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.”

Food for thought: feeding our growing population with flies

Scientists have predicted that by 2050 there will be 9.6 billion humans living on Earth. With the rise of the middle class, we are expected to increase our consumption of animal products by up to 70% using the same limited resources that we have today.

The cost of producing agricultural crops such as corn and soy to feed these animals is also expected to increase and become more challenging with the onset of drought and rising temperatures.

While science is racing to develop more drought tolerant crop strains through genetic engineering, there may be a simpler alternative: flies.

Although people in some parts of the world have been eating insects for generations, the general population is opposed to introducing the crunchy morsels into their diet.

Since we might not be ready to eat insects ourselves, could we instead feed insects to our farmed animals to feed to growing population?

Introducing the nutritious black soldier fly

The black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens, is a cosmopolitan species found on every continent in the world (excluding Antarctica).

You may have seen this species powering the compost bin in your backyard, as they are efficient decomposers of organic matter. The black soldier fly was first described in 1758 and we are only now discovering its true potential: scientists in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the United States have begun transforming black soldier fly larvae into a nutritious and sustainable agricultural feed product.

‘Hermetia illucens’ was first described in 1758 but we are only discovery its true potential now.
CSIRO: Dr Bryan Lessard

This species was specifically chosen because of its voracious appetite, with one larvae able to quickly process half a gram of organic matter per day.

In fact, the larvae can eat a wide variety of household waste, including rotting fruit, vegetables, meats and, if desperately in need, manure, and quickly convert it to a rich source of fats, oils, amino acids, calcium and protein.

Black soldier fly larvae are 45% crude protein, which in addition to its high nutrition profile, has gained the attention of the agriculture community.

Researchers have demonstrated that black soldier fly feed could partially or completely replace conventional agricultural feed. Moreover, studies have shown that this feed is suitable for the diet of chickens, pigs, alligators and farmed seafood such as blue tilapia, Atlantic salmon and prawns.

Preliminary trials have also indicated that there are no adverse effects on the health of these animals. Black soldier flies can also reduce the amount of E. coli in dairy manure.

A swarm of environmental benefits

There are myriad environmental benefits to adopting black soldier fly feed. For example, Costa Rica has been successful in reducing household waste by up to 75% by feeding it to black soldier fly larvae.

This has significant potential to be adopted in Australia and could divert thousands of tonnes of household and commercial food waste from entering landfill.

One female black soldier fly can have up to 600 larvae, with each of these quickly consuming half a gram of organic matter per day. This small family of 600 individuals can eat an entire household green waste bin each year.

Entire farms of black soldier flies could significantly reduce landfill, while converting the organic matter into a feasible commercial product.

Black soldier fly farms require a substantially smaller footprint than conventional agricultural crops grown to feed farm animals because they can be grown in warehouses or small farms.

We currently use more than half the world’s usable surface to grow crops to feed farm animals. If more fly farms were established in the future, less land would be required to feed farm animals, which in turn could be used to grow more food for humans, or rehabilitate it and return it to nature.

Another emerging economic venture in black soldier flies is the production of biodiesel as a by-product of the harvesting stage. The larvae are a natural source of oil, which scientists have feasibly extracted during the processing stage and converted into biodiesel.

With future research and development, this oil could be commercially developed to alleviate the pressure off limited fossil fuels and could become a reliable source of revenue for countries adopting black soldier fly farming.

Would you buy black soldier fly feed?

The limiting factor of the emerging black soldier fly farming practice is ultimately the consumer. Would shoppers be tempted to buy animal products fed on black soldier flies at the grocery store, or purchase larvae to feed their pets or farm animals?

Promising trials have shown that customers could not detect a difference in the taste or smell of animal products fed on black soldier flies.

One of the greatest challenges we will face in our lifetime is the need to feed a growing population. If we want to continue our customs of farming and eating animal products on our limited resources, we may have to look to novel alternatives like black soldier fly farming.

With the benefits of reducing household waste and sustainably feeding farm animals a nutritious meal, perhaps the future of eating insects is closer than we thought.

The Conversation

Bryan Lessard, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, CSIRO

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

You say tomato… why some fruits are forever doomed to be called veggies

When it comes to fruit and vegetables, the most common battleground (for parents and public health experts alike) is getting people to eat them. But there’s a battle over semantics too, because many of the things we call “fruit” and “vegetables” … aren’t.

In botanical terms, a fruit is relatively easy to define. It is the structure that develops from the flower, after it has been fertilised, and which typically contains seeds (although there are exceptions, such as bananas).

But while there is no doubt that tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins are fruits in the botanical sense, any linguist will tell you that language changes and words take on the meaning that people broadly agree upon and use. We live in a linguistic democracy where the majority rules.

Hence a tomato is still usually called a vegetable – although many people take pride in calling it a fruit, while overlooking other “vegetables” with similar claims to fruit status. If this makes your inner pedant bristle, that’s just tough – trying telling the nearest five-year-old that a pumpkin’s a fruit and see how far you get.

Berries, by definition, are many-seeded, fleshy fruits which are often brightly coloured. They may have a soft or tough outer skin, but they must be fleshy. Oddly, strawberries and raspberries are not really berries at all, because they originate from a single flower which has many ovaries, so they are an aggregate fruit.

True berries are simple fruits that develop from a single flower with a single ovary. Tomatoes and grapes are technically berries, as are avocados, watermelons, pumpkins and bananas. Citrus fruits are also berries and their flesh is renowned for being acidic, which makes the flavour bitter.

Nuts are generally dry, woody fruits that contain a single seed. However, as you might have come to expect by now, things are not always so simple; the word “nut” is often used to describe any woody fruit. So a Brazil nut is actually a seed, whereas the walnut is botanically a “drupe” – a fleshy fruit with a hard inner layer that often persists when the flesh is lost (other drupes include peaches, mangoes and olives).

We all know fruits are good for us, but why are they typically more appetising than vegetables (certainly to kids)? Fruits are often the means by which seeds are dispersed and so the plant, in competition with other plants, needs to attract the right insect, bird or mammal to spread its seeds. This is why fruits are often brightly coloured and rich in nutrition (or at least high in sugar). It is not just humans who like a flash of colour and a soft, sweet sugar hit.

On the other hand, in the case of many leafy vegetables, plants need to protect their leaves from grazing animals and insects. The leaves are valuable and productive assets and so contain chemicals that are often unpalatable. They may be bitter or very strongly flavoured, which may explain why kids are inclined to stay away from them. Luckily, proper cooking and good recipes can often save this situation.

Now eat your veggies

So if fruits are, with a few exceptions, seed-bearing organs, what are vegetables? Here the definition is less clear, because the word “vegetable” has no real botanical meaning.

To a botanist, if the word vegetable is used at all, it would simply mean any plant, in much the same way that plants are collectively referred to as “vegetation”. So we could apply the term vegetable to almost any part of any plant if we wanted to. Hence the term tends to encompass a wide range of foods, particularly green leafy ones.

Cabbage, lettuce, zucchini and cucumber are all described as vegetables (despite the latter two being fruits), and the term has generally come to refer to a specific group of plant parts that are commonly used as foods in various societies. Of course, different cultures eat different parts of different plants. But, generally speaking, in Anglophone cultures the term vegetable is used for plant materials used to make a main meal, while fruits are typically associated with breakfast or dessert.

Alleged veg.
NK/Shutterstock.com

Among the group that is loosely classed as vegetables, there are some interesting and diverse structures. Bulbs, such as onions and garlic, are highly modified shoots that develop as fleshy underground organs from which new plants can develop. They are a form of asexual reproduction, a natural kind of cloning.

The bulb contains all of the ingredients required for the production of a new plant, such as roots, leaves and flower buds. The food reserves it contains – usually starch or sugar – allow a new plant to develop rapidly at the appropriate time, hence the sweetness of onions and the fact that they caramelise so beautifully. Bulbs such as garlic can also contain pungent defensive chemicals to ward off insects or fungi.

