Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Peanut Cluster

The expanding contaminated peanut butter recall has exposed one of the biggest weaknesses in the methodology currently used for pulling back suspect product. Manufacturers who have used a contaminated ingredient publish a list of product names, UPCs and often lot numbers. The consumer then checks to see whether they have the product in their pantry. Okay. But when the product is as ubiquitous as peanut butter and paste - that list can be long. In fact, the latest list here contains over 250 different products or date/lot codes to look through. It reads more like a lottery ticket list:

Double peanut Butter Chewy Soft Baked Cookies
Recalled date codes: 01Feb2009, 07Feb2009A, 14Feb2009B2, 17Feb2009B2, 16Mar2009A2, 22Mar2009A2, 12Apr2009A2, Apr 18 2009, 06May2009B2, 19May2009B2, 25May2009A2, 02Jun2009A2, 13Jun2009B2

Unfortunately, the prize is salmonella.

Is it reasonable to think that a consumer will go to their cupboard and refrigerator and compare all their groceries against this list? Indeed, many wouldn't even suspect they contained peanuts (such as "Indonesian Chicken with Coconut Rice").

An alternative approach - or at least a complementary approach - would be to have a code on the product that a consumer can enter into a website (or scan with a cell phone camera) and instantly get peace of mind whether that particular product is affected. Let a computer do the searching. Of course - that technology is already here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Waiter, there's warfarin in my waffle

The USA Today newspaper ran a story today on the problem of fake food. We've covered several of these stories about olive oil and fish in the past 2 years, and learned of some new ones, such as vanilla flavoring that's actually coumarin, a dangerous blood thinner related to warfirin. While most of the counterfeits are apparently turning up in restaurants, it raises the legitimate question in the consumers mind: "how can I tell, and who can I trust?"

Many of the food attributes consumers value today are intangible: sustainability, organically grown, fair trade, rod caught, locally grown, pesticide free, socially responsible, and so on ... and are therefore hard, or impossible, to verify.

Now that trust is wearing thinner with every recall, contamination, and poisoning - it is likely that progressive brands will put more effort into convincing consumers of their integrity by becoming more transparent. Companies like Organic Alliance are doing just that with traceability.

Salmonella Energy Bar

On Saturday I went for a 60 mile bike ride through Napa and fueled up on a Clif Bar that contained peanut butter. On Monday, Clif Bar & Company announced a voluntary nationwide recall of Clif and Luna branded bars that contain peanut butter. That’s not quite the energy jolt that I was looking for when I scarfed down that Clif Bar.

The peanut butter salmonella connection continues to grow daily and the list of possibly contaminated food is getting bigger. The FDA has put up a searchable product recall database that includes food recalls since January 2009 related to peanut butter and peanut paste recalled by Peanut Corporation of America. It’s a great resource. Check it out before you choose the energy bar you’re going take on your next bike ride.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Salmonella in my PB and J sandwich?

When I was a kid, eating a PB and J sandwich for lunch was as common to me as grass stains on my knees. It was a staple of my young life. The recent salmonella outbreak involving peanut butter brings out new concerns about today's childhood snacks. How can we ensure that the products we feed our family aren’t tainted? In the coming year we’ll continue to watch outbreaks like this while paying close attention to the industry's ability to effectively trace these outbreaks.

Recent articles:
Kellogg takes peanut butter snacks off shelve
Tub of peanut butter checked for link to salmonella outbreak

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Fake Coinstar Receipts Busted by Mispelling

A scam to print fake Coinstar receipts was busted in December. Three men had set up a bogus company to buy the special inks used on the receipts. After scamming $5000 from Connecticut area supermarkets, they were only caught when a sharp-eyed store clerk noticed they had spent food as "foood" on one of the receipts.

This suggests a fair amount of inside knowledge about the kind of inks required, and a serious lapse in control over the 'secure' ink.