Global health food resurgence drives demand for Aussie carob

GLOBAL demand for healthy, natural foods is helping to drive a resurgence in carob production in Australia.

South Australian businesses Australian Carob Company and The Carob Kitchen are the two largest producers in Australia and have found export success with their nutritious carob bars, powders and syrups.

Carob rose to popularity in the 1980s as a chocolate substitute because of its natural sweetness. It is again experiencing a spike in demand as a result of its nutritional value, which includes its high fibre, calcium and protein levels.

Carob powder is now used in milkshakes, as a natural chocolate sweetener and in baking. Carob syrup is used as a spread and can be enjoyed on pancakes, ice cream and breakfast cereals.

The Australian Carob Co has developed what it claims to be the world’s purest carob product, which is also nut and gluten free.

The growing company has been invited to showcase its products at Portland Veg Fest this month in the United States ahead of plans to expand global exports next year.

South Australia is the nation’s largest carob-producing state and exports to many countries including Singapore, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom.

img - industries_primary industries_carobs_Banner2Michael and Jam Jolley at their carob orchard in South Australia.

Australian Carob Company founder Michael Jolley said although the Australian carob was still finding its place within the global food industry, its quality was unparalleled.

“There are a lot of health benefits with carob and the benefit of using it without adding sugars,” he said.

“It is very good for your digestive system, high in fibre – it’s got vitamins, protein, calcium and iron. It is 100 per cent organic.

“We are totally nut free and gluten free because we are the only non-contaminated carob in the world with full traceability.”

Jolley’s orchard near Burra is about 150km north of South Australia’s capital Adelaide and spans more than 30 hectares. It is home to more than 6000 carob trees.

Australian Carob Company products are shipped in six-metre containers, which weigh almost 10 tonnes each.

img - industries_primary industries_carobs_ShallowCarob syrup, buttons, powder and kibble are high in fibre, calcium, protein, pottassium and low fat-levels.

Jolley said his carob products were processed without any contamination and without any waste, which made them highly regarded in Spain.

“In other places they use machines for almonds, walnuts, pistachios and other things. We grow, harvest, process and package all of our products on the farm,” he said.

“Even in the home country of carobs (Spain), the quality of our South Australian carob is better.”

Jolley said South Australia’s long dry summers and wet winters played a key role in being able to grow a range of different species including Casuda, Clifford, Sfax, Santa-Fa, Tyleria and Waite.

Carob Kitchen has about 3500 carob trees on a farm at Port Elliot, on the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide.

Director Sophie Richards said the international carob industry was experiencing strong growth and had been backed by a number of celebrities.

“Our original trees are about 20 years old – we launched at the right place and the right time,” she said.

“The health food industry has played a major part in the growth of our brand with our most successful product being our healthy alternative confectionary with no added sugar. Even Jamie Oliver is on the band wagon.”

img - industries_primary industries_Carobs_PThe Carob Kitchen export to the United Kingdom and New Zealand with plans to expand into Japan and the United States soon.

EuroMonitor International estimates global sale of healthy food products will reach US$1 trillion in 2017.

A recent Technavio market research study predicts the global naturally healthy foods market to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 6 per cent from 2016 to 2020.

According to Carobs Australia there are about 400 hectares of carob orchards around Australia.

As a nation, Australia’s potential annual carob production is estimated to be about 1000 tonnes  with each tree producing about 100-200kg of carob pods.

Although this is less than one per cent of the global market, Carobs Australia Secretary Treasurer Henry Esbenshade said the high quality “clean-and-green” image of foods from Down Under helped drive demand for Aussie carob.

“The high quality processing and packaging of products sold by the Australian Carob Co and the Carob Kitchen is another important element in improving their competiveness and appeal to international buyers.”

Brisbane meat works finds ideal vision solution

A leading Brisbane based meat works producing high volumes needed an inspection system that guaranteed speed, product integrity and accuracy. It turned to Omron, a global leader in automation solutions, for the answer.

When your business supplies fresh meat products to major supermarkets and consumers across Australia, you can’t afford to get it wrong.

Products displaying illegible date codes, damaged packaging or wrongly labelled products can be disastrous for suppliers.

Through its integration partner, Pac Technologies, the meat works commissioned Omron to install a vision inspection system that would minimize the risk of sending out any non-compliant products.

“All final packaged product lines were installed with Omron’s FQ2 vision inspection cameras for traceability of all shelf ready meat products,” said Omron’s Queensland State Manager, Paul Gibb.

“The main aim was to increase productivity, while maintaining consistent, high quality standards.”

The Brisbane meat works is unique. It is a globally recognized fully integrated facility that completes a full circle in beef production including slaughter, boning, value add, retail-ready and distribution.

According to its Production Manager the site processes some 1200 head of cattle per day.

Apart from bulk meats it also produces stir-fry and diced beef and veal, beef sausages, corned, marinated, glazed and coated beef and veal products, corned beef silverside and hamburger patties.

Stringent requirements

“We currently have an annual production of over 15 million kilos for national distribution to prominent retail and supermarket shelves,” the Product Manager said.

“Due to very stringent requirements demanded by our retail distribution partners, our entire packaged shelf ready product needs to be exactly as per what is ordered and labeled as.”

The biggest challenge for any meat works is traceability. Most facilities traditionally rely on casual labor in the final packaging and inspection process.

“We turned to Omron to assist us in greatly reducing the risk of sending out non-compliant product final packaged product,” the Production Manager said.

A challenge for this application was to check both 1D and 2D barcodes at varying focal lengths on the final production line. Also there was a requirement to check and verify the date code on each shelf ready product.

Vision solution

Kim Simonsen from Pac Technologies, in conjunction with Omron application engineers, created a vision solution using FQ2 machine vision cameras on each line. On some lines, two cameras were used at varying focal lengths to handle the varying heights of the target product.

The carton barcode is pre-checked to verify that the product is as expected before the individual packs are checked.

“We accessed some very powerful algorithms built in to the FQ2 camera to achieve what the customer needed to satisfy their date and barcode checks”, said Yang Qui, a senior application engineer form Omron Electronics, Brisbane. “OCR, or Objective Character Recognition was used to not only check for the presence of the date code, but actually read the text to ensure that the date code was correct and readable. The small sized 2D bar code was a challenge, and required us to employ the high resolution version of the FQ2 vision camera to obtain a reliable and accurate reading each and every time”.

Mr Gibb said Omron is also assisting other Queensland based meat works that produce down to shelf ready product as well as bulk packs.

Hundreds of different variants

“There are common issues emerging when talking to each company about checking integrity and accuracy of the final packaged product and its labelling and identification,” Mr Gibb said.

“Hundreds of different product and label variants, many types of barcodes and date codes, varying existing PLC architecture, high turnover of transient workforce, and a hostile operating environment all present a challenge to a solid and reliable vision solution.”

One of the main challenges was how to process the data once reliable and accurate judgements of the final product are obtained.

“In this instance we used our powerful and flexible NJ Machine controller with SQL connectivity and Ethernet IP to communicate directly to the customer’s database without the need for any software based middleware,”  Gibb said. “Since Omron’s NJ controller has the option of Ethernet IP communications, it communicated directly with the customer’s existing PLCs, creating a seamless network from camera to database.”

Gibb said Omron’s FQ2 vision cameras are rugged enough to be installed directly on the production line in a meat works hose down environment and they have enough capacity to store more than the customer’s total product lineup and label varieties.

Gibb said the main issues for Quality Assurance (QA) inspection in the meat industry are:

  • Hundreds of different products and labels
  • IP rating camera
  • Huge variety of codes, different types of bar code, different type of 2D Codes,
  • Complex production and device information like expiry date, batch number, lot number, stamp
  • Many workers lack technology, knowledge and training
  • Difficult to use traditional sensors or PLC’s to collect all of the information
  • Difficult to integrate PLC/Vision/Motion/Sensors all together
  • Difficult to manage QA inspection information
  • Image logging? Data logging?
  • How to integrate to existing Scada software

The Solution

Omron FQ2 supports up to nine types of barcodes. Whether it’s for verification or barcode character reading, the FQ2 can easily meet customer’s requirements.

The Australian meat industry uses GS1-databar code widely and FQ2 has been successfully used for product verification and production information inspection.

2D Code

FQ2 can read the main six types of 2D codes. There is no need to use more than one code reader – even for processing that combines different types of codes.

FQ not only forms a powerful and accurate vision inspection/data sharing network. It is the beginnings of a fully future proofed new single platform plant wide architecture, ready for upcoming robotics, RFID, safety and advanced sensing.

That platform is Sysmac – Omron’s new machine automation platform.

With Sysmac (System for Machine Automation Control) you have one control for the entire machine or production cell.

Keeping Modern (Food) Manufacturing Secure

In the classic factory of the 1950s, security was simple. Managers strolled from their offices on a floor that towered over plant activity, closely observing whether shift crews below were doing what they were supposed to do.

Because employees knew the eyes of a supervisor may be upon them at any time, they were less inclined to cheat the system – such as slipping any of the company’s property or product into their pockets, or sabotaging a machine out of spite. And motives were, on the whole, aligned: what was good for the business was good for everyone involved.

Fast-forward six decades and it’s a different story. With advancements in information and communications technology, the manufacturing industry has undergone significant transformation.

Today, manufacturing employees are more likely to operate advanced technology from their computers and mobile devices, rather than undertake physical work. They are empowered to connect remotely, set their own hours and even self-determine how to effectively perform assigned duties.

As opposed to their factory counterparts of prior generations, their tools aren’t welding machines, circular saws and drills; they’re tablets, smartphones and thumb drives. They don’t follow instructions from an assembly book stocked on a shelf; all best practices/guidance are stored in files on a server.

But that’s also where an abundance of sensitive, proprietary data about customers is kept, as well as information about electronic payments to both suppliers and workers.

With the rapid rise of sophistication and autonomy, it’s clear that something important has been lost: the protective eyes on the floor. And this has security implications for both the insider threat and external cyber security threats.

The Insider Threat

Years ago, those eyes made it more difficult for a disgruntled crew member to surreptitiously slip a blueprint into his lunchbox.

Today, it’s much easier for the same worker – perhaps unhappy after years of stagnant career progression – to abruptly quit, transfer the entire R&D library onto a thumb drive and deliver the stolen information to a competitor.

Without proper monitoring and auditing controls in place, the current level of empowerment – which ultimately serves a positive, productive purpose for organisations – can be abused.

That’s not good for the enterprise, and it’s not good for employees. But it’s fairly unfeasible to “watch” over everything when there are so many employees now connecting to manufacturing systems both inside and outside a traditional factory environment. Toss in an expanding influx of contractors, partners and other non-staff enterprise users, and you invite additional risk.

Especially since many of these parties aren’t vetted to the same degree of scrutiny as full-time personnel. It’s worth noting here that not all security breaches are the result of a malicious insider.

Personnel or contractors may play the role of the unintentional insider where they can be ‘tricked’ into downloading malware and introducing this into the network.

