Law For Food: The law affects what you eat. What you buy to eat affects the law.


The tide is turning…
31 July 2008, 9:41 pm
Filed under: Food Safety, Raw Milk

See here.



Raw Milk Pennsylvania
18 July 2008, 7:56 am
Filed under: Food and Health, Food Policy, Food Safety, Raw Milk

Keystone Staters may have reason to rejoice: identical legislation has been introduced in the state house and senate to make the sale of young raw milk cheeses legal. Stay tuned; Law for Food will be following this story as it develops in the next legislative session.



About that corn-based ethanol…
10 December 2007, 5:19 am
Filed under: Corn-based Ethanol, Eating Science, Food and Energy, Food Safety, Meat

Or maybe it’s bash-on-ethanol day here at Law for Food. According to the Food Law Profs Blog, some CAFOs are feeding cattle corn that is a by-product of ethanol production, and that this practice is leading to increased E.Coli presence in the cattle’s digestive tract. I don’t pretend to be a scientist, but my guess would be that the ethanol is produced by fermentation, and that the fermentation lowers the pH of the corn by-product, and that the corn by-product lowers the pH of the digestive tract so as to create an optimal environment for E.Coli to breed.

I don’t think I need to remind readers that quite a lot of meat has been recalled in the past tweve months.



Pasturization and School Lunches

New to me, but back in 2003, Maciej over at Idlewords.com compared a week’s worth of school lunches in the U.S. to a week’s worth of school lunches in France. His observations are twofold: 1) in France, all meals have cultural significance, and 2) pasturization has had the effect of lowering our standards as to what’s consumable by humans.

First, and briefly, the article notes that the French lunch is highly structured in a way that leads him to conclude that it is considered a part of the education. The U.S. lunch, on the other hand, is centered around a bread-and-meat entree (usually a hamburger, chicken fingers, or pizza) with optional (usually terrible, readers will recall) hot vegetables or salad. What is interesting is that school lunches prove to be a part of the U.S. education as well, but because teachers and administrators don’t think about it as education, we wind up sending all kinds of terrible messages about food:

Finally, notice how hard it is to eat a healthy diet at the American school. You would be relegated to a ghetto of garden salads, ‘soups of the day’, and whatever nutritious innards you could pull out of the breaded main dish. The message American kids get is that healthy food is second-rate and tastes bad, that they should eat lots of meat, cheese and potatoes, and that eating fast food every day is a normal diet.

(Emphasis added.)

The second observation is related to something I posted yesterday about pasteurization and accountability. Pasteurization, as you know, is a way of killing the bacteria that are on or in our food by heating the food to above 160° fahrenheit. Pasteurization can reduce our exposure to bacteria that will cause illness by reducing our exposure to bacteria period. However, the economics of commodity food production have turned pasteurization into a panacaea for any and all structural flaws in the production of food. Because they can cook the germs off, producers don’t take the same care with food. From the article:

The dirty fact about American school lunches is that they are a dumping ground for surplus and substandard beef, chicken and dairy products. Many of these foods cannot be served fresh because they would be too dangerous to eat. This is especially true for ground meat, which is at times so contaminated with bacteria that it would not be legal to sell it in a supermarket. A couple of hundred years ago, Louis Pasteur (a Frenchman, of course) discovered that you can kill bacteria in many foods by heating them to an elevated temperature for a certain period of time. Pasteur’s discovery was revolutionary. Pasteurized foods (like milk, honey, cider or wine) could be stored longer without going off. And of course pasteurization can render dubious foods safe. But the legacy of Pasteur’s invention, in this country, has been perverted. Instead of improving the quality of our food supply, we’ve used techniques like pasteurization and antibiotic prophylaxis to make it possible to create food on an industrial scale, artificially fighting back the disease and contamination that would otherwise make modern factory farming impossible.

The process shows no signs of slowing, either. The current push for irradiating meat (under the euphemism of ‘cold pasteurization’) is an attempt by the beef industry to make meat safer not by improving hygiene at the slaughterhouse, but by rendering contaminated meat harmless. Presumably, it doesn’t matter whether meat in school lunches has been in contact with cowshit, as long as it is no longer infectious.

I haven’t looked at the specifics, but I suspect that pasteurization is one of the reasons we have seen so many millions of pounds of meat recalled in the last few months. If that seems counterintuitive, just bear with me.

