Meatpacking workers, consumers safeguarded by House measure to overhaul pork line speed rule

June 5, 2019

Amendment blocks the USDA from issuing final rule on swine inspection, pending OIG study to support food safety rules

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) is commending Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and David Price (D-NC) for teaming up to offer an amendment to delay the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s misguided and hazardous proposed rule to strip all speed limits at pig slaughterhouses and to force transparency around its flawed process. The removal of limits could allow slaughterhouses to handle a mind-boggling 1,300 or more pigs per hour and risk improper stun-gunning of livestock in the rush to process them quickly, endangering workers’ safety, public health, and animal welfare.

“Even at current line speeds, pork slaughter and processing workers face many job risks that can lead to severe injury, illness, and death. Meatpacking workers in hog slaughter plants work in cold, wet, noisy, and slippery conditions, making tens of thousands of forceful repetitive motions on each shift. Meatpacking workers are injured at 2.4 times the rate of other industries and they face illness rates at 17 times the rate of other industries,” wrote members of Congress in a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. The proposed rule would also turn over inspection responsibilities to company employees, allow slaughterhouses to define their own microbiological criteria for food safety performance, and usher in comprehensive reforms to longstanding inspection practices without a reliable means of evaluating their efficacy.

The “modernization” of the Swine Slaughter Inspection System will not lead to safer food. Eliminating line speed limits makes it harder for federal meat inspectors and workers in plants to do their jobs. Ultimately, this means it will be less safe for consumers to eat pork.

The amendment blocks funding for implementation of the rule until the USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducts an investigation of all data used by the USDA to develop the proposal. Previously, this data, including worker-safety data was not publicly disclosed until after the closure of the public review and comment period for the proposed rule. The Amendment mandates that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service fully address and resolve the issues raised by the OIG before the funding hold can be lifted.

NCL is deeply grateful for the leadership of Reps. DeLauro and Price and wishes for the Senate to sustain this vital amendment.

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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.

NCL statement on FDA’s draft rule to publicize the identity of food retail consignees following Class I recall

September 26, 2018

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 commends Commissioner Scott Gottleib, MD, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for releasing a draft rule on September 26, 2018, that would publicize the names and locations of food retail consignee (i.e., establishment) that have issued a recall due to a food safety risk or the confirmed presence of a food contaminant. Previously, FDA has worked with companies to identify the specific contaminated product or brand, but has refrained from publicizing food distribution or retail information such as store names and locations due to commercial confidentiality concerns. Today’s move represents a step forward for consumers, removing the information burden previously placed onto consumers wishing to protect themselves and their families from contaminated food.

While the rule represents a good first step, NCL believes the FDA could go further in what the rule will cover. For instance, FDA should publicize the retail establishments for all recalls, not only Class I (serious injury or death), as the rule is currently written. The other two classes of recalls, Class II (serious injury or temporary illness), and Class III (unlikely to cause illness or injury but violate federal rules), should also be included in this rule. Further, FDA should include restaurants in the types of retail consignees covered in the draft rule. Currently, it covers grocery stores, pet food stores, and convenience stores that can receive orders in store or online, as well as direct delivery or third-party delivery service.

NCL commends FDA for this effort. The draft rule is open to public comments for 60 days, after which the Administration will evaluate consumer and retailer feedback, issuing proposed guidance.

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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.

Chipotle’s misdirected food safety efforts – National Consumers League

92_chipotle_stock_photo.jpgBy Ali Schklair, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow 

Back in August, Chipotle launched its ‘G-M-Over it’ campaign. In the name of food safety, it pledged to eliminate all genetically modified ingredients from its food supply. But the hype didn’t last long. By September, Chipotle was facing a class-action lawsuit challenging the validity of their GMO ban. Plaintiffs argued that the meat and dairy products served at the chain come from animals that feed on GMO corn and soy, not to mention the corn syrup used in Chipotle’s juices and soft drinks.

Fast-forward to December, and Chipotle was being linked to numerous foodborne illness outbreaks. Over a six-month period, 500 people were sickened and 20 were hospitalized from norovirus, salmonella, or one of two different strains of E. coli. 2016 isn’t looking much better for Chipotle. A federal grand jury has served the company with a subpoena asking for documents relating to the norovirus outbreak at a Simi Valley, CA location. At this point, it is safe to say that Chipotle has greatly misdirected its food safety efforts.