Or they can lapse into sloppy habits, such as sending corporate materials to their home computers on vulnerable, private email accounts.

Of course, they can also outright lose things (devices, USB flash drives, etc.) which can end up in the wrong hands.

To combat the insider threat, manufacturers need to empower the organisation to better protect the information and data that helps make it profitable. Whilst it’s important to give employees the latitude they need to do their jobs the business also needs to retain visibility into their actions.

A robust security measure that is able to do this includes three important pillars:

1. Data capture – implementing a lightweight endpoint agent can capture data without disrupting user productivity. A system like this can monitor the data’s location and movement, as well as the actions of users who access, alter and transport the data. Collected user data can be viewed as a video replay that displays keys typed, mouse movements, documents opened or websites visited. This unique capability provides irrefutable and unambiguous attribution of end-user activity.

2. Behavioural audit – understanding how employees act will help pinpoint unusual or suspect behaviour enabling closer monitoring for those deemed high risk.

3. Focused investigation – if a clear violation is detected it’s important to pinpoint specific events or users so you can assess the severity of the threat, remediate the problem and create new policies to stop it happening again.

The Outside Threat

With significant changes to the manufacturing landscape businesses also face significant threats from outside criminals. Over the last decade there has been huge uptake of technology and online systems to create new efficiencies and improve operational effectiveness through the sharing of information.

However with every opportunity comes risk; and given the growth of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoTs) and big data it’s no surprise that cyber security has been elevated to one of manufacturers’ biggest risk factors. In fact, according to IBM, manufacturing was the second most targeted industry in the US for cyber-attacks in 2015.

So whilst networked products, known as IIoT in manufacturing, means there are virtually endless opportunities and connections that can take place between devices, it also means there are a number risks due to the growth in data and network entry points. In many cases, manufacturers have been quick to embrace the benefits of IIoT but still have some catching up to do in order to adequately protect their data, customers, products and factory floors.

Australian manufacturers need to consider multiple cyber security threats including factory threats, product threats and operational threats.

For example, if equipment controllers are not adequately secured it is possible for an outsider to attach malware ridden PCs to the OT network while performing routine maintenance. Similarly, manufacturers must take great care in preventing any products, like driverless cards or robotics, from being compromised as not all cyber-attacks are focused on the network but can also affect how a computer processor or piece of technology operates.

For manufacturers to fully realise the benefits of IIoT securely, it’s important they identify security weaknesses and put a process in place that can mitigate not just current but future risks.

This means any security system should be:

1. Simple and flexible – your security solution should be able to scale with your operations and be easy to use.

2. Unified – in today’s environment you’re likely to split IT functions between cloud and on-premise technologies to maximise the advantages of each approach. By implementing a unified solution you can eliminate the extra cost and duplicated work of systems that have separate management to consolidate cloud services and on-premises solutions in a single console with one visibility, policy and reporting system.

3. Fault tolerant – there’s no point in having a security system if it goes down when you need it most. Prevent interruptions in network security by having traffic rerouted to a trusted partner in the event that a security appliance goes offline.

Ultimately, even though the threat of cyber-attacks in manufacturing is a reality, there are multiple ways Australian businesses can move forward without fear.

 

 

Forcepoint

www.forcepoint.com

 

 

 

Health Check: what should breastfeeding women eat?

We all understand how important breastfeeding is for baby’s health. Breastfeeding mothers often receive a variety of well-intentioned advice about what and what not to eat during this period. But what does the science say?

If you look carefully at the food recommendations for breastfeeding, you will see only minor changes to the diet recommended for all healthy people. This is because during pregnancy, the body prepares for the energy cost of lactation by laying down some additional fat stores.

Energy needs

For the purposes of developing guidelines, breastfeeding women are assumed to produce about 780 millilitres of breast milk per day at an energy cost of 2,800 kilojoules per day. However, the additional energy requirement per day is only 2,100 kj, based on the assumption that fat stores will be used to make up the deficit.

The body also adapts to conserve energy during lactation by decreasing the basal metabolic rate. Heat production and activity levels also often drop after having a baby. In terms of food recommendations, the additional needs equate to an additional two serves of vegetables and three serves of grains per day, bringing both energy and extra nutrients.

So a salad sandwich and some crackers or a larger serve of rice with dinner would suffice. Or you might choose a bowl of soup and a bread roll.

Breastfeeding mums should have two extra serves of veggies and three extra serves of grains for their added energy and nutrition needs.
from www.shutterstock.com

Nutrition needs

In our nutrition-conscious world, we often assume vitamin supplements are needed during this time. Amazingly, women all over the world – even those who are quite malnourished – usually manage to breastfeed successfully due to their use of nutrient stores.

There are always exceptions; whether the nutrient stores are sufficient to support lactation will depend on diet quality and weight gain during pregnancy. It’s also important to understand more pregnancies and more breastfeeding by an individual will mean her stores will be lower.

Women who are on severe weight-loss diets and have lowered their food intake significantly during lactation have not been well-studied but older research suggests it takes a big deficit before milk production is affected.

In developing countries, there are many large-scale interventions to improve maternal nutrition when it comes to nutrients such as vitamin A, iodine, calcium, iron, protein and energy. This improves rates of death and disease for both the women and their offspring.

A recent review of maternal nutrition and breast milk composition in developed countries with healthy mothers found increased intake of nutrients does not increase the content of those nutrients in the breast milk.

There is some evidence the types of fats in a woman’s diet can influence the fatty acid profile of breast milk but generally the breast milk nutrient profile is mostly unchanged due to the use of nutrition stores.

Women on a long-term vegan diet will often have low vitamin B12 levels and this in turn can mean their breast milk is deficient in B12. This can cause very serious neurological issues for the baby.

As women are producing milk, we are often asked if extra calcium is needed. On average, 210mg of calcium is secreted into breast milk each day but this comes from increased levels of calcium being released from the bones of mothers, which is independent of calcium intake. In fact, six months of exclusive breastfeeding uses only 4% of the body stores of calcium – another clever evolutionary human adaptation to support survival.

What to avoid

After months of avoiding alcohol during pregnancy, women still need to be cautious about drinking and breastfeeding. The current advice, based on the best available evidence, suggests not drinking is the safest option particularly in the first month.

After this, it is suggested no more than two drinks are consumed at any one occasion and waiting to breastfeed will allow time for the alcohol to clear from the mother’s bloodstream and milk.

As for other drinks, the best advice is to drink to thirst – how much any individual needs will depend on climate, body size, milk production and metabolism.

For new mothers, caffeine is another consideration as they reach for coffee to help with the sleepless nights. Caffeine can enter the breast milk and newborn babies take a long time to metabolise it, however a few cups of coffee per day will probably not impact an older baby.

So what about all the advice provided on what not to eat? Foods such as cabbage, chilli, chocolate and tomato are often suggested to be avoided for a more “settled” baby.

There is in fact little evidence to support these claims. A small number of infants may have temporary intolerances to some proteins such dairy and removing this from the mothers diet might assist with symptoms. But this should be done under medical and or dietetic supervision.

The Conversation

Evelyn Volders, Senior Lecturer/Course Convenor in Nutrition and Dietetics, Monash University

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

 

Top image: mirror.co.uk

Trendy foods should come with a recipe for sustainability

The soft creamy flesh of a ripe avocado makes an attractive and healthy addition to many of our shopping baskets. Smashed, crushed or sliced on toast for a celebrity chef breakfast, it is a fruit which is savoured across the world.

But it seems that avocados may not be as green as they look. And their trendy status may be environmentally unsustainable. Their popularity has led to profitable opportunities for farmers, leading to major environmental concerns about production causing deforestation in Mexico, a nation that produces 30% of the 4.7m tonnes harvested globally.

What was once an exotic ingredient for many now makes regular appearances in culinary (and political) lives.

The European Union imports some 440,000 tonnes of avocados each year. And while the food production industry is keeping up with demand, we rarely stop to consider the environmental impacts of trendy food, distracted as we are by the new experiences and health benefits it delivers.

The rise of the avocado has displaced forests because of increased production, with the incentive of increased profit leading to an environmental impact. Similar patterns are seen for soy beans and maize where production and trade is dependent on specific global regions.

These pressure points in the global food system remind us of the wider problems associated with the year-round supply we demand from food retailers who need the semi-tropical regions of the world to provide them.

The environmental impact caused by our appetites is an issue which also has been highlighted by other “luxury” goods such as chocolate and coffee, where fair trade principles have changed the way we purchase foods. Many of these issues concern the ingredients we need to create food tastes and experience.

Consider garlic, another essential ingredient of guacamole. World production of the bulb has risen from 4m to 24m tonnes per year since the 1960s. Around 80% is produced in China.

The huge demand for high value crops that provide specific tastes such as garlic and chilli (which has also seen exponential growth in global production) have also resulted in the emergence of crop smugglers who now sustain a multi-million Euro illegal – and largely unseen – industry. It all makes life very complicated for anyone who wants to eat a healthy diet and keep up with food fashion with a clear conscience.

For while certifications associated with biodiversity and sustainability are established for fish, coffee and chocolate, they are either rare or entirely non-existent for many of the herbs, spices and ingredients we use in low volumes that are high value and strong in taste.

Food rules

Many of the larger volume crops such as cereals, sugar and many fruits now have a legacy of assurance and traceability where sustainability is assessed along their supply chains. It started with Birdseye’s “in pursuit of the sustainable pea” report, one of the first food brands to look at these wider values.

Programmes of assessing the sustainability of food production have been established for decades now with organisations such as the UK’s LEAF and the international Global GAP. But it seems strange that we should focus solely on the environmental certification of fish, meat and food staples and not worry about the high value ingredients we use because we use them at low volumes.

So what are the solutions? First, consumer awareness is key, and guidance on using understandable measures of sustainability is an important part of becoming responsible consumers.

Second, urban and “vertical” farming, where crops are grown in stacked layers in controlled environments, have an important role to play. They allow restaurants and other consumers to source herbs, garlic and leaf vegetables from local growers who can competitively supply high value products in low volumes. We are currently working with restaurants to measure the impact of sourcing these ingredients locally.

Of course, there are limits to locality, and to my knowledge, avocados have not yet been successfully grown on a commercial scale in Sheffield. If they were, they would certainly not be sustainable. But we are making progress in certificating foods so that we do not have to stop eating these products but actively engage to support sustainable development of their markets – this is well described in the Rainforest Alliance’s high impact Follow the Frog campaign.

In the 18th century, botanical collectors grew tropical fruits in heated greenhouses across the UK. Our current system of access to avocados and other semi-tropical foods will only improve on this energy intensive production if responsible production that does not destroy the environment is proven. Food suppliers must qualify their sustainability values and they have many challenges. I think we are getting much better at communicating these credentials so that we have confidence in what we eat from the global supply chain.