Pasteurization does not eliminate bacteria from food. What it does is yeild a logarythmic reduction bacteria counts. When you have an ordinary amount of bacteria, reducing them to a fraction of their number by pasteurization may render the food safe because your immune system can handle the bacteria in this smaller amount. However, since in 2002 the FDA approved the use of the term “cold pasteurization” to refer to irratiation of meat, meat producers have been able to rely on irradiating their meat as a means of killing bacteria. Meat packing is a highly competitive business, with ever-narrowing margins and faster production times. Because we can use cold pasteurization to kill bacteria at the end of the process, it is not worth the expense of introducing safeguards against bacteria throughout the process.

However, as noted above, pasteurization isn’t a catch-all. It doesn’t kill all the bacteria, only the vast majority of them. So, the more bacteria that the meat is exposed to before pasteurization, the more that will be there after pasteurization. Between this and the absense of colonisation effects discussed yesterday, I think we are looking at a cure that costs more than it benefits.



Probiotics, from the Dept. of Breaking Stuff, and then (Maybe) Fixing it.

From the Dairy Reporter, a story on probiotic dairy products intended to replenish the sorts of gastrointestinal flora that we used to get from food. Money quote:

[Walker] said that measures intended to improve public health, such as food pasteurisation and sterilisation and use of antibiotics means that there is a decreased exposure to micoorganisms – leading to a gap in colonisation and weaker defences against disease.

First of all, while this research doesn’t surprise me, I am a bit bothered by the fact that Nestlé is profiting off of mandatory pasturization and sterilization of food.

The sequence of events seems to go like this: unpasteurized foods contain a great deal of bacteria, most of which is harmless. Exposure to these bacteria would promote the immune system. (Note: I don’t have a scientific background, but my understanding is that these bacteria compete for resources with harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, which means that harmful bacteria wind up fighting a two-front war against both the immune system and these other bacteria. This means that the immune system doesn’t get overwhelmed by harmful bacteria. Any biologists care to comment?)

As it is now, a great many foods are pasturized or sterilized, either by regulation or voluntarily, and do not expose the consumer to these harmless bacteria. Which means that consumers’ immune systems get weaker. Thank god there’s Nestlé to put back in the stuff that was in the food to begin with.

I am reminded of something that Ari used to talk about when I worked at Zingerman’s. He was presenting on raw milk cheeses and he said that pasteurization was a bad idea is because it enables producers to lower their production standards, because they know that any bacteria that get into the milk will be cooked when they pasturize it. Pasturization destroys accountability because the dairy co-op or factory cheesemaker doesn’t know and doesn’t care whose milk might have been dirty: they can put it all into the same big vat and heat it up and it doesn’t matter.

Only, turns out it might matter.



Corona, Tongs, Lime.
6 November 2007, 5:22 pm
Filed under: Food Safety, Inspections, Regulation, the-small-laws

In the NYT today there’s an article about how the New York City Health Dept. is cracking down on that scourge of modern life, the bartender who places the lime in your corona bottle with his naked hand.

Now, I understand that the regulations state that ready-to-eat food is to be handled with gloved hands, and I understand why that is a good idea in general, but this seems overzealous to me.

According to the FDA, most bacteria cannot grow in solutions with pH lower than 4.6. Also according to the FDA, limes have a pH of between 2.0 and 2.8.

Any chemists out there care to weigh in on this matter? Is it reasonably safe, from a chemical standpoint, to handle limes with one’s bare hands?

One possibility might be that the inspectors are concerned about foreign material (crumbs, ashes, bits of glass &c.) might find their way into the bottle. I should think, however, that a requirement to wash one’s hands would be less onerous and at least as effective.



Raw Milk and Bathtubs
30 October 2007, 4:40 pm
Filed under: Cheese, Food Safety, Inspections, Raw Milk, Regulation

Serious Eats has a story about a California couple who were recently busted by state food safety authorities for making soft cheese in their bathtub and selling it on the street. The cheeses they were making were Mexican recipe soft cheeses such as queso fresco and queso oaxaca.

This is interesting to me because the anti-raw-milk authorities often justify the ban on raw-milk cheese by referring to outbreaks of listeria and e. coli found in queso fresco. Serious Eats notes that “bathtub cheesemaking” is a common practice in Latin American communities.

Which makes one wonder whether the outbreaks have more to do with the sanitation practices of the cheesemaker than with the intrinsic “dangers” of raw milk.




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