Thursday, April 1, 2010


After about two months on Blogger, I've decided to migrate this whole operation over to, which  appears on the whole to be a better platform. And since the site is moving anyway, I've decided to change the name, in hopes that people will no longer confuse this site with Food Democracy Now, an unrelated organization.

At any event, come have a look at the new site. The move has slowed new content a bit, but I'll be posting new stuff, including another, closer look at raw milk, soon.

The new site:

Friday, March 26, 2010

USDA Proposes Parallel to FDA's Reportable Food Registry

The USDA proposed some new rules this week that would:

"...require official establishments to promptly notify the appropriate District Office that an adulterated or misbranded meat or poultry product has entered commerce; require official establishments to prepare and maintain current procedures for the recall of meat and poultry products produced and shipped by the establishment; and require official establishments to document each reassessment of the establishment's process control plans, that is, its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plans."

Sounds like the sort of common-sense stuff most people would assume is already required, right? I mean, you'd think that if "adulterated or misbranded meat" somehow made it onto the market, the company would be required to let regulators know. Alas, not the case.

Anyway, the proposed rules are based on recommendations from President Obama's Food Safety Working Group, and are largely similar to the FDA's Reportable Food Registry, the system that helped identify contamination early in the recent, high-profile case of hydrolyzed vegetable protein made by Basic Food Flavors.

This should go off without a hitch, but just in case, you can submit a comment in support of the proposed rule by visiting the rule's page on Regulations.Gov. There is a "Submit Comment" button at the top of the page.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The (New) Law of the Land: Nutrition Labeling at Chain Restaurants

H.R. 3590, more commonly known as the health care reform bill passed by the House of Representatives last night, contains a provision I'll bet most people weren't aware of. Deep in the bill, on page 1206, is Section 4205, "Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items at Chain Restaurants." This section, which bears the full force of law once the President signs off on the legislation, requires chain restaurants (those with 20 or more locations) to prominently display the nutrition information for all standard menu items. How prominently? As in the picture above, chains will have to put the calorie content of each item right next to its menu listing. The rule also applies to vending machines.

Similar laws are already on the books in some jurisdictions (New York City, the State of California, and others), but the new federal law will supersede such state and local requirements. The fact that the federal law will preempt the patchwork quilt of local and state rules is significant in part because it is the reason this law was able to pass without much opposition from the industry. Food chains agreed to swallow this bitter pill in order to avoid the costly headache of navigating compliance on a locality-by-locality basis.

This sort of thing is a good reminder that local politics and regulations can matter in a big way, if only because they are so difficult and frustrating for large multi-state and national corporations to navigate.

The celebratory press release from CSPI, here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

HVP Recall Update

It's been more than two weeks since I first wrote about the recall of salmonella-contaminated hydrolyzed vegetable protein, so I figured it was about time for an update.

To begin with, it turns out that Basic Food Flavors was aware of the contamination and continued to ship product anyway. Sadly, this kind of criminal behavior from food producers is hardly even surprising anymore, considering how many high-profile cases we've seen in recent years. For two prominent examples, just look at the Peanut Corporation of America (which knowingly shipped Salmonella-tainted peanut products that ultimately led to hundreds of illnesses and nine deaths) and SK Foods (which intentionally falsified test results and other documents in order to sell tomatoes with illegal mold levels to producers of canned tomatoes, salsas, pasta sauces, and other products).

The recalled-product list gives a pretty good sense of just how wide-spread this ingredient is, and just how vulnerable our food supply is to negligence or criminal behavior at even a single facility, if that facility happens to make a common ingredient. The list currently includes 159 products from such familiar names as Trader Joe's, McCormick, Quaker and Pringles. As impressive as that is, this list doesn't necessarily include all of the products that contain contaminated HVP - the recall does not include products if their manufacturing processes or cooking instructions are deemed sufficient to kill off the Salmonella.

