Impossible Burger, regulatory gaps, and money. Always money

I want hamburgers temperature-verified to 160F.

Blood is a terrible indicator.

Stephanie Strom of the NY Times writes that one of the chief selling points of the Impossible Burger, a much ballyhooed plant-based burger patty, is its resemblance to meat, right down to the taste and beeflike “blood.”

Those qualities, from an ingredient produced by a genetically engineered yeast, have made the burger a darling among high-end restaurants like Momofuku Nishi in New York and Jardinière in San Francisco, and have attracted more than $250 million in investment for the company behind it, Impossible Foods.

Bill Gates is an investor.

That makes me want to run to my Mac.

The genetically engineered yeast thingy is just thrown in there to raise alarm.

My 1985 daily squash partner, Andy, was working on genetically engineered yeast for wine back in the day. Our bottling parties were legend.

Now, its secret sauce — soy leghemoglobin, a substance found in nature in the roots of soybean plants that the company makes in its laboratory — has raised regulatory questions.

Impossible Foods wants the Food and Drug Administration to confirm that the ingredient is safe to eat. But the agency has expressed concern that it has never been consumed by humans and may be an allergen, according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request by the ETC Group as well as other environmental and consumer organizations and shared with The New York Times.

“F.D.A. believes the arguments presented, individually and collectively, do not establish the safety of soy leghemoglobin for consumption,” agency officials wrote in a memo they prepared for a phone conversation with the company on Aug. 3, 2015, “nor do they point to a general recognition of safety.”

Impossible Foods can still sell its burger despite the F.D.A. findings, which did not conclude soy leghemoglobin was unsafe. The company plans to resubmit its petition to the agency.

Impossible Foods is finding out what happens when a fast-moving venture capital business runs headlong into the staid world of government regulation.

In the case of Impossible Foods, the debate centers on its use of soy leghemoglobin, which the company’s engineered yeast produces and forms an important ingredient behind the business.

The company was started in 2011 by Pat Brown, a chemist at Stanford University. His approach, involving genetics, microbiology and cutting-edge chemistry attracted venture capitalists also eager to find plant-and lab-based replacements for hamburgers and chicken wings.

Impossible Foods sought to woo top chefs with a splashy sales pitch about how the burger mimicked the aroma, attributes and taste of real beef. When soy leghemoglobin breaks down, it releases a protein known as heme, giving it that meatlike texture.

Within three years of its founding, Impossible Foods landed big-name investors like Khosla, Mr. Gates and the Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing. This month, Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, joined an investment round that added $75 million to the company’s coffers.

“I love V.C.s and particularly the ones that invested in us,” Mr. Brown said at a TechCrunch conference in May, referring to venture capital firms. “But it’s truly astonishing how little diligence they do in terms of the actual science that underlies some tech companies.”

The F.D.A.’s approval is not required for new ingredients. Companies can hire consultants to run tests, and they have no obligation to inform the agency of their findings, a process known as self-affirmation.

Impossible Foods adhered to that procedure, concluding in 2014 that soy leghemoglobin was safe. But it went further, seeking the regulator’s imprimatur.

“We respect the role the F.D.A. plays in ensuring the safety of our food supply, and we believe the public wants and deserves transparency and access to any information they need to decide for themselves whether any food they might eat is safe and wholesome,” Rachel Konrad, a spokeswoman for Impossible Foods, wrote in an email.

The F.D.A., however, wanted the company to show the ingredient was safe specifically for humans. It told Impossible Foods to establish the safety of the more than 40 other proteins that make up part of its soy leghemoglobin. F.D.A. officials said the company’s assessment of the potential for the ingredient to be an allergen was deficient.

“This product has been touted as the ‘secret sauce’ in the Impossible Burger,” said Jim Thomas, program director at the ETC Group, the Canadian environmental organization that started the Freedom of Information request. “Now we know that the F.D.A. had questions about it, but it was put on the market anyway.”

Ms. Konrad defended the burger, writing it “is entirely safe to eat” and “fully compliant with all F.D.A. regulations.” She said the company was “taking extra steps to provide additional data to the F.D.A. beyond what’s required.”

Impossible Foods, she said, has tested its ingredient on rats fed “well above” the amount of soy leghemoglobin in its burger. Ms. Konrad said the company’s expert panel had determined those tests also demonstrated the ingredient was safe, and that the company would thus resubmit its petition for F.D.A. confirmation this month.

This is a novel food, and makes Canada’s approach to regulation of food safety sane, for a while.

7-minute abs, not 6: Shortest bullshit workout possible

Gretchen Reynolds of the NY Times writes that super-short workouts are a favorite topic in this column. I have written about seven-minute, six-minute, four-minute, and even one-minute workouts. They are appealing because they require so little time, but they also demand straining effort.

