Tag Archives: melamine

Cruising IFT 2013 – my Top 10 Trends (Special Double Issue!)

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Don’t let the unsexy ‘Institute of Food Technologists’ name throw you; IFT’s members are basically the source of the Nile for foods and beverages.  IFT’s national Expo was just held in Chicago, where I walked the many miles of the McCormick Place floor so you didn’t have to.  It was where you could see ingredient innovations that will show up without warning in tomorrow’s new foods and beverages.

IFT2013 Main Hall

IFT 2013 – McCormick Place Floor

So for your edification, I hereby present my Top 10 Observations.

1) Chia.  No, not Chia Pets (although it’s the same plant) or even Chia LaBoeuf. An ancient grain, chia seeds promise high levels of Omega-3, ALA, fiber, calcium and minerals.  One marketer, Salba, targets their ‘super chia seeds’ at ‘smarty-pants’ consumers.  And you will need to think about it a little: like wheat germ, chia seeds aren’t generally eaten alone; they are typically sprinkled on or mixed in with other foods.

Chia Seeds

Chia Seeds

2) Matcha. This finely ground, premium green tea powder has been used ceremonially for millennia in Japan, and is offered in top restaurants worldwide.  For culinary purposes, matcha’s high amino acid content delivers a umami taste profile that can enable lower salt content.  Matcha can also be used as a colorant, due to its distinct green hue. The matcha makers were pushing all manner of green foods made with matcha, not all of which were ready for prime time.  High in antioxidants, you will likely have your first matcha moment at some point soon.  Arigatou gozaimasu.

Matcha 1

Ceremonial Matcha Tea

Matcha 3

Matcha Green Tea Jelly

Matcha scones

Matcha Scones

3) Saskatoon Berries.  So I’m at the Canada pavilion (they’re so nice there) and there’s a display showing Saskatoon berries (aka Prairie Berries) positioned as the next super fruit, with higher antioxidants than all your previous favorites (acaí, goji, etc.).  I try them — and they’re good!  Blueberry-sized but more fleshy, with just a hint of tartness.  Already well-liked for the obligatory preserves, pies and such, you may well be seeing Saskatoon berries showing up in more foods and beverages.  Trivia:  the province Saskatoon was named for the berry, not the other way around.  Who knew, indeed.

Saskatoon berries

Saskatoon Berries

SaskatoonFestival2Saskatoon pie

4) The word ‘pulse’. OK, I don’t live in Legume World, so maybe you’re familiar with the word; it’s always been just beans, peas and lentils to me.  But a lot more grain processors have started using the word pulse; my guess is you’ll be hearing it a lot more in the future.  Probably because it sounds a lot more sophisticated than talking about lima beans. (‘I’m in the pulse business, yeah baby!’)

Pulse grains

Pulse Grains

5) Bamboo Fiber.  This ingredient has long been used for textiles; I just hadn’t seen it in food.  Providing fiber’s benefits of texture, as well as bulking properties that accelerate one’s, ahem, transit time, it is used in juices, baked goods, pasta, sauces, among other applications, and is non-caloric.  And it’s label-friendly, too, being able to be called ‘vegetable fiber’.  I just don’t know the cost for all these benefits – – maybe we’ll sort that out next time around.


you know what this is

6) Natural food dyes.  Not surprisingly, the EU clean label trend has finally waded ashore from the Atlantic and is starting to make greater inroads in US food formulation.  Consumers increasingly want to see natural colors on the label (and of course, we know that everyone who claims to read labels always does).  So instead of CSPI whipping boys Yellow 5 or Red 40, get ready for more paprika, lycopene, annatto, turmeric and of course, cochineal extract.  But if you find out that the color comes from crushed insects, or algae, or your Velveeta doesn’t have its characteristic hi-glo orange-yellow hue anymore, don’t come crying to me.

