THE FOOD INDUSTRY TODAY


THE TRUTH FINALLY
BY LAURA REILEY 

THE TAMPA BAY TIMES FOOD CRITIC AND WRITER Laura Reiley gave existence to a series of articles whose authorship determines recognition and credit for what was created. 

It is the best single piece of work in a field I have been following for years.  She is the food critic for the Tampa Bay Times, a brilliant writer and investigative reporter, I can not say enough or offer enough praise.  She investigated in depth the inconsistencies in the food industry.  They are in a three part series which is eye and alimentary canal opening.

The Tampa Bay Times  (formerly The St. Petersburg Times) for years was one of the best disclosure and investigative papers in the nation.  From Scientology to food to sports, if there was story there, the times brought it to the surface in depth.  And she is spot on , taking names and kicking it up on what you are really getting at some restaurants and at Farmers markets in the Tampa Bay area.  The entire story is at   http://www.tampabay.com/projects/2016/food/farm-to-fable/restaurants/

I go back 40 plus years with this paper still receiving it on my doorstep daily, getting some of my pics published and bringing the world to me.  Winner of many Pulitzer Prizes in Journalism and Photography and owned by The Poynter institute, this paper has been a bastion of truth in a media driven world of well, lots of fabrications and lies. I had a chance to meet and spend time with great journalists and photographers

The Institute which is increasing its international teaching work, also was selected to conduct training for Fulbright Scholars and participants in the Edward R. Murrow Program for journalists. 

Recently, Poynter became the home of the International Fact-Checking Network, a group of 75 organizations that fact-check statements of public officials.  Commonly known as Politico.  It has the credentials of truth you don’t get with other forms of media, biased TV, and shock jock talk show radio.


THE CHALKBOARD INVITATION
In the flatlands of malls and shopping centers, the restaurant’s chalkboard greet you as enter from the valet parking lot using terms like “farm-fresh, locally grown, farm direct to table and so forth”.  These places claim a direct farm-to-table assertion “ We use local products whenever possible.”  "Whenever" is a large word in a small environment.  I refer to it as an "excusable word".  I want you to read the article and see the depth of these falsehoods, you will not believe what you will read.

The images portrayed about overalls, rich soil and John Deere tractors, free range chickens, healthy animals living happy lives, heirloom overweight tomatoes rolling wheels of cheese into aging caves, are in a friendly colloquial word in many, too many instances sheer...PURE BULLSHIT.

I have been saying this for years, the food industry is as corrupt as our politicians, insurance companies, lobbyists, some TV preachers and more and more places get inspected less and less.   Our kitchen police look for violations of food control, not the food itself.  

The attraction is “People want “local,” and they’re willing to pay because theoretically local food is fresher and tastes better.  Less handling by distribution, direct to restaurant and money stays in the community.   If you eat food, you are being lied to just about every day. The food supply chain is vast and so complicated.  

  • It has yielded extra-virgin olive oil that is actually colored sunflower oil.
  • Parmesan cheese that has been bulked up with wood pulp.
  • Chicken pumped up with water exceeding 5%
  • The horse meat scandal that, for a while, rendered Ikea outings Swedish meatball-free.
  • New Terms Like: “Sustainable,” “ Naturally raised,” “Organic,” “Non-GMO," "Fair trade," "Responsibly grown." 

Restaurants have reached new levels of hyperbole. And as we have found the selections composed in laboratories served in our fast food establishments would rival Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hydes best work in the culinary field with chemicals I can’t even pronounce.  Better food by chemistry really doesn’t appeal to me.

Seafood is much less regulated than meats, and thus misrepresentations happen more frequently. For instance, 70 to 80 percent of the grouper you see in Florida markets and restaurants is from Mexico, according to a Bar Harbor Seafood salesman (name omitted)   “It’s strictly a price point thing. Seventy percent of domestic grouper goes to Canada because they’re willing to pay for it.”

Pay attention to precisely what something is called, says Katie Sosa of Sammy’s Seafood. See “domestic grouper” on a menu and it means it’s local, from Florida. See “Gulf grouper” and it’s much more likely to be Mexican, more problematic in terms of quality, worker pay and fishery management.  And if you see “fresh shrimp” on a menu, raise one eyebrow high.