The Conversation

Wayne Martindale, Senior Research Fellow, Corporate Social Responsibility, Sheffield Hallam University

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

Manuka honey may help prevent life-threatening urinary infections

Manuka honey could prevent serious urinary tract infections caused by catheters – tubes used to drain patients’ bladders, new laboratory research has found.

The research showed honey from New Zealand’s manuka plant slows the speed of bacterial growth and formation of biofilms, which are thin layers that build up on surfaces and harbour infection.

The investigators used the findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, to suggest flushing diluted manuka honey through the catheter may help prevent urinary tract infections.

Urinary tract infections can be life-threatening. They account for 40% of hospital-acquired infections, while catheter-associated urinary tract infections make up 80% of this group.

But the researchers stressed this study was performed in a laboratory. Significantly more testing was needed before the honey could be used to treat infections in humans.

The director of the infectious diseases and microbiology department at Austin Health, Lindsay Grayson, said the research was a “quirky” take on the role honey could play.

Manuka honey’s antimicrobial effects are well understood, but Professor Grayson, who was not involved in the study, said it was interesting because not much was known about its effect on biofilm.

“Biofilms are critical because these bugs form this slimy layer and then they’re able to live quite comfortably in a dormant or semi-dormant state,” he said.

Professor Grayson said the biofilm protected bacteria and delivering antibiotics through it to treat infection was difficult.

“It might then allow antibiotics that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get in there to now get into the bugs.”

Australian National University professor of infectious diseases Peter Collignon, who was also not involved in the study, said research that looked at ways of controlling infections other than using antibiotics was a good idea. But he said this study was limited in its practical application.

The latest research only assessed formation of biofilm and bacterial growth, not whether using honey allowed antibiotics to penetrate the biofilm more effectively.

Researchers added various concentrations of manuka honey diluted in distilled water to laboratory growth plates containing two bacteria known to cause urinary infections and incubated them for 24, 48 and 72 hours.

They then compared the growth of biofilms in each of the plates to control plates that had bacteria but no manuka honey.

“The further research that needs to be done is to see whether this actually works for what is proposed,” Professor Collignon said.

“In other words, can this objectively decrease the amount of infections that are occurring in the urinary tract?”

Properly controlled clinical trials are needed to avoid the risk that laboratory data could be misinterpreted in the real world and that patients could be given false hope, said Professor Collignon.

“I think the major risk is maybe people being taken advantage of financially because it [manuka honey] is relatively expensive compared to other substances,” he said.

Professor Grayson said he was concerned about the lack of safety data for using diluted honey, either on catheters or in flushing the bladder, because it could be an irritant.

“If honey contacting the bladder wall did cause cellular irritation and inflammation, then that in and of itself sets up a higher risk of infection,” he said.

The Conversation

Simon Hendel, Editor, The Conversation

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

What is the secret of start-up success in healthier foods and beverages?

New ventures that launch an on-the-go snack or beverage with a “free-from” positioning have the best chance of success, a new research project by New Nutrition Business shows.

The analysis of 151 businesses founded between 2002 and 2013 in the UK, USA and Australia explores what makes a healthier food start-up fail – or prevail.

NNB’s main finding is that snack and beverage start-ups are the most resilient in the healthier foods market.  “Beverages and snacks are products that are easier to adapt to constant changes in demand and preferences,” says Joana Maricato, senior market analyst at New Nutrition Business.

Snacks are an entrepreneur’s best bet with a 64% success rate, and if they add a “free–from” message, the success rate rises to 88%. These results reflect the presence of two consumer trends –  “snackification” and “free-from” – which consistently feature in NNB’s annual 10 Key Trends reports.

Although beverages come in at a modest second with 56% of the ventures still on the market, they are the category most successful at breaking into the mass-market. However, a look at the distribution of successful start-ups according to the benefit platforms is revealing: the kids’ beverages are bringing down the average. When these are stripped out, the beverage category in fact achieves higher success rates than snacks.

Dairy is a high-risk category, and the only group where failure exceeds success, with 57% of start-ups no longer present on the market.

Launching a kids’ product also faces particular obstacles according to Maricato: “Anyone venturing into the kids’ segment needs to bear in mind the double consumer challenge they face: to please the ‘consumption’ consumer, the children, as well as the ‘buying’ consumer, the parents.”

The results indicated that the combination of benefit and product category has an influence on the success rate. “For example, in beverages, energy was one of the benefits with the highest success rates, while for dairy this was the case for the high-protein platform,” Maricato says.

Certain benefits alone make a product stand out. “There seem to exist benefits that are related with success across categories, such as ‘free-from’, which was associated with high success in both snack and beverages,” Maricato adds.

Managing expectations regarding success is another important tip entrepreneurs can draw from the analysis. “Only 60% of successful start-ups made it to mass market. But mass market presence is not the only way to succeed. Start-ups can thrive while remaining in smaller, niche segments, where premium prices are often easier to obtain,” Maricato says.

Food and beverage start-ups with a focus on health have a reputation of having low success rate. The main purpose of the project was to verify such assumptions against good data, and provide a tool for developing data-driven business strategies. New Nutrition Business has been studying start-ups for almost 20 years, and now holds a vast database about them.

When ‘hand crafted’ is really just crafty marketing

In their attempts to cash in on peak hipster, fast-food giants are passing off assembly-line products as small scale, bespoke creations that carry an aura of moral authority.

Six months ago, McDonald’s opened a café in Sydney’s inner-West, where chambray-shirted baristas serve single-origin coffee alongside quinoa salads on wooden boards. The café is called The Corner, but The Guardian soon described it as: “McDonald’s disguised as a hipster café”.

And to customers worldwide, McDonald’s launched its “artisan grilled chicken”, its “artisan roll” and other artisan-manque products. Domino’s released “Artisan Pizza”, and PepsiCo released Kaleb’s Cola, a “craft soda” in a glass bottle bearing the notation, “Honor in Craft”. Nowhere on the bottle is mention of the multinational behind it.

In Australian Coles supermarkets, the Always Fresh brand is promoting its “Artisan Collection” lines as “authentic, carefully-crafted”. Its biscuits and preserves are “hand-crafted”; its crackers are “thoughtfully baked”. In the drinks isle Cascade’s “crafted” range of fizzy drinks includes (inexplicably) a “crafted for Australians” plain soda water.

Hand made or machine made?
Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters

These descriptors are lies, because mass-producers simply can’t make “craft” or “artisanal” products. These words refer to autonomous human-scale production that’s too mindfully- and bodily-involved for the assembly-line. To a craftperson, conception and physical production are inseparable, and their relationship with their craft — be it breadmaking, songwriting or neurosurgery — is somatic.

Division of labour completely wipes “crafting” from the fabrication process. Craft involves risk and unpredictability; manufacturing, on the other hand, involves predictable and uniform outcomes.

So consider the significance of McDonald’s’ current “How Very Un-McDonald’s” and “Not So Fast Food” campaigns. These campaigns invite us to custom-select ingredients on a touch-screen and enjoy table-service by — who knew? — a person. Faced with a slump in profits, the fast-food giant is experimenting with ways to shed brand-staleness and seduce a 20s-to-30s demographic that regards McDonald’s as distinctly uncool.

But this seems less a gesture towards slow food values and more an admission that the brand and all it represents has become déclassé. When they trade on artisanal notions of authenticity, industrial food giants deny their own, which lies in cheap, standard products manufactured with alienated labour and dispersed supply chains. You can’t be an authentic Tim-Tam if you were “thoughtfully crafted” from seasonal local ingredients.

Spot the difference

Corporate craft-washing campaigns may deceive some, but their mawkish descriptors betray them as sops. McDonald’s “artisan” chicken contains “pantry seasonings” (distinct from industrial flavours) and “100% chicken” (distinct from who-knows-what). Pepsi’s craft soda has “quality ingredients”, no less, devised after “months talking and tasting” (more artisanal than “focus-grouping”).

Genuine craft producers aren’t inclined to spruik these ways, because their customers have the culinary literacy to discern a local sourdough from an industrial soda bread.

In his 2014 book, “The Language of Food”, Stanford University professor Dan Jurafsky observes that good quality food labels and menus tend to be short on adjectives. Marketers of industrial food, on the other hand, oversell with such descriptors as “real”, “artisan”, “quality”, “authentic” and “passionately-crafted”.

US brewing giant MillerCoors is facing a class action law suit for passing off its Blue Moon brand as craft beer.
Treasure/Flickr, CC BY

But a backlash is mounting. Following recent complaints against the craft claims of Byron Bay Beer, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said:

“We judged that any reasonable consumer would think that it was brewed in Byron Bay by a small Byron Bay brewing company.”

But the beer “was a actually brewed by Carlton and United Brewery out of its large Warnervale brewery.”

David Hollier, president of the Australian Real Craft Brewers Association, said craft beer drinkers believe they are “supporting authentic small, independent… local family-owned breweries. The big two brewers have capitalised on that”.

But CUB was fined A$20,400, and similar cases are emerging overseas. Californian man Evan Parent recently sued brewing giant MillerCoors for claiming its Blue Moon beer is “artfully crafted”. His lawyer Jim Treglio told reporters:

“People think they’re buying craft beer and they’re actually buying crafty marketing.”

Even insiders are rebelling against such marketing. Last year, the ACCC received “industry intelligence” that Saskia Beer’s “Black Pig” products contained white pig meat. Heritage black pig breeds can be more free-ranging than white pigs, as they are less susceptible to sunburn. The company was ordered to undergo compliance training and publish a corrective notice.

Similarly, Pirovic Enterprises was fined A$300,000 for claiming its eggs were free-range. “Although there were no strict legal definitions of free-range, the court was able to base its findings on consumers’ expectations about what that particular form of farming should involve”, said Associate Professor Jeannie Paterson from the University of Melbourne’s Law School.

The same principle, she says, was applied when Coles was fined A$2.5 million over “freshly baked” bread claims, when the bread was first par-baked in Ireland.

Over there, the Food Safety Authority is reportedly clamping down on “artisan”, “traditional” and “farmhouse” claims, warning that these should only describe products made “in limited quantities by skilled craftspeople” at a “micro-enterprise”, and ingredients should be local where possible. Last week, the Authority ordered McDonald’s to remove artisan claims. This is a regulatory trend moving across Europe and the US, and in Australia, the ACCC is also devising guidelines.

Artisan-posturing by industrial producers isn’t just a matter of regulatory transgressions. Industrial food giants who “craft-wash”, or use idioms of craft while trashing its essential values, are actively obscuring a set of political issues. Ethical consumers are often well-heeled, for sure, but their deep pockets attend to a deeper commitment to small enterprise, localism, fair trade, ethical supply chains, seasonal produce, farm animal welfare, workers’ freedoms and low environmental impact.

Australian consumer law prohibiting deceptive conduct “does not just apply to deliberate lies,” says Paterson. “It also covers conduct that creates a misleading impression by manipulating common community understandings.” So as artisanal deceptions continue to mount, so, too, do the legal precedents for a foodie-pundit backlash.