Natural food coloring - Tribune

Natural food colorings (from Sensient Technologies)

7) Safety testing.  Ever since Roman praegustators, there has been a need for food testing.  And as the stakes have risen recently (see: melamine), based on my observation, so has the number of companies offering testing services to meet SQF and BRC standards (some great tech-speak that can score you some major points in the IFT cocktail hour – – but perhaps not in too many other places).
Tests for pathogens, listeria, salmonella, E. Coli, as well as fraudulent ingredients, can be done using HPLC, genetic molecular testing, straightforward micro testing, mass spectrometry, colony counting and zone sizing, and numerous other approaches that I don’t understand, using chemicals, software, and machinery.  As a consumer, it’s good to know that there is such a focus on safety.  As an IFT show-goer, it was disappointing – the food safety guys don’t tend to give out free food or tchotchkes.

IFT2013 testing

This software helps detect ingredients that shouldn’t be there, in this case tartaric acid. It can also see if that gluten-free claim is really true, or if there actually was any Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine.

8) Sodium reduction.  The holy trinity of ingredients to avoid are fat, calories and sodium.  The consequences of over-consuming the first two are visible.  Sodium reduction helps with non-visible dangers like hypertension (dangers that Americans typically are excellent at ignoring), and as a result there has been less urgency.  But it seems that this is changing.  There were quite a few sodium reduction products offered promising great taste, using approaches as disparate as different crystal shape, blended granules, microspheres, starch and baking solutions, and more.  You heard it here first, the age of real sodium reduction has arrived.

IFT Salt

9 in 10 Americans over age 2 eat too much sodium

9) Alternatives to traditional ingredients.  What do you do for news when the main building blocks of food (like wheat flour) are not only mature, but facing new challenges (like GMO-free, gluten-free, etc.)?  You introduce new ways to get there.  Hence flours from sweet potatoes, soy, sesame, flax, coconut, rice, spelt, almond, buckwheat, spirulina and more.  Each has its own taste profile, nutritional benefits, and processing limitations.  You won’t see this stuff in your Twinkies, but it’s coming elsewhere, and it will be great to have more taste, texture and nutritional options.

IFT Sesame Flour

Sesame Flour

10) Maple Water.  Still trying to wrap your head around coconut water?  Well, clear out some mindspace for maple water.  It’s so new, it wasn’t even in the show – – I heard about it from a friendly Canadian.  It seems the Quebec maple producers have launched this product as a thirst quencher, ingredient, and in any case, an all-around transparent strategy to extend revenues from the maple crop.  It is supposed to have a distinctive flavor, slightly sweet.  Coconut water from the south, now maple water from the north, it seems the US has its flavored water NAFTA obligations covered.


(actually, it’s not yet clear exactly what they want us to do with this stuff)


Bonus points for using this ingredient in YOUR product.

IFT2013 pop-rocks

Open to suggestion.

That’s it – see you at next year’s show!


Would you prefer pink slime or horsemeat with your burger?

Well, neither, actually, thank you.  If you’re talking about things that we’d rather not see in our food, you can add melamine to the mix.  All three caused quite a commotion when stories broke revealing their presence in the food supply.

In that respect they have similarities; in other ways they couldn’t be farther apart.  In all cases, the media played a key role.

First, a brief recap (if you’re up to speed, skip to the meat of this post below).

Melamine – – an organic compound, used to make familiar things like Formica, dinnerware, laminate flooring, and white boards.  Melamine also is toxic, and can falsely indicate high protein content in foods.  These characteristics came together with tragic consequences in 2007 and 2008, when Chinese-sourced infant formulas and pet foods that had had their protein counts ‘boosted’ with melamine led to six infant deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries, as well as a lot of killed or harmed pets.

