Macaroni & metal

Kraft Foods Group is voluntarily recalling approximately 242,000 cases of select code dates and manufacturing codes of the Original flavor of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner – due to the possibility that some boxes may contain small pieces of metal. The recalled product is limited to the 7.25-oz. size of the Original flavor of boxed dinner with the “Best When Used By” dates of September 18, 2015 through October 11, 2015, with the code “C2” directly below the date on each individual box.  The “C2” refers to a specific production line on which the affected product was made.

heavy.metalKraft has received eight consumer contacts about this product from the impacted line within this range of code dates and no injuries have been reported.  We deeply regret this situation and apologize to any consumers we have disappointed.

Bribes let tomato vendor sell tainted food

It’s like a bad Lifetime special movie event:

Randall Rahal, a New Jersey businessman who acted as a broker for SK Foods in peddling crappy tomato paste, recounted how he would drop a $100 bill on the floor, then bend to pick it up, saying: “You must have dropped this. Is it yours?”

If the person said yes, Mr. Rahal considered him receptive.

For all the talk of food safety, food is still a commodity that can be traded and bartered with no concern for microbiological consequences, and apparently on the bend-and-snap.

And a lot of the culprits seem housed in the biggest food companies.

As the N.Y. Times reports this morning, Robert Watson, a top ingredient buyer for Kraft Foods, needed $20,000 to pay his taxes. So he called a broker for a California tomato processor that for years had been paying him bribes to get its products into Kraft’s plants.

The check would soon be in the mail, the broker promised. “We’ll have to deduct it out of your commissions as we move forward,” he said, using a euphemism for bribes.

Days later, federal agents descended on Kraft’s offices near Chicago and confronted Mr. Watson. He admitted his role in a bribery scheme that has laid bare a startling vein of corruption in the food industry. And because the scheme also involved millions of pounds of tomato products with high levels of mold or other defects, the case has raised serious questions about how well food manufacturers safeguard the quality of their ingredients.

Over the last 14 months, Mr. Watson and three other purchasing managers, at Frito-Lay, Safeway and B&G Foods, have pleaded guilty to taking bribes. Five people connected to one of the nation’s largest tomato processors, SK Foods, have also admitted taking part in the scheme.

Now, federal prosecutors in California have taken aim at the owner of SK Foods, who they say spearheaded the far-reaching plot. The man, Frederick Scott Salyer, was arrested at Kennedy Airport in New York City on Feb. 4 after getting off a flight from Switzerland. He was indicted last week on racketeering, fraud and obstruction of justice charges.

The scheme, as laid out by federal prosecutors, has two parts. Officials say that Mr. Salyer and others at SK Foods greased the palms of a handful of corporate buyers in exchange for lucrative contracts and confidential information on bids submitted by competitors. This most likely drove up ingredient prices for the big food companies.

In addition, prosecutors say that for years, SK Foods shipped its customers millions of pounds of bulk tomato paste and puree that fell short of basic quality standards — with falsified documentation to mask the problems. Often that meant mold counts so high the sale should have been prohibited under federal law; at other times it involved breaching specifications in the sales contracts, such as acidity levels or the age of the product.

The scope of the tainted shipments was much broader than the bribery scheme, touching more than 55 companies. In some cases, companies detected problems and sent the products back — but in many cases, according to prosecutors, they did not, and the tainted ingredients wound up in food sold to consumers.

Prosecutors said that no one was sickened by the mold-tainted products and that they were not a health risk.

But it gets back to a key point I keep reiterating – companies that rely on outside auditors do themselves a disservice – and put their brand at risk – if they don’t have the in-house food safety expertise to assess whether they’re being fed nonsense or not.

Mold count is fairly basic with tomatoes.

Randy W. Worobo, an associate professor of food microbiology at Cornell University, said companies should learn from the SK Foods case that they must do a better job of monitoring their ingredients.

“There’s been a lot of hype about inferior-quality products being made in China and then sold to the U.S. consumer. This is exactly the same thing, but it’s based in the U.S.”

Kraft, the nation’s largest food manufacturer, appears to have been among the biggest companies skimmed by the bribes. Court papers say that Kraft bought about 230 million pounds of processed tomatoes from SK Foods from 2004 to 2008, as Mr. Watson took $158,000 in bribes.

Michael P. Doyle, the director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, said there had been several cases in recent years in which ingredient suppliers were suspected of falsifying documentation to mask quality or safety faults in foods, especially with imports. He said that should make companies more aggressive in testing, not only to guard against pathogens but also to check quality.