The flowers and stems of many vegetables can also be tasty and nutritious. The flowering heads of broccoli and cauliflower are prized, as are the stems of celery and rhubarb. Once again the richness and diversity of flavours arise from the different chemicals that the plants produce to protect their valuable assets from the ravages of grazing by insects and other animals.

Tubers are formed from swollen stem or root tissue, and it’s relatively easy to distinguish between the two because stem tubers have buds, or “eyes”. Potatoes are typical stem tubers, whereas carrots are root tubers. All tubers are storage organs and last only a year. They are rich in starch, which is often readily converted to sugar to fuel the plant’s growth.

These plant-nourishing characteristics also make tubers very nutritious for us. What’s more, their high fibre content and homogeneous internal structure mean they can be cooked in a wide variety of ways: boiled, mashed, chipped, baked or roasted – even though you and I might not necessarily see “eye to eye” on which is tastiest (with all due apologies for the cheesy potato pun).

While the definitions may be debated and the words may have different meanings for different people, one thing is undeniable: whichever way you slice it, fruit and veggies are very good for you. So eat up.

The Conversation

Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, University of Melbourne

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

What’s for dinner? How Australia Eats [INFOGRAPHIC]

The question might seem innocuous enough, but every time we think about what to make for dinner, our brains are processing hundreds of additional questions.

  • Should I be having more variety in my diet?
  • What recipe should I make?
  • When should I go to the supermarket?
  • Will I waste that bunch of celery if I buy it?
  • Should I buy the cheap stuff or the organic stuff?
  • Do I want convenient or healthy food?
  • Can I have both?

HelloFresh, the leading meal kit delivery service delivers everything Australians need for a variety of balanced meals. Providing a convenient solution to the age old question of what to have for dinner.

Eating Up Time

IPSOS’ 2016 report Food CHATs (Consumption, Habits, Attitudes and Trends) indicates Aussie have five priorities when it comes to food: eating more fresh fruit and vegetables (40%), eating smaller portion sizes (31%), reducing sugar intake from food (24%), eating healthier snacks (23%) and cutting down on fat (23%).

Australians would also like to eat more natural sugar substitutes (65%), ‘no added hormone’ beef (55%), organic chicken (46%), stall-free pork (41%), organic beef (40%), plant-based milk alternatives (33%), sugar substitutes (32%) and vegetable protein (31%). The importance of healthy eating is not lost on most of us.

So far, so sensible. Australians understand what we should be eating – what we struggle with is making lifestyle changes with this information. According to Neilsen’s Global Health & Wellness survey 2015, four in five Australians also prefer to cook at home so they are aware of what is in their food, and one in five plans to buy less frozen meals.

So the difficulty comes in when turning these plans into action. A quarter of respondents to the Nelisen Global Health and Wellness survey said they would purchase more fruit (25%) and vegetables (26%) in the next six months. But has it happened?

Delivering the Goods

Certainly, the traditional grocery market has made attempts to address this consumer demand. Barcoded fresh products have exploded in the past ten years, with consumers enjoying the easy to grab and buy products, growing the category by over half a billion ($558 million) since 2005. But the less than desirable environmental impact of these type of packaging is not lost on market disruptors HelloFresh.

With changes in lifestyle meaning consumers are spending less time grocery shopping, convenience offerings are imperative for retailers to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty. Where HelloFresh is different is that they construct healthy, varied meal plans for the week, metered out into the exact portions required, and delivered directly to your door. Packaging is minimal, and convenience an imperative.

According to IPSOS, provenance is a key factor for two in five of us and outside of supermarkets, the local fruit and veg shop or deli (20%), the local butcher (20%), bakery or bread shop (18%), farmer’s markets (9%) and specialist fish shop (7%) are our most popular shopping destinations. Again, HelloFresh aims to mimic this style of ethical eating, sourcing the freshest ingredients for you, without the hassle of visiting each store dotted around town.

With the fresh food category growing in Australia by 4.4% in the last year, and working hours for average Australians on the rise, it’s not hard to see why grocery delivery solution HelloFresh are fast becoming the option for those wanting to eat healthily, mindfully and ethically, without the stress of: What do you want for dinner?

Infographic_Consumer_Priorities_AU_DEFINITIV_5-01-01 (1)

Australian communities are fighting food waste with circular economies

Around 4 million tonnes of food reaches landfill in Australia each year. This forms part of Australia’s organic waste, the country’s largest unrecovered stream of waste that goes into landfill.

There’s a missed opportunity here to recover this waste and do something useful with it. In particular, we can use it for energy such as biofuel. This forms part of a broader concept known as the “circular economy”.

In the absence of federal initiatives, state and local governments and communities are developing projects to foster a circular economy that can absorb this and other waste. This would then provide usable products to assist businesses and households and improve sustainability.

Simply disposing of waste in landfill affects households, businesses and governments. It requires time, energy and space, and poses environmental risks. When waste is repurposed for energy and fertiliser, it can give businesses a competitive edge, foster sustainable growth and create jobs.

The circular economy

A circular economy aims to bundle policy and business strategies into a system that works for everyone.

On a wider scale, circular economies underpin food security by reducing and reusing the amount of food waste, utilising byproducts and food waste and recycling nutrients as fertiliser.

While one way of repurposing food waste is to turn it into biofuel, a circular economy does not require all waste to be repurposed. Unwanted food can be given to the needy, or go into further processing. The idea is we extract every joule possible from organic matter, which may require multiple uses.

Some overseas governments have policies that compel businesses to keep their waste out of landfill. These countries are well on the way to developing circular economies. The star performers include Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands, Scotland and Sweden.

In Australia, the federal government has offered no such incentives. Instead, communities are taking it upon themselves to repurpose waste. State and local governments are introducing policies that offer incentives for recycling, or penalties for producing landfill.

There is a growing interest in co-digestion to boost biogas production, particularly for small wastewater facilities.

Co-digestion is the addition of other waste streams such as:

  • municipal wastewater/sludge
  • food and drink manufacturer process waste (including waste from the beverage, meat processing, dairy, brewing and wine industries)
  • paper/pulp waste
  • greasy waste/fats, oils and greases (from grease trap pump-outs)
  • residential food and green waste (via trucked collection)
  • residential/commercial food waste (organics rubbish bins)
  • food waste (from supermarkets or supermarket chains).

So let’s have a look at recent advances around the country.

South Australia

Commissioned in 2013, South Australia Water’s Glenelg wastewater treatment is Australia’s first co-digestion facility. The addition of food byproducts such as milk, cheese, beer, wine and soft drink has increased power generation from 55% to 75% of the plant’s power requirement.

The South Australian government is developing a bioenergy roadmap. The aim is to link biomass suppliers in regions to users of energy and help to support local businesses to add value.

Victoria

Yarra Valley Water’s waste-to-energy facility is a new co-digestion development at Aurora Sewage Treatment Plant, north of Melbourne. It will process 100 cubic metres of waste each day. The waste is delivered by trucks from local commercial waste producers, such as markets and food manufacturing.

Through Sustainability Victoria, the state government is offering funding through the Advanced Organics Processing Technology Grants program, which supports the installation of small-scale onsite or precinct-scale anaerobic digestion technology for processing organic waste.

New South Wales

Australia’s best example of a community-driven circular economy is being developed in Cowra on the Lachlan River, part of the Murray-Darling catchment. This proposal shows the ability of state and local government, industry and farms to pool waste created in and around a country town to produce energy and fertiliser, which can be used within that same geographic circle.

The project will use two processes: anaerobic digestion and thermal recovery through either pyrolysis or torrefication (the breakdown of organic material at high temperature).

At full capacity, the Cowra biomass project will produce 60% of the town’s energy needs.

