The confidential settlement reached on June 28 between Beef Products Inc., and Disney-owned ABC News is not entirely a secret anymore.

The Walt Disney Company’s quarterly financial filing with the Securities and Executive Commission (SEC) shows a charge of $177 million “net of committed insurance recoveries,” incurred in connection with a litigation settlement.

Disney’s financial disclosures appear to be saying it paid $177 million out of pocket plus the total of its insurance coverage to settle the civil defamation lawsuit of BPI v. ABC News and reporter Jim Avila.

The June 28 agreement ended a jury trial on day 17 in Union County, SD, Circuit Court. Judge Cheryle Gering had set aside eight weeks for the trial.

BPI sued ABC, Avila and others under South Dakota’s Agriculture Defamation Act, seeking $1.9 billion with the potential for triple damages, which would have been $5.7 billion.

BPI claimed it was damaged by a month-long series of reports by ABC News about “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB) ABC referred to the product, used as a less-expensive component in ground beef, as “pink slime” more than 350 times. The network news team did not coin the term. A report in the New York Times introduced the world to the term, which was reportedly first used to describe the beef product in an email written by a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist.

Fast food and grocery store chains canceled orders for the BPI — with Burger King, Taco Bell and McDonald’s ending their use of LFTB well before the ABC reports.

BPI saw an 80 percent reduction in the company’s business by the time the ABC reports ended. BPI was forced to lay off about 750 workers as it closed down production lines in Waterloo, IA; Garden City, KS; and Amarillo, TX.

The multi-million settlement ended the trial before BPI finished presenting its case to the Union County jury. Details of the settlement were entirely secret until Disney filed its financial report.

ABC News has not retracted any of its reports, which are still available on the network’s website.

Regina Roth, who owns BPI with her husband Eldon, and her daughters reacted to the settlement “with tears of joy,” according to Siouxland press reports.

“ABC made us an offer that we just could not refuse. They had been making offers, but they were nowhere they needed to be. It was enough money for us that we felt vindication,” Regina Roth said, speaking to the Sioux City Rotary Club after the trial.

The future for BPI includes new products, possibly reopening plants in Kansas and Texas, and offering former employees financial assistance.

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logo BPIThe $1.9 billion state civil defamation trial pitting Beef Products  Inc. against Disney-owned ABC Television and reporter Jim Avila enters its third week today in Elk Point, SD. The 12-member jury and four alternates—11 women and five men—have so far heard only the live testimony or video depositions of plaintiff witnesses as BPI puts forward its case.

As it closed out the second week of the trial, BPI’s witness list went from defendant Jim Avila and continued through retired USDA scientist Gerald Zirnstein. Here are some of the highlights:

JIM AVILA — The ABC News reporter and occasional weekend anchor appeared in video testimony running about two hours. Under questioning by BPI attorney Dan Webb, Avila said he was not aware of the background of two of the sources ABC used in its first report on lean finely textured beef (LFTB) that aired on March 7, 2012.

Specifically, Avila said he did not know Kit Foshee was fired by BPI and his termination was upheld by a court. Nor, he said, did he know Zirnstein, who was first to call LFTB “pink slime” and saw himself as a “crusader” against the BPI product. Moreover, Avila testified that neither he nor any ABC producer had seen a copy of any report by USDA microbiologists opposing the use of LFTB in ground beef that reportedly went to their USDA superiors.

Jim Avila
Jim Avila

The ABC journalist was confident about his primary sources, however, because they’d been quoted in the New York Times and the online Daily, which has ceased publication, without any challenge.

BPI’s lean finely textured beef was one of four sources for ground beef produced by Cargill in 2007 that was linked to an 844,812-pound recall and an outbreak that sickened 940 people. Some said LFTB was not likely the source of the E. coli because of the effectiveness of its ammonia treatment. However, the incident opened a window on LFTB that did not previously exist.

CARL CUSTER — A retired USDA scientist who said he stands by statements he made in 2012, and make them again if given the opportunity.

Custer said he never wrote an official report to object to LFTB being used in ground beef. He had researched an earlier product in 1989-90, but not the lean finely textured beef as approved by USDA in 1993. As for the statement attributed by former USDA  assistant secretary Joann Smith —“It’s pink, therefore its meat.”— Custer never heard Smith or anything other USDA official say it.

He said it on camera for the ABC report, and explained it was something he picked up in hallway at USDA from someone who claimed to have heard it in a meeting, but that cannot be corroborated.

BPI graphic process for LFTB
BPI has several videos, including one containing this slide, on its website

KIT FOSHEE — The former BPI employee, who lost both his job and his wrongful termination lawsuit against his former employer, Foshee appeared in a video deposition.    He said he described LFTB for ABC as “pink slime” and “play dough,” and said he found it to be more like gelatin than beef.

