Multi-agency initiative invites public and private partners to collaborate on strategy to reduce food waste

Shaunice Wall is NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow
An estimated 40 percent of food goes uneaten in the United States. Between 2007 and 2014, American consumers wasted nearly 150,000 tons of food per day. Yet, 40 million Americans struggle with hunger, including 12 million children.

Safe takeout options under coronavirus

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

The way we get food now has totally changed due to the Covid-19 virus. Most us around the nation no longer go to our favorite bar or restaurant or stop at the local coffee shop for a bite to eat or to socialize and have a drink. The mandatory closure shutdown of restaurants with the exception of takeout or delivery is our only option of enjoying a meal not cooked at home. Beyond that, we may ask the questions: first is it safe? Second: is it ethical to potentially expose a delivery worker to what we are all trying to avoid the risk of Covid-19?

The answer to the first question is yes, with some caveats. Currently food is not associated with the transmission of Covid-19, according to the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. However, Vox reports that there is growing evidence of fecal/oral transmission, which means you can ingest the virus shed in feces through inadequate handwashing or contaminated food and water. Therefore, handlers of food who carry the virus can spread the virus to food items. In theory, all restaurants have to follow food safety rules, and there are extra measures that have been put in place due to Covid-19. However, we have seen Chipotle and other restaurants spread infections by poor food handling.

The second question is complicated, but here are some thoughts. Currently delivery workers are in the middle of a pandemic but still have to work to support their families and pay bills. Eater suggests that if customers forego take-out food, delivery workers and restaurants struggling to provide during the crisis could be put out of business.

We recommend ordering take-away food from your favorite restaurants and, even better, support them by buying gift cards for post-pandemic future meals when restaurants re-open.

Your first option is to is use the in-house restaurant delivery option, since third-party apps take commission fees, which reduce the profit for restaurants. Here are some apps that are taking the necessary measures in protecting their workers and helping out the restaurant industry.

  • UberEats is working to provide drivers with disinfectant. With limited supplies they are working with suppliers to source as much as possible. Any delivery worker who is diagnosed with Covid-19 or is individually asked to self-isolate by a public health authority will receive financial assistance for up to 14 days. UberEats customers have the option to choose how they would like their orders delivered, including selecting “leave at door” during checkout. UberEats has also waived the delivery fee for more than 100,000 independent restaurants across the USA and Canada.
  • Postmates launched the Postmates Fleet Relief Fund to help fleet workers cover medical expenses related to Covid-19, regardless of diagnosis. Active members of the fleet who receive a positive diagnosis for Covid-19 or who are required to self-quarantine based on infection may be eligible to access additional funds to offset up to two weeks of lost income while they recover. Postmates has also introduced non-contact deliveries, which allows distancing between customers and delivery workers. Postmates will also waive commission fees for businesses in the San Francisco Bay area.
  • DoorDash (also owns Caviar) is providing financial assistance to eligible delivery workers and Caviar couriers who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or quarantined. DoorDash is consulting with public health officials and working with restaurants to enhance their food preparation protocols. The default delivery method has been changed to the non-contact option to minimize contact between the delivery workers and customers. All new and existing DoorDash partner restaurants will receive commission relief and marketing support.
  • Grubhub is offering a one-time pay adjustment to help with medical expenses and loss of income if a driver tests positive with Covid-19. Grubhub will also support drivers who have been ordered by a public health authority or licensed medical personnel to self-isolate due to a risk of spreading Covid-19, and if a driver’s account has been individually restricted as a result of information provided to Grubhub by a public health authority regarding the risk of spreading Covid-19. Grubhub has also introduced contact-free delivery, which allows customers to request having their delivery left at the front door to avoid less contact.
  • On March 9, Instacart introduced a new sick pay policy that all part-time employees including in-store shoppers now have access to sick pay, an accrued benefit that can be used as paid time off for absences from work due to illness or injury. This pay accrual will be backdated from the start of the year for all in-store shoppers. Instacart is also offering 14 days of pay for any part-time employee and full-service shoppers who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or are under mandatory isolation or quarantine directed by local, state, or public health authority. This assist will be available for 30 days. Instacart has also introduced “Leave at my Door Delivery” to all customers across North America.