“As a consumer I wouldn’t want to have moldy tomatoes in my tomato ketchup or my tomato products,” Dr. Doyle said.

Is that a Vegemite or an iSnack 2.0 sandwich, or are you just happy to see me?

In one of the most bizarre marketing decisions – ever, even for Australia – Kraft Foods decided to name its second generation Vegemite the iSnack 2.0.

I first heard the term Vegemite near the beginning of the worst decade of music ever, in the 1981 song, Down Under, by Men at Work.???

Vegemite is made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract, a by-product of beer manufacturing, and various vegetable and spice additives. The taste may be described as salty, slightly bitter, and malty – somewhat similar to the taste of beef bouillon. The texture is smooth and sticky, much like peanut butter.

Helen Razer, a Melbourne writer, says in today’s (tomorrow’s) The Age, that the chief element in Vegemite’s new product is cream cheese. A secondary ingredient appears to be abject failure. No one likes the name of this new yeast product, except at least six Harvard MBAs at Kraft Foods who adore it.

The winning name was announced during the telecast of the AFL grand final. In an effort ”to align the new product with a younger market – and the ‘cool’ credentials of Apple’s iPod and iPhone” Kraft chose iSnack 2.0 from a field of 48,000.

This raises many questions. Chief among them is how very terrible were the other 47,999 competition submissions that Kraft was left with iSnack 2.0?

Razer says the label is every bit as hip as a polka convention and every bit as convincingly ”now” as parachute pants.

Sounds like the wardrobe for a 1981 video shoot.

Razer also says, on Monday, the global noticeboard Twitter was jammed with disgust. Comments that included ”I said do you speaka my language? She just smiled and gave me an iSnack 2.0 sandwich” and ”What’s the matter, was the name Crap Paste already trademarked?”

Salmonella in pistachios: He Said, She Said

It’s on, bitches.

After a production manager for Setton Pistachio’s sister company in New York said yesterday Kraft Foods did not tell Setton until recently that they had detected salmonella-tainted pistachios last year, Kraft offered a timeline of Salmonella-positive events. Kraft spokeswoman Susan Davison said,

Workers at one of Kraft’s manufacturers in Illinois turned up a contaminated batch of fruits and nuts in December 2007. Then, in September of last year, another positive sample appeared.

Only after thousands of tests could the company pinpoint the source for the second positive test as California-based Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. … Kraft finally determined pistachios caused last year’s problem in March, when their manufacturer in Illinois detected salmonella for the third time – this time in the nuts, the only common ingredient between the second and third batch of trail mix. Kraft has not traced the source for the first positive salmonella test in 2007.

"If we did detect salmonella, of course we would never ship our products. We conducted extensive testing of all our food, and we were just unable to zero in until March that pistachios were the root cause."

Setton Pistachio then retracted the production manager’s statement.

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration sent out a letter to the pistachio industry reminding nut processors to follow good manufacturing practices to protect consumers, something food safety experts called welcome guidance.

Oh, and before it was an Ashley Tisdale song, He Said She Said was a bad 1991 romantic comedy about competing newspaper advice columnists. They’d be blogging for free today.

Kraft unit recalls Salmonella-tainted trail mix; it’s the pistachios

Back to Nature Foods Co., a Wisconsin firm owned by Kraft Foods Inc., issued a nationwide recall Wednesday on its Nantucket Blend trail mix because some of the pistachio nuts tested positive for Salmonella.

And the pistachios came from a supplier to the Georgia Nut Company, which found the Salmonella through its own testing.

The press release from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said,

This possible contamination is not connected with the recent outbreak associated with peanuts or peanut butter and no cases of Salmonellosis have been reported in connection with the recall.

Back to Nature Foods products are sold in Chicago area Dominick’s, Jewel, Target, Wal-mart, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Hy-Vee, Kroger, Meijer and Woodman’s stores, as well as at military commissaries.

Casey did a quick search and found there have been no Salmonella outbreaks or reported positives associated with pistachios, although 2006 Good Agricultural Practice documents suggest limiting exposure of pistachios to irrigation water and carefully handling on-farm manure because of the possibility of microbial contaminants. It appears there’s a widespread belief that the hull protects the edible parts, and drying and roasting further mitigate risks of contamination, although the GAP document and research on other nuts has concluded such assumptions remain unverified.