The Conversation

Katherine Wilson, PhD Candidate, journalist, Swinburne University of Technology

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

 

If you love me, don’t feed me bacon

A friend reckons he has it good. His partner cooks a bacon-hash-brown-fry-up for breakfast every day. “Are you sure?” I said. “Cause that’s exactly what I would feed my partner if I wanted to bump him off!”

It is easy to fall into the trap of giving people you love lots of ultra-processed, high-kilojoule, nutrient-poor foods because they like them. But immediate pleasure comes at a cost.

When the food your loved ones eat is of poor nutritional quality, their odds of developing tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers increase. Is that what you really want for them?

Why shouldn’t you feed them bacon?

Processed meats are preserved by curing, salting, smoking or adding preservatives. They include bacon, ham, salami, chorizo, luncheon meats and some sausages.

Processed meats may be a family favourite, but eating them increases the risk of bowel cancer. For every 50 grams of processed meat eaten a day, there is an 18% increased risk of bowel cancer.

Swap your breakfast bacon for a poached egg and grilled tomato on wholegrain bread. Swap chopped bacon in recipes for an onion browned with garlic and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or nuts to add flavour, crunch and nutrients.

Don’t let your loves ones drink sugary drinks

Having holes in your teeth (aka dental caries) is the most common and costly, yet preventable, nutrition-related disease in the world.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) wants us to reduce our intake of “free sugars” – those added by manufacturers or home cooks, or naturally present in honey and fruit juice – to less than 10% of our total kilojoule intake. We could achieve this target if we all stopped drinking soft drinks.

Instead of soft drink, offer your loved ones more water; soda or mineral is fine so long as it is plain.

Yes, alcohol is on the list

Alcohol is responsible for 6% of all deaths worldwide. It increases your risk of mouth, throat, breast, liver, stomach and bowel cancer.

Adolescents and young adults whose parents and friends drink a lot are more likely to have higher alcohol intakes too. The amount of alcohol you drink is what your kids see as “normal” drinking.

For healthy adults, the recommendation is no more than two standard drinks on any day and no more than four on any occasion to lower lifetime risk of alcohol-related harm, injury or disease.

Use this online alcohol assessment to check your current drinking level. Contact state-based services for help if you’re concerned you’re drinking too much.

Support those you love to cut back their alcohol intake.

Tough love rules

It takes some tough love to serve up what’s “good” for your family members, especially when it is not their favourite.

My child came home from school declaring “You don’t know what it’s like to be the only one without potato chips in your lunch box.” My response? “That must be hard, but you do not know how tough it is being a parent who loves you sooo much that I can’t put chips in your lunchbox.

These nutrition tips will help get you started at home:

  1. Make food rules. Parents without rules about things such as not skipping breakfast or eating in front of TV have adolescents with worse food habits than those with rules. A supportive home environment for nutrition means kids do eat better.
  2. Never give up encouraging your loved ones to eat more, and a bigger variety, of vegetables and fruit. People who increase their intake of vegetables and fruit also report increased life satisfaction, happiness and well-being.
  3. Show them which foods belong to the basic foods groups and which do not. Young children find it easy to recognise foods packed with essential nutrients, but harder to identify energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods or junk foods. Discretionary foods make up more than one-third (35%) of what Australians eat, compared to the recommended maximum of 15%. Most people need to cut their “discretionary foods” by more than half.
  4. Plan meals and snacks ahead of time. Base them around the five nutrient-rich core foods: vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, lean sources of protein (fish, chicken, meat, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes, dried beans and lentils) and dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese and milk. Prepare school and work lunches the night before and refrigerate them.
  5. Try healthy fast food cooked at home. Instead of ordering in, spread a pizza base with tomato paste and top it with grated carrot and zucchini or other vegetables, some cooked chicken, meat or four-bean mix and grated cheese. Bake until crispy and serve with salad. People who cook more have healthier eating habits, better nutrient intakes and spend less money on take-aways.

Time you spend planning, cooking and getting nutrient-rich food into your loved ones helps them feel better, perform better at school and work, and improves well-being.

Frequent family meals have added benefits, including better mental health, self-esteem and school success. Show just how much you love them by teaching them how to cook, set the dinner table and share family meals.

The Conversation

Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle

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

Image: www.blogchef.net

 

Introduce eggs and peanuts early in infants’ diets to reduce the risk of allergies

In the 1970s, when we were in school, food allergies were rare. But Australian children now have the highest rate of food allergy in the world. Up to one in ten infants and two in ten school-aged children have a proven food allergy.

In the 14 years to 2012, there was a 50% increase in hospital visits for anaphylaxis, the most severe allergic reaction. Infants and toddlers accounted for much of this increase.

The most common food allergies are to nine main food proteins: cow’s milk, soy, egg, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, fish and seafood. Egg and peanut allergies are the most common in infants and toddlers.

New research published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows the early introduction of egg (from four to six months) and peanuts (from four to 11 months) is linked to lower rates of egg and peanut allergy.

The researchers analysed the combined results of trials investigating whether food allergens in babies’ diets prevent the development of allergies to these foods. They concluded there was “moderate” certainty that early introduction of egg or peanut was associated with lower risks of egg and peanut allergy.

They also found that early introduction of gluten (wheat) was not associated with an increased risk of coeliac disease.


Further reading: Everything you need to know about coeliac disease (and whether you really have it)


The researchers used the term “moderate certainty” because the review is based on a mix of studies with different designs and of varying quality. Feeding studies can also be difficult to “blind”; for some studies participants and researchers knew who was given egg or peanut, so were open to some bias.

As a result, the authors say more work needs to be done to better understand the precise optimal timing for introducing eggs and peanuts.

Nonetheless, these findings affirm the recently updated Australian infant feeding consensus guidelines. These state that when parents introduce solids – at around six months but not before four months – they should also introduce previously avoided foods such as peanut and egg. This should occur in the baby’s first year of life.

The problem is, there have been so many changes to guidelines over the last few decades that parents are no longer sure what to believe.

In Australia, dietary recommendations aiming to reduce the risk of food allergies began to appear in the early 1990s. They recommended infants avoid certain foods such as egg and peanut. These guidelines were largely based on outcomes of trials focusing on the mother avoiding allergens during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

In 2008, a number of research projects (including our own) questioned whether these older studies were flawed because they had not adequately adjusted the results to account for the fact that those with a family history of allergies adhere to recommendations better than those without, thus biasing the result.

These new studies accounted for this fact. We found, paradoxically, that earlier introduction of foods such as egg and peanut, at around six months, appeared to protect against food allergy. This has resulted in a complete rethink in our approach to preventing food allergy.

(Note that these findings relate to the prevention of food allergies, not the management, which remains unchanged. Children with food allergies should continue to avoid those foods.)

Based on this research, feeding guidelines began stating that earlier introduction did not increase the risk of food allergy and may indeed be protective.

These recommendations were strengthened this year after research trials tested the effect of eating common allergens (in particular, peanut) in the first year of life compared with completely avoiding them. The guidelines now recommend that exposure to egg, peanut and other foods frequently associated with food allergy should occur in the first year of life to offer protection.

It’s still not clear if this approach alone will prevent the whole food allergy epidemic. Some children will still develop food allergies despite following the feeding guidelines.

We know the tendency to develop allergic disease is inherited, but environmental factors, including the microbiome, vitamin D levels, migration effects, the number of siblings and exposure to pets also all appear to play influential roles, as does the presence of early onset eczema. Research trials are investigating the role these factors play in the development of food allergy risk.

In the meantime, experts agree there appears to be a window of opportunity in the first year of life where exposure to foods such as peanut and egg decreases the risk of allergy to these foods. Diet diversity remains an important part of a healthy diet.

For the most recent infant feeding guidelines and information about introducing solid foods to infants, visit the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website.

The Conversation

Merryn Netting, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Healthy Mothers, Babies and Children’s Theme; South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute; Affiliate Lecturer, The University of Adelaide, University of Adelaide and Katie Allen, Paediatric Gastroenterologist and Allergist, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

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

Top Image: Andy Lim/Shutterstock

 

 

Health Check: how do I know if I drink too much?

While alcohol is a legal and common way many societies stimulate social interaction, when consumed at high levels over long periods it can undermine physical health and cause cancers and other disease. Most people know excessive drinking isn’t good for our health, but how do we know when we’re drinking too much?

Alcohol consumption is associated with long- and short-term consequences. Long-term health consequences include: alcohol-related diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver; stroke; high blood pressure; heart disease; and more than 60 cancers, including of the mouth, lips, throat, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, bowel and breast.

Short-term health consequences include fatalities, physical injury or road accidents due to impaired cognitive performance and diminished reaction times.

Social consequences may include domestic violence, absenteeism, violence and crime.

How much is safe to drink?

It’s important to know the recommendations on drinking to ensure we’re not drinking too much for our own health and for the safety of others.

In 2009, the National Health and Medical Research Council updated the Australian drinking guidelines. The guidelines contain four recommendations to ensure our drinking is “low risk”. Low risk is defined as drinking at a level that reduces the chance an individual will suffer from short-term injury or long-term disease.

Healthy men and women are advised not to drink more than two standard drinks on any one day. If a person drinks less than that, the probability he or she will suffer from long-term alcohol-related disease (such as cancer) is approximately one in 100.

For both men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury to one in 100. Risk of injury includes physical injury, or road accidents due to impaired cognitive performance and diminished reaction times.

Short-term risky drinking is most often associated with intoxication. Intoxication in its mildest form produces slight changes in inhibition, reduced co-ordination and decreased alertness. More extreme forms may involve slurred speech, boisterous or aggressive behaviour, inappropriate sexual behaviour, swaying, rambling conversation and difficulty concentrating.

Who can drink?

Pregnant women are advised to avoid alcohol because of the possibility of alcohol passing through the placenta into the embryo. This may affect brain and other developments of the child.

Evidence shows the brains of children under the age of 18 are still developing. Thus it is recommended children under the age of 18 should avoid consuming alcohol. Consuming alcohol before the age of 18 also increases the risk of numerous poor developmental and social outcomes.

Settings and their associated customs and norms can influence how much alcohol we consume. People will often consume more alcohol in settings like bars, nightclubs and sports clubs, for example. This is usually because alcohol in these settings is sold, managed and marketed in ways that encourage easier or greater consumption.

People should be aware of this phenomoneon and try to consciously consume moderate amounts in these types of settings.

Symptoms of drinking too much

While all drinking has elements of long- and short-term risk, consistent drinking can lead to dependence and other alcohol-related problems. If you find it hard to stop drinking after you have started, you do things that are not normally expected of you because of your drinking, or you feel you sometimes need a drink in the morning, you may be showing signs of dependence and should consult your GP or a health practitioner.

Another sign of dependence is that, over time, greater amounts of alcohol are required to achieve intoxication. Persistent use and being preoccupied with your consumption, despite evidence of harm, is another sign your drinking might be unhealthily habitual.