Foshee said BPI’s product is a cheap replacement for a high quality meat item. His departure from BPI was over disagreement with owner Eldon Roth about the use of connective tissue.

RICH JOCHUM — BPI’S corporate administrator testified that prior to the ABC reports, which ran from March 7 to April 3, 2012, sales of 5 million pounds a week of LFTB were being recorded. But after the stories aired and were posted on ABC’s various platforms, sales fell to 1.2 million pounds a week. Demand fell off rapidly as numerous fast food and grocery store chains ceased using the product. Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Burger King had all stopped using it in 2011.

Jochum said the reduction in sales had an “immediate and direct impact” on BPI and its two sister companies, with revenues falling off in a proportional amount. He said the information he provided to ABC prior to their reports was not used by the network.

Jo Ann Smith
Jo Ann Smith

JO ANN SMITH — In her video deposition, the former USDA assistant secretary for marketing and inspection services denied there was any connection between her temporary approval of LFTB and her later appointment to the board of directors of a BPI supplier.

Smith left USDA as President Bill Clinton took office in January 1993. LFTB gained final approval the following September.

GERALD ZIRNSTEIN — The former USDA scientist, who was first to call LFTB “pink slime,” does not believe the product belongs in ground beef. He says it “lost the functionality of meat. It has a different composition entirely than meat.”

Zirnstein said if LFTB was to be included in ground beef, it would only be fair if the consumer was told something of lower quality was being included in their burgers. He said LFTB is a lower quality protein because of its excess collagen.

The trial, which is being conducted by the First Judicial District of South Dakota in the Union County Courthouse, is scheduled to take up as much as another six weeks. On more than 350 occasions ABC’s reports referred to BPI’s lean finely textured beef as “pink slime.  Those statements are at the heart of the food product disparagement claim BPI is making under South Dakota law.

That statute could open ABC to treble damages, which means $5.7 billion is at stake.

Editors Note: Attorney Bill Marler, publisher of Food Safety News, represented retired USDA scientists Gerald Zirnstein and Carl Custer until they were dismissed as defendants in this case. Writer/editor Dan Flynn was served with a subpoena from the plaintiffs during early stages of this litigation, but he was not required to provide any information or to testify. That subpoena is now thought to be inactive.

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On its website, BPI has links to several videos showing some of its facilities and describing food safety practices.
On its website, BPI has links to several videos showing some of its facilities and describing food safety practices.

ELK POINT, SD — It would probably not be accurate to say Professor Mindy Brashears speaks with a Texas twang or that ABC’s attorney Dane Butswinkas has a Richmond dialect, but the difficulty the two have understanding each other slowed proceedings on the fourth day of the $1.9 billion civil defamation trial against the network.

Butswinkas, who is a  Virginian, had only about 10 minutes to cross-examine Brashears on Wednesday. He made up for it Thursday by keeping her on the witness stand for most of the day. Brashears is a professor and director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University.

On direct examination Wednesday, Brashears offered her testimony as one of the top beef safety experts in nation, saying the lean finely textured beef produced in 2012 by Dakota Dunes-based Beef Products Inc. (BPI) was “definitely meat and definitely beef” and that it was not “pink slime.”

BPI is suing Disney-owned ABC Television and reporter Jim Avila over multiple broadcast and internet reports about its lean finely textured beef product (LFTB), which the network referred to as “pink slime” more than 350 times during a month-long period beginning March 7, 2012.

A Union County jury began hearing the dispute Monday under the South Dakota Food Product Disparagement Act.

Mindy Brashears Photo courtesy of Texas Tech University
Mindy Brashears
Photo courtesy of Texas Tech University

Let’s do the time warp
Thursday was for sparing between the defense attorney and the beef safety professor. There was a sort of dividing line in time. Brashears kept returning to the LFTB product, approved with its beef label in September 1993, as it existed in 2012 and since.  Butswinkas used most of the cross examination to get into BPI’s earlier history.

The defense attorney asked the witness numerous questions about BPI’s pre-1993 product, which was called “partially defatted chopped beef.” It was not permitted in ground beef. BPI petitioned for a reclassification to allow the product to be included in ground beef and to change its name in April 1990.

Butswinkas wanted Brashears to acknowledge that at least three scientists at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service opposed the BPI petition. She did, but only after talking about how the nonprofit, non-governmental National Academy panel approved it.

The two also went at it about whether the trimmings used by BPI for it’s LFTB product — which are 70 percent fat — are more dangerous than more lean trimmings used by other beef processors. At one point in time, FSIS was on the record saying there was increased danger with LFTB. Brashears, however, testified that she did her own study on the issue and found the theory did not hold up.