It is important that we minimize contact with others since daily things are changing in relation to Covid-19. However, delivery services are really stepping up to keep customers safe and, for that, we should all be grateful. Remember to support your local restaurants by requesting non-contact delivery!

 

Coronavirus and food safety: What you need to know

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Perhaps some of the only good news about the Covid-19 is that food is not the primary way that the virus can be spread. According to Harvard Medical School, “We are still learning about transmission of COVID-19. It’s not clear if this is possible, but if so, it would be more likely to be the exception than the rule. That said, COVID-19 and other coronaviruses have been detected in the stool of certain patients, so we currently cannot rule out the possibility of occasional transmission from infected food handlers. The virus would likely be killed by cooking.”

Great, but not all foods can or are intended to be cooked – think of deli meats, cole slaw, potato salad, cheeses, salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, pastry, butter, cream cheese; so if the mainstay of a deli or restaurant is “fresh” foods, spreading the virus is a real threat if the right precautions are taken.

And COVID-19 has made us all keenly aware of the importance of wiping surfaces and washing hands frequently, especially when handling food. We also know that COVID-19 can’t typically be transmitted from food or from food packaging. But we do have suggestions.

Food safety measures one should take:

  • Wash your hands the right way: Use plain soap and water- skip the antibacterial soap, scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails for about 20 seconds, if you need to time yourself sing the chorus of your favorite song twice. Rinse your hands, and then dry them with a clean towel. Remember to wash your hands often especially since COVID-19 lives on surfaces for an extended period.
  • Wash surfaces and utensils after each use: Wash cutting boards, utensils countertops with hot, soapy water, especially if you had raw meat, seafood, poultry or eggs on these surfaces. Don’t cross contaminate!
  • Remember it is very important to wash your dishcloths in a hot cycle of your washing machine, sometimes we forget this key element to food safety.
  • Learn more from FoodSafety.gov.

Food safety is paramount in our day-to-day lives – it’s so important that we take the necessary steps not to expose ourselves – whether eating in a restaurant or cooking at home, to COVID-19. Remember eat healthy, nutritious foods and take all the steps needed in preparing a safe meal for you and your family.

Coronavirus: Keeping yourself and your family well-fed in a crisis

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Social distancing, isolation, and general uncertainty about the coronavirus have made many rightly concerned about feeding their families during this historic pandemic. Food is very much top-of-mind for most Americans at this critical time. Here are some tips we can offer consumers.

Some of us haven’t stocked our pantry, and we don’t cook much at home. This is a good time to start doing both. My pantry at home is always stocked because I have a toddler who always wants food and snacks. But it’s a good practice generally, and now we are reminded of that more than ever.

From The Washington Post, here are some tips for keeping the pantry stocked so that, in the event of an emergency, you have some options without having to leave the house:

  • Pick a weekend day. Involve the whole family, and make large batches of different dishes so there is variety. Some suggestions: turkey chili, green chili, pasta sauces, and soups or stews—all of which freeze well.
  • Pack them in pint-size containers so that you can take out just what you need for a meal
  • Remember to stock up on frozen vegetables; they have as good or better nutritional value as fresh, since they are flash-frozen at their peak, right after being harvested. If you do not have a big freezer, then opt to stock up on root vegetables. They last longer.
  • Make meals that are nutritious and provide good energy. Many grocery stores are out of stock or running low on stock of rice and pasta. Hugo Ortega, chef and owner of Blackstreet, offered this suggestion to The Post: mix Masa Harina (ground, nixtamalized corn flour better known as Masa), with water, stretch it in the palm of your hand, fill it with stewed vegetables, meat, cheese or anything really and cook it on a cast iron pan. For those that do not know, masa flour is equivalent to pasta, so if you cannot find pasta in your grocery store this is an option—and it’s delicious.

Chef Ortega also hopes that this forced hibernation will encourage people to cultivate fresh food themselves: fresh rosemary that you can grown near a your window or a tomato plant at your back door or on a balcony.

