Posts tagged ‘organic’

All Food is “Natural”

While walking through the grocery store, you may notice labels such as “Natural”, “Organic”, and “Free Range”. Many consumers are willing to pay extra for products with these claims. In one poll, 63% of respondents strongly preferred foods with the “Natural” label. Not all of these labels have legal definitions, however, and some are completely unregulated.

Organic
In order to be labelled as organic, food must meet guidelines defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The product must not contain any artificial additives, including preservatives and synthetic pesticides. Many organic foods are made without genetically modified ingredients but this is not required by law. There’s no scientific evidence showing that organic foods are inherently healthier but some consumers may be willing to pay extra in order to avoid synthetic chemicals.

Free Range/Free Roaming
This is a label you might see on egg cartons. For most people, the term “Free Range” brings to mind happy chickens foraging in lush, green meadows. In reality, the producer just needs to show that the poultry has been allowed outdoor access. The law doesn’t actually state how large the area needs to be and there are no minimum time requirements. A farm could offer an outside area of just a few square feet, only accessible for a few minutes, and still be eligible for the “Free Range” label. Rather than paying extra for “Free Range” eggs, consider checking out a local farm where you’ll be able to verify how the hens are actually kept.

eggs

Cage-free
At first glance, this doesn’t sound any different from the “Free Range” label. The major difference is that “Cage-free” doesn’t specify that the poultry had any outdoor access, only that they weren’t kept in cages. Often, these “Cage-free” chickens are loose in large buildings. These buildings are so crowded that it’s not unusual for chickens to get severely injured, leading some to question whether or not this environment is actually better for the animals. This is another case where it’s better to find out how a particular farm raises their poultry if animal welfare is your concern.

Vegetarian Fed
This is an odd one, recently popping up on lots of egg cartons. Some people associate vegetarianism with health foods, figuring that eggs with this label must be healthier or higher quality. While this label does certify that the hens were fed a vegetarian diet, there’s very little benefit to picking these over other eggs. Chickens are actually omnivores so a diet of corn and soy doesn’t make them any healthier (if anything, it has the opposite effect). This label does mean that the hens weren’t fed meat by-products, including other chicken parts. However, that practice is already rare and not something the average consumer needs to worry about.

Grass Fed
This is a label used exclusively for beef products. In the past, it meant that the cattle had been fed a diet of grass as opposed to grains such as corn. Unfortunately, the USDA revoked their definition earlier this year. Using the label still requires USDA approval but there are no longer any specific requirements or regulations.

No Antibiotics
This is a rare case of a label meaning exactly what it says. In order to label meat as “No Antibiotics” or “Antibiotic Free”, the producer needs to provide documentation showing that the animals weren’t treated with any antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is becoming more of a problem these days so it’s not a bad idea to look for this label when sourcing meat products.

No Hormones/Hormone Free
In order to use this label, the producer needs to provide proof that the animals were raised without the use of added hormones. The problem is that you’ll see this label everywhere when it’s only really relevant for beef products. The use of added hormones in pork and poultry is completely illegal in the United States, making the label pointless for those products. Companies using this label are relying on customers being unaware of these laws.

Natural
This is probably one of the most common labels you’ll see in the grocery store. It also means absolutely nothing. There is no legal definition for “Natural”, including “Made with Natural Ingredients”, “100% Natural”, and “All Natural”. Any company can label their food as being natural. Don’t bother paying extra for “Natural” foods until a legal definition is established.

In short, it’s good to read food labels but make sure you know what you’re getting. Most of these labels are used for marketing purposes and not all of them are defined or regulated.

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Sources:  University of Iowa, USDA, USDA

July 10, 2016 at 6:00 am 1 comment

Some Eggs Do Not Need Refrigeration

By Chad Upton | Editor

Eggs are incredibly versatile. They can be prepared many different ways and appear in thousands of recipes, from salad dressings to dessert puddings.

While eggs taste great, they can also be dangerous if not treated properly. In the United States, about 1 in 20,000 eggs may contain salmonella — a bacteria that can make people very sick and possibly lead to death. In fact, approximately 142,000 cases of salmonella poisoning are reported each year and approx 30 of those cases result in death.

In many countries, eggs lay on supermarket shelves completely unrefrigerated. In other countries, eggs must be refrigerated when they are shipped, stored and sold.

Eggs have a natural protective layer on the outside of them which preserves the egg for a long period of time without refrigeration. Unfortunately, eggs can become contaminated with salmonella. This happens by contacting feces or other environmental contaminants during production. It can also be caused by the ovaries of an infected hen.

Because of this risk, countries such as the US and Canada insist that eggs be washed before they are sold. The advantage of this is that potential bacteria is removed from the outside of the egg. The disadvantage: the natural protective coating will also be removed, which requires that eggs be refrigerated to mitigate the risk of other contamination.

Although rare, there is also a risk that the egg yolk is infected. Refrigerating eggs prevents the potential bacteria from multiplying further, which reduces the risk of illness if a contaminated egg is consumed.

Typical egg care varies by country. If you buy eggs that are refrigerated, you should refrigerate them at home. If the eggs are not refrigerated at the time of purchase, you may optionally refrigerate them at home to extend the shelf life.

Room temperature eggs are recommended for hard boiling, experts say the shell is easier to remove because the outer membrane (just inside the shell) is weaker.

Many chefs suggest that refrigerated eggs should be at room temperature before they are mixed for baking, salad dressings and mayonnaise. The yolk in a cold egg is more firm, so they mix better at room temperature. Therefore, cold eggs are ideal for poaching or frying, reducing the chance that the yolk will break open during preparation.