Dane Butswinkas Photo courtesy of Williams & Connolly
Dane Butswinkas
Photo courtesy of Williams & Connolly

Butswinkas did get the professor to admit BPI was suspended from the National School Lunch Program on multiple occasions in 2007 and 2008. Brashears said those suspensions were essentially voluntary actions by BPI taken after pathogens were discovered in its product by the lab working for the lunch program. She said the action was consistent with BPI’s food safety plan.

Butswinkas produced a notice sent out by FSIS after BPI won its reclassification request for the product formerly known as “partially defatted chopped beef” that said the action was only a name change.

Brashears said the notice was neither official or complete. She also said she did not agree with some prominent meat scientists Butswinkas quoted. Those scientists said LFTB’s substance is “like coupe” — an ice cream or sherbet dessert — with “a consistency like mashed potatoes.”

The bottom line is the bottom line of this case
The meat packer sued ABC after the network’s reports in March 2012, citing them as the reason the BPI order book shrank by about 80 percent from 5 million pounds a week to about 1 million. ABC News screen shot with burgerThe beef processor closed three of its four plants and terminated the employment of at least 650 workers, including many long-time employees.

Major grocery stories and fast food outlets ceased using LFTB as a ground beef component, but the sea change began before March 2012. McDonald’s stopped using it in August 2011 and Taco Bell and Burger King had both stopped using it by the end of that year.

BPI’s burden is significant. According to Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering’s jury instructions, it must prevail on every element of the charges or else it cannot proceed to the damage phase of the trial process. The entire jury would have to agree on every element.

Should it get that far, however, BPI’s $1.9 billion damages claim could be tripled to $5.7 billion under South Dakota’s Food Product Disparagement Act.

BPI is represented by Winston & Strawn, Chicago’s oldest law firm. ABC is represented by Williams & Connolly, one of Washington D.C.’s best known legal businesses.

Editors Note: Attorney Bill Marler, publisher of Food Safety News, represented retired USDA scientists Gerald Zirnstein and Carl Custer until they were dismissed as defendants in this case. Writer/editor Dan Flynn was served with a subpoena from the plaintiffs during early stages of this litigation, but he was not required to provide any information or to testify. That subpoena is now thought to be inactive.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

Two new confirmed cases of Hepatitis A were recorded in Hawaii in the past week, bringing the total number of people sickened to 291. And, another restaurant worker has been identified as a victim, raising concerns about the possibility of additional exposures.

Hawaii Department of Health Officials take questions from reporters Aug. 16 following the announcement that frozen, imported scallops served at Genki Sushi restaurants have been linked to an ongoing Hepatitis A outbreak. Speakers included, from left, Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler, State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park and Sanitation Branch Chief Peter Oshiro.
Hawaii Department of Health Officials take questions from reporters Aug. 16 following the announcement that frozen, imported scallops served at Genki Sushi restaurants have been linked to an ongoing Hepatitis A outbreak. Speakers included, from left, Health Director Virginia Pressler, State Epidemiologist Sarah Park and Sanitation Branch Chief Peter Oshiro. (File photo)

In addition to the weekly case count update, officials with Hawaii’s Department of Health reported Wednesday that a worker at McDonald’s of Kahala, at 4618 Kilauea Avenue in Honolulu, has the virus.

Officials identified raw, frozen scallops from the Philippines as the source of the outbreak and impounded them Aug. 15.

“This case (of the McDonald’s worker) was identified and reported to us later in their illness, but had their symptom onset within the 50-day maximum incubation period from the date the scallops were embargoed,” State Epidemiologist Sarah Park said in a news release.

“The department will continue to investigate all reported cases of Hepatitis A and remain alert for other late-presenting cases as well as secondary cases.”

Affected dates of service for the McDonald’s employee were Sept. 20, 21, 23, 24, 27–29, and Oct. 1, 4–5, 7, and 11. It is unlikely that any McDonald’s customers contracted the virus from the McDonald’s employee, according to state officials.

Post-exposure vaccines are effective, but only if taken within two weeks of exposure. A statewide list of vaccinating pharmacies is available at or by calling the Aloha United Way information and referral line at 2-1-1.

Anyone who had anything to eat or drink from the restaurant on the specific dates listed should monitor themselves for symptoms of Hepatitis A infection. People who develop symptoms should immediately seek medical care and tell their doctors about their potential exposure to Hepatitis A.

Symptoms usually develop within two weeks but it can take up to 50 days for some people to become sick after exposure. Not everyone — especially children — has symptoms after they are infected and contagious.

If symptoms develop, they can include: fever, fatigue, headache and/or body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pain,vomiting, diarrhea, dark colored urine and pale colored stools. Yellow skin and eyes may develop several days to a week after other symptoms begin and indicate serious illness.