CLEAN Cowra: Creating a circular economy through aggregation of organic waste streams. MP= Meat processing; FP= Food processing; MRF= Materials recovery facility; WWTP= Waste water treatment plant; TR= Thermal recovery; AD= Anaerobic digestion; CHP= Combined heat and power.
CLEAN Cowra

NSW’s council amalgamation process is also creating opportunities to link more waste producers and energy users through renewables that turn food, household and agricultural waste into power.

The NSW government’s Growing Community Energy grants have already helped the Cowra project.

The future?

The drive for communities and businesses to reap the rewards of extracting value from food waste is a result of an emerging trend in infrastructure planning, where the once parallel fields of water management, waste management and energy are teaming up.

It appears CLEAN Cowra and its regional and state equivalents are influencing the direction of federal government policy with relevant priority areas for ARENA being identified.

Whatever the driver, anything that can keep organic waste out of landfill has to be a good thing.


This topic will be discussed at this week’s Crawford Fund Conference.

The Conversation

Bernadette McCabe, Associate Professor and Principal Scientist, University of Southern Queensland

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

Plenty of activity in Food & Beverage sector

Deal making momentum from the second quarter of 2016 was carried forward into the third quarter. Seven acquisitions were announced in June and July, with the pipeline for the rest of the year looking strong.

Acquisitions announced

The acquisition of Patties Foods by Pacific Equity Partners is the most significant transaction announced during the two-month period.

The merger of CFA and Countrywide has increased the membership base of the merged group to 118. With almost $3 billion in revenue, the enlarged Countrywide is now the leading foodservice buying group. JB Metropolitan announced the acquisition of B&F Distributors which adds to the number of transactions in the foodservice distribution sector over the past 12 months. Scale is important in this sector and we expect further consolidation in the foodservice distribution sector over the remainder of the year.

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A number of approaches and offers were made over the two months to 31 July 2016, which may lead to transactions, including:

  • Macquarie Group making an approach to the South Australian Produce Market; and
  • Shanghai Pharmaceutical making a $314 million takeover offer for ASX-listed Vitaco Holdings.

A number of sale processes are expected to progress in the second half of the year including Nature’s Care and Australian Pharmaceutical Manufacturers.

Capital markets transactions

There were no IPO’s of food and beverage businesses on the ASX in the months of June and July 2016. IPO’s in the pipeline for the second half of the year include NZ King Salmon and poultry company Ingham’s Enterprises.

Distribution joint ventures

Beston Global Food Company is in discussions with Korean company, Taekyung Food & Processing to form a strategic alliance to supply food products into the Korean market.

Strong investor appetite for food and beverage businesses, low interest rates and a healthy deal pipeline will drive activity in the second half of 2016.

[Ben van der Westhuizen and David Baveystock are directors of Comet Line Consulting, an advisory business that specialises in acquisitions and divestments within the Australian food & beverage industry. For more information visit www.cometlineconsulting.com.au.]

Dropping the plan to ban junk food ads in prime time was a bad move – the UK will regret it

The UK government’s Childhood Obesity Plan has been met with widespread anger from numerous health organisations. This was not least because it delivered “absolutely nothing” to regulate food advertising, something Jamie Oliver had called for.

A recent consultation recommended an extension of industry regulation in some areas of marketing activity to children, but TV advertising lay outside its remit. Should the government have taken the opportunity to address TV advertising by more direct intervention?

Of the many commercial communications children are exposed to, pre-9pm family TV programming (think Britain’s Got Talent or The X Factor) provides an easier target for legislation. Marketing communications, for better or worse, influence what we eat. Their effects depend, however, on whether their message really gets through to consumers in a media saturated society.

Organisations understand that even the best advertising plans are beset by “noise”. That is, we are surrounded by message clutter – and often messages conflict or compete. It is hard to get your message to stand out, to create buzz and prompt the audience into acting on it. All the more so where healthy messages are outspent by less healthy messages.

The national Change for Life marketing campaign deals with diet and is backed by Public Health England to the tune of around £9m annually. A sum making it hard for their healthy eating message to compete with alternative commercial messages that can pay around £150,000 for a 30-second slot in prime time.

But ad campaigns that are properly thought through, integrated and well supported can lift sales of healthier foods. Aldi has done just that through its sponsorship of Team GB, linked to television, in-store, digital, school and press activity around the theme of “home-grown heroes”. Much of the campaign had a fruity (and vegetable) theme and, according to a report in The Grocer – unfortunately behind a paywall – Aldi boosted its produce sales by 20%. It is a noteworthy, if discrete, instance of a healthier message breaking through – and a chink of light, perhaps, given declining fruit and veg sales despite consistent long-standing delivery of the five-a-day message.

And now, a word from our sponsors.
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Collectively, studies show a moderate direct impact of adverts on children’s consumption of unhealthy foods. But recent research demonstrates that children feel a strong pull towards junk food advertising. Children aged eight to 12 describe junk food advertising as “tempting” and “addictive”. The picture emerges of children who know the food being sold to them on television is bad, but they still find them very seductive. This conundrum suggests less immediate and direct effect of advertising that are nevertheless more insidious and long-term.

Consumer researchers recognise the cultural role of adverts. Children are active users of advertising, reproducing their messages even in everyday play. So adverts play a role in forming our understanding of the world. And that often means understanding “bad” food as a reward, an indulgence or naughty but deserved pleasure.

Bad food isn’t fun

There is no better arena than prime time family TV for resource-rich corporations to promote an insidious message that “bad” food is “good” when it is a treat, or part of a balanced diet, a deserved indulgence, fun. These are generalised associations, with the less helpful aspects of our diet linked to an indulgent time period in the family week. Breaking this link would represent a modest step towards cultural change.

Meanwhile, the food industry has reacted in divergent ways to the childhood obesity plan. Sainsbury’s has been particularly vocal among retailers to regret its lack of legal teeth, particularly with respect to promotions and advertising – it wants more regulation to provide a level playing field. Soft drink companies are among those who feel unduly singled out. So, within a divided industry, what might additional TV regulation do?

First, we should not underestimate the voluntary steps taken towards a healthier future among food and drink manufacturers and retailers. These steps include “guiltless” checkout aisles in supermarkets – which don’t push sweets at children and their mothers. But there has also been widespread reformulation of products to remove sugar, alteration of key product ranges and additional food labelling.

Such steps are often achieved quietly and have been guardedly welcomed by health campaigners – mixed with a degree of scepticism. True, companies are acting in their own commercial interests. But in positioning themselves for commercial success in a possibly more healthy future society, industry players are important in bringing that future into being.

So, there are causes for optimism but – again – these need to punch through competition and message noise. The childhood obesity plan provided an opportunity to prevent organisations across the board from “doing the wrong thing”. An extension of the advertising ban until 9pm would have been a limited and well-defined step in clearing the path towards changing our culture’s relationship with food. It would also have forced the industry to focus on its better foods and wean itself off the bad habit of pushing junk food to children.

The Conversation

Gillian Hopkinson, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Lancaster University

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

The effect of population growth on efficiency in food production

The global population has been expanding rapidly for many years, standing at around 7.3 billion in 2016, due to a number of factors, such as advanced maternity and healthcare.

However, the rise brings with it a number of challenges around global sustainability, including the need for more food.

As an essential resource, the supply of food is a major concern across all countries, but – as with any resource – is dependent on growers, suppliers and distributors to bring it to market.

Exponential growth

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the global population is expected to increase by around 2.3 billion people between now and 2050. Although this is a slower rate of growth than the one seen over the past 40 years, it is still a 30 per cent increase in the number of people who will need feeding.

At the same time, the amount of food that will need to be processed will rise by almost 70 per cent – and 100 per cent in the developing world – which will mean increased supply of several products to help cope with the demand.