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Sources: USDA, Chow, Banderas, Ochef, Wikipedia (Salmonella)

Photo: chizang (cc)

September 20, 2010 at 5:00 am 2 comments

Why Vinyl Records are Becoming Popular Again

By Chad Upton | Editor

There have always been cool record shops in the hip parts of town hocking vinyl to the enthusiasts. But, it had been a long time since the major record stores carried them, until last year.

Maybe you’ve noticed, maybe not. But if you’ve been into BestBuy recently, some of their stores have a massive vinyl record selection. A year ago, they had a few, now they have hundreds. It’s not every store, but some of them.

 

Vinyl Edition

 

For many people, it’s probably hard to imagine that anyone would go back to using records.

Records are not convenient to use. They don’t play for very long, about 26 minutes before you have to flip it over or put a new one on. You can’t easily skip songs at the push of a button. They have to be kept very clean to sound good. The needle drags on the record so the sound degrades over time and worst of all, they are expensive.

Since all of these drawbacks are easily overcome by digital formats like CDs and MP3s, it surely makes people wonder, why are vinyl records making a mainstream comeback? (more…)

February 19, 2010 at 1:26 am 4 comments

Why Do People Eat Organic Food?

I have always enjoyed visiting my grandparents, something I probably didn’t and still don’t do often enough.

I have a lot of great memories from those times and spending time in my grandmother’s vegetable garden is one of my favorites. She had a huge backyard, almost half of it was a garden.

I didn’t actually like vegetables back then, but she had a secret raspberry patch. It was tucked away in the back of the garden, behind the shed. I’m not sure if she was trying to hide it, or just keep it separate from the main garden — raspberry plants are locally invasive, they can take over your entire garden if not pruned.

I could spend the whole day eating raspberries, fresh off the bush.

Some days, I did.

It was nature’s 7-11, a store full of squishy red candy, at the right height and the right price for a child.

I wouldn’t dare say they were “free” since there was a price to pay — raspberry bushes are very prickly. There are thornless cultivars available now, but it worked out OK. The thorns slow you down enough to swallow one raspberry before you pick the next. I’m sure that’s why nature put the pricks there. (more…)

February 1, 2010 at 12:12 am 1 comment

Organic Food May Contain Non-Organic Ingredients

Back in 5th grade, my school had cupcake sales. There were thousands of cupcakes. I don’t remember what we were raising money for, but I ate a lot of cupcakes and that was memorable.

Baking all of these cupcakes was a lot of painstaking work, but my mom was a really hard worker. She always made chocolate cheesecake cupcakes, which the parents and teachers ate up, literally.

They weren’t covered in icing sugar, they didn’t have multicolored sprinkles or glitter and that’s exactly what the kids looked for: sugar. If you’re punny, you might say the kids had more refined palettes.

Some of my favorite cupcakes were the ones decorated with those tiny silver balls. It turns out the FDA now considers them inedible, due to the small amount of metal in them. Now, they’re sold “for decoration only,” except in California where they’ve been banned since 2003.

They were considered edible back then, but that still doesn’t mean they were food. I ate LEGO a couple times back then too. Again, not food.

Real food isn’t made in a laboratory, although laboratories do produce some really tasty stuff. In an earlier post, I talked about the differences between natural sugar and synthetic sugar made from corn (high fructose corn syrup).

Experts believe that your body can’t control its absorption into your bloodstream, in an attempt to control your blood sugar, your body quickly converts it into fat, which happens much slower with natural sugar. This could be extremely dangerous, and its addition to thousands of foods over the past 35 years could be partially responsible for the obesity epidemic.

Last month, a research paper was published, focusing on one genetically modified type of corn. This study shows that pesticide residue was still evident on this type of corn and it causes organ failure in rats. Genetically modified food has a bad reputation and it isn’t always bad, there are many success stories and it occurs in nature too (not just laboratories). But, this study shows a clear example of genetically modified food at its worst.

Because of these dangers, there are a lot of people who try to eat natural foods whenever possible. Food labeled “organic”  is one way to identify real food. Many food products contain a lot of synthetic ingredients, growth hormones, pesticides and antibiotics. On the other hand, Organic foods generally do not contain any of these.

At least, that’s what I thought. I don’t buy a lot of organic food, but when I do buy a product stamped with the “USDA Organic” logo, I assume that it’s entirely organic. The truth is, the USDA actually has a list (PDF) of non-organic ingredients that are allowed in products that carry the “organic” label.

Here is a very small sample of some non-organic ingredients and some uses for them:

  1. Fish Oils (dairy, egg, sauces, jam, jelly, snack foods)
  2. Gelatin (yogurt, production of tea and wine, thickening agent)
  3. Orange Shellac (glazing or polishing organic fruits and vegetables)
  4. Enriched Inulin (baking, nutritional bars, yogurt, cereal)
  5. Whey Protein Concentrate (yogurt, protein supplements, baby food)
  6. Carnauba Wax and Wood resin (chewing gum, candy coatings, juice, cosmetics)

The USDA has approved these ingredients (and many others) because the organic food producers that rely on them have filed petitions asking for approval. The petitions usually cite a non-existent or inadequate supply of that ingredient in organic form. In other words, organic food contains 100% organic ingredients when those ingredients are available as organic products.

Written By: Chad Upton

Broken Secrets

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Images: USDA,

Sources: The Daily Green, Dragee, International Journal of Biological Sciences, USDA Food List, HFCS

January 21, 2010 at 1:12 am 1 comment


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