So make a trip to the grocery store—but consider doing so at an off-peak time, and follow the CDC’s advice for going into public safely—and stock up your pantry, cook your family’s favorite dishes, and store them in your freezer. There’s never been a time where we needed to be more prepared, and you’re sure to enjoy the experience with family!

New study says Chipotle management presses workers to work sick and skip food safety practices, creating health risks for consumers

February 6, 2020

The Unsavory side of ‘Food with Integrity.’ ” report details management practices that lead to worker abuses and call into question protocols Chipotle put in place after recent food safety crises

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

New York — After dozens of outbreaks of foodborne illness incidents over the past four years, Chipotle gave lip service to reforms in their work practices, but the fast-casual restaurant has continued to engage in management practices that lead to abuses of workers that may create food safety risks for consumers, a new study says.

Scores of employees interviewed for the study reported management pressure to work fast without following proper food safety procedures, such as:

  • One worker being pressured to work while sick, even after the worker vomited partway into his shift;
  • Undercooked chicken being served to a customer because the grill cookout in place had not been properly trained;
  • Workers pressured to work so fast that during lunch and dinner rushes, they often flipped over  chopping boards used to cut raw meat, and reused the boards without washing them;
  • One worker who cooked food had to clean feces off the floor or ceiling of a bathroom multiple times without hazmat suit or adequate protection equipment;
  • Pressure to work without stopping, with no time left to wash their hands for hours on end.

In the report, “The Unsavory Side of ‘Food with Integrity,'” workers told researchers that their managers often knew when supposedly independent audits were coming because other managers or field leaders who have undergone inspection often tip them off. Workers reported that managers relax rules outside of inspection periods and tightened up adherence to food safety protocols when inspections are imminent.

“The findings of this report call into question the effectiveness of measures that Chipotle put in place to solve their food safety crises of a few years ago,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, which co-authored the report. “If Chipotle executive management and the Food Safety Advisory Council are responsible for making sure that this program is implemented effectively to keep the public safe, they have been asleep at the wheel.”

The National Consumers League, America’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization which has been representing consumers and workers on marketplace and workplace issues since their founding in 1899, undertook the study after SEIU Local 32BJ brought the organization information from field organizers about what were learning about practices that could affect consumer food safety from Chipotle workers they were supporting in their organizing efforts.

Organizers and researchers spoke to hundreds of workers, then undertook formal interviews with 47 workers at 25 stores in New York City. These interviews and statements form the basis of the report, which also included analysis of a variety of corporate filings, press reports, and other publicly available documents.

“We chose to blow the whistle on these practices and abuses because our Chipotle managers did not listen to us,” Jeremy Espinal, a Chipotle worker, said. “It’s a pressure-packed workplace where supervisors intimidate you and retaliate against you.”

“I am speaking out because I want to make Chipotle a better place to work and a better place for customers to eat,” Jahaira Garcia, another Chipotle worker, said. “This job is how I support myself, how I help my father out with expenses at home and how I am able to partly pay for my school fees.”

32BJ President Kyle Bragg thanked the National Consumers League for working with the union and thanked the workers for their courage.

“I believe that these workers are Chipotle’s best assets,” Bragg said. “They can put the integrity back into ‘food with integrity.’ Give them a voice on the job and they will help Chipotle achieve the lofty ideals of its marketing.”

Report findings include:

  • Managerial pay incentives that promote cutting food safety corners:  managers can earn up to an additional 25% of base pay by meeting performance goals that include reducing labor costs, creating a highly pressurized work environment. This bonus program may incentivize managers to meet productivity goals by cutting corners on food safety or by violating worker protection laws.
  • Ineffective store audits: Worker interviews revealed that general managers frequently know when supposedly independent audits are coming because other managers or field leaders who have been inspected often tip them off. Workers reported that managers have relaxed rules following outside of inspection periods and tightened up adherence to food safety protocols when an audit is imminent.
  • Pressure to work sick: New York-based workers reported that managers have pressured crew members to work while sick or retaliated against workers for taking paid sick leave.
  • Minimal training: Despite the substantial skills needed to safely prepare Chipotle’s fresh food menu, many new hires receive minimal training and “learn as they go” from co-workers who may not have received much training themselves.

