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.

I’m going for the kids’ portion!

With overweight and obesity stats in an upward trajectory, the National Consumers League and the Georgetown School of Business are partnering up for a survey on a simple topic: what do Americans know about portion sizes, calories of average foods, and how many calories we can eat each day without packing on the pounds? 

We have a health crisis in AmericaFrom 2015-2016, 39.8 percent of American adults were considered obesewhich means the body mass index (BMI) measurements of more than 129 million of us are considered obeseThe annual medical cost of obesity is estimated at $147 billion because heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancers are tied to obesity. What is particularly concerning is that more than a third of younger people, ages 20-39, are obese.  

In fact, the New York Times reported that roughly a fifth of our soldiers are obese! The military is trying to combat this problem by replacing sweet drinks with water and cutting out fried foods, but it’s not working. 

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines recommend that the average person should consume about 2,000 calories a day. Do most of us know that if you exceed 2,000 calories day regularly, you pack on the pounds? (That’s unless, of course, you’re getting a lot of calorieburning exercise or have a great metabolism.) Is that number too high for many of us? (It is for me. If I eat more than 1,650 calories, I know I’m going to put on weight.That’s what we want to find out with our research: what do Americans really know about this guideline? 

We will also be asking whether most Americans know how many calories are in average serving of common foods such as yogurt (150), hamburgers with bun (350), pizza (350 per slice), bagels (325), muffins (425), 4-piece fried chicken dinner with all the fixings (850-1,200), a 30oz. steak (1,400), a piece of cheesecake (650)big chocolate chip cookie (450)and an ice cream cone (300-400.) 

Also, dAmericans know what an average serving is? A Cheesecake Factory salad is not an average serving! Each of their salads have more than 1,300 calories. That’s too much for one meal. Unfortunately, restaurant serving sizes have increased a lot over the last several decades. 

Which brings me back to my headlinekids portions! I’ve begun sampling my local downtown DC upscale food spots popular with millennials like Roti, CAVAChoptThe custom is that you order a bowl of lettuce or spinach as a base and put lots of pretty healthy but also pretty caloric toppingsadd a protein for a few bucks extra, and crowned with shredded cheese and salad dressing. When you’re done, you have a big portion and lots of good food but also lots of caloriesalbeit not from hamburger and fries but still, calories! 

So try the kids’ portion! They are cheaper by a thirda lot less food, a lot fewer calories, and completely filling. My CAVA kids meal had a small white bread (unfortunately) pita, yogurt spread, two small spicy meatballs, cucumber salad, tomato salad, three pieces of fried breadand scoop of brown rice. In other words, a lot of food! I figured it was about 550 calories. Voila! A third of my 1,650 allowable daily intake of food. And I was stuffed. I’ll be trying other food outlets to check out the kids portions. And we recommend that other consumers do the samehelps to limit calories and prevent food waste when you’re eating out!

Three reasons scientists believe bugs are the next beef

Shaunice Wall is NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

There’s a thin line between hunger and disgust when deep-fried tarantulas and smoked barbeque crickets are on the menu. Many scientists argue that animal protein is not environmentally sustainable, so alternatives–like bugs–may be the answer to the perils of global warming. Recent research supports eating bugs as a way to maintain a protein-rich diet while benefiting the environment.

Infographic comparing the water, feed, and land needs of cattle against the same needs for bugs farming

Why bugs are slowly crawling into our everyday diets

As the world population continues to grow, so will demand for animal protein. By 2050, we’ll be eating more than two-thirds the animal protein we do today, causing a strain to our planet’s resources. The surge in demand for animal protein has also contributed to an increase in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide). These gases lead to extreme weather conditions, ozone depletion, increased danger of wildland fires, loss of biodiversity, stresses to food-producing systems and the global spread of infectious diseases. Even today, climate changes are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually.

Most westerners prefer beef over bugs

While many of us westerners may gag at the thought of maggots in our sausage, more than 2 billion people throughout the world have been eating bugs as a regular part of their diets for millennia. But historically, for westerners, livestock not only yields meat, but also milk and milk products, their hides or skins provide warmth, they are suitable for plough traction, and act as a means of transport. Because of the use of these animals, the benefits of eating insects in many societies has failed to gain much interest. Also, certain insects are transmitters of disease and are virtually a nuisance.

So, why should we eat bugs?