Despite this bleak picture, there's a bright side to all this. To begin with, nobody has gotten sick yet. Secondly, the whole investigation of Basic Food Flavors was initiated when one of their customers found Salmonella in the course of their own testing, and reported the results via the FDA's relatively new Reportable Foods Registry. It's nice when the systems we set up actually work!

Some other coverage from:
Food Politics, NPR, and the Food Liability Law Blog. I think this last one is particularly interesting, because it is written as a "what can we learn from this," but from an industry perspective. Consumers can obviously conclude that our country needs stronger preventative food safety enforcement (like that outlined in S. 510, currently awaiting a vote in the Senate...), but it's interesting to see what the industry thinks are the lessons from this whole mess (i.e. "have a crisis plan" and "make sure you have insurance")

Thursday, March 18, 2010

NYC to Require Restaurants to Post Inspection Grades

Following in the footsteps of  Los Angeles and several other major cities, New York will begin requiring restaurants to visibly display their most recent inspection scores for the dining public. Despite some industry opposition claiming that the grades are misleading or will scare consumers unnecessarily, this is an unequivocally good thing.

The posting requirement gives consumers a powerful tool, and gives restaurateurs a powerful incentive to clean up their kitchens. The effectiveness of the measure is evident in Los Angeles, where foodborne illness hospitalizations declined 13% when it took effect.

Other than being good news for New York diners, this bodes well for consumers everywhere. Where NYC leads, other cities and even state and federal authorities often follow. Here's hoping that other cities follow suit. Here in DC, my understanding is that you still have to file a FOIA request to find out whether your favorite pizza place has a rodent problem.

The official Press Release, a very useful FAQ document, and New York Times coverage.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Marion Nestle Speaking at Georgetown 3/24/10

What to EatFood Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health, Revised and Expanded Edition (California Studies in Food and Culture)

Marion Nestle, the prolific author and a leading expert on just about all things food, will be speaking at Georgetown University in a couple of weeks. She'll be talking about personal responsibility versus social responsibility for dietary choices. On a random note, the talk will be in a space at the brand new business school building, which is beautiful and worth a visit.

Full details below:

Artemis G. Kirk, University Librarian, and the
Georgetown University Library Associates
in Association with The Lecture Fund
invite you to
The Ellen Catherine Gstalder (C'98) Memorial Lecture

Food Politics Personal vs. Social Responsibility for Dietary Choices with Marion Nestle author and professor, New York University

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 7 p.m.

Lohrfink Auditorium, Hariri (MSB) Building, Georgetown University

A book-signing will follow the event.

Reservations are required to attend. RSVP by March 22 to or 202-687-7446.

Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, which she chaired from 1988-2003. She also holds appointments as professor of sociology at NYU and visiting professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell. Her degrees include a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley. She has held faculty positions at Brandeis University and the UCSF School of Medicine. From 1986-88, she was senior nutrition policy advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services and managing editor of the 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health.

Her research examines scientific, economic, and social influences on food choice and obesity, with an emphasis on the role of food marketing. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her latest book, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine, was published in 2008. Her upcoming book, Feed Your Pet Right, will be published in May. She writes the "Food Matters" column for the San Francisco Chronicle, and blogs daily (almost) at and for the Atlantic Food Channel.

The Georgetown University Library Associates are a group of Georgetown alumni, parents and friends dedicated to helping the library shape the creation of knowledge, conserve culture and transform learning and research. To learn more, contact us at 202-687-7446 or visit our Web site.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Apparently Foodborne Illness Has Real Economic Costs, As Well... ($152 billion/year)

A new study by Dr. Robert L. Scharff, a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) economist and current Ohio State University assistant professor in the department of consumer sciences, estimates that foodborne illness costs the United States about $152 billion per year in healthcare, workplace and other economic losses.

Amid all the political yelling about whether or not healthcare reform cuts enough costs, it strikes me that food safety can and should be a haven of bipartisan support. After all, not only can all Americans get behind having a safer food supply, but making our food safer is also good economic sense.

More reason to write your senators and tell them to bring to a vote and support S. 510, the pending food safety legislation.