Genki Sushi restaurants feature a conveyor belt delivery system for food, sending plates of raw seafood winding through tables and patrons.
Genki Sushi restaurants feature a conveyor belt delivery system for food, sending plates of raw seafood winding through tables and patrons.

The outbreak has been in the headlines since a July 1 announcement from state officials who reported 12 confirmed cases at that point.

By Aug. 15, when Hawaii’s Department of Health identified raw, frozen scallops from the Philippines as the source, more than 200 people were confirmed infected with the virus.

A large majority of victims reported they ate at Genki Sushi restaurants on Oahu and Kauai before becoming sick. Many of them reported eating raw scallops at one of the fast food chain’s locations.

The first confirmed illness began June 12, with the most recent victim becoming ill on Oct. 9. Of the 291 victims, 73 had symptoms so severe that they had to be hospitalized.

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The last word in the 2014 scandal involving the sale of expired and substandard meat by Husi Food Co. has come down from the Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration. Shanghai’s local regulator Sunday imposed fines totaling 24 million yuan — about $3.6 million — on Husi and its parent company, OSI Group LLC. Both companies were also placed on a local blacklist of food safety violators. Shanghai Husi Food Co. also had its licenses revoked by the Jiading Market Supervision and Management Bureau, resulting in illegal profits and offending food products being confiscated. OSIChina_406x250The Shanghai Husi Food Co. is a unit of the 60-year old OSI Group LLC, which is headquartered in Aurora, IL, near Chicago. It was the meat supplier in China to such American brands as McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King. Two years ago, it was targeted by the investigative unit of a Shanghai TV station. The report that aired purported to show meat that was substandard and expired when being sold. Chinese consumers were outraged and the OSI unit quickly lost the fast food companies its had as customers. After a trial, closed to most late last year, two Husi Food Co. processing plants and 10 of its employees were convicted of producing and selling substandard products during 2014. The Shanghai court fined the two processing plants 2.4 million yuan or about $365,000. Australian Yang Liqun, an OSI general manager, was sentenced to up to three years and fined $100,000 yuan. Nine other employees were sentenced to 19 to 32 months in Chinese prisons. OSI responded by saying it would “no longer accept injustice against our people and our reputation,” and filed an appeal of the Shanghai court’s convictions and sentencings. It claimed the “Dragon TV” report contained “false and incomplete accusations.” That appeals, however, was denied in July. An OSI spokesman declined an opportunity to comment when contacted by Food Safety News about the latest penalties being imposed by Shanghai Municipal. The most problematic for the company is likely to be the blacklist. Those on the blacklist are banned from food production and management for up to five years. Chinese companies on the blacklist typically face barriers to credit and land use, also. In China, the administrative actions wait for the completion of the judicial case, which was heard by the Shanghai No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court. OSI is a top 100 privately-held company in the U.S. with a long history in China. It has retail and food service units in numerous Chinese cities that are not impacted by the Shanghai restrictions. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

As American consumers become increasingly concerned about the quality of their food, there’s been an enhanced focus on food safety in the academic and employment fields. Programs leading to degrees and certifications in food safety are growing, along with jobs handling quality assurance in the food industry and auditing producers for compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Online job sites reflect this trend. Postings for directors of food safety, FSMA compliance coordinators, audit managers, and similar job titles dot the internet landscape. And, as FSMA deadlines near, the field will likely expand even more. Help wanted job adsThis trend hasn’t been lost on Rex Lawrence, who recently launched Joe Food Safety, a site designed to connect food safety jobs with job seekers.

“On the recruiting side, we are always looking at food safety. Things like FSMA, what’s happening within the industry. It’s heating up and it’s not going to go away. I don’t believe it to be kind of a flash in the pan. I think it’s going to do nothing but get bigger and better, and it’s going to need good people,” Lawrence said.

He said the online service, initially free to those looking to fill food safety positions, will include help writing job titles and descriptions and then filtering resumes as they come in.

“If you’re a company and you’re looking for a director of food safety, we make sure you aren’t getting a resume from a kid who’s flipping burgers at McDonald’s, let’s say,” Lawrence said.

After working for a produce company, Lawrence noticed that it was hard to fill food safety director positions. That experience led him to set up Joe Produce in 2012, which focuses on produce industry employment, and then to connect with educational and other settings where students may be entering food safety fields.

“With the heavier and overall focus on food safety and more employment in food safety, I think the money flowing into food safety is going to increase. There’s going to be more studies and more food safety research,” he said.

restaurantinspector_406x250Universities and other training grounds are paying attention. Michigan State University in East Lansing launched an online Master of Science in Food Safety program in 2002 after a study revealed “an undeniable need on the part of the food industry, government, and public health for their employees to be specifically educated in the many aspects of safeguarding our food supply.”