In 2013, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, urged global citizens to eat more bugs for three reasons:

  1. They’re healthier for you…and tasty too!
    • Bugs are a healthy, nutritious alternative to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef, and fish (from ocean catch).
    • Many insects are rich in protein, good fats, and high in calcium, iron, and zinc.
    • Insects already form a traditional part of many regional and national diets.
    • Bugs can be used as an ingredient substitute for almost any recipe. Here’s a link with ideas on how to make some delicious bug treats!
  2. They’re safer for the environment
    • Bugs promoted as food emit 75 percent fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock.
    • Insect rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require as much land as livestock.
    • Because they are cold-blooded, insects are efficient at converting feed into protein (crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein).
    • According to the Harvard Political Review, producing one pound of beef requires 10 pounds of feed, 1,000 gallons of water, and 200 square feet of pasture. In contrast, producing one pound of insects only requires two pounds of feed, one gallon of water, and two cubic feet of land space.
  3. They’re lower in cost
    • Bug harvesting/rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers economic opportunities to all levels of society.
    • Insect rearing can be low-tech or very sophisticated, depending on the level of investment.

Recent advances in research and development show edible bugs to be a promising alternative to meat for both human consumption and as feedstock. But to make this a reality, regulatory frameworks for safety and nutrition will need to be developed and government, industry, and academia will need to work together.

In the meanwhile, knowing the benefits can help turn disgust to hunger when tarantulas or crickets appear on the menu… Something to think about!

Amazon and other retailers launch program allowing SNAP beneficiaries to order food online

Shaunice Wall is NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

On April 18, 2018, Amazon and other retailers launched a two-year test (pilot) program to boost food access to some of New York’s 2.7 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants. Beneficiaries will be able to use their SNAP benefits to order groceries online and have them delivered directly to their door.

photo of supermarket produceSNAP is one of the most efficient and important public benefit programs,” said Shaunice Wall, NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow. “SNAP helps reduce food insecurity and improves the nutrition of millions, especially among the most vulnerable Americans. For many Americans living in food deserts, online food retailers are sometimes the only way to stock refrigerators,” NCL supports this collaboration between USDA and Amazon.

“People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food–by ordering and paying for groceries online,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients.

Stats on the rise of e-commerce sales in America in 2017

The pilot will test both online ordering and payment. It will also work to ensure that orders are processed safely and securely, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). SNAP participants will be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible food items, but not pay for service or delivery charges. 

The program will also add a new SNAP redemption option, with broad selection, low prices, and the convenience of home delivery without requiring a membership fee. As Amazon expands participating areas throughout the life of the pilot, they believe the program will dramatically increase access to food for customers living in rural and remote locations.

The USDA defines food deserts as communities where one-third of the population lives at least one mile away from a supermarket in an urban area and 10 miles away in a rural area. For SNAP beneficiaries, it is often the simplest – or sometimes the only – option to use their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card at convenience stores or gas stations, which often have only a sparse supply of produce and fresh protein.

The pilot will start with SNAP households with EBT cards issued by New York. Online retailers will only be able to deliver in New York. The plan is for the pilot to eventually expand to other areas of New York as well as Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. Lessons learned will then allow expansion of online purchasing in SNAP.

“The ultimate goal of this pilot is to pave the way for a national rollout once the USDA identifies the best path to large-scale implementation,” says Amazon. NCL recognizes that the advancement of SNAP takes on a larger significance because of the argument by conservatives that the program “costs too much, has grown too quickly, encourages government dependency and discourages work.” NCL supports SNAP and this exciting online system, if it works, well, will address the dearth of healthy food options for millions of Americans in food desserts or who cannot, for lack of transportation, health or disability reasons, get to a supermarket and choose from healthier options.

For more information, please visit the SNAP Online Purchasing pilot webpage.

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.

The massive amount of food waste has far-reaching consequences on food security, the economy, and our environment. On April 9, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted an event NCL attended for its Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative, a multi-agency effort created to tackle the burgeoning problem of food loss and waste through combined and agency-specific action.

Led by the EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the purpose of the initiative is to work with communities, organizations, and businesses along with state, tribal, and local governments to reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent over the next 15 years.

In attendance were state, local, and community leaders and other stakeholders to discuss how all levels of government can work together to reduce food waste. A strategy that includes six key action areas–such as improving consumer education and food labeling–was introduced.

