in 2003.
Sandra Cohen-Rose/flickr, CC BY-SA

The different stages of this transition, Popkin says, are related to social and economic factors, such as industrialisation level, the role of women in the labour force and the availability of food-transforming technologies.

The meat factor

The rise of the percentage of the population that’s overweight, and changes in diet patterns broadly coincide with the globalisation process. Undoubtedly, globalisation has affected people’s lives in various ways, but has it caused a nutrition transition?

In order to answer this question, we have analysed the impact of globalisation on changing dietary patterns and overweight prevalence using data from 70 high- and middle-income countries from 1970 through 2011.

We found that globalisation has led people to consume more meat products. Interestingly, the social dimensions of globalisation (such as the spread of ideas, information, images and people) are responsible for this effect, rather trade or other economic aspects of globalisation.

For instance, if Turkey caught up to the level of social globalisation prevalent in France, meat consumption in Turkey would increase by about 20%. So our analysis takes into account the effect of rising incomes; otherwise, it could be confounded by the connection between higher incomes making both communication technology and meat products more affordable.

An increase in meat consumption and animal fats could lead to people becoming overweight.
Bill Branson

But while the study shows that globalisation affects diets, we could not establish a relationship between globalisation and increasing body weight. One explanation for this result could be that we investigated the question from a bird’s-eye perspective, not taking into account specific circumstances of countries.

So while, on average across the world, globalisation does not seem to be the driver of rising obesity, it may nonetheless play a role in specific countries.

The processed-food impact

An alternative interpretation of this unclear result is that other factors are responsible for the rising prevalence of overweight people around the world. For example, increasing consumption of processed foods is often associated with rising weight levels.

A study in the United States showed that Americans derive three quarters of their energy from processed foods, which contain higher levels of saturated fats, sugar, and sodium than fresh foods.

Haldirams, one of Indians’ favourite snack chain outlet, offers a wide variety of local processed-food.
Shankar S/Flickr, CC BY-SA

The increasing availability of processed foods is related to the rapid expansion of the retail industry. Modern logistics technology help retailers centralise procurement and inventory, which drives down costs and allows very competitive pricing.

After saturating Western markets, supermarkets began to spread to developing countries, which had greater growth prospects. Latin America, central Europe and South Africa saw their grocery store boom in the 1990s. Retailers later opened in Asia and are now entering markets in African countries.

An interesting, yet little explored, aspect in the discussion of processed foods is the role of multinational companies in offering unhealthy “Western diet”, such as fast food and soft drinks. Multinationals are one of the two market leaders in many emerging countries, including Brazil, India, Mexico, and Russia and they are known for substantial food and beverage advertising.

But it remains unclear whether people gain weight because they adopt a Western diet, or whether they largely preserve their taste for regional cuisines but change the nutritional composition of traditional recipes by adding more meat products, fats, and sugar.

In Moscow, obesity is on the rise due to Russians’ changing dietary habits.
WHO /Sergey Volkov

Changing food habits: the role of labour markets

Apart from these supply-side factors, some studies on US data also associate overweight prevalence with changes in the labour market, particularly the increased participation of women.

But on the one hand, working mothers may have less time to prepare meals or to encourage their children to spend active time outside. And on the other, more working hours are likely to boost family income, which can positively influence children’s health through better access to health care, high-quality food, participation in organised sports activities, and higher quality childcare.

Since the decision to work is personal and closely related to individual characters and environment, it is difficult to establish a causal relationship between work status and children’s overweight levels. Some studies report a positive effect, but reliable evidence remains scarce. These studies also focus on the role of working women but not on men when there is no evidence indicating a differential impact of working mothers versus working fathers.

People are also increasingly working rotating night shifts. According to a systematic review carried out by the International Labor Organization, about one in five of all employees in the European Union (25%) work night shifts, and night work often constitutes an integral part of the shift-work system.

Such schedules presumably render it more difficult to establish regular meal habits and may encourage frequent snacking to maintain concentration at work. Finally, because modern technology has greatly reduced physical demands of many workplaces, individuals must eat fewer calories to avoid weight gain.

Eating habits changes and sedentary lifestyles, especially at work, have particularly affected food patterns worldwide.
Roy Niswanger/Flickr, CC BY-ND

While many globalisation-related explanations for obesity seem plausible, robust empirical evidence establishing a causal link is scarce. This is partly due to the fact that food and eating habits have multiple and often interrelated determinants, which makes it challenging to test the causal impact of a single factor. And it’s further aggravated by the fact that some of the proposed causes of obesity interact and potentially amplify each other.