“The word ‘fresh’ is not right,” explains Gary Bell of Madeira Beach Seafood. “There’s almost no shrimp that’s fresh. These are million-dollar boats and when those shrimp are caught they’re frozen right on board and graded right there.”

To choose fish ethically, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafoodwatch.org has been a resource for years, with a downloadable app and state-by-state consumer guides. And if you see something “fishy,” file a complaint with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation by visiting myfloridalicense.com.  It pays to be afraid.


FARMERS AND DISTRIBUTORS
“I feel like I’ve made 300 of the best friends I’ve ever had,” said Paul Mobley, author of the new photographic book, “American Farmer” when describing how photographing farmers around America has changed his life. Paul never set out to put together a collection of photos taken of farmers around the world – he happened upon the opportunity when he went up to his cabin to get away from his career as a portrait photographer. I found mine at Barnes and Nobel. You can order a signed copy direct from Paul Mobley. http://paulmobleystudio.com

Publix, one of the 10 largest-volume supermarket chains in the country and the largest in Florida, is based in Lakeland. “Then produce is shipped in, they want it to get to Lakeland so Publix will choose it and take the whole lot.

Publix defines local as products that come from the six states within which the stores are located (Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and North and South Carolina)

The selection process can make for a lot of leftovers. “ What Publix doesn’t want is what, actually, people are buying,” she said.  Your local produce winds up  at Farmers Markets and small Independents, basically for reasons of quality not meeting Publix standards or quantity, too little, overstock, too much.

INSIDER SCOOP:   Did you know after a field has been commercially harvested, people called “gleaners” offer a farmer a flat fee to scoop up the scraps.   Now here’s the part I don’t understand.  If PUBLIX is getting the best of what is offered, why is their produce horrid at times. Jalopena’s normally very hardy, shriveled.  I actually called the manager one day to tell him how bad the stuff was on the shelf and he removed it.   Some of the cilantro and parsley greens were suffering from wet mould.  

Back at the farm:  Folks who turn product to smaller locations buy up the excess at wholesale markets, stuff deemed not desirable enough to get shipped around the country to big supermarkets. So while that tomato still looks pretty good, it may have been languishing in the field.

There is only one answer…how and when it is handled.  Greens turned in 48 hours, the overwatering might be conducive to  mold if at the wrong temperature.  Others like Sam’s are the same. Last week the Black Cherries and Pluots (A plum and apricot hybrid) I bought at Sam’s went bad in three days and I was told a lot came back.  The nectarines from Sam’s barely made it home.  Several of the flats at Sam’s had grey colored mold on them...spoiled and still on the tables for sale.

SAM’s Throws seasonal veggies into plastic zip lock bags and then piles them high. Sometimes crushing and not letting air get to the fresh fruit on the bottom. I stopped buying their zipped produce period.   Also some customers get too familiar with the produce.   I have see one woman there  several times alone and once with friends opening the bags and cherry picking the produce into her bag.    Costco had the same nectarines but on non-crushable pallets with clear wrap and had less damage and handling.


THE COMMISH FINALLY GOT OFF HIS XXX OR DID HE SLIDE OFF THE SEAT?
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and other state officials should do more to police deceptive or inaccurate claims. In “ Farmerless Markets,” the second part of the Tampa Bay Times’ “Farm to Fable” investigative report.  Bravo to Laura Reiley, she started a firestorm… 

THE COMMISH - ADAM PUTNAM -  I remember when this young political upstart fellow was elected and had promise of being a consumer advocate but as we see often in politics and Florida ranks in the top end  of partisanship and corruption, he is not the same.

But Adam Putnam’s comments were spurred by the Tampa Bay Times’ investigative series, called Farm to Fable, which published in April and exposed food misrepresentations at Florida’s so-called farm-to-table restaurants and farmers markets.  Before publication, Putnam declined all interviews and channeled comments through his spokesmen. But since Farm to Fable was widely circulated and picked up by national news outlets, Putnam has started to speak.   In agriculture thinking some times the cows come home after the cattle prod get used.  He got a wakeup ZAP.