MSU’s curriculum is designed to permit U.S.-based or international students to earn their master’s degree in food safety while continuing to work. Program statistics indicate there were about 400 graduates between 2002 and 2012.

North Carolina State University in Raleigh offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in science, with options to focus on food, nutrition, or bioprocessing.

“The Bureau of Labor and Statistics says that job growth for food related occupations are expected to be driven by the demand for new food products and food safety measures. Food research is expected to increase because the public is more aware of nutrition, health, food safety, and the need to keep herd animals from getting infections,” according to NC State’s program site.

Food safety-related certifications are in increasing demand, with an alphabet soup of acronyms showing up in job ads. Employers, whether farms, food processors, national distributors or international exporters, often want to see GAP, GMP, HACCP, GFSI and other specific experience and/or certifications on an applicant’s resume. There are also CFP, SQF, BRC, IFS, BAP and FSSC 22000 certifications out there to up the ante.

laboratory-testing-406Helping to fill that need is the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals in Orlando, FL, which develops and maintains certification examination programs for food safety. It tests for food safety manager and HACCP certifications and offers a variety of ways to take the exams.

Those who earn food safety-related degrees and certifications can expect to pull in initial salaries ranging from about $37,000 to about $63,000 per year, according to federal government estimates. Where an individual salary lands along that range depends on whether the focus is on agriculture or food science, food service management, or some other related work.

Training is becoming more important in the food industry as companies realize they can’t just assign food safety duties to an administrative staffer who may not have sufficient background to do the job. The stakes are high since a serious recall could put a company out of business, and brand loyalty is hard to win back once it’s been tarnished.

Lawrence said that in the past big companies were usually the ones pushing for more training and certifications from employees because they had so much to lose. However, he said that smaller firms, including packers, producers and manufacturers, are now seeing the need.

“Companies are realizing this is serious,” he said. “Just to do business, they need someone with food safety certification and auditing and a certain level of certification. The smaller and mid-sized companies now are stepping up to the plate because they want to do business with the Costcos and the Wal-Marts of the world.”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

2016-Food-Safety-Summit-graphic No matter how advanced mapping apps become, they can’t tell you where to go unless you know where you are to begin with, just as those in the food supply chain must assess their operations before they can plan a route to a new food safety environment. That new environment, mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and described in new rules from the Food and Drug Administration, is one of prevention rather than penalization. It promises reduced risks to consumers and business, according to the moderators of the keynote presentation at the upcoming 18th annual Food Safety Summit Conference & Expo. “The new rules require people to evaluate their systems and establish control measures,” said Faye Feldstein, consultant and former director of the Office of Food Defense, Communication and Emergency Response for the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). She said the switch to a preventive approach means government inspectors will no longer solely focus on what’s wrong at a food operation during the snapshot in time when they visit a facility. “They have switched from a ‘gotcha’ mentality to a ‘we’re all in this together to get it right’ mentality,” Feldstein said. “The relationship between regulators and industry is morphing to more supportive than adversarial.” Feldstein’s co-moderator for the keynote event, Craig Henry of Decernis LLC, agreed. He also said documentation will be a huge part of reaching compliance under the new rules. “One of the key factors in the preventive controls rule is that the documentation now required is much more substantial than anything the food industry has had to face,” said Henry, who is vice president of global business development in the Americas for Decernis. “Inspectors will likely spend 50 percent of their time on documentation showing that (a facility’s) plan has been implemented and is being carried out. That should mean fewer recalls and foodborne outbreaks.” 2016-Food-Safety-Summit-Chicago Henry and Feldstein will discuss the new normal with a panel of experts representing government, food manufacturing companies, grocery retailers and the restaurant industry during the keynote presentation May 11 at the Food Safety Summit in Chicago. Discounted early registration and hotel rates expire Friday. With the largest food companies required to comply with some of the new rules by this fall, Henry said the FDA is expected to begin reporting findings early in 2017. Many of those food producers, handlers, shippers, wholesalers and retailers have already assessed their operations and implemented tougher food safety protocols in anticipation of the new regulations. Feldstein said firms that are ahead of the curve will share their insights during the keynote presentation and through out the three-day summit. “We will be discussing really tangible, specific information about approaches, tools, solutions that these companies have tried,” Feldstein said. “They will share success stories and ambiguities they discovered while reviewing their operations and developing plans.” As with other sessions at this year’s summit, attendees can help determine the content of the keynote presentation by visiting the Food Safety Summit website and submitting questions for the panel of industry and government experts. The scheduled panelists for the keynote presentation are:

  • Glenda Lewis, FDA director of retail food protection staff at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition;
  • Scott Brooks, DVM, formerly Kraft Foods senior vice president of quality, food safety, scientific and regulatory affairs;
  • Kathy Gombas, FDA senior advisor at the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition;
  • Joan Menke-Schaenzer, McDonald’s Corp. vice president of Safety & Compliance, Global Supply Chain & Sustainability;
  • Jay T. Mayr, Reser’s Fine Foods vice president of food safety and quality;
  • Gillian Kelleher, Wegmans Food Markets vice president of food safety and quality assurance.