Despite initial academic evidence then, the main drivers of the global rise in obesity levels remain, to a large extent, a black box.

Discover Fabrice Etile and his team’s research work on food with the Axa Research Fund.

The Conversation

Lisa Oberlander, PhD student in nutrition and health economics, Paris School of Economics – École d’économie de Paris; DISDIER Anne-Célia, Directrice de recherche en économie, École Normale Supérieure (ENS) – PSL, and Fabrice Etile, Economist – Paris School of Economics, Directeur de recherche INRA

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Top Image: Christopher Dombres/Flickr

Cellar doors drive boutique winery growth in Australia

Cellar door and mail order sales are driving strong growth for small wineries, the latest survey results published by Wine Australia has found.

The trend is helping producers with estimated annual crushes of less than 500 tonnes make inroads into a market dominated by huge wine companies in recent decades.

Small winemaking businesses generated $1.1 billion in wine sales revenue in 2015–16, an average increase of 12 per cent, according to the Small Winemaker Production and Sales Survey 2016 released this week by Wine Australia in South Australia.

While retailers and wholesalers generated 47 per cent of income for small producers, cellar doors have become increasingly important sales channels, accounting for 29 per cent of domestic sales. Cellar door and mail order channels showed the largest growth, both increasing by 7 per cent for the 12-month period.

Barossa Valley producer Whistler Wines crushes about 100 tonnes a year, producing about 6000 cases. It relies on about 10 food and music themed events a year in its native Australian bush setting coupled with regular cellar door traffic to attract visitors.

Owner, grape grower and winemaker Josh Pfeiffer said using winery events and the cellar door to reach new customers and build a database of clients was crucial.

He said being able to offer something different that wasn’t widely available elsewhere and reflected the provenance of the region appealed to visitors.

“We get people coming in here every day saying they are only interested in coming to small independent wineries – they want to meet the people behind the wine and learn something,” he said.

“That’s translating across the trade as well, where wine buyers from restaurants and hotels are wanting independent, smaller brands on their lists and customers of theirs are requesting that as well.

“It’s the same in retail too with the smaller independent bottle shops.”

According to the Wine Australia report, small wineries only exported about 12 per cent of their wine, which is consistent with Whistler Wines’ experience, while exports made up more than 60 per cent of Australian wine sales industry wide.

Pfeiffer said once people had visited the Barossa cellar door they were encouraged to join the 10,000-strong mailing list where they were given access to online specials.

“For us it’s about getting people here and then keeping them here for long enough for them to remember us and want to come back,” he said.

“We do 70 per cent of our sales direct to customers and that’s one of the only reasons we are able to survive.

“If we were giving away 35 per cent to distributors or selling wholesale then all of a sudden you’re not making the margin that you need to make.”

Association of Australian Boutique Winemakers CEO Judith Kennedy said cellar door and mail order sales helped small wine companies maintain margins and bypassed the challenges some faced of securing distribution in major cities.

She said the ability to value add to a wine business through gift sales, accommodation and eateries attached to cellar doors also provided opportunities for new revenue streams.

“It can take a long time for a little wine company to become profitable but cellar doors are certainly part of the answer,” Kennedy said.

“People love the experience of actually being there, talking with the winemaker if they’re lucky and talking with the people who have had hands on experience with the wine.

“The cellar door industry in general is more buoyant now than ever.”

Research released in 2015 by the University of South Australia’s Ehrenberg Bass Institute found that a visit to a winery’s cellar door had a lasting effect on consumer behaviour, influencing their buying habits for months afterwards.

“If they like the wine and they’re OK with the price then they’ll join the mailing list and they’ll buy the wine on a regular basis,” Kennedy said.

“As their volumes increase and they have a few good harvests they put the money into improving their cellar doors.

“Sometimes you’ll find tremendously humble little cellar doors and you go back there five years later and they’ve got this beautiful establishment and a line of people going out the door.”

The 223 survey responses from Australian small wine businesses also found:

Production was up 7 per cent, with the highest average growth in wineries that produce 70,001–170,000 litres (8000–20,000 cases) (up 11 per cent).

Average revenue growth was 12 per cent in 2015–16.

Nearly half (48 per cent) of the wineries surveyed make all of their wine in their own facilities.

On average, two-thirds of grapes used by small wineries were grown in their own vineyards.