Outbreaks at restaurants are serious. In 1993 an E. Coli outbreak at the fast food restaurant Jack In The Box infected 732 people. The bacterium originated from undercooked beef patties in hamburgers. The outbreak involved 73 Jack In The Box restaurants in CaliforniaIdahoWashington, and Nevada and has been described as “far and away the most infamous food poison outbreak in contemporary history.” Four children died, and 178 other victims were left with permanent injury, including kidney and brain damage. The FDA implemented new guidelines and regulations after the Jack In The Box tragedy, including setting temperatures for cooking beef to destroy pathogens.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 48 million Americans are infected by foodborne diseases each year. Consumers are twice as likely to get sick from food prepared at a restaurant. Since pathogens can grow and spread anywhere throughout the supply chain, it’s often hard to track the source of an outbreak. When restaurants have multiple supply sources, as does Chipotle, it is even harder to identify the origin. As discussed in a recent New Yorker article, “while Chipotle has said that it is introducing more stringent testing and reassessing its food-handling practices, its reliance on local suppliers means that the task of insuring the integrity of its supply chain will be harder.” Not only will Chipotle have to revamp its food safety protocols, but it may also need to reconsider its entire local sourcing model—something that is a draw for many devoted Chipotle customers.

Where does that leave consumers who eat out? The CDC suggests taking these four precautionary steps when picking a restaurant or dining out:

  1. Check inspection scores. Search online to see how the restaurant scored on their state health department health inspection.
  2. Make sure the restaurant is clean. Look around to see how used plates and utensils are handled. If you can see it, notice how food is being prepared and how cooking spaces are cleaned.
  3. Check that your food is cooked properly. Look at your meat to determine whether it is cooked thoroughly, and send it back if it appears too pink or raw in texture.
  4. Handle your leftovers properly. Refrigerate leftovers no more than an hour after leaving the restaurant. Eat leftovers within 3 to 4 days, and discard if you see signs of deterioration – like mold or a bad smell or texture – on leftovers.

The CDC and Food Safety News offer plenty more helpful information about avoiding food borne illness.

NCL’s visit to Corto Olive: An examination of true EVOO production – National Consumers League

corto.jpgBy Ali Schklair, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow 

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a fairly recent addition to the American kitchen. Due to the popularity of the Mediterranean diet and the promotion of “healthy fats,” many consumers are now opting for EVOO as their primary cooking oil. Over the past few decades, olive oil producers worldwide have scrambled to keep up with increasing consumer demand. Unfortunately, the majority of “extra virgin olive oil” available to consumers is not truly EVOO.   

Results of a 2010 UC Davis EVOO study found that approximately 69 percent of imported oil labeled “extra virgin olive oil” is mislabeled. An emphasis on imported oils is important for two reasons: one, imported extra virgin olive oil dominates 97 percent of the EVOO market in the United States; two, there are no federally mandated quality standards for imported products in the United States. As a result, we are left with an unregulated EVOO market that is inundated with low quality olive oil.  

In this industry, fraud starts in the fields. This fall, NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow Ali Schklair visited Corto Olive, a family-run olive oil company based in Lodi, California. There was something distinctly different about the olive trees at Corto. Instead of large and looming, these trees were trim, contained, and steadied by lean trunks. Schklair later learned that the shape and positioning of these trees is the reason Corto is able produce such high quality oil.

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Traditionally, olives were picked by hand, making the harvesting process tedious and time consuming. As imported EVOO gained popularity in the U.S., many of the companies abroad did not have enough labor to satisfy demand. Without time to inspect each olive, oil producers started waiting for olives to rot and fall to the ground. The fruit (and the dirt, sticks, and leaves along with it) could then be easily raked up and sent to the mill. To mask the rancidity, oil is often refined, mixed with small amounts of good oil, and even altered in color and consistency. Rotting fruit, refining, and the mixing of oils mean that this oil is no longer high quality EVOO. Still, the manipulated product is shipped off to the U.S., too often falsely stamped with the “extra virgin olive oil” label.

In 1990, farmers in Spain developed an alternative harvesting system that allows olives to be picked at peak freshness. The “super high-density method” has olive trees planted and pruned close together so a special harvesting machine-not able to fit around traditional trees-can easily fit between rows.  The best producers in the U.S., like Corto, have adopted this method in order to provide higher quality oil than their international counterparts.  

Once olives are harvested, they are brought to the mill for sorting and washing. Unlike most mills, Corto uses a special sorting machine called the “optical sorter” to remove only undesirable materials from the batch. This technology is used in other aspects of food processing, but Corto is the first to use it for olive oil. Corto’s use of the high-density method and an optical sorter is unique and ensures their oil is fresh and authentically extra virgin.