Martin Gibala is the scientist we most have to thank for the popularity of very brief, very hard exercise. All of these workouts are built around the concept of high-intensity interval training, in which you push yourself almost to exhaustion for a brief spurt of minutes or seconds, and then rest and recover for a few minutes before repeating the intense interval.

Athletes have long used interval sessions as part of a varied weekly training program to improve their competitiveness. But Dr. Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, has helped to popularize the idea that we can rely on high-intensity intervals as our only exercise, and do very, very few of them while still improving our health and fitness.

Since 2004, he has published multiple studies about the potent effects of intervals.

But McMaster? Shithole Hamilton?

This is how bad Whole Foods sucks at food safety

Whole Foods just don’t get it.

whole.foods.empty.valuesAccording to Stephanie Strom of the New York Times, when U.S. Food and Drug Administration types asked for proof the company had fixed potential Listeria problems, Whole Foods “failed to provide photos, invoices, records of product destruction and other documentation that would demonstrate the necessary corrections.”

Individuals are required to provide more proof on a tax audit.

Whole Foods, Chipotle, an emerging pattern of documented bullshit to validate what many food safety types thought long before: bullshit, on food, in management and in communications.

Risk Analysis 101.

The Men Who Stare at Goats: University of Alberta edition

According to wiki, which is always right, The Men Who Stare at Goats is a book by Jon Ronson concerning the U.S. Army‘s exploration of New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal. The title refers to attempts to kill goats by staring at them. The book is companion to a three-part TV series broadcast in Britain on Channel 4 — Crazy Rulers of the World (2004) — the first episode of which is also entitled “The Men Who Stare at Goats”. The same title was used a third time for a loose feature film adaptation in 2009.

spoon-bendingHallucinogenic drug use to make more aggressive soldiers in Vietnam was much more plausible – see Jacob’s Ladder.

Yet the intersect of science and the silly continues.

Universities are supposed to lead, not accommodate.

My buddy Tim Caufield, an academic lawyer who has found fame as the author of Is Gwenyth Paltrow Wrong About Everything (we served together on a biotech advisory committee for the Canadian government back in the day) was the first to call out his own academic institution for promoting bullshit.

According to CBC, after a healthy dose of online ridicule, the University of Alberta has cancelled a workshop at which doctors were supposed to learn to bend spoons.

With their minds.

When Tim Caulfield first spotted a poster for the event, he didn’t understand what he was seeing.

“When I first saw the post I thought it might be a magic show,” said the professor of health law and science policy at U of A. “But this wasn’t being presented as that, or as satire, it was being presented as a real event where you’re supposed to use the power of your mind to bend spoons.”

The seminar, titled simply “Spoon Bending and the Power of the Mind,” was arranged by the university’s Complementary and Alternative Research and Education program or CARE, as part of the Pediatric Integrative Medicine Rounds, a series of monthly seminars presenting a specialist in the field of integrative medicine to a clinical audience. 

goat.startingWhen Caulfield heard about event, he immediately tweeted about it causing many on social media to ridicule the workshop and the university.

It was to be taught by Anastasia Kutt, an Edmonton “energy healer” who specializes in reiki, a form of therapy in which the practitioner is believed to channel energy into the patient in order to encourage healing. 

On her website, Kutt said she “has been studying [and] experiencing techniques such as yoga, meditation, and other energy healing techniques for over 10 years.”

Her website explains energy healing as “removing issues and stress from your energetic field, to bring it into balance and its original state of good health.”

She has taught similar seminars on spoon bending, also described as PK bending — psychokinesis bending.

Kutt is also a research assistant in the CARE program and co-ordinates the education arm of the program.

The poster boasts that at the end of the day, 75 per cent of the doctors, with guidance from Kutt, would be able to bend spoons solely with their minds. 

It’s a notion that Caulfield, along with many others online, scoffed at.

“Spoon bending is kind of ironic because it’s been debunked so often,” said Caulfield.

“There is absolutely no physical way you can bend a spoon with your mind. That’s why it’s so frustrating that it’s being presented in this legitimate way at a science-based institution.” 

tim.caufieldThe event poster featured the disclaimer that states, “This workshop is experiential and is meant to spark interest. This will not be a scientific evaluation of the process.”

The University of Alberta released a statement saying the workshop had “been withdrawn by the presenters.”

For Caulfield, the issue is that programs like CARE lend legitimacy to these sorts of ideas, something he doesn’t believe an institute of higher learning should do.

“That’s my sort of umbrella concern with this,” Caulfield said. “Is these kind of programs legitimize the pseudo-science. The problem is, it always sort of slides into the embrace of pseudo-science.

“It’s always presented in a legitimate fashion. You don’t have that critical component to it, you’re working arm in arm with energy healers, reiki experts and homoeopathy practitioners.” 