Earnings in developing countries are expected to rise along with the growth and exceed so-called ‘economic poverty’ levels, with the market demand for food continue to grow in line with this.

Annual production of cereal will need to grow by almost one billion tons, and meat production by over 200 million tons, to a total of 470 million tons in 2050. 72 per cent of this will take place in developing countries, up from 58 per cent today.

Additional factors

The Population Institute estimates that a 70 per cent increase in food production will also have to take into account increases in energy prices, as well as factors such as the groundwater depletion, the loss of farmland to urbanization, and potential flooding and droughts caused by climate change.

This rapid increase and the associated challenges will place additional strain on food production. The cost of doubling production in the developing world alone will require investment of almost $100 billion per year, not including any infrastructure that will be required to implement and support it.

A further problem will be increasing agricultural activity even though global governments are trying to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions – something the production and distribution of food has contributed to significantly in the past.

Multiple challenges

A multi-targeted approach will be required to help overcome the many challenges. This will include looking at how new approaches to food production and changes to the supply chain can boost efficiency. The FAO believes there is potential to increase crop yields, with technology playing a major role in helping to boost production efficiency.

The organization believes that having social and economic incentives in place will create more certainty over actual yield volumes and what is capable of being produced. Fears over a flattening out of yield volumes may be misplaced.

In addition to the size of the yield, boosting quality will also be a key aim for producers, as they try to improve processing capacity and availability. Meeting the needs of a rapidly expanding global population will require the production of food that meets safety standards.

The effect of urbanization must also be taken into account. A report from the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) suggests that rural-urban migration will continue to increase during the coming decades.

This growth will subsequently reduce farm labor availability in many countries and put pressure on supply chains. According to the CGIAR, this effect will require the development and use of technologies and production systems that increase input-use efficiency in agriculture.

Such approaches will contribute to global food and nutrition security while safeguarding the natural resource base and taking into account local, economic and social dynamics, as well as human and environmental health.

Balancing quality and quantity

As food safety standards rise and end-user tastes and demands change, quality will be a key issue. One of the main aims for food businesses will be how to achieve the balance of quality and quantity.

The investment needed to achieve these aims will also be a key subject for producers, particularly as the Population Institute says that meeting rising demand will come at a great cost.

Suppliers, distributors and concerns will all need to keep up to date with changes. This will mean ensuring food requirements are met, and that investment in future supply is adequate.

This investment extends to technology, which is playing a very important role in helping the industry to increase food production without compromising quality.

TOMRA’s range of food sorting technology is designed to maximize yields and increase productivity while reducing waste, which boosts efficiency considerably. The sensor-based technology is capable of identifying imperfections and can help to increase the quality of the yield as well as the overall yield quantity, therefore minimizing waste.

Ideas and new technology have moved faster than population growth for centuries, helping to ensure people and business around the globe can keep up to speed with an ever-changing world.

New innovations will continue to maintain this balance by boosting food production and distribution efficiency in the years ahead.

[Ashley Hunter is senior vice-president and head of TOMRA Sorting Solutions, Food]

Science or Snake Oil: is A2 milk better for you than regular cow’s milk?

The new big thing hitting our supermarket shelves is “A2 milk”. Not only has this resulted in a great debate about whether it is any better for us than regular cow’s milk, but also a bitter feud over labelling between the big dairy companies in the Federal Court.

So what is A2?

Cow’s milk contains protein. The primary group of milk proteins are the caseins. A1 and A2 are the two primary types of beta-casein (beta-casein is one of the three major casein proteins) present in milk. They are simply genetic variants of one another that differ in structure by one amino acid.

The A1 protein produces beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7), which has been shown to alter gastrointestinal function (slowing down bowel movements from stomach to anus) and increase inflammation in the gut in animal studies.

Commonly, both A1 and A2 types of casein are expressed in cow’s milk in Europe, America, Australian and New Zealand, and hence the milk we find on our supermarket shelves.

The hype surrounding A2 milk came about after the patenting of a genetic test by the a2 Milk Company. The patent allows the company to determine what type of protein a cow produces in its milk and therefore license dairy farmers that prove their cows express only A2 protein in their milk (and not A1 protein). A2 milk is marketed by the a2 Milk Company to contain only the A2 type of beta-casein.

Initially, there were marketing claims that A1 proteins were harmful to our health, but a full review of the literature by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2009 nullified such claims. Insufficient evidence exists to suggest A1 proteins have a negative effect on our health. The EFSA found no relationship between drinking milk with the A1 protein and non-communicable diseases such as type 1 diabetes, heart disease and autism, which is the focus of much of the hype.

After these findings were released to the public, the marketing focus shifted towards the A1 protein causing digestive discomfort and symptoms usually associated with lactose intolerance (for example, bloating and flatulance).

The first peer-reviewed human study was conducted with a small number of people (41). Only ten of the participants reported an intolerance to commercial cow’s milk. They compared differences after drinking milk containing only the A1 protein versus milk containing only the A2 protein (the milk on our supermarket shelves is usually a combination of the A1 and A2 milk proteins).

Interestingly, they found after drinking the milk containing A1 protein only, participants reported softer stools than when drinking the A2 milk. These results tend to go against the evidence in animal studies that the A1 protein slows down the movement of contents through the gastrointestinal system, which could be thought to bulk up stool content and hence result in harder stools.

The authors of this study suggested the softer stools might have been caused by an increase in gut inflammation caused by consumption of the A1 protein. Gut inflammation can cause malabsorption of fluids and nutrients and hence softer stools. However, the study found no difference in calprotectin (a measure of inflammation) between the two milk groups, so it failed to draw any sound conclusions.

This led to the second study conducted in humans, which was published this year. Unlike the previous study, it did use common commercial milk that contains both the A1 and A2 milk proteins and compared this to consuming milk containing only the A2 protein. It included only people (45 subjects) who self-reported an intolerance to cow’s milk.

Of the 45 subjects, 23 were diagnosed as lactose-intolerant. Someone who is intolerant to cow’s milk has an inability to digest lactose due to a deficiency in the lactase enzyme. But it is important to note lactose is present in both A1 milk and A2 milk.

The results showed A2 milk did not cause an increase in unpleasant digestive symptoms (for example, bloating and flatulence) usually associated with milk consumption in those who are lactose-intolerant. When cow’s milk containing both the A1 and A2 proteins was provided, there was an exacerbation of stomach upset. However, this would be expected for someone who is sensitive to dairy products, or lactose-intolerant.

The changes in inflammatory markers observed in this study need to be interpreted carefully. Despite some statistically significant changes between the two milk groups being noted, these aren’t necessarily clinically relevant and therefore do need further investigation in a much larger study with a greater sample size.

So is A2 worth it?

For those who do not experience any problems with milk consumption, there is no evidence to suggest any benefit in having A2 milk over the common consumed commercial milk, which contains both the A1 and A2 proteins. For less than half the price per litre, the latter would be the favoured option.

For those who self-report an intolerance to milk or are lactose-intolerant, A2 milk may be a suitable selection to prevent commonly reported stomach upset complaints, but so too is lactose-free milk. Lactose-free milk does not contain lactose, which is the naturally occurring sugar that causes the gastrointestinal problems in the lactose-intolerant. Consequently, what is needed is a study comparing the effects of lactose-free milk versus A2 milk in those who are lactose-intolerant.

Most importantly, longer-term studies with larger sample sizes are needed, as both of the studies conducted in humans to date have been conducted with small numbers over short durations.

The most important thing is that we don’t exclude milk products from the diet, as dairy is a rich source of calcium that is readily bio-available (meaning we can absorb the majority of it from this food source). Calcium is essential for the prevention of osteoporosis (brittle or weak bones) and an adult should aim for three dairy serves per day.

The Conversation

Nicholas Fuller, Research Fellow, Clinical Trials Development & Analysis, University of Sydney

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

Mobile data collection, automation and food safety

Australia is currently home to more than 87 000 registered food and accommodation businesses.