Food Safety News subscribers who attend the summit can receive 15 percent off registration costs by using the discount code FSNReader16 when they sign up to attend. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

Women with veggie burger
A veggie burger with a side of salad.

Portland, OR — On a recent rainy evening, Native Foods Cafe in Bridgeport Village was bustling. Customers crowded around the counter to order burgers, nachos, chicken wings and other dishes, and people were happily digging in after being served.

The “Soul Bowl,” a mélange of beans, rice and veggies, had what looked and tasted like chicken strips on top. However, it wasn’t actual chicken, nor were there any animal products in any of the menu items. According to the chef, this “chicken” contained pea protein, soy and wheat and was made by Garden Protein International in Vancouver, B.C.

The Canadian company’s growing meatless product line is trademarked as Gardein and includes frozen faux entrées including meatballs, pulled pork, chicken patties, sliders, and even cutlets and roasts.

Indicating confidence in the future of such products, Pinnacle Foods Inc., a New Jersey-based conglomerate whose brands include Birds Eye, Duncan Hines and Log Cabin, bought Garden Protein for $154.6 million in 2014.

Pinnacle CEO Bob Gamgort told Food Engineering magazine he believes that “plant-based protein is at the tipping point of becoming mainstream … .”

Food safety considerations Advocates of plant-based protein sources say the risks of pathogens and other health problems is much lower with consumption of meat substitutes than with real meat. However, meatless products can contain liquid smoke flavoring, which may be carcinogenic, and there are lingering questions about additives used in some meat substitutes.

One of the latter is titanium dioxide (TiO2), used as a whitening agent in foods, cosmetics and other products.

Tofu burger
This burger features tofu instead of a real meat patty.

Dr. Joseph Puglisi, a professor of structural biology at the Stanford University School of Medicine who chairs a scientific advisory board for Beyond Meat, said “TiO2 is used in one of our products, but we have eliminated it in our future products.”

How today’s leaders and innovators in the meat substitute industry are adapting to overcome food safety challenges is an open question. Several of them declined to be interviewed for this story.

What is known is that just like U.S. providers of animal-based protein sources, the meat substitute industry must follow HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) rules and other safety requirements. And, like their real meat counterparts, meat substitute providers are regulated and inspected by federal, state and local health and environment officers. On the federal level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates meat and poultry substitutes.

Impossible Foods Inc. responded to requests for comment with a written statement that its food safety challenges are “more easily controlled because our manufacturing process ensures a much higher degree of safety than what you would find in a slaughterhouse.”

The Redwood City, CA-based firm further stated that any pathogens that might be found on plants used in manufacturing its products “are completely eliminated by our suppliers before they are used to make our foods.”

“Unlike animal products, which could be contaminated from various body parts of the animal itself, the only way our products could become contaminated would be through mishandling by production operators. Federal Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) used at Impossible Foods dramatically reduce the risk of any such contamination,” according to the Impossible Foods statement.

Puglisi noted that potential contamination risks and spoilage are much lower with meatless products in general.

In addition, pathogens such E. coli and others grow far more slowly in plant-based products than in meat, and there is not the background of antibiotic treatment of many animals that further exacerbates the problem in the meat industry,” he said.

Human health impacts Some medical experts have long maintained that a primarily plant-based diet is generally healthier for humans and that a meat-based one, particularly processed red meats, can increase the chances of developing heart disease and cancer.
Some medical experts suggest it’s healthier to limit red meat consumption and eat more plant-based products.

“The impact of meat-based diets on human health — cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, obesity and cancer — are clear and highly public,” said Puglisi, adding that he believes Americans are eating less meat these days and that we are in a “transition moment” for plant-based meat substitutes.

This past fall’s report from a research division of the World Health Organization (WHO) asserted that hot dogs, ham, corned beef, sausages, bacon and other processed meats can cause cancer.

However, the panel’s findings were not unanimous, and one meat industry group vigorously disputed the WHO report, stating that it ignored many other studies “showing no correlation between meat and cancer.”