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Extra virgin olive oil has gained popularity in the U.S. because of its many health benefits, which are real and important. But with such high instances of adulteration, it’s safe to assume that most consumers aren’t really getting what they pay for. So, how can consumers know if the oil they buy is truly extra virgin? Unfortunately, it’s hard to know for certain because most of our palates are not trained to recognize the real thing.  

Throughout Europe, especially in the Mediterranean, olive oil is used as commonly as salt and pepper in the U.S. Understandably, taste is very important. In the U.S., products labeled “extra virgin olive oil” are mostly used in cooking, making it easier for lower quality oil to fly under the radar. Tom Mueller, author of the book Extra Virginity, offers information and tips on his website to help consumers make more informed choices. Using resources like this, and by putting a higher value on taste, consumers can learn to shop for higher quality oil and actually reap the benefits they seek. There are a number of honest, high quality EVOO brands on the market, including Corto. Please see NCL’s EVOO testing results here.

 

Turkey day safety tips – National Consumers League

Untitled-1.jpgThe holidays are fast approaching and whatever your family’s traditions, they are sure in involve large quantities of food. With all that food comes food safety risks. Here are a few tips to make sure your family has a safe holiday season. From NCL to your table, we hope you have a great holiday season!

 

Turkey Tips

Defrost: Don’t leave your bird out overnight! Plan to defrost in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of bird.  If you don’t have time for that, defrost your bird in a cold water bath changing the water every 30 minutes. This method should take about 30 minutes per pound to defrost. 

Preparation: Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t wash the bird before cooking it. Doing so only spreads germs to other foods, utensils and surfaces. If you plan on stuffing the turkey, don’t do so until right before cooking as harmful bacteria can being to grow in stuffing left to sit inside the turkey for long periods.  

Cooking: Turkeys, especially large ones, can take a long time to cook so make sure you allow plenty of time for your bird to be completely cooked. The internal temperature should be 165⁰F. Check the temperature of the bird at multiple locations; you want to make sure the coldest part has reached the appropriate temperature. If you have stuffed your bird, check it to make sure the stuffing has reached 165⁰F as well. Even if your turkey comes with a pop up thermometer, double check the temperature with a meat thermometer to make sure it’s done.

Bacteria Free Buffets

The first step to serving safe food throughout the holidays, or any time, is to ensure you thoroughly wash your hands before and after handling food. Always use clean plates, not those that previously held raw meat or poultry as they can cross contaminate the food you are serving with bacteria. The same is true for cutting boards and other surfaces prepared foods touch, like counters. 

Ensure that all food is cooked thoroughly reaching safe minimum internal temperatures.  All poultry needs to be cooked to at least 165⁰F.   Beef, pork, lamb, and veal should be cooked to 145⁰F if they are intact and 160⁰F if they are ground.  Storing foods in shallow containers allows them to cool or freeze quickly and evenly.  When reheating hot foods for a buffet keep them in the oven with the temperature set around 200-250⁰F until they are ready to be served. 

If possible when food is put out for the buffet, keep hot foods at 140⁰F or warmer and cool foods at 40⁰F or cooler.  For hot foods, this can be done with slow cookers, warming trays and chafing dishes.  Cold foods can be nested in dishes over ice. 

Leftovers

Put all leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours.  For most efficient cooling, store large amounts of leftovers in several smaller containers.  Leftovers should be stored at 40⁰F or 4.4⁰C or frozen at 0⁰F or -17.7⁰C.  Make sure containers are sealed and keep refrigerated for 3-4 days or frozen if you plan on keeping them longer.  Reheat hot foods to 165⁰F.

Stay Active

As we all know, the holidays can be a difficult time to maintain a healthy diet.  Studies have shown that while holiday weight gain isn’t as dramatic as we think, it can contribute to weight gain over a lifetime.  Most people gain about one pound over the holiday season which is a rather manageable amount.  That doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself some of the best food you’ll have all year, instead make sure you stay active and eat everything in moderation.  It might be cold but there are plenty of fun winter activities such as ice skating, skiing, sledding or even taking a brisk walk that can help you stay active throughout the holidays. 

More Questions?

For Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season you can download The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) free app called “Ask Karen” that has answers in both English and Spanish for any food safety question you might have.  As always, the USDA will have its bilingual Meat and Poultry Hotline available Monday through Friday, 10a.m. to 4 p.m.  You can call in toll free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).

From everyone here at NCL, we hope you have a happy and healthy holiday season!