“As chairman of the New York City Council Public Health Committee, this is deeply troubling to me,” said New York Councilmember Mark Levine. “Risk of contagion should not be aggravated by an aggressive incentive structure that encourages managers to abuse workers and cut food safety corners. The public needs to know more and Chipotle needs to change their policies. That is why I am calling for a public hearing in the Council. I encourage Chipotle workers and consumers to come forward to discuss these issues. I also invite the company to be there to engage in this conversation.”

Nick Freudenberg, distinguished professor of Public Health at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy and Director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, discussed Chipotle’s history of food borne disease outbreaks.

In 2015 and 2016, Chipotle was rocked by a series of food safety crises that sickened hundreds of customers across the country and included exposure to virulent pathogens like E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus, resulting in vomiting, pain, and in some cases hospitalizations. Despite claiming major food safety reforms instituted in 2016 to recapture consumer confidence, the company continued to have food-borne illness problems in 2017 and 2018, including an Ohio outbreak in which 647 people were sickened.

Despite Chipotle implementing an “enhanced food safety program” in 2016, the City’s Department of Health found 260 critical violations at 74 out of 84 restaurants from 2017 to 2019. Critical violations are those most likely to pose “a substantial risk to the public’s health” and lead to food-borne illness. The critical violation examples found by health inspectors include food left at dangerous temperatures that allow for the growth of pathogens, practices that allow for the contamination of ready-to-eat foods, evidence of various pests, and stores supervised by managers without a certificate in food protection. Just two weeks ago, the City cited a Chipotle restaurant where they found a crewmember working while “ill with a disease transmissible by food or [an] exposed infected cut or burn on [their] hand”.

Worker advocates and community groups were surprised by the findings and expressed support for Chipotle workers:

“Chipotle has not only acted duplicitously—championing a mission of integrity and freshness in public while speeding up production and cutting corners behind the counter—the company has created added risks for workers and consumers in the pursuit of profits,” said Ana Maria Archila of the Center for Popular Democracy. “Outlined in this report are issues that range from cautionary to alarming. Will Chipotle wait for another outbreak before they take corrective action—or will they take action ‘with integrity’ now to reduce potential harm?”

“This report is vital to understanding that the exploitation of workers in the food industry does not just impact workers and their families, it impacts everyone, including consumers,” Suzanne Adely of the Food Chain Workers Alliance said. “Chipotle and all food service workers deserve fair working conditions. Denying them basic, humane rights like sick days, proper healthy and safe working spaces, cannot be justified. Exploiting food workers for profit does not only harm workers and their families, it harms everyone, including consumers.”

“Chipotle is another example of worker safety and consumer safety being undermined together,” said Charlene Obernauer of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH). “Chipotle has a legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace and they need to take the appropriate steps to make this possible.”

“This report details how Chipotle’s low-road labor standards and incentives for managers to cut corners are endangering the dining public,” said Paul Sonn, State Policy Program Director for the National Employment Law Project. “Chipotle needs to recognize that investing in its workforce with stable, quality jobs is essential for delivering a safe and healthy dining experience for its customers.”

“We are deeply concerned with the workplace issues, especially that of forced arbitration described by Chipotle workers in this study,” Deborah Axt of Make the Road said. “We stand with Chipotle workers, the majority of whom are workers of color and many of whom are from communities like the ones our members are from, in calling for company-wide reforms and a commitment to invest in a stable workforce.”

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About 32BJ SEIU

With 175,000 members in 11 states, including 85,000 in New York, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.

About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

New National Consumers League podcast We Can Do This! explores current, historic socioeconomic reform in America

January 16, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering worker and consumer advocacy organization, has launched a podcast called We Can Do This!, produced by District Productive and hosted by NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg and other members of NCL policy staff. 