From restaurants, bakeries and hotels to school canteens, aged care facilities and child care centres, each of these businesses are required to be inspected by Council on a regular basis.

Food safety inspections often result in a lot of paperwork, for example, data entry, scheduling, reporting and manual follow-up. For years information has been gathered using paper and clipboards, with the data being catalogued once returning to the office. It works, but it’s inefficient… Could the introduction of data collection via a mobile device in partnership with automation be the answer?

With countless food inspections required per Local Council, could Environmental Health Officers’ jobs be made easier, more transparent with improved control and accountability, all while reducing costs, saving time and improving reporting capabilities? The answer is yes, and it is quite an easy process too.

Why mobile data collection? 

Mobile data collection is the process of collecting information via a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet. This method of collection offers a wealth of advantages – it is fast, efficient, portable, allows for personalisation and consistency both in the field, and in the office.  The result of data being collected in the field is real time reporting and analysis, available both on the EHO’s device, and back in the office. Required actions can therefore be implemented promptly all while ensuring transparency and accuracy.

The opportunity in automation 

Imagine having your ‘to-do list’ planned out for the next week, month or year, or being able to seamlessly allocate jobs depending on staffing and location. Having software that offers automation to the user allows for increased productivity rates, reduction in lead times as well as better planning opportunities. By automating aspects of your process data quality and consistency will increase, along with reliability, performance and an overall reduction in cost.

In a recent article from The Australian, strategic adviser to Citigroup, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, wrote; ‘automating the more routine parts of a job will often increase the productivity and quality of workers, by complementing their skills… as well as enabling them to focus on those aspect of the job that most need their attention.’ Further to this, MIT economist Professor David Autor supports Wladawsky-Berger’s argument in his 2015 paper, Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation by noting; ‘tasks that cannot be substituted by automation are generally complemented by it.”

By combining the tools of mobile data collection and automation, Environmental Health Officers, and their departments, will greatly benefit as a whole. The time and money saved, reduction in errors along with customisable features (such as an in-built tailored checklist) will ensure staff can remain ‘ahead of the game’.

Mobile data collection software – what to look for

Using your current checklist (eg HACCP) and schedule as a starting point, consider the functions you would like to standardise, automate, manage more appropriately and report on. From here, you may want to create a functionalist wish list. The list may include:

  • Pre-loaded business history, including location and contact details
  • History of previous inspections, including a list of follow-up items
  • Checklist with a rating option (eg 1-5, or 1-10)
  • Pass or fail option for each checklist item
  • Ability to schedule follow-up visits
  • Speech to text
  • Ability to take photos, and annotate them, to identify issues of concern
  • Access to manuals, policies such as the relevant state, federal and local Acts and Standards (eg Food Standards Code)
  • Comprehensive and accurate reporting on all aspects of inspections
  • List of follow-ups required in order to allocate and foresee potential workload issues.

Who are Pervidi? 

Established in 1999, Pervidi offers comprehensive, easy to use, customisable software that allows its users to accurately and thoroughly complete inspections. This total safety application delivers a complete solution for those in the field as well as those back at the office.

Australian based software company, Pervidi, have developed a comprehensive solution to assist Environmental Health Officers to optimize their time in the field, while also ensuring local businesses can benefit from EHO’s knowledge and experience, in turn, keeping the community safe.

Solutions for critical, high-speed and contaminant detection food processes

Cut To Size Plastics offers materials that are designed to ensure maximum hygiene, safety and cost-efficiency for food, beverage and primary product processing.

The company, which engineers OEM and replacement components from the globally proven Wefapress engineering plastics range, says its products for critical processes in such businesses offer real cost-advantages through easy fabrication and proven compliance with top world hygiene standards.

OEM and replacement parts fabricated from Wefapress’ St 6000 AST, 6000 MDP and 7000 AMB ranges already comply with the major world standards, such as those of the US FDA and the European Regulation No 10/2011 defining contact between plastics and food, said Pat Flood, NSW Manager of Cut To Size Plastics.

The company has more than 35 years’ experience in manufacturing components for applications across the Asia-Pacific from its head office in Sydney where facilities include CNC machining coupled with GibbsCAM and Solidworks software. It also offers in-depth advice on the best product for particular jobs.

“The latest Wefapress products for critical processes in the food industry set global standards in terms of the hygiene, wear resistance and sustainability of special materials,” said Flood.

Special Wefapress products for manufacturing, sorting, processing and distribution of food, beverage and agricultural products include:

  • St 6000 AST (FDA). The antistatic quality of the PE-UHMW (ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene) materials prevents electrical charging of high-speed work processes. Plant operators benefit from its outstanding sliding properties, resistance to wear, temperature and chemical resistance, as well as dimensional stability.
  • St 6000 MDP. This PE-UHMW containing metallic additives to aid in the incorporation of contaminant detectors widely used in industries extending from the baking and meat processing to processing and packaging of consumer products.
  • St 7000 AMB. This ultra-high molecular weight anti-microbacterial polyethylene has been optimised for critical production processes. The additives in this material offer long-term protection against bacteria and fungal attack, setting a standard in sustainable hygiene. Applications range from antiseptic kitchen tables through to antibacterial conveyor belts. ST 7000 AMB is completely safe for humans and the environment and does not contain any heavy metals or other poison additives.

The latest Wefapress products complement Cut To Size’s broader range of materials widely used in food, beverage and primary product processing.

 

Green beans: why pulses are the eco-friendly option for feeding – and saving – the world

We all know the score: current trends predict there will be 9.7 billion mouths to feed by 2050. Producing enough food without using more land, exacerbating climate change or putting more pressure on water, soil and energy reserves will be challenging.

In the past, food security researchers have focused on production with less attention paid to consumer demand and how food is ultimately used in meals. However as developing nations aspire towards the “Western diet”, demand for meat and animal products is rapidly climbing.

This is bad news for the planet. Meat is a luxury item and comes at a huge environmental cost. Shuttling crops through animals to make protein is highly inefficient: in US beef, just 5% of the original protein survives the journey from animal feed to meat on the plate. Even milk, which has the best conversion efficiency, has just 40% of the original protein.

Consequently, livestock farming requires huge amounts of water and land for grazing and feed production, taking up an estimated 70% of all agricultural land and 27% of the human water footprint. Much of this land is becoming steadily degraded through overgrazing and erosion, prompting farmers to expand into new areas; 70% of cleared forest in the Amazon, for instance, is now pastureland. Livestock production is also one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, including 65% of man-made nitrous oxide emissions (which have a global warming potential 296 times greater than CO₂).

Nevertheless, millions of people in developing countries still suffer from protein malnutrition. The burden, therefore, must fall on people in richer nations to reduce their meat consumption and embrace other sources of protein.

Pulses are a healthy alternative

Enter the pulses: beans, peas and lentils. Although generally cheaper than meat, these are rich sources of protein and also come with essential micronutrients including iron, zinc, magnesium and folate. As low GI (glycaemic index) foods, they release their energy slowly over time, preventing surges in blood glucose. Naturally gluten-free, they are also ideal for the rising numbers of those with coeliac disease.

Falafel wrap: your local kebab shop’s healthiest option.
keko64/shutterstock

Besides being rich in goodness, pulses are also low in many undesirables including cholesterol, fat and sodium, which all contribute to heart and blood issues. In fact, pulses seem to actively protect against these maladies. Numerous studies confirm legume-rich diets can decrease cholesterol levels and when 50g of lentils were added to the diet of diabetic patients, their fasting blood sugar levels significantly decreased.

Meanwhile, populations with the greatest lentil consumption also have the lowest rates of breast, prostate and colorectal cancer. This may be partly due to the high fibre content of pulses: increasingly, a high-fibre diet is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. Fibre content may also explain the satiating effect of pulses: for example, incorporating lentils into energy-equivalent meals causes greater fullness and leads to a lower calorie consumption later in the day.