He said he’s not sure what exact role the University of Alberta played in the organization, but it doesn’t matter anyway. The poster featured the university’s logo, which links the event directly to the institution. 

“It really does seem like they are part of academia and that, to me, is problematic.”

The program echoes of the now disbanded and disgraced University of Toronto Sick Kids’ MotherRisk program.

They’re the brilliant folks who said it was OK for moms-to-be to eat deli meats and soft cheeses as long as they came from reputable sources, in the wake of the Maple Leaf Listeria outbreak that killed 23 in Canada.

Is a $5.5 billion-a-year company reputable?

Bullshit alert: Canadians sickened at Cuba resort, told everything is fine

Many Cuba-bound Canadian travellers are pissed – and barfing —  saying they want no part of visiting a resort that is the focus of a Global News investigation. As Sean O’Shea reports, travellers say they don’t want to become ill like so many who just returned from the resort.

Canadians with confirmed bookings to a Cuban resort where it’s believed norovirus made travellers sick say their tour operator hasn’t allowed them to switch to another resort or wanted to charge them.

“No, I don’t want to go there, I don’t want to be exposed to that … everyone’s health is at risk; that’s not fair,” said Kayla Halloran, a third-year Ryerson nursing student with a ticket to visit the resort with a friend later this month.

After seeing a Global News story on problems at the Memories Paraiso Azul Resort in Cayo Santa Maria Cuba, she contacted tour operator Sunwing Vacations to ask to be switched to another resort.

“They said I could change my resort to somewhere else but I have to pay a change fee plus a cancellation fee,” Halloran said.

Global News received a cascade of complaints from Canadian travellers who returned from the resort.

They said they had experienced diarrhea and vomiting during most or all of their vacations.

Some reported seeing feces wash up on the hotel beach, finding feces beside the swimming pool, and experiencing dirty washrooms with toilets that didn’t work.

Other travellers told Global News they visited the same property in April and that it was without fresh water for two days.

During that time, Canadians visiting said they had no access to clean linens or water to flush toilets; they said staff at the hotel had no means to wash dishes or sanitize food service areas.

But despite the problems, they said the tour operator continued to send travellers to the resort.

In a terse email Thursday, Sunwing marketing vice president Janine Chapman provided a statement to Global News for its television broadcast, prefaced with this unusual proviso:

Bullshit alert: “We will provide you with the below statement for this evening’s segment on the basis that it is read in its entirety, uninterrupted.”

As a matter of journalistic policy, Global News does not agree to such demands.

Maria Peragine says days after returning from Cuba, her family is starting to feel better.

But she says Sunwing ought to have stopped sending travellers to the Memories Paraiso Azul when it was clear people were getting sick.

“They knew about it and continued to allow guests to come to the resort,” said Peragine.

“I’m amazed at how they continue to lie.”

Organic don’t mean much, except profits for retailers

The $35 billion U.S. organic-food industry has nearly tripled in size in the past decade, challenging the Agriculture Department’s ability to monitor the more than 25,000 farms and other organizations that sell organic crops and livestock.

organic-manure1There are currently 81 accredited “certifying agents,” or groups that stamp food as organic in the U.S. But of the 37 that had a complete review this year, 23 were cited for failing to correctly enforce certification requirements on farms in audits, according to an internal Agriculture Department report. The 23 firms didn’t properly conduct onsite inspections or correctly review applications for organic certification, among other things, the report said.

A separate Wall Street Journal investigation of USDA inspection records since 2005 found that 38 of the 81 certifying agents failed on at least one occasion to uphold basic Agriculture Department standards.

In that time, 40% of these 81 certifiers have been flagged by the USDA for conducting incomplete inspections; 16% of certifiers failed to cite organic farms’ potential use of banned pesticides and antibiotics; and 5% failed to prevent potential commingling of organic and nonorganic products, according to the Journal investigation.

 

Foodscan 3000 way better than Foodscan magic potion version

Introducing the Foodscan 3000, which is way better than the Foodscan 2000 — or at least by a thousand — and completely blows away the Foodscan 1814.

According to a press release from the Israeli-based company, “MS Food Safety is currently developing the FOODSCAN 3000, a hand-held and portable food contamination detector. The development program of the FOODSCAN 3000 addresses the current gaps in food safety & product inspection. It uses the most advanced scientific and technological approach to identify potential foodborne illnesses ahead of time. This helps protecting consumers from unintentional or deliberate contamination.”

Any company going by MS Food Safety is suspect; a company called PhD Food Safety would be much more credible.

“You need to have an instrument by your beside that can detect the food contaminants real-time without the need to rely on the lengthy and costly lab analysis process. The FOODSCAN 3000 is the only hand-held and portable food contamination detector than can detect the contamination caused by common pathogens such as Salmonella, E.coli O157:H7, Listeria and others.”