South Australia produced 51 per cent of the nation’s crush in 2016 and about 75 per cent of Australia’s premium wine from some of the oldest vines in the world.

Its 18 regions include the Barossa Valley, which is home to iconic brands such as Penfolds Grange, Jacob’s Creek and Wolf Blass.

 

This article first appeared on The Lead.

Eating insects has long made sense in Africa. The world must catch up

Eating insects is as old as mankind. Globally, 2 billion people consume insects, a practise known as entomophagy. It is more common in Africa than anywhere else in the world. The continent is home to the richest diversity of edible insects – more than 500 species ranging from caterpillars (Lepidoptera) to termites (Isoptera), locusts, grasshoppers, crickets (Orthoptera), ants and bees (Hymenoptera), bugs (Heteroptera and Homoptera) and beetles (Coleoptera).

The dominant insect eating countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Africa. The most commonly eaten insects include caterpillars, termites, crickets and palm weevils.

Scientists have long proposed insects as feed or foodstuff for animals. But views about entomophagy differ widely: food conscious lobbies and scientists promote insects as novel foods while at the other extreme people view eating insects as crazy. Between those two extremes are communities that have been practising entomophagy for ages.

Most edible insects are harvested from the wild. Little effort has been put into how they could be mass produced and used as a source of protein more generally. To do this, it’s important that the biodiversity of edible insects is understood better, and that indigenous knowledge is uncovered.

To get even this far, however, attitudes to entomophagy need to change. The Food and Agriculture Organisation, anticipating scarcities of agricultural land and water as well as nutrients as the world’s population increases, has spearheaded a fierce propaganda campaign promoting the benefits of entomophagy. Despite this there is still a reluctance to use insects as food. Added to this is the fact that current biodiversity conservation efforts unfortunately overlook the world of insects.

This needs to change.

What’s in a name?

Documenting indigenous knowledge systems would be a useful way to promote entomophagy. One of the challenges is that African dialects don’t necessarily provide descriptions that could be used in scientific knowledge. Often species are described based on visual features according to the host plants they feed off or the seasons in which they occur.

By contrast, the French term for insect – la bestiole – refers generally to a variety of disgusting insects like flies, cockroaches, bugs or even spiders (which of course are not insects) unfit for human consumption.

Africans have never considered edible insects as pests or a nuisance.
Shutterstock

But people living in Africa have never considered edible insects as pests or a nuisance. Perhaps we need to think of a new appellation for edible insects to kill the disgust factor. A simple language analogy between 30 ethnic groups in 12 sub-Saharan countries provided tentative names for edible termites. These are, “Tsiswa”, “Chiswa”, “Chintuga”, “Inswa”, “Iswa”, “Sisi”, “Ishwa” or “Esunsun”. Any of these indigenous names could be used to market termite based products.

Map showing hotspots of edible insects in Africa.
Saliou Niassy

Opportunities and success stories

Insects are rich in nutrients such as amino acids, which are often absent in conventional foods. They have been used as such for ages by indigenous communities like the Mofu living at the border between Cameroon and Nigeria in the Mandara area, the Nganda people living in tropical forests in the DRC and Bushmen in Namibia and South Africa. They can be used as food and also as feed for other animals or medicine.

Given their nutritional value and their potential for mass production, insects could help address the challenge of food security. New entrepreneurship and business opportunities can be incubated in the food and feed systems and pharmaceuticals sectors. This in turn would lead to job creation.

Examples of this potential already exist. The caterpillar Cirina sp is among the most popular edible insects in west Africa. An enterprise, FasoPro, has developed various products using the insects to contribute to food security in Burkina Faso. Their business model is inclusive, involving local people.

In the DRC a Food and Agricultural Organisation funded project trained hundreds of farmers to domesticate the palm grubs Rhynchonphorus sp “Mpose”. This initiative contributed to reducing the clearing of palm ecosystems during harvesting of the valued insect. The same experience has been reported in Cameroon.

But the potential remains largely untapped. Many countries on the continent are eagerly searching for alternative protein sources for animal feed. This is particularly noticeable in the poultry sector where the growing scarcity of resources to produce the ingredients needed for feed has led to an increase in feed costs. Insects could provide a solution.

The major challenge, however, is perception. To uncover the real value of insects, strong education programmes are needed. This can be done through a structured framework covering both inventory, technology upscaling, safety, processing and legislation.