After 80 years, the FDA updates food-safety regulations – National Consumers League

food.jpgBy Ali Schklair, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow 

In 1938, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C). Regulated by the FDA, the law set safety standards for the manufacturing and distribution of food, drugs, and cosmetics. But, our food (drug and cosmetic) system has changed dramatically since the 1930s. 

Today, most of our raw and processed foods come from industrial farms. The popularity of frozen and prepackaged foods has skyrocketed. And imported foods account for 15 percent of the US food supply, including almost 50 percent of fresh fruit and 20 percent of fresh vegetables. While everything from farming practices to eating habits has evolved since the 1930s, the FDA has followed the same safety standards implemented almost a century ago.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was first enacted in 2011, is a breakthrough for food safety in the US.  On Thursday, September 10th, 2015, the final preventive control rules for human and animal food were released. These rules are a critical piece of FSMA’s prevention-based approach to improving food safety. Additional rules addressing produce safety and food imports are expected to be finalized and released by the end of October. Once all rules are in effect, the US will have a food safety oversight system that requires producers and processors to take preemptive action against the growth and spread of pathogens.

A focus on prevention reflects how food policy and public health frameworks have shifted in America. Instead of relying on reactive interventions, today, health initiatives focus on identifying and preventing hazards before they reach the public. Prevention strategies are used to address public health problems like the flu, obesity, lung cancer, and now foodborne illness.

But, FSMA will only be successful in carrying out these preventive measures if the FDA has access to adequate funding. Currently, the House and Senate appropriations bills for the 2016 fiscal year do not meet funding needs. The Food Safety Modernization Act has the potential to overhaul our current food safety regulatory system, which will hopefully lead to less food contamination and less foodborne illnesses. However, without sufficient funding, we could be stuck with the same antiquated system for another eighty years. 

Teens do not realize the dangers of energy drinks – National Consumers League

Many student athletes are loading up on highly caffeinated energy drinks before practices and competitions.  In some cases, parents are providing these beverages.  What both the parents and teens may not realize is that energy drinks are leading to death, especially among individuals with heart complications or defects. Too many young people are unknowingly hurting their bodies from energy drink overconsumption.

For starters, energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine and are designed to be consumed more quickly than a cup of coffee or tea.  While some smaller servings of energy drinks contain less than 200 milligrams of caffeine, a normal amount to consume in a day according to doctors, many come in 20 – 24oz cans which contain far higher levels of caffeine.  Not to mention there are endless accounts of teens drinking multiple energy drinks at one time.  One product, Mio, comes in a small squeeze bottle and is intended to be added to water.  The entire bottle in whole contains 18 servings coming in at around 1060mg of caffeine.  This sort of product is begging to be abused by students. 

High levels of caffeine in energy drinks aren’t the only dangerous component.  Thanks to loopholes and a lack of enforcement on behalf of FDA, energy drink companies use additives (like guarana and l-carnitine) that are not proven to be safe.  Not to mention that guarana contains caffeine that isn’t included in the total amount of caffeine.  Taurine, another common additive, also affects the heart and cardiovascular system.  Mysterious additives in combination with the tendency to consumer these beverages in large amounts lends to a rather dangerous brew. 

With so much contention surrounding youth consumption of energy drinks, why does the U.S. continuing to allow marketing and sales to minors?  In 2011, Canada set limits on the amount of caffeine in energy drinks. Canada also required on package labels that identify groups sensitive to caffeine and warning labels advising against mixing energy drinks with alcohol.  At the very least marketing to minors in the U.S. should be eliminated and age restrictions put in place on sales.  

Making the case for a soda tax – National Consumers League

Last week the Center for the Science in the Public Interest hosted the National Soda Summit in Washington, DC. Strange name for a conference, I know.  Without further explanation, one might conclude from the title that his was a Coca-Cola extravaganza. Au contraire. CSPI, which was founded in by Dr. Mike Jacobson in 1971, gets the credit for getting Americans, for the first time, to question what’s in their food, ask how nutritional that food is, and ask why our food choices make us unhealthy.

Sweetened drinks such as soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened coffees and tea, add large numbers of calories to the diets of children and adults. They are associated with chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Undoing the damage that’s caused by unhealthy foods – and the ubiquity of unhealthy drinks available to us every day –is a long slow process. Walk into a 7-11 sometime and count the number of empty calorie options that add massive amounts of calories to our diet every year.

On the tables at the conference were two-liter bottles of Mountain Dew and Pepsi and Coke and energy drinks– with notes on how much sugar each contained – try 64 teaspoons in the Mountain Due and 72 in the Pepsi. Bags of domino sugar were mounted on one table to demonstrate the absurd amounts of empty calories in these drinks. That’s a little bit deceptive because the sweetener in these drinks isn’t sugar but high fructose corn syrup. However, the calories are the same.

