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FDA Gathers Data on Safety of Raw Milk Cheeses


By Lorrie Baumann

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is asking for comments and data about the safety of cheese made from unpasteurized milk with a view to regulating more carefully how cheesemakers produce raw milk cheeses. “We are taking this action in light of scientific data on potential health risks associated with consumption of cheese made from unpasteurized milk,” according to an FDA notice published on August 3.

The public has until November 2 to submit either electronic or hard-copy comments and scientific data and information to the FDA. Electronic comments should be submitted to with reference to Docket Number FDA-2015-N-2596.

The FDA is relying on a 2012 review of outbreaks of foodborne illness that occurred in the U.S. between 1993 and 2006 that pointed a finger directly at cheese, and to cheeses made from unpasteurized milk in particular. According to that study by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the review included 121 outbreaks of foodborne illness involving dairy products between 1993 and 2006, and among these, 73 (60 percent) involved nonpasteurized milk and resulted in 1,571 cases of illness and two deaths. Out of the 65 outbreaks involving cheese, 27 involved cheese made from raw milk, a figure that’s particularly significant since less than 1 percent of the dairy products consumed in the U.S. during the time period were made from unpasteurized milk, according to the FDA. The 38 outbreaks involving cheese made from pasteurized milk resulted in 744 illnesses and 1 death, while the 27 involving cheese made from raw milk resulted in 641 illnesses and two deaths.

According to the 2012 study, all of the illnesses involving nonpasteurized dairy products were caused by bacteria, although a number of species of bacteria were involved, including Campylobacter species, Salmonella species, E. coli, Brucella species and Shigella species. Three of them were caused by Listeria. That suggests that the contamination more likely came from the dairy environment than from the humans who handled the milk, who’d have been more likely to pass along viruses than bacteria.

The FDA notes in its call for data that cheeses made from unpasteurized milk are required by federal regulations to be aged, typically for 60 days or more. This was presumed to reduce the risk that disease-causing bacteria would still be alive in the cheese when it was eaten, but recent research has shown that the 60-day aging period for soft ripened cheeses might actually increase the risk that the cheese will cause listeriosis, the infection caused by Listeria, by giving more time for the bacteria to multiply. It is not legal in the United States to sell soft ripened cheeses made from unpasteurized milk outside the state in which they were made, but such cheeses can be made and sold in states that permit sales of unpasteurized dairy products.

Dr. Catherine Donnelly, a Professor of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont, is among those who agrees that the FDA should take another look at whether the 60-day aging period for raw milk cheeses does more harm than good in the case of soft ripened cheeses. “The 60-day aging rule should not be applied to a soft-ripened cheese,” she said. The rule makes sense in the case of hard cheeses made from raw milk, she said. “As cheese ages, the pH goes down and the moisture declines, and you’re creating that inhospitable environment [for harmful bacteria].” But in the case of soft cheeses such as a brie or Camembert, the surface molds that are essential to creating the cheeses produce amine products that raise the pH of the cheese, creating an environment in which bacteria can thrive, she said. “Mature ripened Camembert has a pH about 7 [which is neutral]. As the pH goes up, you start getting conditions that allow the growth of Listeria. That’s why in cheeses like brie and Camembert, you get very high levels. The FDA should never have applied the 60-day aging rule to a soft-ripened cheese, but it’s part of our Code of Federal Regulations. That’s not a very good rule from a safety standpoint.” The good news for cheesemakers, however, is that FDA’s soft cheese risk assessment shows that if every batch of raw milk soft ripened cheese is tested for Listeria, the risk is actually lower than that for soft ripened cheese made from pasteurized milk. Donnelly also points out that Food Standards Australia New Zealand conducted a 2009 Risk Assessment of raw milk cheese, which concluded that “Campylobacter spp. [species] were found to be a negligible risk in both raw milk extra hard and Swiss-type cheeses. The presence of Campylobacter spp. was not assessed in raw milk Cheddar, blue, Feta or Camembert cheeses. However, Campylobacter spp. are unlikely to grow in milk or cheese, as their growth requires reduced oxygen tension and temperatures between 32 – 45°C and they do not survive well under slightly acidic conditions, or in the presence of greater than 2 percent salt.”