“We need to feed our hungry world, and by reducing food waste, we can more wisely use the resources we have,” said Secretary Sonny Perdue of the USDA.

A panel titled “Lessons Learned from States, Cities and Organizations in Reducing Food Waste” discussed various efforts to combat food waste. One effort mentioned was a recycling assistance program in Massachusetts called RecyclingWorks. The program was designed to help businesses and institutions maximize recycling, reuse, and composting opportunities. Another successful program that was discussed was the Save the Food Campaign, a program developed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ad Council to encourage Americans to make simple lifestyle changes like creating shopping lists, freezing food, and using leftovers to reduce waste in their own homes.

Mr. Trump recently designated the month of April as Winning on Reducing Food Waste Month and is encouraging participation from all sectors.

The actions of the USDA, EPA, and FDA will include research, community investments, education and outreach, voluntary programs, public-private partnerships, tool development, technical assistance, event participation, and policy discussion. These three agencies invite public and private partners to participate in Winning on Reducing Food Waste Month through the following:

  • Join the conversation: Share your efforts with the #NoWastedFood hashtag in your social media posts throughout the month.
  • Educate your community: Learn about USDAEPA, and FDA programs and resources to reduce food loss and waste.
  • Be a U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champion: Join other corporate and business leaders who have made a public commitment to reducing food loss and waste in their U.S. operations by 50 percent by the year 2030.

The National Consumers League (NCL) has been a longstanding advocate for reducing food waste. Most notably, NCL has produced a and collaborated with like-minded organizations to conduct research on household food waste.

NCL believes that the strategies undertaken by the three agencies will be a critical measure to combatting food waste and we look forward to continuing our work to achieve the goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030.

For more information on the Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative, visit the following webpages:
epa.gov/reducefoodwaste
usda.gov/foodlossandwaste
fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm628706

Fighting penny soda tax gets pricey – National Consumers League

Sally GreenbergEditor’s note: The measures discussed in this piece were approved on Election Day, 2016.

It’s hard to believe that corporate America would throw so much money fighting a penny-per-ounce tax on sodas, but that is exactly what’s happening in San Francisco and Oakland. The soft drink industry has thrown $50 million in efforts to fight this tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

Sweetened beverages have been tied to diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay. Public health experts see measures to raise prices as a way to drive down consumption, which is the last thing Big Soda would want to promote.

These soda tax measures are proliferating. In June, Philadelphia adopted a soda tax, beating back a $10 million industry campaign petitioning it. Berkeley, CA passed its own tax two years ago. Boulder, CO is voting on a 2 cent tax today, and three California cities (San Francisco, Oakland, and Albany) will also have a sugary drink tax on the ballot. This is all happening as consumption of soda is slipping nationally.

These measures are similar: they would impose a tax of a penny per ounce on any drink with added sweetener, including soft drinks, iced teas, and smoothies. The taxes would be imposed on beverage distributors, not at checkout. Evidence from current soda taxes suggests price increases will be passed through to retailers, and, according to the New York Times, the price of a 2-liter bottle might increase 67 cents and a 12-pack of sodas would go up $1.44.

If the soda tax can achieve its dual goal: reducing consumption of sweetened drinks and using the proceeds for community and health initiatives, then this will be a success. NCL supports these efforts, and we wait eagerly to see whether both of these laudable goals will be achieved.

NCL statement in support of Congresswoman Pingree’s Food Recovery Act – National Consumers League

December 18, 2015

Contact: Cindy Hoang, National Consumers League, cindyh@nclnet.org or (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC–In September, the USDA and EPA announced a national commitment to reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030. However, we are lacking the comprehensive strategies that must be in place and it is hard for stakeholders to know where to start. We are pleased to support Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s groundbreaking bill, the Food Recovery Act, aimed at reaching this national goal.

The Food Recovery Act (HR H.R.4184)  is organized by four major stakeholder groups; farms, retail and restaurants, schools and institutions, and consumers and local infrastructure. Framing legislation in such a way, presents stakeholders with policy solutions that are relevant and achievable. Solutions include standardizing date labeling, increasing funding for larger-scale state composting, and strengthening the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which encourages companies and organizations to donate food by protecting them from criminal and civil liability.

