• CDC issues warning about frozen shredded coconut. The CDC has issued a warning about a brand of frozen shredded coconut linked to an outbreak of salmonella that has sickened people in both the US and Canada. Evershing International Trading Company recalled the product, sold in plastic bags that look like this, on January 3. However, the CDC decided to issue a further warning on January 16, noting that the product is widely available, has a very long shelf life, and is used both by consumers and by restaurants – some of the victims reporting having an "Asian-style dessert drink" containing coconut at a restaurant before falling ill. Tests of the implicated coconut have revealed the presence of several types of salmonella, including a strain new to the CDC's PulseNet database.
  • FDA extends time for public comment on soy-heart health link. On January 12, the FDA announced a 60-day extension of the public comment period on its proposed rule to revoke permission for companies to make an authorized health claim concerning the link between the consumption of soy protein and reduced risk of coronary heart disease. The comment period will now end on March 19, 2018. The FDA said that even after the change, companies would still be able to make a "qualified health claim" to explain that there is limited evidence regarding the link between consumption of soy protein and reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Milk producers lash out at a nondairy yogurt. On January 3, the National Milk Producers Federation wrote letters to the USDA and the California Department of Food and Agriculture complaining about the decision by Hayward, California-based Kite Hill to label one of its products "almond milk yogurt." Kite Hill is a manufacturer of plant-based foods. The milk federation, which represents sellers of dairy milk, took the position that since the almond milk product is not made from dairy milk, it fails to meet federal and state standards and is therefore mislabeled. Jenny Berrien, Kite Hill's vice president of marketing, replied, "We looked at a lot of terms in the market but decided that 'artisan almond milk yogurt' was the most understandable to consumers. We work with outside regulatory counsel on our labeling decisions to make sure we're in compliance with labeling laws."
  • Will Washington state adopt a statewide beverage tax? A bill has been introduced in the Washington state legislature that would impose a statewide two cent per fluid ounce tax on sweetened beverages. Revenue from the statewide tax would support public health and education programs. Exempt under the proposed state tax would be natural vegetable and fruit juices, infant formula, alcoholic beverages, beverages primarily made from milk and beverages for medical use.
  • Meanwhile, in Seattle. A 1.75 cents-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages went into effect on January 1 in the City of Seattle. The excise tax includes sodas, sweetened ready-to-drink teas and coffees, fruit drinks and energy and sports drinks. Media outlets in the Northwest are widely reporting on the tax, noting its significant effect on the price of the affected beverages. The city hopes to bring in $15 million this year with the tax, to apply to an array of initiatives, among them its Fresh Bucks program, which provides low-income families with vouchers to buy fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and groceries.
  • FDA announces broad policy regarding enforcement of the FSMA. On January 4, the FDA issued broad guidance to the food industry describing how it plans to enforce the Food Safety Modernization Act. The new guidance is intended to give the food industry a road map for the new rules, but details parts of FSMA where FDA plans to exercise enforcement discretion for now, to allow time to "consider changes or other approaches to address concerns." One example the FDA noted is that it does not intend to require importers of food-contact substances from foreign countries to comply with the requirements of the Foreign Supplier Verification Program. Certain public interest groups, such as the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, have been critical of the enforcement discretion decisions, arguing it undermines FSMA.
  • Keep avoiding romaine, Consumer Reports says. Seven additional cases have turned up in the US in a deadly cross-border E. coli outbreak that has now infected 66 in the US and Canada. Canadian authorities say that romaine is the "likely culprit," and on January 10 declared its outbreak over, noting that the tainted produce was most likely no longer on store shelves. Meanwhile, on the same day in the US, Consumer Reports urged the public to avoid romaine entirely: "When in doubt, throw it out." Food Safety News reported that consumer groups, produce industry groups and members of Congress are putting pressure on the CDC and FDA to say what they know about the outbreak, which was first observed at the start of November. Nine produce industry groups have issued a joint statement criticizing the agencies: "No public agency has contacted any romaine lettuce grower, shipper or processor and requested that they either stop shipping or recall product already in the marketplace." A number of US stores and restaurant chains have unilaterally stopped selling romaine. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) sent a critical open letter to the CDC. "The CDC's stunning lack of guidance to consumers regarding this outbreak is unconscionable," she wrote. "When it comes to food safety, American consumers deserve more than this slow and insufficient response."
  • Judge dismisses lawsuit over Starbucks lattes. On January 5, a judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed a lawsuit in which plaintiffs had alleged that Starbucks had systematically underfilled its lattes in order to cut costs on milk. US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said there was no evidence Starbucks had been cheating customers by underfilling their cups below the "fill-to" lines. The judge also rejected a claim that milk foam added to lattes and mochas should not count toward advertised volumes. She said reasonable customers expect foam to take up some volume, and the plaintiffs conceded that foam is an essential ingredient in their drinks. In 2016, Starbucks fought off two similar lawsuits regarding the volume of ice in its iced drinks.
  • Recall of ice cream treats expands. A recall of ice cream dessert products manufactured by Fieldbrook Foods and sold in groceries and other outlets nationwide has expanded. On January 11, Fieldbrook announced it was adding nearly 29,000 cases of Sundae Shoppe raspberry cream bars to its recall, which already includes thousands of cases of orange cream bars and chocolate-coated ice cream bars made in 2017 on a single line at its Dunkirk, New York plant. The Miami Herald noted, "The discovery of listeria in a lot that was produced, but that never made it to market, prompted the original recall." No illnesses have been reported. The company says it is also shutting down the particular production line and working with the FDA to address the problem. Fieldbrook stated, "The expansion of the recall is out of precaution for consumer health and food safety."