Green beans

Just as they are good for us, beans, lentils and peas are also good for the environment. As they work with bacteria that convert atmospheric nitrogen into useful ammonia or nitrates, legumes actually improve soil fertility and reduce dependence on energy-intensive fertilisers.

Pulses are also highly water-efficient; for each gram of protein, the average global water footprint of pulses is only 34% that of pork and 17% that of beef. Meanwhile, the carbon footprint of pulses is less than half that of winter wheat and on average 48 times lower than the equivalent weight of British beef cattle.

Despite all this, the potential of pulses is largely unrecognised. Currently demand is dominated by India and Pakistan, however poor yields mean the two countries import more than 20% of global pulse production. Even big exporters like Australia and Canada remain inefficient, achieving barely half the yield per acre found in Croatia. This “yield gap” exists because these countries typically grow pulses as animal feed or to break up crop rotations. Optimising pulse harvests in both developing and developed nations could thus be an easy way to boost global protein production.

Nevertheless, pulses face traditional barriers in the West, including the need for overnight soaking, unappealing tastes and potential flatulence from a high-fibre diet. To overcome these, ingredient manufacturers have developed pulses into new functional ingredients that provide all the benefits of eating whole pulses. These already include pasta, crackers, batters, flours and egg/meat-replacement products.

Even so, we should all consider how much meat we really need. A more plant-based diet is a winning strategy for our wallets, our health and the environment.

Falafel, anyone?

The Conversation

Caroline Wood, PhD researcher in Plant Biology / Food Security, University of Sheffield and Wayne Martindale, Senior Research Fellow, Corporate Social Responsibility, Sheffield Hallam University

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

When it comes to level measurement, size matters

The latest radar level sensor from Vega is the first such product that operates at a frequency of 80 GHz. And, according to its makers, it is just what food and beverage makers have been asking for. Matthew McDonald writes.

Food and beverage processing, like the rest of the manufacturing sector, continues to demand ever improving efficiency. Any product that speeds things up, decreases downtime, or makes life simpler on the factory floor is always welcome.

For example, food makers who need to do processing and mixing in vessels and need to be able to measure tank levels, want devices that are simple to use, versatile, intuitive, easy to clean, safe and reliable.

In particular these days, businesses want sensors that can work well with small vessels. Vega has released such a product, the VEGAPULS 64.

“About two years ago we released our solids radar development [the VEGAPULS 69] which is a radar level transmitter used predominantly for measuring solids material, so your grains, your flours, your mixtures like that,” John Leadbetter, Managing Director of Vega Australia told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“And then with the success of that particular unit, we brought forward by three years the development of the VEGAPULS 64 which is the liquid version of that particular development.”

Leadbetter explained that the unit is the first of its kind to use an ultra-high frequency of 80Hz. “This gives us some refined improvements such as narrower beam angles, faster updates and more resilience to things such as build up sprays – things like that which are normally present in the food industry,” he said.

In other words, it provides accurate level measurement even in poorly reflective liquids and in in vessels with internal installations such as heating coils and agitators.

In addition, the sensor has the smallest antenna of any such product and can function accurately with small storage vessels.

Small vessels

Leadbetter explained the use of small vessels is very much an industry trend. “We develop due to industry feedback and the industry was telling us that they need smaller devices, they need smaller fittings. They need to adapt to narrower vessels.”

Pet foods, dairies, biscuit makers, and so forth are making vessels in smaller sizes these days and know that, when it comes to fittings, bigger equals more expensive.

As such, the VEGAPULS 64 has a thread that measures just ¾ inch.

To demonstrate just how small a vessel it can be used with, the company connected the sensor to a 300ml bottle of water and successfully measured its contents.

“No other radar on the market can do that,” Leadbetter said.

“It’ll still work in larger vessels but it’s specifically been targeted at the smaller end of the market.”

Asked about cleaning procedures, Leadbetter explained that normal industry procedures should be followed.

“Most applications in the food industry using cleaning in place with caustics, so we’ll all fully approved, we have temperature ratings and everything for that. Realistically in the food industry you’re going to have no little gaps or anything like that so it’s going to be a smooth finish.”

The level sensor is suitable for use in areas other than the food and beverage sector.

“When developing a product, we look at all markets then make changes in options to adapt to the different markets,” said Leadbetter.

The product is suitable for use with any type of conductive fluid including water, bitumen, chemicals and so forth. Where the model for the food sector differs from models for other industries is that has received all relevant food approvals.

“We will change fittings or change approvals to adapt to the industry we are going into…it’s just the adaption and the fitting that are changed,” said Leadbetter.

The future

According to Leadbetter, the market for level measurement sensors is changing.

“A lot of the technologies of the past which were traditionally used such as capacitance and ultrasonic pressure and things like that are going to become less and less effective (or used) and these more developed products like 80 GHz radar will start replacing those older technologies for size, for convenience and for adaptability,” he said.

Still, the business of level measurement is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Vega makes other devices such as tuning fork point level switches which are used where it is only necessary to know when a material has reached a particular point; and pressure transmitters which are suitable for applications where there are no fittings on top of the vessels to use things like radar level transmitters.

It is a horses-for-courses approach and Leadbetter often returns to the theme of responding to industry demand.

“It’s [about] helping the customer streamline and improve their processes and responses and things like that,” Leadbetter said.

“In most cases we’re able to. In some cases, it’s a little bit far-fetched. We don’t believe we’ve reached the end of radar development and we think there’s a lot more to go yet but this is certainly along the path the food industry is taking us.”

“Other industries have different criteria so we adapt to their types of requirements for their industries – high temperatures, fumes, larger vessels, faster filling, things like that. We try to adapt to all things as much as possible.”

 

Vega Australia

02 9542 6662

www.vega.com

 

Fishing, not oil, is at the heart of the South China Sea dispute

Contrary to the view that the South China Sea disputes are driven by a regional hunger for seabed energy resources, the real and immediate prizes at stake are the region’s fisheries and marine environments that support them.

It is also through the fisheries dimensions to the conflict that the repercussions of the recent ruling of the arbitration tribunal in the Philippines-China case are likely to be most acutely felt.

It seems that oil is sexier than fish, or at least the lure of seabed energy resources has a more powerful motivating effect on policymakers, commentators and the media alike. However, the resources really at stake are the fisheries of the South China Sea and the marine environment that sustains them.

The real resource at stake

For a relatively small (around 3 million square kilometres) patch of the oceans, the South China Sea delivers an astonishing abundance of fish. The area is home to at least 3,365 known species of marine fishes, and in 2012, an estimated 12% of the world’s total fishing catch, worth US$21.8 billion, came from this region.

These living resources are worth more than money; they are fundamental to the food security of coastal populations numbering in the hundreds of millions.

Indeed, a recent study showed that the countries fringing the South China Sea are among the most reliant in the world on fish as source of nutrients. This makes their populations especially susceptible to malnutrition as fish catches decline.

These fisheries also employ at least 3.7 million people (almost certainly an underestimate given the level of unreported and illegal fishing in the region).

This is arguably one of the most important services the South China Sea fisheries provide to the global community – keeping nearly 4 million young global citizens busy, who would otherwise have few employment options.

But these vital resources are under enormous pressure.

A disaster in the making

The South China Sea’s fisheries are seriously over-exploited.

Last year, two of us contributed to a report finding that 55% of global marine fishing vessels operate in the South China Sea. We also found that fish stocks have declined 70% to 95% since the 1950s.

Over the past 30 years, the number of fish caught each hour has declined by a third, meaning fishers are putting in more effort for less fish.

This has been accelerated by destructive fishing practices such as the use of dynamite and cyanide on reefs, coupled with artificial island-building. The coral reefs of the South China Sea have been declining at a rate of 16% per decade.