The Conversation

Saliou Niassy, Project Manager, University of Pretoria, PostGraduate School of Agriculture and Rural Development, University of Pretoria and Sunday Ekesi, Principal Scientist and Head of the Plant Health Theme, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top image : Flickr

Health check: is it safe to microwave your food?

Today every kitchen would seem “under-equipped” without a microwave, with its efficient ability to cook, defrost and reheat a variety of different foods. The handy appliance uses microwave radiation to do so. This is a type of electromagnetic radiation similar to radio waves and infrared light.

Although generally recognised as safe, the internet is awash with articles about the dangers microwave radiation poses to your food. Some claim using microwaves can cause “cataracts and cancer”. Other posts says it “zaps the nutrients right out of your food”.

If you believe this, the “killer” oven in your kitchen must be a terrifying sight, but there is actually no research to support the supposed dangers of microwave cooking. Hopefully we can allay your fears by checking some common danger claims against the evidence.

Does it zap the nutrients out?

Putting raw foods through any type of process – including heating and cooling – leads to changes in their physical properties, chemical composition and nutritional profile.

If nutrients are lost from foods cooked in microwaves, this would be because too high a temperature was used, or they were cooked for too long. The correct combination of time and temperature can help preserve most nutrients while also improving the foods’ taste, texture and colour.

The time and temperature required depends on the type of food. High risk foods such as meat, fish and eggs need to be heated to at least 60℃ to be safe.

Rapid cooking helps preserve beneficial chemicals in green vegetables.
from shutterstock.com

Microwave cooking is unlikely to negatively affect vitamins and other compounds associated with improved health. For instance, rapid cooking actually helps preserve a group of beneficial chemicals, the polyphenols – that increase the total antioxidant activity of foods – in green vegetables.

One study compared microwaving or steaming vegetables, such as cabbage, carrots, cauliflower and spinach, to pressure cooking. It found vegetables that were pressure cooked lost more insoluble fibre, which is good for gut health, than those that were microwaved or steamed.

A key nutrient usually destroyed when cooking vegetables is vitamin C, a severe lack of which can lead to conditions like scurvy. But boiling vegetables accounts for greater nutrient losses than microwaving them. This is because water soluble nutrients are readily leached into water when they are boiled, while very little water is used in microwaving.

Short bursts of heating, such as used in microwave cooking, can retain most of a vegetable’s vitamin C.

Can it give you cancer?

Some of the best studied cancer-causing compounds are the heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCA). These are formed naturally in protein-rich food such as meat and fish during cooking, and are more likely to form if the meat is cooked for a long time and at higher temperatures.

The method of cooking is a major factor affecting HCA formation. Some researchers have reported HCA are formed in chicken at higher levels when cooked in a microwave, compared to when pan-fried, barbecued or baked.

Barbecued fish has higher levels of HCA than microwaved fish.
from shutterstock.com

But no research has claimed or shown an association between regular consumption of microwave-cooked poultry and cancer.

A recent study has revealed barbecued fish contains more HCA than microwave-cooked fish, while HCA could not be detected at all in microwaved beef. Also, thawing beef and re-heating previously-cooked meat or fish in a microwave just for a few minutes, does not produce any extra HCA.

What about the packaging?

There is some evidence to suggest chemicals in plastic packaging can migrate into foods when microwaved, which has been associated with increased risk of cancer.

If your packaging has a microwave safe symbol, it is safe to use in the microwave.
from shutterstock.com

But most of today’s plastic containers, packages and wraps are specially designed to withstand microwave temperatures.

If packaging is marketed as microwave safe, has a microwave symbol or provides instructions for proper microwave use, it is safe for microwave cooking or heating.

Leaching of harmful toxins or “cancer-causing” compounds from appropriately packaged products during microwaving is highly unlikely in Australia, although this area could benefit from more research.

Does it kill bad bugs?

Cooking food significantly reduces the risk of food-borne illness.

A major challenge in microwaving is the unevenness of temperature distribution due to the shape of the food. You may notice when you heat food in a microwave that there are often hot and cold spots. This poses a potential safety issue.

Microwave cooking can only kill disease-causing bugs when the correct temperature and time combination is achieved throughout the food portion. Cooking to temperatures above 60℃ will kill most bugs known to cause food-borne illness, but the toxins produced by them may be heat-tolerant.

Stir food during the microwaving process so the heat is evenly distributed.
Lachlan Hardy/Flickr, CC BY

If the food is already contaminated with bugs that produce toxins, microwaving might kill the toxin-producing bug but not destroy the toxins, despite the correct temperature and time combination. This can also apply to other cooking methods. Appropriate food storage is the key to minimising such risks.