Sustainability and cost The meat substitute industry has been busy developing new products designed to bypass animal agriculture. They claim that plant-based protein is safer and doesn’t pose the same pathogen risks as real meat and that its production requires less land, energy and water.

Tempeh patties
Tempeh patties are often marinated before being added to a dish.

According to a 2009 World Watch report, “livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide (greenhouse gases).” Reducing that level has been a goal of meat substitute pioneers such as Ethan Brown, CEO of Beyond Meat, a manufacturer of meatless products based in Los Angeles.

However, depending on how much ingredient processing goes on, the meatless end product might actually use more energy than an animal-based one. A report on the 2015 “protein alternative market” found that 45 percent of meat alternative consumers thought the products were overly processed and 42 percent thought they were too high in sodium.

Price differences can also be an issue, and some plant-based meat substitutes cost more than animal-sourced protein. Despite this, 61 percent of consumers in the 2015 meat alternatives market study agreed that paying more was worthwhile if the products were better for their health.

Land and water use are other areas of contention, with fans of plant-based proteins claiming that water requirements are much lower and that too much of the world’s forests is being razed to grow livestock for meat production.

The global market Despite the ongoing debate over sustainability, cost and appeal, it’s clear that plant-based meat substitutes are becoming more popular with consumers.

Recent projections put the global market for meat substitutes at $5.17 billion by 2020, with the largest share of the market being in Europe. According to one report, soy-based products held more than half of the market share in 2014, followed by tofu and related ingredients at about 41 percent. Frozen products comprised about 78 percent of the total market share.

Experts say that new product launches are expected to push the industry to even higher growth levels in the next few years.

Consumer and industry trends Appeal is a very personal thing when it comes to food items, and meat substitutes are a prime example. Tofu has gotten a reputation for being boring and bland, and Tofurky is an annual joke around more than a few Thanksgiving dinner tables.

Man looking at meat in store
Checking meat prices at the grocery store.

At the same time, a growing number of non-vegetarians are buying less meat and more meat substitutes. In 2013, only about 22 million Americans reported not eating any meat, while more than five times that number — 113 million people — said they were buying meat substitutes.

Meat alternatives have evolved to become more palatable, with companies going to great lengths to get them to taste like the real thing. For example, Impossible Foods’ Impossible Burger is scheduled to debut here later this year and promises to replicate beef burgers in every detail.

“We’ve even discovered what makes meat taste like meat: a molecule called heme that occurs naturally in both meat and plants,” the company has revealed. “The result is a plant-based burger that starts out raw and then and looks, cooks, smells, sizzles, and tastes like animal-derived ground beef.”

Impossible Foods’ plans got a hefty boost this past fall in the form of $108 million in new investment from a group of wealthy funders, including Swiss bank UBS, Viking Global Investors, Khosla Ventures and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Major U.S. food industry players are noticing and responding to these trends, with Pinnacle’s purchase of Garden Protein being a case in point. Others have followed suit, with Kraft buying veggie-burger maker Boca Burger and Kellogg’s owning Morningstar Farms, one of the largest producer of vegetarian products in the country. Global fast-food giant Burger King has offered MorningStar’s veggie burger on its menus since 2002.

Holdouts include McDonald’s and Wendy’s, although the latter has been testing a black bean burger in limited markets.

A growing list of meat-substitute products Today’s meat substitutes include well-known plant-based standbys such as tofu and tempeh, and there are several newer products on the market that haven’t become household names. Here are some major ones, although there are many more:

Quorn originated from a 1985 UK joint venture and has attracted controversy because it contains mycoprotein and uses egg albumen as a binder. Some people are sensitive to fungal proteins, and vegans have objected to the inclusion of egg albumen.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has cited illnesses and even deaths from Quorn consumption, although the product’s makers have said that Quorn is safe and less likely to cause allergic reactions than soy, nuts or dairy.

Risofu (pronounced rhee-ZOE-fu) is a rice-based meat alternative touted as tastier and less likely to cause allergy problems than soy-based products.

Seitan strips in broccoli dish
An Asian dish featuring vegetables and strips of seitan.

Seitan (SAY-tan) is made from wheat gluten and is sometimes called “wheat meat.” Seitan must be cooked, has a meaty texture, is high in protein and is often used to replace duck in Asian recipes.

Tofu, or bean curd, results after soy milk is coagulated and then pressed into blocks. It comes in firm, medium and soft textures and easily picks up whatever flavors are added to it.

There are people who avoid tofu and other soy products because, unless the soybeans are organically grown, they are likely to be genetically modified. Also, some say that the isoflavones in soy act like a weakened form of estrogen and therefore may trigger breast or other cancers in women. However, research results to date are unclear.

Tempeh originated in Indonesia and is made from whole soybeans which have been soaked, partially cooked, and then fermented. Tempeh has a firmer texture than tofu and is usually fried and added to sauced dishes.