Even so, the total amount of fish caught has increased. But the proportion of large species has declined while the proportion of smaller species and juvenile fish has increased. This has disastrous implications for the future of fishing in the South China Sea.

We found that, by 2045, under business as usual, each of the species groups studied would suffer stock decreases of a further 9% to 59%.

The ‘maritime militia’

Access to these fisheries is an enduring concern for nations surrounding the South China Sea, and fishing incidents play an enduring role in the dispute.

Chinese/Taiwanese fishing fleets dominate the South China Sea by numbers. This is due to the insatiable domestic demand for fish coupled with heavy state subsidies to enable Chinese fishers build larger vessels with longer range.

Competition between rival fishing fleets for a dwindling resource in a region of overlapping maritime claims inevitably leads to fisheries conflicts. Fishing boats have been apprehended for alleged illegal fishing leading to incidents between rival patrol boats on the water, such as the one in March 2016 between Chinese and Indonesian vessels.

Fishing boats are not just used to catch fish. Fishing vessels have long been used as proxies to assert maritime claims.

China’s fishing fleets have been characterised as a “maritime militia” in this context. Numerous incidents have involved Chinese fishing vessels operating (just) within China’s so-called nine-dashed line claim but in close proximity to other coastal states in areas they consider to be part of their exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

The disputed South China Sea area.
Author/American Journal of International Law

The Chinese Coast Guard has increasingly played an important role in providing logistical support such as refueling as well as intervening to protect Chinese vessels from arrest by the maritime enforcement efforts of other South China Sea coastal states.

Fisheries as flashpoint

The July 2016 ruling in the dispute between the Philippines and China demolishes any legal basis to China’s claim to extended maritime zones in the southern South China Sea and any right to resources.

The consequence of this is that the Philippines and, by extension, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia are free to claim rights over the sea to 200 nautical miles from their coasts as part of their EEZs.

This also creates a pocket of high seas outside any national claim in the central part of the South China Sea.

There are signs that this has emboldened coastal states to take a stronger stance against what they will undoubtedly regard as illegal fishing on China’s part in “their” waters.

Indonesia already has a strong track record of doing so, blowing up and sinking 23 apprehended illegal fishing vessels in April and live-streaming the explosions to maximise publicity. It appears that Malaysia is following suit, threatening to sink illegal fishing vessels and turn them into artificial reefs.

The snag is that China has vociferously rejected the ruling. There is every indication that the Chinese will continue to operate within the nine-dashed line and Chinese maritime forces will seek to protect China’s claims there.

This gloomy view is underscored by the fact that China has recently opened a fishing port on the island of Hainan with space for 800 fishing vessels, a figure projected to rise to 2,000. The new port is predicted to play an important role in “safeguarding China’s fishing rights in the South China Sea”, according to a local official.

On August 2, the Chinese Supreme People’s Court signalled that China had the right to prosecute foreigners “illegally entering Chinese waters” – including areas claimed by China but which, in line with the tribunal’s ruling, are part of the surrounding states’ EEZs – and jail them for up to a year.

Ominously, the following day Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan warned that China should prepare for a “people’s war at sea” in order to “safeguard sovereignty”. This sets the scene for increased fisheries conflicts.

Ways forward

The South China Sea is crying out for the creation of a multilateral management, such as through a marine protected area or the revival of a decades-old idea of turning parts of the South China Sea, perhaps the central high seas pocket, into an international marine peace park.

Such options would serve to protect the vulnerable coral reef ecosystems of the region and help to conserve its valuable marine living resources.

A co-operative solution that bypasses the current disputes over the South China Sea may seem far-fetched. Without such action, however, its fisheries face collapse, with dire consequences for the region. Ultimately, the fishers and fishes are going to be the losers if the dispute continues.

The Conversation

Clive Schofield, Professor and Challenge Lead, Sustaining Coastal and Marine Zones, University of Wollongong; Rashid Sumaila, Director & Professor, Fisheries Economics Research Unit, University of British Columbia, and William Cheung, Associate Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia

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

Top Image: Asia Times

Fine Food Australia: an unmissable event

Fine Food Australia’s presence this year is set to be its biggest yet, with the country’s leading trade exhibition for the foodservice, hospitality and retail industries slated to have the biggest show footprint to date in the event’s history. The event brings the best of the industry together in one place, providing unmatched opportunities to network and do business across all sectors of the food and beverage industry.

The event will present new and innovative products from around Australia and from over 45 countries internationally, as well as live demonstrations, master-classes and industry-recognised competitions.

The annual show attracts over 1,000 exhibitors from Australia and the world, and alternates between Sydney and Melbourne each September. Once again welcoming Bulla Family Dairy as Platinum Sponsor and taking over the Melbourne Convention Centre from 12-15 September, Fine Food Australia 2016 will be showcasing a veritable smorgasbord of new exhibitors and features to whet the appetite of visitors and exhibitors alike.

Performance excellence will be a key feature at Fine Food Australia, with national competitions hosting their finals at the event. The Bake Skills Australia competition will see five competing teams representing their states challenged with a range of products throughout the day; the Great Official Aussie Pie Competition has pastry chefs from around the country prepping their finest dough and fillings, while Nestlé Golden Chef’s Hat Award National Final will culminate at the show.

Fine Food Australia (4)

Making its debut at Fine Food Australia will be Roasters Lane – a zone dedicated to tea and coffee, covering all aspects of leaf and bean from tastings to master classes and expert seminars discussing trends and industry predictions.

Show favourites will be appearing again – located in the Bakery World zone, the Bulla Pastry Stage will see a host of acclaimed pastry chefs offering a series of presentations.

Something that regularly garners large crowds and is a highlight for many of Fine Food Australia’s visitors is the MYOB Talking Food Stage. This year’s lineup of experts and sessions already includes Bruce Keebaugh owner of The Big Group talking all things catering, Sharon Flynn owner of The Fermentary talking about fermentation and food as medicine, Laura Neville owner The Wandering Chef and Saxon Joye from Longfresh talking about high pressure processing, and Ken Burgin, CEO Profitable Hospitality talking about how to attract and retain the right staff.

Also honouring some of the hardest working people in the industry, the annual Women in Foodservice Charity Event will take place on Wednesday 14th September, marking the third year of what has become a must-attend breakout event and networking opportunity. Speakers include Alla Wolf-Tasker, Nahji Chu and Phillippa Grogan, facilitated by Gemima Cody.

With its biggest offering ever, Fine Food Australia 2016 is a non-negotiable date on the calendar for anyone in the country’s vast and great foodservice industry.

When:                       12 – 15 September

Opening Hours:      Mon: 10am-8pm; Tue & Wed: 10am-5pm; Thu: 10am-4pm

Where:                      Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre

Registration:           Register only for free trade entry at finefoodaustralia.com.au using promo code NEWS before Friday 9 September

Fine Food Australia is strictly a trade only event. Children are not permitted.

From plate to podium: what does it take to fuel Olympic athletes?

Just over a week into the Olympics, most of those watching the events have had at least one moment of awe about the feats of athleticism on display. We all know that competing at the Olympics is the end product of years of training, but how much fuel do elite athletes need?

The energy needs of athletes vary depending on their overall body composition and performance goals, as well as day-to-day training type, duration and intensity. This means energy intake is the one dietary factor that tends to differ most between sports.

An artistic gymnast, for instance, needs to be relatively light but muscular – to work against gravity and perform aerial twists. In Olympic weightlifting, weight categories for competition range from 48kg for women to 105kg-plus for men. This wide range in weight and size results in large differences in the amount of fuel that individual sportspeople need.

Eating right

In endurance sports, such as marathon, triathlon, road cycling and the longer distances in swimming, the amount of training and competition can result in estimated energy requirements in excess of 20 MJ/day.