If you feel guilty after drinking, have injured someone because of your drinking, or someone has suggested you reduce your drinking, you should also consider talking to someone about your alcohol consumption.

Steps to reduce alcohol consumption

While alcohol is part of our world, we can reduce the risk of short-term harm, disease and dependence. For adults, it is advised you have no more than two standard drinks a day. On any one day it is advised adults should not consume more than four standard drinks in a session.

A good way to cut down on your drinking is to start by ensuring you are having at least one to two alcohol-free days. On these days, you may want to substitute an alcoholic drink with something else, like sugar-free tonic water. This has a sophisticated taste but has no calories or alcohol.

Because of the long- and short-term risks, there should always be room to reduce your alcohol consumption. Perhaps in the long term you could try to avoid consumption during weekdays.

When going to functions where alcohol will be available, have a strategy rehearsed in your mind as to how and why you will not consume alcohol. You may say it is one of your alcohol-free days, you are not drinking today, or you are pacing yourself this week.

People are more health-conscious these days so tend to be more open about not drinking for health and well-being reasons. A non-alcoholic substitute drink will help you feel more socially integrated in these settings.

We should also ensure our children avoid alcohol before the age of 18. This is the safest way of maximising their health and human potential.

The Conversation

Bosco Rowland, Senior Research Fellow, School of Psychology, Deakin University

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

Synchrotron plays key role in food sector research

The Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne is playing a critical role in research breakthroughs that benefit the food sector including biofortification of foods, assessing the effectiveness of food processing, and determining the nutritional impact of foods. Hartley Henderson writes.

This world-class facility uses accelerator technology to produce a powerful source of light (X-rays and infrared radiation) a million times brighter than the sun. The intense light produced is filtered and adjusted to travel into experimental work stations where the light beams reveal the innermost sub-microscopic secrets of materials under investigation.

Dr David Cookson at the Australian Synchrotron explains that basic ingredients in food are highly complex in nature – a ‘mish-mash’ of different proteins, starches, and fats, mixed together in a highly complex way.

“The Australian Synchrotron’s unique capacities and capabilities allow Australian researchers from across academia and industry to unravel these complexities by investigating materials at a molecular level to facilitate processing and production improvements. Longer-lasting products can be created, a better understanding of quality control can be generated, and certain nutritional characteristics can be boosted or reduced,” he told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“The reason the Australian Synchrotron is so important to any of these improvements is it provides highly accurate, objective data on any material modification, using the powerful X-ray beam to produce visualisations of unprecedented detail.

“For example, there is great opportunity in synchrotron food research related to dairy products. A team from CSIRO Food and Nutrition has used the Australian Synchrotron to examine the structure of casein micelles, which play a significant role in the ideal consistency and stabilisation of milk-based products.

“Understanding the nanostructure of micelles through the Small and Wide Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS/WAXS) beamline provided new understanding of how the size and number of micelles within a component of cow’s milk can affect how efficiently the milk is processed into products such as powdered milk and hard cheese.”

Rice projects

In a rice project currently underway, plant biologists have used gene technology to increase the amount of iron and zinc transported into the endosperm, the part of the rice grain that most people eat.

The Australian Synchrotron’s X-ray Fluorescence Microscopy (XFM) beamline was used to produce ‘metal maps’ that accurately track the diffusion of key nutrients such as iron and zinc at sub-micron resolution levels without damaging the rice grain’s internal structure.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0151.JPG

Dr Alex Johnson from the University of Melbourne’s School of BioSciences, who is the Australian lead of the project, says that white rice is very low in iron and that some 2 billion people suffer from iron and zinc deficiency.“The aim of the project, which is in part funded by HarvestPlus, is to develop a biofortified rice that is high in iron and zinc, demonstrating that by manipulating rice plant genes, rice plants can translocate more iron and zinc to the endosperm,” he said.

“When rice is milled it loses the outer layers of the grain where much of iron and zinc is located, but the powerful synchrotron was able to show that the nutrients were translocated deeper in the part of the grain that is not affected by milling.

“The biofortified rice that we developed in the project has now been successfully tested in the Philippines and Columbia under highly controlled conditions. HarvestPlus is now seeking funding to further develop and de-regulate this transgenic rice for sale to farmers, possibly in Bangladesh, and possibly in five years from now if these research activities go well.

“Most staple crop foods have low iron content, so there are significant opportunities to further utilise the synchrotron to show the extent and location of nutrients in additional grain crops such as wheat.”

Director of HarvestPlus, Dr Howarth Bouis, recently won the World Food Prize for his team’s pioneering work in addressing the global problem of micronutrient deficiencies, known as hidden hunger, through biofortification.

He says malnutrition amongst poor people is a serious public health problem because they can afford to eat the basic food staples but do not have enough income to buy non-staple foods which have higher levels of minerals and vitamins. As a result, many suffer from inadequate intakes which cause serious health problems.

“It is cost-effective to breed nutrients into staple crops to address mineral and vitamin deficiencies. With respect to iron in rice, we were unsuccessful in using conventional breeding techniques, but we have been able to do this by using a transgenic approach to increase the iron in rice, with the bonus of also increasing the zinc content,” he told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“We have already released over 150 conventionally-bred varieties across twelve biofortified crops in 30 countries, and are testing these varieties in an additional 25 countries around the world. We are hopeful that as many as 1 billion people will benefit from biofortified foods by 2030. High iron and zinc transgenic rice eventually could contribute significantly to this ambitious goal.”

In another rice project, researchers from the NSW Department of Primary Industries have used the Australian Synchrotron to compare parboiling techniques, showing that longer parboiling processes at higher temperatures cause more micronutrients to migrate from the outer bran layer into the starchy core of the grain.

Dr Laura Pallas, Rice Chemist at the NSW DPI, says changing global rice processing and eating habits is an enormous task. “There are deeply entrenched expectations across various cultures around desired texture consistency and flavour, including different approaches to parboiling and cooking,” she said.

“Advances in this area are important because rice is the closest thing we have to a global dish and it is gluten free and a good source of complex carbohydrates.”

Meat quality

The quality of meat, such as tenderness and intramuscular fat in lamb, is currently graded by mechanical and chemical tests, but obtaining that information in a more timely way in the abattoir has eluded the meat processing sector.

Therefore, the Australian Synchrotron has been involved in a research project to provide information on meat quality aspects such as tenderness and intramuscular fat content.

The project was led by the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Agriculture Victoria Division (Dr Eric Ponnampalam), in collaboration with the NSW Department of Primary Industries (Dr David Hopkins), the University of Melbourne (Prof Frank Dunshea) and the Australian Synchrotron (Dr Nigel Kirby).

Drs Ponnampalam and Hopkins say the research is exploring new approaches to measuring meat quality that may have applicability within the processing sector, thereby providing rapid information on the suitability of meat to different sectors of the supply chain.

“The Synchrotron’s Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) beamline technology was used to investigate differences in muscle fibre and/or fat, which can influence the eating quality of meat,” they said.

“The project results demonstrate that these technologies could be powerful research tools in the future to determine not only the structural components of muscle, but also the composition of muscle relating to eating quality traits of meat.

“In addition, the synchrotron SAXS beamline technology presents a promising opportunity to determine carcase toughness or tenderness and relative fat content and could be a useful experimental tool, overcoming the need for destructive sampling techniques.” They said the method requires significant further development to be utilised in the processing sector.

 

Australian Synchrotron

03 8540 4100

www.synchrotron.org.au

Here’s the clever chemistry that can stop your food rotting

A hotel in Reykjavík has on display a McDonald’s burger and fries, seemingly undecomposed after 2,512 days – and counting. It was bought on October 30, 2009, the day that the last McDonald’s in Iceland closed. But you don’t have to go to Reykjavík to see it: it has its own webcam so you can watch it from your armchair.

What makes this meal so long-lived? Well, I haven’t examined this particular burger myself, but chemical reactions cause food to decay – and understanding them can help us to keep food better and for longer.

Let’s start with uncooked rice – in many peoples’ minds it’s a foodstuff that will keep for a long while. Experts reckon that polished white rice will keep for 30 years when properly sealed and stored in a cool, dry place. This means in an airtight container with oxygen absorbers that remove the gas that can oxidise molecules in the rice.

Hotter food goes off faster; as you may remember from school science lessons, chemical reactions are faster at high temperatures because hotter molecules have more energy and so are more likely to react when they collide. It’s one reason we have fridges. But there is a limit. Above a certain temperature (approximately 50-100°C), the enzymes in a bacterium get denatured – their “active site”, where its catalytic activity happens and it binds to molecules to carry out reactions on them, loses its shape and can no longer carry out reactions.

Back in the 19th century, Louis Pasteur invented the process that bears his name. Pasteurisation kills the bacteria that make food go off and today this is applied mainly to milk. Milk that has been pasteurised by heating to just over 70°C will keep for two to three weeks when refrigerated, while UHT milk, made by heating to 140°C, will keep in airtight, sterile containers for up to nine months. Raw milk left in the fridge would last only a few days.

Living off the land

The short life of food was the reason that medieval armies “lived off the land” by scavenging, but in 1809 a Frenchman named Nicholas Appert won a prize offered by his government for a process for preserving food. He showed that food sealed inside a container to exclude air and then cooked to a high enough temperature to kill microbes such as Clostridium botulinum kept for a long time.

Clostridium botulinum bacteria.
Shutterstock

He’d invented canning, which came into widespread use, and not just for feeding armies and expeditions – it was immediately taken up by the civilian sector, too. Tinned food certainly works. Sir William Edward Parry, for example, took 26 tons of canned pea soup, beef and mutton with him in 1824 on his expedition to find the Northwest Passage. One of these mutton cans was opened in 1939 and found to be edible, if not very palatable.

Conversely, cold slows germ growth. Keeping food at around 5°C in a fridge slows microbial growth – but it doesn’t stop it. People living in very cold areas like the Arctic discovered this sooner, of course, without the need for fridges. And watching the Inuit fish under thick ice gave Clarence Birdseye the idea of fast-freezing food; this creates smaller ice crystals than ordinary freezing, resulting in less damage to cell walls, so the food not only keeps for longer but also tastes better.

Sugar and spice and all things nice

Beginning with communities in hotter regions like the Middle East, dried food has been around for thousands of years – the earliest cases are thought to date back to 12,000BC. Drying food, whether using the sun (and wind) or modern factory processes, removes water from the cells of the microbes that break down food. This stops them reproducing and ultimately kills them.

An extension of this is the use of salt (or sugar) to preserve food. While salt beef and pork may conjure up thoughts of the Royal Navy in the days of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin – heroes of Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic novels – the process goes back much further than that.

Master and Commander: Aubrey and Maturin.

In the Middle Ages, salted fish like herring and cod were widely eaten in northern Europe, and fish was of course essential during Lent. The cells of microorganisms have walls that are permeable to water but not to salt. When the cell is in contact with salt, osmosis takes place, so water moves out of the cell in order to try to equalise the salt concentration inside and outside the cell, and eventually so much water is removed from the cell that it dies. No more bacteria.