The issue of food waste is real and mounting. It’s easy to get discouraged when confronted with numbers such as: 40 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted; the average American throws away between $28-433 of food each month; and we could feed 25 million people if we reduced food waste by just 15 percent. The National Consumers League (NCL), along with other non-profit and government groups, are working to address this problem throughout the food supply chain and appreciate initiatives such as the Food Recovery Act from leaders like Congresswoman Pingree. We urge Congress to pass the Food Recovery Act to help move us closer to our 2030 goal. 

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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.

Obesity doesn’t discriminate, but should preventive care be more personalized? – National Consumers League

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

It isn’t news that obesity is an urgent problem in our country. According to a recent study by the CDC, over one third of US adults are obese. Education and health professionals have presented numerous strategies to combat this growing epidemic. Still, in order to enact real change, there needs to be a greater focus on how overweight and obesity affects specific populations.

Growing up with a brother with disabilities, I was exposed to the many challenges my family faced trying to help him develop healthy habits. Nutrition and weight were always difficult issues to manage. As a kid, my brother was very skinny. He was taking a medication that sped up his metabolism and suppressed his appetite. My parents would beg him to eat anything, even if the food was mostly fat and sugar. But as he got older, changed medications, and moved out of the house, he began to gain weight. Traditional weight loss methods have not worked for him. My brother faces a unique set of challenges, but he certainly isn’t alone. 

Obesity rates for adults with disabilities are 58 percent higher than they are for adults without disabilities. Additionally, obesity rates for children with disabilities are 38 percent higher than they are for children without disabilities. These numbers put adults and children with disabilities at a much higher risk of developing weight-related diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancers.

So why are these rates so high? As is the case with my brother, many people with disabilities are prescribed medications that cause sluggishness or weight gain. Also, any physical disability affecting motor or balance issues, sight, or stamina can make getting enough exercise challenging. Many people with disabilities are sensitive to the taste, color, texture, and smell of certain foods, which can lead to limited food repertoires.

Along with physical or medical challenges, there are lifestyle differences that make weight loss for adults with disabilities especially difficult.  Adults with disabilities often rely on support staff, family members, job coaches, and nurses to help them through their day. Many adults with disabilities also have little control over their finances. This means food is often chosen and cooked for them, usually the quickest and easiest options.

The disability population faces a range of obstacles when it comes to addressing the obesity epidemic. But it is not just people with disabilities that face unique challenges. In its polling, the CDC has outlined how socioeconomic status, sex, and ethnicity can all contribute to the prevalence of obesity. Once we are better able to understand the barriers to eating healthy and getting adequate physical exercise, we can tailor strategies to address the unique needs of differing populations.

Watered-down lemon juice making advocates sour – National Consumers League

In a formal complaint to the Food and Drug Administration this month, NCL is urging the federal agency to stop the sale of four brands of “100%” lemon juice that were recently tested and found to be heavily diluted with water. NCL tested four products, each of which turned out to contain only a small amount of real lemon juice! 

  • “NaturaLemon 100% Lemon Juice from concentrate – Natural Strength” contains only about 35 percent lemon juice.
  • “Lira 100% Lemon Juice from concentrate” contains only about 25 percent lemon juice.
  • “Lemon Time Lemon Juice from concentrate” contains about only 15 percent lemon juice. The product states on its front label, “Contains 100% Lemon Juice with added ingredients.”
  • “Pampa Lemon Juice from concentrate” contains only about 10 percent lemon juice. The product states “Made with 100% Juice.”  The label also includes the statement “Natural Strength.”

Consumer advocates believe that these producers water down their products to lower production costs and increases profits. In the case of lemon juice, recent weather conditions have led to variability in the supply of fresh lemons —and lemons being harder to get has given unscrupulous producers incentive to dilute their products with water and add citric acid and sugars to compensate for flavor.

The label of NaturaLemon illustrates just how bad the problem is. The label indicates that the bottle contains the juice of 30 lemons! However, doing the math, the bottle is likely made with only the juice from 10 lemons. The incentive to cheat is obvious.

NCL has long been an advocate of truthful and honest labeling. Consumers who buy these brands think that they are getting 100 percent lemon juice, but in reality they are not getting what they have paid for. We hope that FDA or state officials will take action to ensure that these brands either clean up their act or are no longer sold in stores. Click here to read NCL’s complaint to FDA and view the laboratory tests we sponsored.