Minimising risk

  • Avoid overcooking vegetables to minimise nutrient losses
  • Before microwaving, check the labelling on the package and follow the instructions
  • If the package is not marked as being microwave-safe, switch to a suitable microwave container
  • Rotate and stir foods during cooking to spread the temperature of heating equally and as such minimise potential for food-borne illness. Check the temperature of food before consumption
  • Remember microwaving cannot magically make contaminated food safe. So if in doubt, throw it out.

The Conversation

Senaka Ranadheera, Early Career Research Fellow, Advanced Food Systems Research Unit, College of Health and Biomedicine, Victoria University; Duane Mellor, Associate Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Canberra; Nenad Naumovski, Asistant Professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Canberra, and Robyn McConchie, Professor, Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Food for thought: the rise of Australia’s mighty Brahman

The cattle in northern Australia are different to the rest of the national herd and the most striking thing is they have humps. But these humped Brahman cattle are here for a reason: because they adapted to surviving where others cannot in harsh tropical environments.

Brahmans were first introduced to Queensland in 1933. Today the national beef herd is around 26 million cattle and Brahman genetics can be found in around 50% of the national herd. More than 70% of the bulls working north of the Tropic of Capricorn are Brahman.

Such has been their impact that, before you can leave Ausralia’s beef capital of Rockhampton, you are greeted with a giant statue of a Brahman bull, a tribute to the immense economic benefits it has delivered. In 2001 it was estimated that Brahman genetics had contributed an extra A$8.1 billion to the Queensland economy.

The Brahman cattle statue in Rockhampton.
Michael Thomson, Author provided

But its impact has been far greater than just dollars and cents. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that the great experiment of introducing these bloodlines into Australia laid down the ideal model of research and industry collaboration that all fields of science can still learn from today.

Like all great advances in human endeavour, it began with an insight, followed by a vision and then years of unrecognised and thankless toil.

Inspiration from Texas

In the 1920 the Australian veterinary scientist John Anderson Gilruth toured the United States and viewed the cattle at the Pierce Estate in Texas. According to Angus Packham’s book of Cattle Breeding Research at Rockhampton, Gilruth said that “a vigorously controlled cattle breeding experiment in north Queensland would be wise”.

Gilruth later became the first chief of the new division of animal health at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR was the precursor to today’s CSIRO). There, he put forward a proposal to acquire Zebu cattle (Brahmans are a sub-breed of the Zebu species of cattle).

Wise indeed, but it took until 1933 for the first Zebus to be imported by CSIR on behalf of a handful of cooperating progressive pastoralists, even though most cattlemen did not see value in these humped “feral” cattle of inferior genetics.

The CSIR’s animal geneticist Ralph Bodkin Kelley said at the time:

A cooperator refused to use a CSIR-installed cattle weigh-bridge and another stated that nobody was going to tell him how to breed cattle that were his.

Even then it wasn’t until 1941 that Kelly was able to record that “the most worthwhile experiment with respect to Zebu crossbreeding in Australia” had begun. It was another decade before the property Belmont, north of Rockhampton, was purchased as a dedicated research property for cattle research.

Every scientist with a grand vision would appreciate these long thankless years. In fact, the CSIR Executive Board questioned:

[…] whether anybody is cognisant of the very large number of major and minor difficulties and problems, of husbandry and science, which will have to be overcome or solved on the ground before Belmont can become the centre of a beef cattle research programme of which CSIR can be proud.

Thankfully, things reached a tipping point, and this is where things get really interesting for designing future research collaborations.

Brahman cattle dominate the northern Australian herd.
CSIRO, CC BY

The Queensland herd

In 1965 less than 15% of the Queensland cattle herd contained Brahman genetics. By 1981 it was 60%.

Author provided

That rise coincided directly with a rise in industry visitors to CSIRO’s research facilities at Belmont, which coincidentally or not, tracks a similar rise in the number of scientific papers published by the researchers.

Author provided

Strong links with industry reflected by official visitor numbers appears to have been vital in maintaining research momentum, helping to frame industry-relevant research questions and driving adoption of innovation by Queensland cattlemen.

Alas, amid government funding cuts and rationalisation of research activities, the CSIRO left Rockhampton in 2009. It consolidated its northern livestock program to Townsville, leaving the beef capital without a research presence.