Sugar has a similar effect, just think of fruit preserves, jam or jellies. Smoking also dries out food. Some of the molecules formed when wood is burned, like vanillin, will add flavour, while others, including formaldehyde and organic acids have preservative properties.

Freeze-drying is an up-to-date way of removing water from food, perhaps this is the kind of coffee that you use. Modern manufacturers are tapping into something that the Incas in the High Andes developed 2,000 years ago to prepare freeze-dried potatoes, known as chuño. The practice continues today. Potatoes are left out overnight, when freezing temperatures are guaranteed, then they trample on them, bare-footed, to mash them up. The blistering sun then completes the job – you have a food that will keep for months, food either for the Inca armies or the peasants of Bolivia and Peru.

Turmeric: hidden powers.
Shutterstock

How about spices? Well, both onion and garlic have antimicrobial properties. There is evidence that the use of spices in warmer climates is linked with their antimicrobial properties, so adding them to food can help preserve it.

The antibacterial activity of some spices, notably cinnamon and coriander, is probably due to the aldehydes – reactive molecules containing a –CHO group, formed by oxidising alcohols and including hexenal, the molecule we smell when grass is freshly cut – they contain.

The spice that has got most attention is turmeric, made from the roots of a plant in the ginger family, Curcuma longa, and particularly a molecule it contains, called curcumin. Turmeric was used in food in the Indus valley over 4,000 years ago, as well as in medicine. Today, it may be a useful lead molecule against Alzheimer’s disease, as well as possibly interfering with various signalling pathways implicated in cancers.

So there is sound science behind the processes used to preserve food and some of these substances may have hidden benefits to our health. That hamburger in Iceland, however, remains a mystery. There certainly have been plenty of media stories trying to get the bottom of its apparent immortality – but the only way to be sure would be to subject it to rigorous scientific enquiry. Perhaps I’ll book my flight.

The Conversation

Simon Cotton, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry, University of Birmingham

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

Top image: Shutterstock

 

All out of fresh ideas: how supermarket giants send mixed messages about food

Fast food giant McDonald’s has been under a cloud in recent years as its US customers turn to alternatives. In this “Fast food reinvented” series we explore what the food sector is doing to keep customers hooked and sales rising.


Australia’s two main supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths’ representation of “fresh” and “local” food reflects heightened interest among consumers about these values. But they also contribute to concerns about food production and the supply chain.

Both have employed celebrity chefs with a reputation for caring about such matters. When he joined forces with Woolworths, UK chef Jamie Oliver explained:

part of what I’m doing with Woolies is looking at standards, and ethics, of where our sort of food comes from.

But when pressed on the demands Woolworths had made for farmers to surrender some of their profits to pay for his campaign, Oliver said he was just an employee.

The problem is that his claims and the supermarket’s promotion suggest that standards and ethics – as well as the growers asked to fund messages about themselves – are well regarded by the public. This is due, in part, to the strategies of producers and small retailers that the two supermarkets have appropriated to win the custom of consumers who care where their food comes from.

Private labels

Consider the case of Macro foods: the chain, rebadged as Thomas Dux, an urban store format, was a shift from the freestanding supermarkets established in the 1960s. When it was bought out by Woolworths in 2009, Macro founder Pierce Cody saw the sale of the chain as evidence of the work they put in:

to take organic to a large-format, mainstream model rather than little folksy corner stores.

The chain was used to test the market for Woolworths’ privately labelled gourmet goods. And Coles has its own organic label.

The proliferation of privately labelled goods (which are made by one company for offer under another company’s label) has diminished the product range offered by supermarkets. Coles’ product range, for instance, dropped by 11% between 2010 and 2012.

Private-label items, produced in conjunction with specific suppliers, compete directly with other products in the range, dominating shelf space and usually offering a lower price. And this is only one part of the pincer movement reducing the number of suppliers.

Australia’s largest dairy company, Devondale Murray-Goulburn, may grow from the exclusive deal it has struck with Coles to provide milk, for instance, but in the process it reduces the number of milk suppliers in the market.

A fairer go for farmers

Supermarkets use the romantic image of the small family farm to play up their close relationship with farmers and suppliers. But it’s also employed in arguments for reforming the sector, because of the commercial disadvantage small family farms have in the domestic food system.

The Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper released earlier this year, for instance, recommends a new commissioner dedicated to agriculture and a more “farm savvy” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to encourage fair trading.

Both Coles and Woolworths have employed celebrity chefs, such as Jamie Oliver, with a reputation for caring about fresh and local food.
Scandic Hotels/Flickr, CC BY-NC

The aim is to strengthen competition in agricultural supply chains, which will engage the ACCC more directly with supermarkets. And the first priority is to help farmers achieve a better return for their produce. But this is only one sign that Woolworths and Coles face a political environment that is increasingly hostile to their sourcing policies (as well as growing consumer scrutiny).

The code of conduct for grocery wholesalers and retailers (Food and Grocery Code), for instance, discloses the existence of practices by grocery retailers and wholesalers in their dealings with suppliers, which motivated its development. It mentions “preventing a supplier from fulfilling obligations” by placing their products behind other competitors’ products on shelves such that consumers cannot see them, and “payment for wastage” that occurs at the retailer’s premises.

While the code fails to address the inequality of market power in the supply chain, it does reflect the challenging environment in which Australian farmers and suppliers now operate.

Public concern

Marketing by supermarket giants highlights public interest in food production, supply and retailing. When Woolworths brought back its “Fresh Food People” campaign last year, the advertising featured a range of products from farm to store complete with “fresh food stories” of individual farmers.

But the UBS Supermarket Supplier Survey tells a different story; Woolworths’ rating on quality of fresh food produce lags behind Coles.

Besides selling the brand of Woolworths, the marketing also appropriates the ideal of farming and relationships with suppliers to sell products. The company considered a “local” retail brand in 2013, in addition to its other labels such as Macro and Woolworths Select.

This suggests Woolworths still believes it can increase or maintain its market share with buzzwords despite how incongruous these sound coming from a supermarket giant. But while local might be more important to consumers than fresh, supermarkets are falling behind the innovations of local food producers to create a fairer food system.

Coming out on top

Supermarkets have tried to tailor their products to include organic, natural and local foods to meet consumer demand. But while Coles and Woolworths control 80% of the grocery market, they have 45.5% of the market in fruit and vegetables and 47.2% of meat.

The imbalance in market power favours the duopoly. But eaters are still choosing to buy their fresh food at local fruit and vegetable shops, butchers and farmers’ markets. There, they can engage directly with the people who grow their food and not just see representations of them.

A survey undertaken last year on behalf of the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association, for instance, found that 14% of respondents typically buy their vegetables at a farmers’ market.

Supermarkets have stopped merely copying each other: from liquor to petrol to hardware. It’s clear from sales, from how they advertise and from consumer concern about food security and food sovereignty that what they really need to worry about is the combined agency of farmers and the power of consumers. Put together, the story isn’t so gloomy for the food sector.

The Conversation

Adele Wessell, Associate professor

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

Health Check: can vitamins supplement a poor diet?

Vitamins and minerals are essential for keeping us in good health. While eating a varied diet should give us all the nutrients we need, recent diet and health surveys show the typical Australian diet is far from varied – or even close to what is considered a healthy diet.

To the rescue come vitamin and mineral supplements, but can they deliver on their promises and are they for everyone?

Who needs a supplement?

When writing about supplements, a glib approach is to state we can get everything we need from food, so we don’t need them. Eat your veggies. Don’t take supplements. End of story.

That isn’t the whole story, though. Already, our food supply is fortified with folic acid, iodine and thiamin to prevent serious public health issues related to conditions arising from deficiencies of these nutrients in some groups of people. So the rationale of needing to supplement for best health has some validity, but is underpinned by our generally poor eating habits to begin with.

There are groups of people for whom vitamin and mineral supplements would be recommended. Women planning pregnancy can benefit from a range of nutrients, such as folic acid and iodine, that reduce the risk of birth defects. People with limited exposure to sunlight would certainly be advised to consider a vitamin D supplement.

Frail and aged people are candidates as well due to food access problems, chewing and swallowing difficulties, absorption problems and medication. People with malabsorption problems, some vegetarians and people following chronic low-calorie diets all make the list as well. And, of course, people with a clinically diagnosed deficiency could all benefit from supplementation.

Why nutrients from food are better than from supplements

So should everyone take supplements “just in case”? Not so fast. Taking multivitamins as a nutritional insurance policy may be an issue for more than just your wallet. Seeing a supplement as a solution may contribute to neglecting healthy food choices, and this has bigger consequences for long-term health.

Food is a complex mix of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (plant chemicals). Phytochemicals are an important component of food and help to reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Vitamin and mineral supplements do not provide the benefits of phytochemicals and other components found in food, such as fibre.

Whole foods usually contain vitamins and minerals in different forms – for example, vitamin E occurs in nature in eight different forms – but supplements contain just one of these forms.

We should get all of our vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals from vegetables, but that’s if we’re eating them.
from www.shutterstock.com

If you look at habits linked to long-term health, it is eating plenty of plant-based foods that comes out on top, not so much taking supplements. This meta-analysis of 21 multivitamin-multimineral supplement clinical trials failed to find any benefit of improved life-expectancy or lower risks of heart disease or cancer from taking supplements.

The promise of possible benefits from supplements takes the focus from what really does promote better health and less chronic disease: eating a varied diet with plenty of minimally processed plant-based foods, regular activity, drinking within guideline recommendations and not smoking.

For a healthy adult, if supplements are used, these should normally be taken at levels close to the recommended dietary intake. High-dose supplements should not be taken unless recommended under medical advice.

Formulations of multivitamins vary between manufacturers, with further market segmentation due to products aimed at different genders and life stages. For example, a multivitamin targeting women of childbearing age will likely be higher in iron than one for adult men. The government’s recommended dietary intakes for each vitamin and mineral are set out by gender and age, and manufacturers generally mirror these recommendations in their formulations.

Although taking too much of certain vitamins or minerals can be harmful, the doses present in multivitamins are typically low. After all, you can only pack so much of each nutrient into a multivitamin pill, and often it is not even close to the recommended dietary intake.

Vitamin and mineral supplements can’t replace a healthy diet, but a general multivitamin may help if your diet is inadequate or where there is already a well-supported rationale for you to take one. If you feel you could be lacking in certain vitamins and minerals, it is better to look at changing your diet and lifestyle first, rather than reaching for supplements.

The Conversation

Tim Crowe, Associate Professor in Nutrition, Deakin University

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

 

Top image: from www.shutterstock.com.au

A dietitian puts extreme ‘clean eating’ claims to the test – and the results aren’t pretty

“Clean eating” is associated with the healthy lifestyle and body beautiful that is promoted by many online bloggers. While the term is heavily used in social media, there has never been any agreement on what it really means or any comprehensive studies examining the potential benefits of a clean eating lifestyle as a whole.