That’s about the equivalent of approximately eight slices of bread; two cups of porridge; six pieces of fruit; 200g cooked steak and 200g cooked chicken; two cups cooked rice; two large potatoes; five cups of green and yellow vegetables; 30g nuts; 60g cheese; and 1.5L of milk

Training programs typically vary in duration, intensity and volume over a competition cycle, and this “periodisation” changes the amount of energy needed.

Athletes who chronically restrict food intake (to stay lean, for instance, or to “weigh in” for events) are more likely to experience fatigue, nutrient deficiencies and loss of lean mass and strength. They also risk developing longer-term health issues, such as impaired cardiovascular and bone health, as well as decreased immunity.

The International Olympic Committee has produced a consensus statement on the risks of relative energy deficiency in sport in response to these detrimental effects to help make athletes and coaches aware of this important issue.

How much to eat

But what about the composition of athletes’ diet? Is it more important to get protein or carbs?

As the food at the London 2012 Games shows, there’s usually a focus on the style of eating from the host country.
REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Athletes need more protein than sedentary people and recommended requirements are approximately 1.2 to 2g protein per kilogram of body weight per day. So for a rower weighing about 85kg this could be up to 170g of protein a day.

We usually teach athletes about servings of different foods that contain 10g of protein, such as two small eggs; 30g reduced fat cheese; 50g grilled fish; 200g reduced fat yoghurt; four slices of bread; and 35g lean beef or lamb. The protein requirements for athletes are easily achieved as most people in developed countries typically eat close to this amount of protein each day.

Carbohydrate requirements vary depending on the training type, intensity and volume. Most athletes need between three and seven grams per kg of body weight every day.

Endurance athletes, who may be training or competing three or more hours a day, are generally recommended to consume between 6-10g of carbohydrate per kg body weight every day. But this can go up to 12g per kg body weight during more extreme, strenuous training or competition (more than five hours a day).

To support recovery, timing some protein and carbohydrate intake around training is beneficial.

Consuming around 20g of protein (often milk or dairy sources are used) in the immediate post-exercise period is beneficial for supporting increased synthesis or manufacture of protein. This can help athletes gain lean mass and strength.

More rapid restoration of muscle glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate) can be supported by including 1 to 1.2g carbohydrate per kg per hour for the first four hours after intense (glycogen-depleting) exercise. It’s particularly important if there are repeated, strenuous training sessions over the day or there’s a need for fast recovery (during a strenuous week of repeated competition games or events, for instance).

Eating for gold

Athletes competing at the Rio Games, who are living in the Olympic village, eat at a temporary dining facility that can cater for 4,000 to 5,000 people in one seating. It’s open 24 hours a day and employs hundreds of managers, chefs and service staff.

Olympic village dining facilities can cater for between 4,000 and 5,000 people in one seating.
REUTERS/David Gray

The menu caters for athletes from a range of competition events – and thus with different energy and nutrient requirements – as well as different cultural and religious beliefs (vegetarian food for Hindus, for instance, or halal meals for Muslims) and food preferences (vegan or lactose-free, for example).

Speciality chefs cater for different regions and there’s usually a focus on the style of eating from the host country. In Rio, for example, there’s a strong emphasis on South American and Brazilian dishes, particularly desserts.

As well as the dining hall, there is a range of other food options where athletes can “grab and go” or eat in a more relaxed environment. Food is also provided for travel to the various competition venues and at the venues themselves.

The complexity of providing food for a major competition has evolved over time in response to increasing numbers of athletes, countries and competition events.

There’s evidence suggesting that more athletes are following different types of dietary regimens, but we don’t know if this is simply a trend or for medical reasons. In particular, requests for gluten-free items have been increasing.

Sports dietitians work with Olympic caterers to ensure the menu accommodates all kinds of diets and can guide athletes with their food choices in the dining hall.

The Conversation

Helen O’Connor, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition, University of Sydney; Fiona Pelly, Associate Professor and Discipline Leader Nutrition and Dietics, University of the Sunshine Coast, and Janelle Gifford, Lecturer in Sports and Public Health Nutrition, University of Sydney

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

Does burnt food give you cancer?

If you’re offered a plate of blackened barbecue food this summer, you might think twice about eating it. It’s commonly thought that food that has been burnt could cause cancer. This is in part down to one particular molecule that forms when food is cooked at high temperatures, known as acrylamide. But while the chemical is a known potential toxin and carcinogen in its industrial form, the link between consuming it in food and developing cancer is much less clear.

The reason we even know about acrylamide’s potential dangers are down to a railway tunnel. Nearly 20 years ago, workers were building a tunnel through the Hallandsås ridge on the Bjäre peninsula in southern Sweden. Cows nearby started to show strange symptoms, staggering around and in some cases collapsing and dying. This prompted an investigation that showed that they had been drinking contaminated stream water and that the contamination was from a toxic molecule, acrylamide.

The construction workers had been using its polymer, polyacrylamide, as a crack sealant. This was, in itself, quite safe. But the polymer-forming reaction was incomplete, so some unreacted acrylamide was still present. The workers were tested to see if they also had unsafe levels of acrylamide in their blood, with a second “control” group of people who had no known exposure to industrial acrylamide used as a benchmark. However, it turned out that the control group also had surprisingly high amounts of acrylamide in their blood.

At first it was thought that burgers might be the source. Then high levels of acrylamide were found in potato products such as fried potatoes, as well as in coffee. It then became clear that acrylamide formation was associated with carbohydrate-rich foods, rather than protein-rich ones, and with foods that had been heated above 120°C (250°F), that is food that has been fried, roasted or baked. This was a new discovery, but acrylamide must always have been formed in this style of cooking, ever since cooking was invented.

Acrylamide is formed in reactions between the natural amino-acid asparagine and some (naturally-occurring) carbohydrates. You don’t find acrylamide in uncooked or boiled food. Dairy, meat or fish products are much less likely to contain acrylamide. It doesn’t matter whether the food is “organic” or not, it’s the type of food that counts. Acrylamide is also formed when smoking tobacco.

Acrylamide is found in cooked carbohydrate-rich food.
Shutterstock

A “golden rule” has been suggested: cook food until it goes yellow, not brown or black. This restricts acrylamide formation, though if you cook at too low a temperature you are less likely to kill off bacteria, so there is more risk of food poisoning.

While scientists have identified the source of acrylamide, they haven’t established that it is definitely a carcinogen in humans when consumed at the levels typically found in cooked food. A 2015 review of available data concluded that “dietary acrylamide is not related to the risk of most common cancers”. Although, it added that a modest association for kidney cancer, and for endometrial and ovarian cancers in people who had never smoked, couldn’t be ruled out.

Meaty concerns

Going back to the barbecue, there are other chemicals in meat that could be a concern. These generally fall into two classes: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs – compounds with several hexagonal “benzene rings” fused together) such as naphthalene and benzopyrene; and heterocyclic amines (HCAs). The PAHs are formed from meat fat and juices dripping onto flames in cooking, and HCAs are generated, again in cooking, from reactions between molecules including amino-acids and sugars.

Animal testing has shown exposure to high levels of chemicals such as these is linked with cancer, but these are levels of exposure much higher than humans would get from eating meat. Some studies do appear to have shown that meat that has been burned, fried or barbecued is associated with higher possibilities of certain cancers, but these links are hard to prove for certain.

If you are really concerned, you could reduce exposure risks by cooking in a microwave rather than over naked flames, and turning meat regularly. You could also eat less meat or replace the meat with vegetables when grilling. Of course, your food may not be as tasty, since grilling, baking or toasting produce a lot of molecules that enhance flavour. But if you have a healthy diet with lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grain food, none of which contain acrylamide, things are easier. It is all a question of proportion.

The Conversation

Simon Cotton, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry, University of Birmingham

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