The once crowded Rendel Research Laboratories were emptied, Belmont’s pastures were used by private herds, and producers started looking elsewhere for inspiration.

A new approach

Despite the successes of the Brahman breed, the challenge facing the north Australian industry remains the same: identifying superior genetics that can thrive in harsh and remote environmental conditions with limited human intervention.

Case in point being the abysmally low fertility rates in some northern Australian herds, where 47% calving rates are normal, compared with the national average of 76%.

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) research also shows that the 25% of producers in the northern region (i.e. those operating profitably) are acutely focused on their genetics, their pastures and their labour efficiency. They achieve higher reproductive rates, lower mortality rates and heavier sale weights than the rest of the producers.

So the focus now is on engaging producers in the development of new automated monitoring systems to identify new genetics that will take the industry to the next level of productivity.

Systems have been developed that are capable of gathering data on individual animals and Belmont (now owned by farmer association AgForce) is again the touch point for industry.

A stockman musters cattle on CSIRO’S Belmont research station, 32km north of Rockhampton.
CSIRO, CC BY

This allows our researchers to track in real time which cattle are reaching optimal markets weights the fastest, and which cows are most fertile, as well as the pasture and water availability.

If this sort of technology is rolled out across the industry, the data gathered will dramatically enhance analysis of industry-wide genetic linkages. Producers will be able to more accurately select from a larger number of bulls and cows which have detailed fertility records, and whose progeny will grow faster than their ancestors while consuming less pasture.

For the producer this means more beef produced per hectare, bolstering their bottom line and the nation’s export returns. For the consumer it means industry can select genetics that are known to produce tender beef. And for the environment it will reduce the amount of grazing pressure on ground cover and waterways.

But this will all remain just a scientist’s crusade if producers can’t see the value in adopting new innovation. The key to that riddle is once again opening the doors to Rockhampton’s beef research facilities and recreating that strong link between researchers and producers that proved so successful in the past.

The challenge for governments and the research community is to understand the value of investing for the long-term, riding out the dark and lonely days and the importance of engaging with end-users along the way.

The Conversation

Dave Swain, Professor of Agriculture, CQUniversity Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The food safety mark of confidence

Food safety doesn’t just concern what we put in our mouths. It also involves a range of non-food products that are used in the production process. We caught up with Clive Withinshaw, Director of HACCP Australia, to discuss best practice in this area.

Food & Beverage Industry News: We see the HACCP Australia and HACCP International mark on an increasing number of products. Can you tell us something about it? What does it represent and how does it benefit food companies?

Clive Withinshaw: HACCP Australia is a food safety and food science company which provides a variety of services including food safety and Non-GMO auditing, consulting and product certification.

In answer to your question, HACCP Australia (with its overseas arm, HACCP International) operates a product certification scheme called ‘Food Safe Equipment, Materials and Services’. This is aimed particularly at non-food products which are used by the food industry and have incidental food contact or a significant impact on food safety or proper operation of a food safety management system.

The world’s leading HACCP and food safety schemes and quality systems – particularly those endorsed by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) – have developed rapidly over the last 15 years. They are very demanding and have high expectations concerning all facets of food safety.

In the early days they rightly concentrated on ingredient risks. That expanded to include packaging and logistics and they now encompass the risks that come from plant and equipment.

The world’s best food safety schemes have recognised and are emphasising the fact that many of today’s recalls are caused, not by ingredients or process, but by physical and chemical contaminants.

Essentially, food businesses now have an obligation to mitigate the risk from this source with an auditable due diligence process. Provided they have the necessary skills, they can do this themselves. Alternatively, they can rely on 3rd party certification.

This latter option is becoming more popular because the risk analysis isn’t easy and the industry has an expectation that suppliers be involved in the process.

Essentially our scheme is designed to meet that due diligence requirement and provide both the buyer and seller with confidence as to the product’s fitness for purpose.

Often the suppliers of these key products supply multiple markets. They too need assurance that the products that they supply to this specialist food sector are appropriate. I’m talking about things like kitchen wipes, lubricants, cleaning and pesticide chemicals, flooring, and lighting. Fine they might be, but ‘fine’ in an engineering shed is not necessarily ‘fine’ in a food plant.

F&B: How does the evaluation process work?

CW: There are a number of international certifications that address individual characteristics, such as food contact material or cleanability, as stand-alone criteria.

Ours is different in that we apply a risk analysis and have 10 key criteria that need to be satisfied prior to certification. In addition, we look at toxicity, batch and quality control, consequence of error, labelling, instructions and claims. Each product needs to pass each criterion and it has to make a contribution to food safety.