However, the core principles that the big names in this movement champion appear to be: eliminate processed food; reduce salt intake; eat more vegetables; choose whole grains; eliminate refined sugar; reduce alcohol. For some, you also need to be gluten, dairy, and soya free and to eat raw (depending on how militant you are, food has to be entirely uncooked or only mildly heated). And if you want to be completely “clean” you should probably be vegan, too. Quite a list, then.

And there are also some big players online – including Food Babe, who was voted by Time Magazine as one of the 30 most influential people on the internet – who have significantly influenced this trend.

While some of the principles of clean eating are in line with the best available evidence for losing weight or preventing ill health – such as eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, sticking to wholegrains and limiting processed food – there are plenty of others that don’t stand up to scrutiny. It has been repeatedly proven that dietary restrictions such as a dairy-free diet or gluten-free diet are nutritionally substandard and studies have linked the introduction of a gluten-free diet with increased levels of psychological distress in coeliacs including depression and anxiety.

Some people find it difficult to understand why dietitians and doctors are against the clean eating phenomenon when there are still people eating burgers for breakfast and obesity is on the rise. However, some clean eating is sensationalist promotion of non-evidence based, and extremely restrictive, lifestyles that demonise everyday food essentials. And that can lead followers into having a sense of shame and failure for not eliminating “unclean” foods 100% of the time – so you can see where the negativity from healthcare professionals stems from.

There is significant research disproving many of the principles of the diet. Below are some of the big claims and why they don’t stack up.

Clean eating can cure disease

Some clean eating bloggers claim to have cured themselves of diseases. The kinds of medical conditions that clean eating is supposed to cure are often conditions that are not well understood, such as chronic fatigue, which leaves sufferers desperate for a solution. And where there is desperation there is always someone willing to sell help – however unscientific.

One of the big names in clean eating who believes her diet controls her PoTS – where standing up causes a drop in blood supply to the heart and brain and the heart races to compensate – intestinal issues and headaches through her method of a dairy free, gluten free vegan diet is Deliciously Ella. PoTS, however, has no proven link with food except that a higher salt intake is recommended to help keep blood pressure up. Having too little salt in the diet can exacerbate the problem. The reason that Ella is so much better now is much more likely to be age-related as we know that for 80% of sufferers, symptoms disappear between the ages of 19-24. Ella was diagnosed aged 19 in 2011 and has been blogging about diet for four years.

One thing diet may have helped with though is Ella’s gastroinestinal issues. Her method of eating has a diet that is very low in fermentable carbohydrates or FODMAPs which have been robustly proven to be a cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which affects up to one in five people.

Clean eating makes you happy!

Many of the clean eating bloggers promote themselves as a model of how you could look if you follow their lifestyle. But it is important to remember that it is their job to look the way they do. If you have a full-time job and a busy life, the chances of you cooking every meal from scratch, never having to grab a sandwich from the supermarket for lunch and being able to work out for two hours a day are very slim. If you try to model your life on theirs you are more than likely to end up feeling like a failure because it is simply not realistic.

Interestingly, many clean eating bloggers claim to have been depressed before clean eating. There has been lots of research into dietary treatments for depression by increasing an amino acid called tryptophan which is a precursor for serotonin production in the brain, which in turn influences good mood. To date, no trial has conclusively proven that increasing dietary tryptophan improves serotonin production or depressive symptoms but a diet in line with clean eating actually has the potential to be low in essential amino acids such as tryptophan.

What is more likely is that all the attention and apparent public approval received for losing weight and improving their appearance has temporarily improved their self-worth.

Clean eating is a good way to lose weight

Clean Eating Alice, 23, is another big name in the game. Alice isn’t vegetarian but her diet is very low in carbohydrate. She claims that her diet and exercise regime has immeasurably improved her health and happiness. It was reported that through her version of clean eating and intensive exercise, she dropped 2st 7lb (16kg) and reduced her body fat percentage from 30% to just 15%.

Alice’s reported body fat percentage is concerning. The minimum essential fat for a woman is between 10-13% – we need this amount to maintain our immune system and maintain healthy hormone levels. Many professional athletes will have a body fat percentage of up to 20% with the normal healthy level around 25%. So holding herself up as a realistic and achievable role model is highly misleading.

Clean eating is good for gut health

The Helmsley Sisters were some of the first to bring the clean eating trend to our attention. Their philosophy aims to help people with their digestion and relationship with food, and teach the importance of gut health. Their recipes eliminate gluten, grains and refined sugar (and minimise natural sugars). However, the majority of people tolerate gluten very well – the exceptions are for people with conditions such as coeliac disease – sugar is absorbed so efficiently it has no impact on digestion and grains provide high levels of prebiotics to feed the good bacteria in your gut. The best thing for gut health is a good, balanced diet.

Clean eating prevents ageing

You need protein for that.
Shutterstock

Many bloggers state that clean eating will keep you looking youthful. There is some compelling evidence that antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables can prevent premature skin ageing.

You do, however, also need plenty of good quality protein to maintain the integrity of your skin and therefore extreme clean eating could easily undermine the benefits of the antioxidants.

Clean eating will detox your body

Detox diets are all the rage and the clean eating crew all have their own version of a detox diet. Fortunately, no one needs a detox diet because our liver and our kidneys are always already doing this. Everyone would agree that excessive consumption of highly processed food with lots of additives is not a healthy way to eat. However, neither is following a highly restrictive diet for any amount of time and there is certainly no health benefits associated with “detoxing”.

Some clean eaters promote an alkaline diet to prevent excess acidity in the body. Ironically, our stomach acid is only slightly less acidic than battery acid so anything you eat will be immediately placed into a highly acidic environment where the pH is tightly controlled. You cannot manipulate your body’s pH through diet (as the below tweet suggests) and you don’t need to try.

Clean eating makes you healthier

There are even more extreme examples of clean eating out there including Freelee The Banana Girl who promotes a raw vegan diet of 15 bananas, 40 pieces of fruit and a couple of kilograms of potatoes a day. She claims that eating this way has cured her weight issues, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, poor digestion and acne.

It is hard to pin down the most concerning thing about this diet but the fact that Freelee is consuming 6.5 times more potassium than is recommended and encourages others to do so is a big one. She even consumes 30% more potassium than is shown to cause excess potassium in the blood, which can lead to deadly changes in heart rhythm. That said, whether or not she is absorbing any of the nutrients in her food due to the amount of fibre she is taking in is questionable and if her bowel habits are normal and healthy it is a medical miracle.

Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist and there are many quick courses that give a false air of credibility. There are also no regulations around what people can and can’t recommend as being healthy. It should be very hard to maintain a voice of authority in an area in which you are totally unqualified and in a world where your self worth depends on “likes” and “views” and “followers”.

An obsession with clean eating and the shame that is often associated with eating foods considered to be dirty can also lead to mental health issues such as orthorexia, an eating disorder associated with obsessive healthy eating. Emmy Gilmore, clinical director of eating disorders clinic Recover, even suggested in a recent BBC documentary that many UK clean eating bloggers had sought help from her clinic. So rather than watch videos of supposedly physically healthy girls as gospel, it’s better to develop healthy eating habits that come from sound scientific advice and which balance all the nutrients your body needs.

And if you’re seeking professional advice, find a nutritionist with a degree or a registered dietitian – it’s a protected title so you can be certain that the advice you’re given will be scientifically robust.

The Conversation

Sophie Medlin, ‎Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics, King’s College London

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

The limit of labels: ethical food is more than consumer choice

Over the past hundred years, industrial agriculture and the globalised food system have produced cheaper, longer lasting and more diverse food items. We can now enjoy tropical fruits in winter, purchase whole chickens at the price of a cup of coffee, and eat fresh bread long after it was baked.

Once celebrated as the benevolent results of food science and ingenuity of farmers, these cheap and safe foods are dismissed by critics as the tainted fruits of “Big Food” – the culinary version of Big Tobacco and Big Oil.

Food is no longer simply a matter of taste or convenience. Our food choices have become ethical and political issues.

An innocuous but central strategy in these debates is the food label.

No Logo by Naomi Klein
Picador

In recent years there has been an explosion of ethico-political food labels to address concerns such as slavery, nutrition, environmental degradation, fair trade and animal cruelty. These disparate concerns are unified by their connection to the amorphous culprit “Big Food”.

The idea is that by knowing what is in our food and how it was produced, we will reject unethical food corporations, buy from ethical producers and thereby promote justice.

But is this necessarily so?

The power of truth to awaken the slumbering consumer giant has been in place since at least the mid-1990s. In the introduction to her landmark book, No Logo (1999), Naomi Klein outlines her hypothesis:

that as more people discover the brand-name secrets of the global logo web, their outrage will fuel the next big political movement, a vast wave of opposition squarely targeting transnational corporation, particularly those with very high name-brand recognition.

According to Klein, when the veil is removed and people discover the “secrets” behind their consumer products, an outrage will be unleashed that will transform the global web of capital.

We see this logic in calls for food labels to reveal unethical food production practices of Big Food. By giving consumers more information, it is believed they will use their buying power to force change. Perhaps.

Limits of ethico-political consumption

First, a danger of ethico-political consumption is that citizens are transformed into consumers, and political action is reduced to shopping. Rather than holding companies and governments to account for unethical practice, it becomes a matter of consumer choice.

For example, most of us would consider a proposal to use consumer choice as a way of resolving slavery in the American cotton industry during the 19th century to be a perverse idea. Slavery, we like to believe, should be outlawed. It is not an issue to be solved through consumer preference. Yet today we find ourselves in a situation where we are trying to solve issues of slavery and exploitation through consumer choice.

Today, 45.8 million people are living in slavery. According to the Global Slavery Index, 4,300 are working in Australian food production or sex industries. Many more work in the global food system, of which Australia is a part.

As Nicola Frith has previously argued in The Conversation, the slavery used in the global food system that supplies prawns to UK and US supermarkets should not be considered an issue of consumer choice but a crime.

A second problem with ethico-political consumption is that the consumer response is susceptible to co-option by the very corporations that are being protested. Due to the vast array of products sold by trans-national corporations, it is possible for corporations to maintain highly profitable but “unethical” products, along with less profitable but “ethical” products.

For example, Pace Farm is one of the largest producers of cage-eggs in Australia, yet they also sell free-range eggs. They also have other brands that are not obviously associated with Pace Farm, like Family Value.

In 2013, Oxfam launched Behind the Brands. This campaign draws attention to the influence of multinational food corporations on the global food system and negative impacts on women, workers, farmers, land, water and climate. Although the campaign uses a variety of strategies to critique these corporations, much of the focus falls on consumers.

A popular image associated with the campaign shows the way hundreds of popular food brands are actually owned by ten corporations. It’s worth noting this chart is several years old and some of the listed brands have changed hands, but its point remains.