TVP, or textured vegetable protein, is also called “soy meat” and comes from defatted soy flour resulting from the production of soybean oil. Initially developed by Archer Daniels Midland in the 1960s, TVP wasn’t widely consumed until it was approved for school lunch programs in 1971.

Valess is a dairy-based meat substitute developed in 2002 by a Dutch chemist. After milk proteins are separated, seaweed fibers are added, along with sunflower oil and egg protein. It is currently available in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland.

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Papa-Johns_406x250Papa John’s is the latest fast-food chain to announce plans to cut out antibiotics from its chicken production. But while McDonald’s set a two-year timeline, Chick-fil-A set a five-year timeline, and Subway was criticized for setting no timeline at all, the pizza chain is pledging to be antibiotic-free by next summer. Papa John’s will be the first national pizza chain to serve their grilled chicken pizza toppings and chicken poppers with chicken never raised with antibiotics. Antibiotics are commonly used to promote the growth of food-producing animals and to prevent, control and treat disease. Overuse of antibiotics on farms can lead to resistant bacteria that cause infections in both animals and humans and could spread resistance genes from animal bacteria to human pathogens. Each year, antibiotic-resistant infections from foodborne germs cause an estimated 430,000 illnesses in the United States. Multi-drug resistant Salmonella, from food and other sources, causes about 100,000 illnesses in the U.S. each year. Chicken production has seen major shifts toward being antibiotic-free in the past two years – much more so than other animal protein sources, such as pork or beef. This is likely the result of multiple factors, including the short lifespan of chickens and vertically integrated production systems. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

Food poisoning outbreaks involving Chipotle Mexican Grill outlets are eroding its overall stock value, which last summer hit a per-share high of $756. The company’s shares closed Monday at $624, a drop of 2.5 percent. Traded under the symbol “CMG” on the New York Stock Exchange, the “fast casual” restaurant chain has recently experienced three consecutive outbreaks involving three separate pathogens. It briefly closed a restaurant in Simi Valley, CA, in August after 82 customers and 17 employees were sickened by Norovirus. Then, in September, 22 Chipotle locations in the Minneapolis area were associated with a Salmonella Newport outbreak in which 64 people were sickened. 43 Chipotle restaurants in Oregon and Washington state have now been closed since Oct. 31 because the chain has been associated with an E. coli outbreak in the Pacific Northwest. The two-state investigation is now looking at what came into those restaurants that may have spread the contamination. Lettuce is high on the suspect list, according to Lane County, OR, environmental health staffer who commented on the investigation to Food Safety News. Meanwhile, Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the Oregon Public Health Division, confirmed Monday that investigators are focusing in on contaminated produce. “We are looking at everything, but our epidemiology investigation is guiding us toward produce,” Modie said. “Chipotle has meat products, but based on things we heard from people  who got sick … it seems like the most common denominator is some kind of vegetable course.” Currently the closures in Oregon and Washington state account for only about 2 percent of Chipotle’s 1,931 locations nationwide. It is not known when those restaurants will reopen. Health officials in the two states have tallied 22 cases of E. coli infection, including eight people who have been hospitalized. The illnesses since Oct. 14 have involved people ranging from 11 to 64 years old. Northwest health officials say the number of people sickened by this outbreak is likely higher than that because it not uncommon for people affected with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli to go without seeing a doctor or other health care provider. They are anticipating that the outbreak numbers will increase as Chipotle customers in the affected areas learn about it and seek care. People who should seek medical treatment and tell their doctor about the outbreak are those who dined at any of the Chipotle restaurants in the impacted counties between Oct. 14 and 23, 2015, and who subsequently became ill with vomiting and bloody diarrhea. The targeted Chipotle locations are located in the Portland metropolitan area, including Oregon’s Clackamas and Washington counties, and Clark, King, Skagit, and Cowlitz counties in Washington state. Most people infected with E. coli develop watery and/or bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps within 1-10 days, with the average being 3-4 days. Most illnesses resolve on their own within 7 days. Most people recover within a week but, rarely, some develop a severe type of kidney failure that can begin as the diarrhea is improving and is most common in children younger than five years old and the elderly. The Oregon Health Authority, Washington State Department of Health, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with the county health departments on the outbreak. Until the recent outbreaks, analysts viewed Chipotle’s finances as strong, with the company focused on expansion to Canada and Europe and creation of a new Asian brand. The 22-year-old fast casual brand known for using locally sourced, responsibly raised and organic ingredients expanded its locations in the U.S. from 1998-2006 when McDonald’s was the majority owner of the Denver-based company. McDonald’s sold its Chipotle stock in 2006.

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