In We Can Do This!, NCL and justice-minded, expert guests explore current socioeconomic issues at the heart of American political and cultural battles before a backdrop of the historic and ongoing advocacy and activism that help pave the way for meaningful policy reform. 

We Can Do This! episodes span the breadth of NCL’s wide mission and issues, including; healthcare, data and privacy, food and nutrition, labor, finance, and other topics. 

A first batch of episodes featuring individuals who are helping to shape the nation’s social and economic reforms have been released:   

E1-2: Crashing through the glass ceiling with two dynamos of women’s rights law—parts 1-2 

With Judith Lichtman, president emeritus and senior advisor of the National Partnership for Women and Families and Marcia Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law Center 

E3: Ending the scourge of child labor 

With Kailash Satyarthi, anti-child labor crusader and Nobel Laureate 

E4: Measles, it ain’t over until it’s over 

With Dr. Linda Fu, general pediatrician at Children’s National Health System 

E5: Sorry, fair pay and a safe workplace aren’t on the menu 

With Diana Ramirez, federal senior policy advocate at Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC United) 

These five episodes are available now on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, and the remainder of the 11-episode series will be released in early 2020. 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Sorry, fair pay and a safe workplace aren’t on the menu

Diana Ramirez, Federal Senior Policy Advocate at Restaurant Opportunities Center,….

National Consumers League opposes ‘unethical and unjustified’ Grinch cuts to the SNAP program, causing hundreds of thousands of children to lose nutrition assistance

December 9, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Despite widespread opposition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it would tighten work requirements for able-bodied Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants without dependents. The National Consumers League joins 140,000 other Americans who overwhelmingly oppose this cruel and unnecessary slashing of an effective safety net program.

Under current regulations, able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) can receive food assistance no more than three months out of every three years, unless they work at least 80 hours per month or meet other education or workforce training requirements. Previously, states could waive work requirements when jobs were unavailable or didn’t match workers’ skills, but the rule will make it more difficult to do so, causing an estimated 688,000 people to lose benefits.

The vast majority of the more than 140,000 comments submitted to USDA in response to the rule were written in opposition, including those submitted by NCL Board member National Farmers Union (NFU).

Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director:

“More than 37 million Americans will experience food insecurity this year in the richest country in the world. SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, eases that pain and helps ensure that those in need can put food on their tables. Among our national safety net programs, food stamps is among the most effective. It provides that essential nutrition safety net for American families and especially children– yet this administration has done everything it can to slash gaping holes into that net, preventing hundreds of thousands of children and adults from getting rightful access to these programs. To add to the pain, these work requirements will erode food security in rural and urban communities alike.

“NCL joins with the NFU in believing that these new rules reflect the cold indifference to the struggles of our fellow Americans; we believe it is unethical and unjustified. We continue to call on the administration to rescind this rule, and we stand with the anti-hunger community and the many national, state, and local organizations who seek to support and protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Consumer group says ‘NO!’ to proposal to lift standard sizes for spirits, says ‘unscrupulous actors will cheat consumers’

October 29, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

NCL files comment with the U.S. Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) objecting to a proposal to completely eliminate standards of fill (or permissible bottle sizes) for distilled spirits, inviting consumer confusion.

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) has filed a regulatory comment with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) objecting to its proposed regulation (Docket TTB-2019-0005) to eliminate the “standards of fill” or permissible bottle sizes for distilled spirits products. 

For years, NCL has been urging TTB to take into account adult consumers’ interest in having access to clear, usable, and meaningful information about the alcoholic beverages they consume. Most recently, NCL wrote TTB to make the case that its effort to “modernize” alcoholic beverage labeling and advertising should include mandatory serving facts labeling so that consumers may understand how much alcohol (as well as nutrients) they consume in a serving and in a given container. 

In its comment, NCL objects to the TTB proposal because of its great potential to harm consumers by damaging the common understanding of container sizes, which consumers have come to rely on since the end of Prohibition. The TTB proposal makes no sense in the absence of mandatory serving facts labeling and invites deceptive practices by unscrupulous manufacturers who will undoubtedly vary bottle sizes to deceive consumers and increase profits.

NCL’s full comment may be seen here. 

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.