The illusion of choice. CLICK TO ENLARGE
Oxfam/Behind the Brand

The image has been repeatedly shared on social media and is commonly accompanied with the text “the illusion of choice”. However, clearly there is choice here – there are hundreds of brands, each with thousands of products. Of course, the sentiment of the “illusion of choice” statement isn’t simply that we have only a single choice of soft drink or cereal, but that all choices lead to one of ten transnational corporations.

The more troubling illusion, however, is not that the thousands of products lining the supermarket shelves are owned by ten corporations, but that political consumption – the proverbial “voting with your wallet” – is illusory.

The illusion of consumer food choice as an ethico-political act is not the pernicious creation of food corporations, but co-creation of public health experts, consumer advocates, governments, food ethicists and a host of others.

Even if these labels serve to disrupt corporate brands, they also trap individuals into responsibility for systemic and global issues, such as public health, global poverty, animal welfare or fair working conditions. This isn’t to say we are absolved, but the idea that more consumption will solve the problems of consumption is self-defeating.

Using labels or apps to draw attention to the political and ethical features of consumer choice is a fine objective, but largely symbolic. If certain activities of food corporations and the global food system are considered unethical, then a plurality of approaches is needed – one of which needs to be international and domestic legislation.

As the American economist Robert Reich argues,

Companies are not interested in the public good. It is not their responsibility to be good…if we want them to play differently, we have to change the rules.

For the past decade, there has been an over-reliance on self-regulation and naïve expectations about corporate social responsibility. This needs to change, and not by simply adding a new label to our food.

The Conversation

Christopher Mayes, Post-Doctoral Fellow in Bioethics, University of Sydney

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

Top image:  Shutterstock

Both statins and a Mediterranean-style diet can help ward off heart disease and stroke

If you’ve ever have the misfortune of a heart attack or are considered at risk of heart disease or stroke, your doctor will probably prescribe a statin drug, such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), to lower your blood cholesterol levels.

Recent reports of an Italian study have suggested adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet may actually better protect people from a heart attack or stroke than taking a statin.

Such a claim can’t really be made. To do so, we’d need a trial in which a large number of well-matched participants were randomly given either statins or a Mediterranean-style diet, and followed faithfully to see the comparative results.

Such a trial is unlikely to occur, as withholding medication from people at risk of heart attack or stroke would be regarded as unethical.

But I also suspect ethics committees would be unlikely to recommend anyone avoid following the healthy features of a Mediterranean-style diet, which so many studies have shown to be protective.

Positive points accrue for protective foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Sven Scheuermeier/Unsplash, CC BY

The Italian study and statins

The recent Italian study randomly enrolled more than 25,000 people, about 1,200 of whom reported a prior history of heart attack, stroke or blocked arteries at enrolment. Each person recorded their usual diet over the next seven years. Researchers recorded deaths from any cause.

Participants’ diets were given a score out of nine, based on how many features of a healthy Mediterranean-style diet they followed. Those with higher scores had a 37% lower risk of premature death compared with those with lower scores.

These results were controlled for confounding factors, including age, sex, smoking, exercise, energy intake, waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and diabetes.

The benefits of statins on various levels of heart health have also been extensively researched. A recent randomised controlled trial compared statins with a placebo in 21 countries in 12,705 people who were at higher-than-average risk of heart disease.

Over the more than five years of this study, those on statins had a 23% reduction in heart attack, stroke or heart-related death compared with those on placebo. There were no differences in diabetes or cancers, but those on statins were 20% more likely to have muscle symptoms, such as weakness or pain, and 18% more likely to have cataract surgery.

Adding nuts to the Mediterranean diet scores more points.
from shutterstock.com

The Mediterranean-style diet

There is no one Mediterranean diet, nor does every Mediterranean country have a diet that ticks every healthy box. However, dozens of studies have defined the features of what makes a Mediterranean dietary pattern healthy.

Primarily, the diet needs to be based on whole or minimally processed foods. Positive points accrue for protective foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, wholegrains, fish, olive oil and modest amounts of alcohol consumed with meals. High intakes of red and processed meats, sugary foods and drinks, refined grain products and fast foods all score negative points.

The benefits of certain Mediterranean diets were first publicised in the 1960s. Researchers found that rates of death from heart disease were three times higher in Northern European countries (top score to Finland) compared with four groups studied in Southern Europe.

These studies have continued for 40 to 50 years, along with others noting changes in populations as well as how eating patterns affect heart disease rates in different areas of Italy.

During the 1990s, the Lyon Heart Study began. This was a long-term study designed for participants who had already had a heart attack. It produced results so favourable for the benefits of Mediterranean eating patterns compared with the standard diet advice usually given that it was stopped early. Results four years later confirmed the original benefits of the Mediterranean eating pattern.

Adding extra olive oil to the Mediterranean diet has extra health benefits.
from shutterstock.com

Even more dramatic results were claimed from the HALE study in Europe. Conducted between 1988 and 2000, the trial involved 2,340 older men and women in 11 European countries.

Those who followed a Mediterranean-style diet and a generally healthy lifestyle – no smoking, moderate alcohol intake and regular physical activity – had more than a 50% lower rate of death from any cause.

A more recent trial in Spain of people who had not had a heart attack but were considered at high risk has confirmed the value of a Mediterranean eating pattern.

One-third of its 7,500 participants were asked to follow a Mediterranean eating pattern and add extra olive oil; another third followed the same basic diet but were given extra tree nuts. The remaining third were asked to follow a low-fat diet, although this section of the study failed as the participants barely changed their fat intake.

The study found adding extra olive oil or nuts to the basic Mediterranean eating style conferred many benefits for heart health. This study also showed that the higher the intake of saturated fat in each group, the worse the results.

Whether the Mediterranean diet can outdo statins may be up for debate. However, there’s no doubting the strong evidence for a Mediterranean eating pattern for everyone. Even for those on statins, a healthy Mediterranean eating pattern has been shown to bring extra benefits.

The Conversation

Rosemary Stanton, Nutritionist & Visiting Fellow, UNSW Australia

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

Nine step guide for choosing the right scales

The number of options available for scales and weighing equipment can make it difficult to determine which instruments will offer the best value and which will meet the application requirements. Focusing on these areas can help reduce the time needed to research available models and help ensure a good value.

1)Primary use

Identifying the instrument’s primary use is the first step in selection. Will the instrument be used for weighing solids or liquids? Will the device be used at laboratory scale, or larger? Is it needed to weigh large quantities of uniformly sized objects, such as capsules, tablets or small parts? Will the instrument be used for weighing moving items on a production line? Do you need to control conditions inside a weighing vessel, such as heating, cooling or mixing?

2) Capacity

What is the largest possible load that a scale would be required to handle? Do you need overload protection? What will the overall footprint of the scale be and how will the items being weighed fit within the weighing area? Would a below-balance setup, where weight is measured via tension instead of compression, work for your application?

An unofficial guideline recommends use of a balance for samples from microgram levels to approximately 10 kg, and load cells for those samples from 10 kg to several metric tons. Try to have the weighed quantities lie mostly in the middle of the range of the unit’s specific capacity to minimize stress or damage to sensitive internal electronics, and also to ensure greater accuracy.

3) Accuracy

In the context of weighing, accuracy can be thought of as a combination of several different factors, including the quantifiable specifications of resolution (the smallest mass change that can be read on a scale), reproducibility (ability to weigh consistently over time and with different operators), linearity (the variance in accuracy over the weight values within the scale’s capacity) and uncertainty of measurement (difference between measured weight and true weight due to environmental variances).

4) Materials of construction

Basic materials include aluminium alloy, carbon steel, aluminium-coated steel and galvanized steel. For these, cleanliness and corrosion-resistance are not critical. When higher levels of cleanability and chemical and environmental protection are required, AISI-304 and 316 stainless steels are possibilities.

Screen_Shot_2016_09_07_at_11_47_14_AM

5) Environment

Environmental conditions can affect weighing. Large temperature fluctuations, vibration, humidity, magnetic fields, air currents, corrosive chemicals and electrical interference can all influence weight measurements, especially at higher resolutions. Consider whether a particular environment would require specialised padding, protective covers, or more frequent calibrations.

6) Features

Additional features can customise the scale for enhanced flexibility, ease of use, functionality, protection and others. Consider whether your scale would need explosion protection, internal calibration software, interfacing ability with a computer network, wireless connectivity, scale readouts that are separated from the weighing platform, multi-language displays, backlit display for dimly lit areas, or other needs.

7) Price

Choosing a scale should never be based solely on price, but the most expensive scale is not necessarily the best choice.

8) Installation

When installing, it is recommended to place scales in a permanent location and connect to peripheral equipment, including a remote display. The resolution and readability should be set, and an initial calibration should be performed. For multiple load cells on a large vessel, a corner load test should be performed to ensure even weight distribution. Scales should generally not be moved from their point of use after installation, if possible.

9) Calibration and service

Regularly scheduled calibration of weighing equipment is necessary, because with use, normal stress can cause the accuracy of a scale to drift slightly. A series of certified test weights are placed on the weighing platform and the results recorded. When displayed results do not correspond to the test weight, manual or automatic adjustments can be made to correct the drift.

IoT saves the bacon for Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels is more than just a meal. Dedicated staff promote independence and social capital through nutrition, safety and wellbeing checks and social cohesiveness.

The team at Ku-ring-gai Meals on Wheels (KMOW) work hard to ensure people who are frail, aged or disabled can remain in their own home; and that carers are supported in their role.

When cooking, Tony Lyons (Head Chef, KMOW) and his team are, in effect, preparing meals for their extended family. Producing approximately 100,000 meals every year, the KMOW kitchen is always busy producing fresh and safe food.

“Food safety in our environment is critical and, in particular, we keep a very close eye on temperature,” Lyons said.

Temperature management is the key influencer of perishable food shelf life and underpins food safety. When temperature sensitive foods breach cold chain specifications, people’s lives are at risk. While government regulation throughout Australia requires temperature recording to underpin safety, proper temperature management delivers reduced food wastage and protects an organisation’s reputation.

KMOW uses CCP’s state-of-the-art Internet of Things (IoT) smart tags to monitor temperature in its cool room and freezers. On 02 May 2016, CCP identified a trend of increasing minimum temperature and shortened defrost cycles in one freezer, which triggered a diagnostics alert. On receiving the notification, the Head Chef was quick to react.

“When I saw the temperature log, I immediately arranged for all products in the freezer to be removed, and I contacted refrigeration mechanic,” Tony said.

A quick system test revealed a blocked TX valve, which was limiting the refrigerant flow rate. If left unrepaired, the compressor would’ve failed – an estimated A$3,000 cost to supply and install.

“Without the CCP solution in place, we would not have known about this and would have faced a very expensive repair bill. This single notification more than paid for the entire CCP solution for several years,” said KMOW’s Business Manager.

CCP CEO, Michael White said, “We love being a part of the Meals on Wheels story. What a great community service; and we’re delighted to have helped the team at Ku-ring-gai save the bacon.”