F&B: Who does the evaluation and where? CW: HACCP International and HACCP Australia employ a number of highly experienced and qualified food scientists – both here in Australia and overseas – who are devoted to this scheme.

Screen Shot 2017-01-09 at 10.25.35 AM

Depending upon the nature of the product or service, we will examine the product itself as well as, where necessary, the quality system that supports it and the on-site performance. Products continue to be evaluated after certification and service providers are audited. It can be an extensive process and can be demanding on the product.

F&B: What is the pass/fail rate?

CW: Many of the larger companies do manufacture really good products. It is no surprise to me that the more expensive and better designed and made of these have the least problems. These people have invested in food safety.

Others struggle. I would estimate that no more than 50 per cent of applicants pass first time. However, they do often re-engineer. That is great to see and shows a commit- ment to our industry. In some sectors failure rates can be higher.

F&B: Can you give us an example?

CW: Lighting is a good one. Many food businesses are very aware of the possible foreign body contamination from lighting products – historically there has been a risk of falling nuts and bolts (or of course glass) over production zones.

The lighting industry has addressed glass but we now see many products with heat dissipating design which makes them impossible to clean and a great pest harbourage. So instead of glass falling into our food, we now have dead insects!

The makers of lights that do carry our mark, such as Thorn and Zumtobel, have really thought about their application in the food industry.

F&B: What about the standards?

CW: We have a number of both public and proprietorial standards against which products are evaluated and expectations for a vast range of products that have been developed over the last 15 years.

It has been a significant investment. HACCP International is a JAS-ANZ accredited product certifier and all our systems meet the requirements of ISO 17065 (the standards for product certification).

We are just about to release a new standard titled ‘Pest Management Services for Food Businesses’. Hundreds of hours have gone into its development governed by an impartial committee of stakeholders comprising retailers, food safety auditors, food processors and pest managers.

It is a world first in publically available standards for this sector. There are many ‘guidelines’ but our industry isn’t keen on ‘guidelines’. ‘It is or it isn’t’ is what we like!

It is available from our website at no charge and gives the food industry a really useful tool as well as an understanding as to what pest management companies that carry our mark have been audited against. It is also designed to capture all the requirements of all the international best practice and GFSI standards.

F&B: Is your scheme popular overseas? If so, where and why?

CW: We now undertake more product certification business outside Australasia than we do within.

It’s great that an Australian company has joined the ranks of exporters in a sector which isn’t one of, what I call, the ‘4C’ club – carbon, cattle, crops and cabernet!

We have staff and offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK and now in the US.

While there are a number of international schemes, ours seems to have become very popular in certain markets. Among other reasons, I think this is because of the holistic nature of the certification and the alignment with best practice standards.

In Europe, for example, food contact products need, among other things, EU1935 compliance. But that in itself only addresses the material, not the design. Our scheme obviously requires the same but so much more. Furthermore, it is conducted in a way that the QA department in a food business would expect.

F&B: Can you give us some examples of products and what you look for?

CW: Anything that has an impact on food safety but particularly those that have incidental contact or present a great risk.

Gloves are a good example. I am of the school that would rather my food was handled by a clean hand than a dirty glove, but if it is to be handled by a clean glove, we need to know what that clean glove is made of.

There are some really nasty gloves out there made from totally unacceptable material. A thin slice of the food handler’s flesh in my sandwich would be only slightly less palatable than certain glove material we have come across!

Kimberly Clark, MCP, RCR, Oates, Edco, Prochoice and The Glove Company all make some excellent products in this area. Others are listed on our website. If they are just slightly more expensive – there’s a reason.

Pest management chemicals are an unavoidable material that all food businesses need to some extent. Our certification ensures that they are all food-safe and fit for purpose.

There can be a temptation for controllers to use cheaper (or what they might call ‘more effective’) chemicals. Our certification mark ensures that this can be controlled.

The certification not only covers the product but also such things as the application method, instructions, quality control and allergens. Bayer, BASF, Bell, FMC and Syngenta are examples of manufacturers which have products that are particularly appropriate for the food market.

Our certification not only examines such products but also determines in which ‘zones’ they are appropriate. ‘Primary Food Contact’ or ‘Splash and Spill’ zones, for example, are indicated on the certification.

Flooring and walling is another product group we commonly see. Everybody knows that mistakes in these can be really expensive in terms of fit out and disruption. Our evaluation process can really help industry specifiers when selecting a food safe surfaces and hardware.