There’s little question that soft cheeses made from raw milk are potentially more dangerous than hard cheeses made from raw milk. Studies indicate that the risk of illnesses may be orders of magnitude higher for unpasteurized dairy products than for those that have been pasteurized. “In France, you can’t legally sell Camembert beyond 55 days. Why? Because it’s too dangerous,” Donnelly said. She’s concerned that the FDA might now decide that no cheeses should be made from raw milk even though the harder cheeses are much safer. “I’ve studied listeria for a long, long time. I share the concern about the growing incidence of listeria in elderly and susceptible population. Soft cheese is just one category of products that the FDA has determined to be a risk,” she said. “I am just concerned that this might carry over to other varieties of cheese made from raw milk that have been shown to be very microbiologically safe – things like the harder cheeses made from raw milk.”

She points to a 2014 study conducted by scientists affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that distinguishes the types of cheeses involved in 90 outbreaks caused by cheese between 1998 and 2011.While 38 of the outbreaks (42 percent) were caused by cheese made from unpasteurized milk, 44 (49 percent) were caused by cheese made from pasteurized milk. Queso fresco was the most common cause of the outbreaks, including 18 due to cheese made from unpasteurized milk and one due to pasteurized cheese. An additional seven outbreaks reported an unspecified type of soft Mexican-style cheese. “Homemade” cheese was the second most common type reported for the outbreaks due to raw milk cheeses.

The soft unaged cheeses imported from Mexico were responsible for 13 outbreaks – more than a third of all outbreaks associated with cheese during the period. Nine of those were caused by Listeria. In five outbreaks, all due to cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, the cheese was produced or sold illegally. Commercial importation from Mexico of cheese made from unpasteurized milk is illegal unless the cheese has met FDA aging standards, although travelers are allowed to bring in limited amounts of raw milk cheeses for personal use. However, these raw milk cheeses imported for personal use are often illegally sold once they’re in the United States.

The 2014 study concluded that “In addition to using pasteurized milk, soft-cheese-making facilities need to ensure strict sanitation and microbiologic monitoring. Labeling of cheese should include whether the milk used to make it was pasteurized or unpasteurized, whether the cheese was aged and for how long, and the license number of the production facility.” The report adds that, “Efforts to reduce production and sale of illegally manufactured cheeses as well as continued binational collaborations are needed to address the issue of illegal cheese importation.”

This is where the real risk lies” stated Donnelly.


Haggen to Exit Pacific Southwest Market

Haggen now plans to exit from the Pacific Southwest market and realign its operations around 37 core stores and one stand-alone pharmacy in the Pacific Northwest as part of the Chapter 11 process.

As part of its previously announced plan to right-size the company, Sagent Advisors, LLC has been actively working to explore market interest for its store locations in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Nevada.

Haggen is asking the bankruptcy court for approval to conduct store closing sales. All employees of the non-core stores and the Pacific Southwest support office will receive 60 day notice of the pending store and office closures. During this process, all stores will remain open. Employees will continue to receive their pay and benefits through the normal course of business as previously approved by the court.

Haggen is supportive of employees securing work elsewhere and is continuing to work with Albertson’s in its request for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to waive the restriction in the FTC order which restricts the hiring of Haggen employees. Because this is a modification of an order entered by the FTC, the waiver will require commission approval, which the FTC staff is seeking to obtain on an expedited basis. This has been a priority for Haggen management to ensure its employees can take advantage of every opportunity available to them.

Mars Opens Global Food Safety Center in China


Mars, Incorporated has opened a Global Food Safety Center near Beijing, China. The company calls the center a first-of-its-kind facility for pre-competitive research and training that aims to raise global food safety standards through collaboration. Convening governments, academics, regulators and industry peers, the Mars Global Food Safety Center is intended to drive global focus on addressing the challenge of food safety, leading to better access, availability and nutrition, as well as reduced food waste and an increase in overall quality of life.

Building on decades of research, the Mars Global Food Safety Center is a $15 million investment in Mars’ ongoing commitment to working with world-leading experts to ensure the safety and security of food for generations of families. In 2014, Mars and the University of California-Davis jointly established the Innovation Institute for Food & Health, fostering a new type of public-private partnership that catalyzes much needed innovation at the intersection of food, agricultural and health.

Grant Reid, President and CEO of Mars, Incorporated, stated: “Food safety is a global issue that concerns us all—business, governments, academics and the world’s population. Working together across all disciplines is the only way we can truly advance efforts at scale, with the ultimate goal of increasing access to safe nutrition for billions of people around the world.”

With an emphasis on pre-competitive research and collaborative solutions, the Mars Global Food Safety Center will leverage insights and expertise from over 60 Mars partnerships dedicated to innovative, sustainable and responsible food safety practices. The World Food Programme (WFP), the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA), and the IBM/Mars Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain are among the many organizations Mars is partnering with to try to solve the challenge of feeding a global population expected to grow to nine billion by 2050.