Melamine mom

Pink Slime – – known more commonly in the meat biz as Lean Finely Textured Beef (‘LFTB’), is ground-up low-grade meat byproducts that has had the fat removed, and was approved in 2001 for use as a filler at up to 25% of ground beef content.  In 2012 a scandal arose when it became known that as much as 70% of the ground beef sold in the US contained LFTB but was not required by the USDA to be identified on labels.  While not posing any health risk, public outcry focused on the fact that with no label disclosure consumers were not able to make informed decisions.

pink slime

Horsemeat — just this week, An Irish meat processor recalled 10 million burgers from supermarkets across Ireland and Britain amid fears that they could contain horsemeat, a discovery that poses no danger to public health but threatens to harm Ireland’s important beef business.  While the concept of horsemeat is not particularly appetizing to a US culture that idolized Seabiscuit and Mr. Ed, apparently that’s not a universal feeling.  In fact, according to Food Manufacturing, “much of Europe happily consumes horsemeat as a delicacy.  Still, ‘The Irish are known for their respect of the horse, and they’re not used to eating horses,’ the French newspaper Le Figaro explained Wednesday to its readers.”

tescoscared horse

How are these three things similar?   Easy:  with all of them we were served a nasty surprise regarding our food, which is never going to go down smoothly.

How are these different?  Well, in a few ways.

1) Benefits/Dangers – – Melamine is toxic, period.  It provides no benefit in food other than to increase profits for the producer.  LFTB is clearly not harmful, although it has less protein than the beef it replaces.  On the other hand, it helps reduce beef’s fat content, which is good, and can help reduce retail prices of ground beef, a benefit generally appreciated by consumers.  Horsemeat is similar to LFTB in that it is not harmful, but in this case it seems to have been secretly added to ground beef solely in an effort to increase profits.

2) Outcome of the scandal – – Melamine – – boycotts of Chinese products worldwide, 21 convictions, including 19 long sentences and two death sentences in China.  On the plus side for consumers, it has led to longer-term enhancements in food supply chain testing and security.  LFTB – – as a result of the media frenzy, several beef processors went bankrupt, eliminating thousands of jobs and driving higher prices at the shelf.  Horsemeat — still unfolding.

melamine china

3) Role of the media — with melamine, the media was essential in uncovering the scandal and demanding quick action and accountability.  With LFTB, the media seemed less interested in pushing for the public good than in fanning hysteria (and circulation) using the irresistible ‘pink slime’ nickname.  Certainly without that name there would have been far less outrage.  With horsemeat, the media is somewhere in between – – apparently staying mostly objective and reporting the facts, so far.

slime headline

What is the meat of the matter here?  What are lessons for producers and retailers?

–> With the broad footprint of upstream suppliers and the highly dispersed market for downstream finished products, there can be no such thing as too much supply chain traceability and security, and with access to the right information, consumers will increasingly be willing to pay for safety.  Manufacturers and retailers have a potential danger in the event of an ingredient scare, but also an opportunity to use traceability and source of supply as differentiating advantages, by simplifying sourcing, and investing in supplier audits and shipment tracking automation.

food supply chain

–> Consumers will continue to demand transparency regarding what’s in their products.  Manufacturers and retailers will need to increasingly provide it to stay competitive.  To some extent this is not easy; research shows that consumers often have a knee-jerk reaction to the sound of an ingredient (e.g. ‘pink slime’) without bothering to know the facts.  But pink slime is a very obvious example; there are more subtle perception dangers even with very useful ingredients (propionic acid is naturally occurring and helps prevent bread mold; alpha tocopherol is just another name for Vitamin E; and ascorbyl palmitate is an antioxidant and nutrient; etc.).  Claims like GMO-free can provide a marketing benefit but can also generate significant added costs.  Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is a great concept but can get murky depending on where a product is grown, processed or packed.  Net, providing transparency is a worthy goal but it is still very tricky and will require ongoing management.

ingredient line

–> Social media has helped create a situation where consumers act immediately on rumors and don’t want to wait for facts, which puts all producers at greater risk of a Pink Slime-type incident.  In some ways, this is a risk that is hard to mitigate.  The best advice would be twofold:  1) err on the side of greater disclosure of ingredients so the message can be proactively managed; and 2) in the event an ingredient issue surfaces, use the same social media to immediately acknowledge the problem, present the facts, and communicate what the company is doing about it.

twitter panic

–> The media must remember that with its power comes a responsibility to maintain objectivity, balance and context in reporting the news.  A pink slime-type episode, where sensationalism trumps perspective, can make for interesting copy, but can also have real consequences for real people.

wendys finger