• Susan Harlander of Biorational Consultants and Elizabeth Campbell of AAC Consulting Group discussed public concerns about genetically modified (GM) foods in the June 7 issue of USA Today. Harlander explained that all food—no matter how it is bred, grown or processed—carries some risk. “It’s a matter of balancing the risks and benefits of biotechnology vs. the risks and benefits of conventional agriculture,” she said, noting that the risks of genetic modification have been identified and “are being managed.” Campbell described how “almost everything we eat is genetically modified from its origin,” through traditional plant breeding techniques such as tissue culture, irradiation and other methods. “It [genetic engineering technology] is more precise, and you can select from a broader group of possibilities. . . . You can take a gene from a fish that helps protect it from freezing and put it into a plant to give it cold-tolerance. I understand the yuck factor on that, but by the time you get down to these fragments of a molecule and you’re picking up a protein, you lose the identity of the scales and fins,” Campbell said.
Providing foods without any GM ingredients is extremely difficult, Harlander explained. “People really don’t understand the scale of agriculture today,” she said. “Billions of pounds of grain are being produced every year, and our infrastructure of agriculture has evolved to manage these huge volumes of grain all over the world. Talking about keeping all those seeds separate becomes a logistical nightmare, because the infrastructure has not evolved to manage identity preservation.” Furthermore, “we can come up with definitions for ‘non-genetically modified,’ but there’s always going to be a low level of contamination, just due to pollen drift in the wind,” Harlander noted. “Testing systems are now so sensitive that . . . if you have one grain test positive, it can invalidate a whole shipment. Farmers are not used to vacuuming out their combines,” she said.
• Norm Haard of the University of California at Davis and Mary Mulry of Foodwise Inc. provided perspective on the difficulty of food product development in a profile about a California company’s product development efforts in the May 17 Los Angeles Times. “Food product development is a very expensive operation, and the success rate is quite low,” Haard said. “A small company can get away with competing with the Krafts and General Mills by having a real expertise from a technical point of view in a particular area,” according to Haard. Mulry said the intimate scale of the business helped create an effective strategy to deal with certain product development hurdles. Rather than pay a technical consultant, the company developed its products by regularly mailing samples and scorecards to a group of family and friends. “In some ways, learning by trial and error is a good thing early on,” Mulry said.
• Food Science Communicator Val Hillers of Washington State University talked about food safety during warm weather activities in the April 24 Staten Island Advance. “Bacteria in food grow much more rapidly at 90 degrees than at 70,” Hillers said. “Cooking conditions at campgrounds or city parks are sometimes substandard too,” she added, noting that there is less access to facilities for hand washing. Hillers recommended a variety of actions to reduce the risk of foodborne illness including getting food “good and cold” before putting it into the cooler, taking a separate cooler for beverages, and putting perishable foods back on ice as soon as possible after eating.
• Erdogan Ceylan and Communicator Daniel Y.C. Fung of Kansas State University discussed the effect of adding garlic powder to ground beef in the May 7 edition of the Topeka Capital-Journal. Garlic powder helps protect against Escherichia coli in undercooked hamburgers, Fung said. Consumers’ safest approach is to add 3 to 5 teaspoons of garlic powder to 2.2 pounds of ground beef, said Ceylan, the doctoral candidate who conducted the tests. Consumers still should cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 F, but garlic provides another safety measure. The researchers were to present their preliminary findings at the IFT Annual Meeting in Dallas.
• Communicator Linda Harris of the University of California at Davis answered a reader question about food safety in the workplace in the June 2000 issue of Men’s Health. Harris advised people who carry their lunch to work to keep the food cool using the office refrigerator or another method such as a reusable frozen gel pack, rather than letting it sit at room temperature until lunch time. Even though food left at room temperature may look and smell okay, it still may contain high concentrations of the bacteria that cause foodborne illness, Harris explained.
• Communicator Fredric Caporaso of Chapman University offered insight into the benefits of brining poultry in the May 10 edition of the San Bernardino County Sun. Brining is just a type of marinade—a water and salt solution that extracts some of the proteins, adds flavor and helps make it juicier, Caporaso explained. Chickens today are leaner but healthier than the plump birds of years ago, he said. “There’s also the microbial factor, which is a big issue with poultry. The salt will inhibit the microorganisms on the surface of the bird, which is where they are found,” Caporaso added.
• Richard Lechowich of Cibarius Corp. touted the advantages of new methods that pasteurize eggs in the shell in the May 19 edition of the Chicago Sun Times. Although the article cites an additional cost of 36 cents to 84 cents per dozen for the pasteurized eggs, “I think it’s a small price to pay for increased safety,” Lechowich said. “In a perfect world, pasteurization would not be needed,” he said. “This is not a perfect world.”
by MARY HELEN ARTHUR