You bet I want an instrument by my beside.

As one notable food safety type said,

“The company should be sued for false advertising.”

Hinting at food safety – marketers play games but invoke consumer concerns

I shop at Dillons in Manhattan (Kansas), owned by Kroger. I’ve gotten to know the staff, we talk food safety stuff, and I’ve really enjoyed the few times I’ve chatted with Gale Prince, who used to be head of food safety at Kroger.

But I don’t understand the press release Kroger sent out today about its new line of salads which includes new technology on the packaging that enables customers to learn where the produce was grown as part of Kroger’s "Quality You Can Trace" program.

I don’t really care where it was grown. I do care if it was grown in cow shit.

The Kroger’s Fresh Selections are the only salads with HarvestMark technology sold in the U.S. today. Each bag carries a 16-digit code shoppers can enter at HarvestMark.com to learn more about the salad’s origin, packing location, ingredients, date and time the product was packed.  Customers can also offer their feedback on the product.

The PR BS goes on to say,

"Kroger continues to be a leader in offering customers innovative food safety tools and resources," said Joe Grieshaber, group vice president of Kroger’s meat, seafood, deli and produce departments.  …  Food safety is a top priority at Kroger.  Our partnership with HarvestMark makes it easy for customers who are interested to learn more about the food they purchase for themselves and their families. 

This has nothing to do with food safety. A food safety program for leafy greens would provide at retail – or at least through a url – practices on irrigation water testing, soli amendments and human hygiene programs for the workers. Market food safety directly and stop dancing.

Left, is a bag of Dole spring mix, purchased at Dillons. Included on the package is a salad guide that says taste, 4, on the mild to bold scale, and texture is 2 on the tender to crunchy guide.

The label also says the spring mix pairs well with balsamic vinaigrette, crumbled goat cheese, julienne sliced sun-dried tomatoes and a pinch of Mediterranean herbs. It’s thoroughly washed, preservative free and all natural. And Kosher certified and has a recipe for Balsamic vinaigrette.

I want to know if it has E. coli and is going to make me barf. Don’t eat poop. And if you do, cook it.

Whole Foods fairytale

Baby Sorenne is already taking an interest in colorful books and images. Soon it will be storytelling.

The Whole Foods blog had a particularly fantastical and derogatory tale today.

Joe Dickson writes in a piece entitled, Standards Even A Kid Can Understand, that he couldn’t figure out how to write about the complexity of quality in one post so he gets to do a series.

Joe, it’s called editing. You’re a terrible writer.

“Is everything here organic?” and Paige said “no” but that everything was natural. And then fumbled through various attempts at explaining what natural means – realizing as she rambled that a typical 11-year-old doesn’t have the background to understand how much junk is in our conventional food supply. Paige eventually came up with this: “You won’t find blue catsup here because catsup comes from tomatoes and tomatoes aren’t blue in nature.” And the friend got it: “So, catsup is red here?” Yes.

Joe the former nursery school teacher then introduces those readers who haven’t fallen asleep or clicked elsewhere to Quality Standards Storytime.

Once upon a time there were only natural foods. I know this is obvious, but one of my most strongly-held beliefs about food is that we should pay attention to the diets that humans have followed for 200,000 years or so. Our bodies and brains evolved on a diet of unprocessed foods — mostly plants and nuts, some animal protein and very little else. The 50-100 years since the advent of food processing and artificial preservatives occupies about .05% of that timeline. I think it’s fairly logical to play it safe and stick to the diets that have proven safe and healthful for most of recorded time.

Then, sometime in the twentieth century, Artificial Preservatives, Colors and Flavors were invented by “food scientists,” devoted to improving the quality of our lives through science. The ability to color, flavor and preserve food indefinitely made it possible to recreate authentic-seeming foods and make them last virtually forever. …

The Organic and Natural Products movements were born in opposition to these changes, based on the belief that natural food is healthier, better for you and better tasting. As the conventional grocery industry got weirder and weirder, the group of resisters got bigger and bigger. Whole Foods Market was born out of that opposition, founded in 1981 as a natural alternative to mainstream grocery stores. Organic agriculture also followed a similar route, rising as a resistance movement to chemical/industrial agriculture during the 1970s and 80s.

What a fairytale. Maybe Whole Foods should worry first about keeping dangerous bacteria out of the food it sells – it’s part of that food science thing – so its customers don’t barf.

And leave the storytelling to experts like Robert Munsch of Guelph, Ontario, whose 1986, Love You Forever, is one of the most popular children’s books ever, with some 8 million copies sold (my kids preferred The Paper Bag Princess, while I preferred Good Families Don’t, because it’s about farts).

Shortly before baby Sorenne was born I gave an animated telling of the story to our prenatal class, complete with bad singing, based on years of practice, and because I’d seen Munsch tell the story a few times.