NCL supports a tax on sweetened drinks, with proceeds devoted to school nutritional education programs.  The latest research from the Robert Wood Johnson is that a calorie –based tax on drinks would reduce consumption of beverage calories. Based on sales data from supermarkets in New York, a .04 cent per calorie tax on sugar sweetened beverages would reduce the consumption of beverage calories by 9.3 percent. Research shows that a variety of pricing strategies can create incentives for healthier choices. Interestingly, a 20 percent increase in the cost of sweetened beverages, is estimated to reduce consumption by 24 percent. Like cigarettes, soda is price sensitive; raising the price of these empty calorie drinks may be just what we need to lower consumption levels.

 

Raw milk is a raw deal for consumers – National Consumers League

NCL has recently signed onto a consumer group letter opposing two shocking federal bills introduced to weaken restrictions on the sale of raw milk. Raw milk – milk that hasn’t been pasteurized to kill dangerous bacteria – can kill you. NCL’s first leader, Florence Kelley, watched children get sick and die from raw milk. She was disconsolate that states were slow to require pasteurization, Louis Pasteur’s great discovery that heating milk kills pathogens.

(Pasteur also developed the rabies vaccine.) Heating milk to 161 degrees for 15 seconds, known as flash pasteurization, is all it takes to make milk safe.

The ignorance of those who champion the so-called benefits of raw milk is astounding. Its one thing if an adult wants to consume raw milk, but parents feed raw milk to their children putting their kids’ lives at risk.  The CDC reported in 2012 that unpasteurized products are 150 times more likely to cause food borne illnesses than pasteurized versions.

One of the federal bills would end the interstate ban on raw milk sales and the second would allow interstate transport between states where raw milk is legally sold. There are 40 bills to allow raw milk sales at the state level.

Bill Marler is a food lawyer in Seattle who has handled two-dozen cases involving illnesses from raw milk consumption in children or the elderly.  “It’s a high risk product and in most cases, I’m representing the most vulnerable in society,” Marler said.

In November, five-year-old Maddie Powell was one of nine children in her family, all younger than seven, who were sickened by E. coli from raw milk. Maddie, along with two of the other children, developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal kidney disease that is known to coincide with E. coli infections. After this frightening and costly experience, Maddie’s mother said they would not return to drinking raw milk.

Why in the world would any parent knowingly subject their child to such a dangerous product to begin with? Because raw milk advocates are peddling a message that their product has health benefits superior to pasteurized milk. Nothing could be more misguided. We hope these federal bills will generate an informed discussion that will demonstrate the folly of consuming raw milk.

America: Land of the free, home of the wasteful? – National Consumers League

Have you ever wondered what happens to the food you throw away? A quarter to a third of all food worldwide goes to waste, and in America an astonishing 40 percent of our food is wasted. For many Americans, bounty and convenience make it easy to be out of touch with where food comes from and where it ends up. Learn what you can you do about it, starting today!

Since the 1970’s, when industrial farming became a significant means of feeding the public, food waste in the U.S. has increased by 50 percent. While Americans’ growing interest in the origin of their food is a step in the right direction, we need to complete the circle by also taking note of what happens to our food that we toss away. 

Food waste can happen at many points throughout the supply chain but consumers and commercial establishments, like restaurants and grocery stores, are the largest wasters of food. American families throw away 25 percent of the food they purchase which costs a family an estimated $1,350 to $2,275 a year.  Not only is this bad for our wallets, but it’s also bad for the environment. Food waste typically ends up in landfills creating methane gas, the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. The UK estimates that if everyone on earth stopped wasting food that could be eaten, it would have the environmental equivalent of removing every one in four cars from the road. 

We at the National Consumers League found these statistics disturbing and we’ve decided to do something about it.  The League will begin working on a food waste project to educate consumers and put pressure on both federal and local governments to reduce food waste. Improved expiration date labeling, compost pick up, and food handling education are all important steps to help consumers reduce their food waste. 

America may be the land of plenty but there are still plenty of Americans that go hungry every day; One in six to be exact. If we reduced our food waste losses by 15% we could feed 25 million more Americans each year, that’s half of all Americans that are currently food insecure. As a nation, we have no reason to ignore this massive problem.  Both the United Kingdom and the European Union have resolved to drastically reduce their food waste and the United States should follow their lead. As a nation we cannot continue to throw food prematurely or unnecessarily into the garbage as tens of millions Americans struggle to find food to put on the table to feed their families.