David Crean, Vice President, Corporate Research and Development, at Mars Incorporated, commented: “Unlike an R&D or innovation center focused on product development and improvement, the Mars Global Food Safety Center is a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to advancing food safety research through collaboration and the pre-competitive sharing of information. We firmly believe that in order to ensure generations of families have access to safe and nutritious food, we must work together to evolve food safety management programs and create robust, sustainable supply chains.”

Located just north of Beijing in Huairou, China, the Mars Global Food Safety Center will employ approximately 30 employees working on food safety research and training, plus a variety of sabbatical positions open to academic and regulatory researchers. Mars selected the location not only because of China’s significant role in the global marketplace, but also to leverage the intensive scientific focus the region is bringing to food supply and safety issues today. The facility will house analytical chemistry and microbiology laboratories, interactive training laboratories and a conference auditorium to enhance knowledge sharing. Through scientific forums and media platforms and events, the Mars Global Food Safety Center will promote the findings of its work in order to help advance others’ research efforts.



New Study Shows Flavoring Food with Spices and Herbs Can Cut Sodium Intake

Recent research from the University of California, San Diego and Johns Hopkins University suggests cooking with spices and herbs could close the 1,000 mg gap between the amount of sodium Americans consume on a daily basis, and the amount recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  The study was funded by the McCormick Science Institute, the independent research arm of McCormick & Company Incorporated (NYSE: MKC), a global leader in flavor.

In the study, entitled “Effects of a behavioral intervention that emphasizes spices and herbs on adherence to recommended sodium intake,” researchers taught adults to flavor their food with spices and herbs instead of salt.  At the end of the trial, the intervention group, who had tools including spices and herbs as well as cooking demonstrations, were able to reduce sodium intake by an average of 956.8 mg/day – which is about 1/3 of the average sodium adults consume each day.

Dr. Cheryl Anderson, lead researcher and author of this study, as well as Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego, was also a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  The committee’s report emphasized a continued concern over high intake of sodium in the American diet.  On average, American adults consume 3,300 mg of sodium a day, which is 1,000 mg more than the 2,300 mg/d recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other health authorities.

“This study demonstrates that a multi-faceted behavioral program including spices and herbs for meal preparation is effective in reducing daily sodium intake,” Anderson said.  “Teaching consumers to prepare food using spices and herbs with reduced salt is a positive solution that supports a higher quality diet while still enjoying great tasting food.”

“Cutting back on sodium is a message Americans have been hearing for many years,” said Dr. Hamed Faridi, McCormick’s Chief Science Officer.  “One of the main concerns with reducing salt content is that often times it impacts flavor, which makes eating less satisfying.  Thankfully, adding spices and herbs can easily solve that problem.”

Rhythm Superfoods Names Terry Meyer VP of Sales

Rhythm® Superfoods, which makes plant-based superfood snacks, has named Terry Meyer  as its new Vice President of Sales.

“We are thrilled to have Terry join our team and are confident that his extensive knowledge of the food industry across all channels of trade will help to further develop Rhythm Superfoods and guide our brand to new heights,” said Scott Jensen, CEO of Rhythm Superfoods. “We are growing rapidly and look forward to Terry leading our sales strategies.”

Meyer brings more than 20 years of sales, operations and management experience to Rhythm Superfoods. Meyer has previously worked at brands such as Unilever-Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream; Naked Juice, where he led the rapid expansion of the brand into double-digit growth; Good Health Natural Foods, Inc., where he positioned the brand as a leader in innovation with healthier oils and vegetable-based nutrition in salty snacks; and Podponics.

“I am honored and excited by the opportunity to work with the team at Rhythm Superfoods,” said Meyer. “The brand’s current position in the market sets the stage for continued success, and I am excited to be a part of it.”

Meyer will manage the company’s sales team and strategy for continued growth, both with existing product lines and with future plant-based snack innovations.

Litehouse Foods Names Brent Carr SVP of Sales and Marketing

Carr headshotLitehouse Foods  has named Brent Carr to the executive role of Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing. In his new role, Carr will report directly to President and CEO Jim Frank and lead the company’s fast-paced growth in the dressings, dips, cheese and herbs categories.

A graduate of Boise State University with a degree in marketing, Carr is a 30-year industry veteran who spent the first 15 years of his career at consumer packaged goods giant, Colgate-Palmolive. He then expanded his skill set with deep experience in the produce industry, working at Fresh Express for 10 years leading its national account teams. Carr joined Litehouse in 2009 to help build the value-added channel and was promoted to Vice President of sales in 2012.