Roxset, Flowcrete, Altro, Ucrete, Clifford, Sika, Bethell, BlueScope and Blucher come to mind, but once again there are others on our site which have all invested in the food industry’s needs.

F&B: Who should those in the industry contact if they want to know more about the certification and how you do things?

CW: We really encourage food safety and quality managers to talk to us about certified products – especially when they are making purchasing decisions or if they need to know what we have looked at or how we did the evaluation.

They can usually speak to the evaluation scientist directly and, while much of the information we hold is confidential, we can usually satisfy technical enquiries. That can be a really useful for a QA or HACCP Manager.

A really effective, auditable, due diligence process is now an absolute for food businesses operating to world’s best practice food safety standards. Our scheme can really help in that way.

I did hear of a production director of one of the large Australian food processors who said, “If it doesn’t have that mark on it – you better have the facts and my express permission to bring it in otherwise”.

That’s one way of doing it!

Make a fresh start with your fridge in 2017: apps to reduce food waste and save money

I have never been good at sticking to New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s to floss my teeth more or to join a gym, I just don’t manage to keep them up. But this year I am setting myself a better goal – one that will save me money, time and be good for the planet. I’m going to start using a meal planning and pantry inventory app.

If you barely have time to scribble together a shopping list, let alone browse recipes or check cupboards before leaving the house, then meal planning apps are a great tool to help manage shopping, cooking and eating.

They have a range of features that help you track what’s in your pantry and fridge, import recipes, create meal plans, generate shopping lists, and sometimes all of the above. They take a bit of time to set up, but once that’s done they can make your life a lot easier.

Why plan meals?

It doesn’t sound very sexy, but planning meals and knowing what’s in your fridge and pantry when you go shopping is a great way to reduce food waste and save time and money.

Globally, one-third of edible food produced is wasted. This puts a strain on scarce resources such as land and water, and generates significant greenhouse gas emissions.

If food waste were a country, it would have the third-highest emissions after China and the US.

Menu planning also means fewer trips to the supermarket and less impulse spending, as well as helping you use leftovers more efficiently.

So what are these apps?

To get you started, I’ve put together an overview of a few useful apps that I came across during my research. Results of a recent survey by MenuForMums in the UK found that 90% of members saved time and money (and by default reduced food waste) by using its online meal planning service.

1.) Pepperplate is a mobile app that helps you to compile and organise your recipe collection, create meal plans, generate shopping lists and cook the recipes that you want to try.

Recipes can be imported by pasting their URL from the web or by entering them manually. They can then be used to create meal plans and interactive shopping lists which allow you to tick off items as you go and share with others. When cooking, Pepperplate will walk you through the recipes, complete with cooking timers. Other similar meal planning apps are BigOven and AnyList.

Recent research has shown that Melbourne wastes 200kg of food per person a year.
Food waste image from www.shutterstock.com

2.) Cloud-Freezer helps you create shopping lists like Pepperplate, but focuses on inventories rather than meal planning. It allows you to keep track of the items you already have in your fridge, freezer and pantry, including expiry dates so you can plan what you need to eat first to reduce food waste.

Items can be added to shopping lists from a library of previous entries, moved between shopping lists and inventories, and between the inventories themselves (for example, if you move something from the freezer to the fridge to defrost). The app has a barcode scanner function connected to user-driven databases to help you enter items quickly. There are similar but less sophisticated cross-platform apps called GrocerEaze and Out of Milk.

3.) MealBoard offers the most features and could be life-changing if you take the time to set it up. It’s a combination of Pepperplate and Cloud-Freezer because it enables you to import recipes, plan meals, generate shopping lists and do inventories. Integrating these features turbocharges your ability to organise food activities because it automatically populates shopping lists with what you have to buy, taking into account what you already have at home.

This could save a lot of time and effort, and prevent a lot of duplicate shopping. If you’re prepared to do that, it’s a powerful tool. Another cross-platform app, FoodPlanner, boasts the same features as MealBoard.

So if you have some spare time in the holidays, after recovering from your food coma and before you join that gym, maybe take one of these apps for a trial run. Between Christmas leftovers and forgotten items in the back of your pantry, you may not need to shop for weeks.

The time you save might make it easier to stick to all your other resolutions, and your wallet and the planet will thank you for it.

The Conversation

Seona Candy, Research Fellow: Food and Urban Systems, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.