On Tuesday, he made his first statements to the Times, vowing to crack down on deceptive practices and misuse of the state's Fresh from Florida marketing program. And on Wednesday, he went into much more detail on a sidewalk outside Cruise Terminal 6 of Port Tampa Bay. He was there to discuss exporting Florida foods at the first Fresh from Florida Export Summit.

If a market or restaurant is making “Local” claims, ask the manager or chef precisely what that means.  How local is local, Indonesian shrimp is not Local in Tampa Florida.

Read the package Country of Origin Labeling is still in effect. It’s very basic. In grocery stores, supermarkets and club warehouse stores, it is required that fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, meats, fish and shellfish, many nuts and ginseng be labeled with basic information about the country in which it was produced.


INSIDER SCOOP:  “ORGANIC”   TO BE OR NOT TO BE
But outdoor markets, roadside stands and other venues are not required to comply with this organic labeling, they just stamp it.   Box labels may give a more accurate accounting of food’s provenance.  

Certified organic: There are more than 18,000 certified organic operations in the United States, an estimated 370 of them in Florida. If something has the US Department of Agriculture organic seal, it means that crops cannot be grown using synthetic fertilizers, synthetic chemicals or sewage sludge; they cannot be genetically modified or irradiated. 

However, if a farm or business’ sales are $5,000 or less per year, it is considered an “exempt” operation and doesn’t need to be certified to sell, label or represent its products as organic.  Consumers have to become advocates, do it, because Big Agriculture’s thumb is on the scale. Grocers and restaurants want to buy low and sell high. Small farmers don’t have lobbying resources.


SOMETHINGS VERY FISHY
There’s a good chance you’re not getting what you think you’re getting.  There’s something fishy happening in the seafood industry.  According to a new report from the ocean conservation advocacy group Oceana, one in five of over 25,000 samples of seafood tested globally was mislabeled. That means people may purchase and consume seafood and fish that’s not what they think it is.

The group looked at 200 studies from 55 countries for their report, which was released on Wednesday. The report authors say evidence of seafood fraud was discovered throughout supply chains worldwide. In the United States alone, the researchers found an average seafood fraud rate of nearly 30%, and 58% of samples of fraudulent seafood were species that could cause health complications. 

Some types of seafood are supposed to be screened for potential toxins or allergens and if they are mislabeled that process may not happen.“People purchasing seafood to eat are the ones most impacted by this type of activity from a health and sustainability standpoint,” says Kimberly Warner, report author and senior scientist at Oceana. “But it also harms everyone in the supply chain who is playing by the rules. The person going through the effort to catch fish legally and label correctly is undercut by the fraudulent practices.”

The report authors highlight some country-specific offenses that are particularly egregious. In Italy, for example, 82% of the 200 samples of grouper, perch and swordfish that were tested were mislabeled and close to half of the substituted fish were types of fish that are at risk for extinction. A study of Brussels restaurants found 98% of 69 bluefin tuna dishes tested were a different kind of fish. In a Santa Monica, California restaurant, two sushi chefs were found to be selling whale meat as tuna.

Asian catfish was found to be the type of fish most often sold as a different, higher value type of fish, the report shows. Warner and her coauthors found in their review that Asian catfish was sold as 18 different types of fish.

Your Fridge Might Be Full of Fake Food - Oceana is pushing for more regulation from the U.S. government on the issue. President Obama has made a commitment to addressing seafood fraud, and has proposed a rule that would require more traceability—the ability to figure out where the fish is coming from—for 13 types of seafood that are at a particularly higher risk for fraud. 

Warner says Oceana would like to see a final rule that encompasses all seafood. Steps taken by the European Union to combat seafood fraud appear to be working. The E.U. has pushed for transparency in the seafood industry, and has experienced a drop in overall fraud from 23% in 2011 to 8% in 2015.

To ensure people buy the fish they want, Warner recommends asking grocers and waiters more questions about where their fish originates. “Some grocers provide traceable fish, and if people ask, hopefully managers will learn people want to know where their seafood comes from,” she says.

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