“Brent has been instrumental in helping our brand achieve year-over-year double digit growth in our category, creating deep relationships with our customers and working cross-functionally at Litehouse to achieve outstanding results,” Frank said. “He is widely respected in the produce business, and we are proud to have him lead our sales and marketing teams.”

Carr lives in Idaho with his wife Lorri. He has four children and a granddaughter. “My focus in this new role will be to align our sales and marketing teams and strive to strengthen our cross-functional relationships with our customers in each channel,” he said. “Litehouse is a fast-growing brand, and I am excited to work with our team to continue to build category-leadership and innovation.”



AmericasMart Names September 2015 Best of Atlanta and Best of Show Winners

AmericasMart® Atlanta has announced the winners of its annual Best of Atlanta awards celebrating the top gourmet food products in its permanent and temporary collections. The awards were adjudicated during The Atlanta Gourmet Market, September 16-18, 2015.

Winners were designated based on taste, overall appeal and packaging/presentation as selected by industry experts Malika Bowling, President of the Association of Food Bloggers and author of the “Food Lovers’ Guide to Atlanta,” “Food Blogging 101” and  The Atlanta Restaurant Blog;  Chef Andrew Isabella, Executive Chef of BeetleCat (opening November 2015); and Chef Martin Smetana, Head Chef of Classic Fare Catering.


The winners include:


In addition to top gourmet products, excellence in visual design was celebrated by the Atlanta Fall Gift & Home Furnishings Market® and The Atlanta Gourmet Market® Best of Show award, presented to Never Lose Hope Designs.


Meijer Rebrands and Expands Natural and Organic Products Line

As consumers continue to lean toward healthier meal and snacking options, Meijer has announced an expansion of its assortment of real food products through the launch of the True Goodness™ by Meijer brand.

The Grand Rapids, Michigan-based retailer combined its Meijer Naturals and Meijer Organics products lines to one True Goodness by Meijer brand in an effort to minimize confusion over which products are better for customers based on their ingredients.

“We know it’s important to our customers to provide wholesome foods to their families, and the True Goodness brand is a simple and affordable solution to eating healthier,” said Peter Whitsett, Executive Vice President of Merchandising and Marketing for Meijer. “This brand makes real food more approachable, and is part of our ongoing focus to provide health and wellness options for our customers.”

According to industry research, millennial customers are leading the conversation around organic and real food, influencing trends among older generations. With 9 million millennial moms in the U.S. alone, this generation also comprises the majority of today’s new parents. And while many millennial moms still purchase the processed national brand peanut butter, chips, cereals and yogurt for their spouses, they are also grabbing healthier versions for their children.

With nothing artificial, no hydrogenated oils, and a wide range of USDA certified organic items, True Goodness offers healthier food options at a great value and with a wide product selection available throughout the store. The packaging differentiates which items are USDA certified organic, meaning these products do not contain GMOs, growth hormones, antibiotics, convention pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or ionizing radiation.

Meijer is in the process of transitioning 225 of its Meijer Organics and Meijer Naturals food items to the True Goodness brand, and plans to add 100 new products this year, including granola chips, coconut oil, organic coffee pods, macaroni and cheese, juice boxes, organic popcorn, spices and frozen potatoes.

The True Goodness brand is slated to offer 325 total products by early 2016. “We are committed to providing our customers healthier options at an affordable price, and are pleased to offer a growing assortment through the True Goodness brand,” Meijer Healthy Living Manager Shari Steinbach said.

Nasdaq Names Hain Celestial to Q-50 Index

The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. has announced that Nasdaq has selected its security to be added to the Nasdaq Q-50 Index effective prior to the market open on Monday, September 21, 2015 as part of its quarterly re-ranking.

The Nasdaq Q-50 Index is designed to track the performance of securities that are next eligible for inclusion into the Nasdaq-100 Index.  The index is comprised of 50 securities ranked by market capitalization and reflects companies across major industry groups including computer hardware and software, telecommunications, retail/wholesale trade and biotechnology.  It does not contain securities of financial companies including banking and investment companies, as these are ineligible for Nasdaq-100 Index inclusion.

“As the founder of Hain Celestial, I am pleased with the addition of Hain Celestial’s security to Nasdaq’s Q-50 Index, which is another great milestone achievement for the company,” said Irwin D. Simon, the company’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

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