• FDA issues draft guidance on the creation of GRAS panels. The FDA has issued draft guidance on the best practices for a manufacturer to follow when convening a panel of experts to evaluate whether a substance is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). As Quality Assurance magazine notes, “a substance that is GRAS does not require pre-market review and approval by FDA as a food additive. Rather, it requires that, for a substance to be GRAS, its safe use in food be widely recognized by qualified experts.” However, the panels making the GRAS determination have repeatedly come under fire for potential conflicts of interest. The FDA said its proposed guidance is designed to help ensure best practices on these panels. The comment period on the draft guidance is open until May 15, 2018.
  • Glyphosate gets five-year OK from European Union. After more than two years of debate about the commonly used herbicide glyphosate and whether it causes cancer, the European Union on November 27 approved a five-year license renewal for the chemical. The decision sparked an angry reaction from environmental groups, who have argued for years that policymakers should follow the assessment of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, which concluded that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen. Separately, next month US District Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California will review evidence in a case in which farmers allege that repeated use of glyphosate induced them to develop cancer. See our alert, “Six things to know about glyphosate.
  • “Egg Man” begins prison term. On Thanksgiving eve, Jack DeCoster, former CEO of Quality Egg, surrendered to federal officials at the Federal Medical Center – Devens, a unit of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, to begin serving his 90-day term as a “responsible corporation official” in the massive nationwide salmonella outbreak in 2010 which sickened as many as 56,000 people and led to the recall of 550 million eggs. In 2014, Jack DeCoster and his son Peter DeCoster, dubbed the “Egg Men” in the media, pled guilty to an array of federal felony and misdemeanor charges. The DeCosters’ deal allowed them to serve their sentences serially – Peter DeCoster was released from prison in October after serving his own 90-day sentence. Their brief prison terms came on top of massive fines for Quality Egg and for the DeCosters themselves. Food Safety News quoted federal sentencing Judge Mark W. Bennett: “What really makes Jack DeCoster’s case unique is the fact that he is a business crime defendant who has a record of other business crimes” – a decades-long list including animal cruelty and violations of state environmental laws and of the federal offense of knowingly hiring illegal aliens.
  • Will lutein be the next potentially beneficial compound to be recognized in foods? A scientific paper published November 17 recommends that the US government take steps to establish a recommended dietary reference intake (DRI) for the consumption of lutein. Lutein is a compound found in egg yolks, some fruits and vegetables, and dietary supplements. In several studies, it has been shown to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration and other eye problems. One of the paper’s co-authors said that establishing guidelines for the consumption of lutein “could encourage the consumption of lutein-containing foods and subsequently decrease the risk of age-related visual degradation and improve overall visual health. We hope policymakers and stakeholders take note of the strong research supporting the benefits of lutein and move forward with setting a DRI.”
  • CDC warns of Hep A outbreaks – vaccine shortage. On November 20, the CDC issued a warning of “Outbreaks of hepatitis A in multiple states among people who are homeless and people who use drugs.” The warning came as Kentucky became the latest US state to declare a Hep A outbreak and San Diego extended its state of emergency around its own yearlong outbreak. This year, Hep A cases are soaring in the US – Michigan, Colorado and Utah are also reporting serious outbreaks. While genetic testing is still ongoing at this writing, Kentucky officials say their test results appear to match the genotype associated with the California outbreak. As Food Safety News reports, not all the victims are homeless or drug users – in Michigan, 25 percent of Hep A victims do not fit those criteria, and in California, one-third of the victims are neither homeless nor substance abusers. The outbreaks are particularly concerning because Hep A can easily spread via contaminated objects, food and beverages. Moreover, while health officials in the impacted states have embarked on emergency vaccination programs, they are struggling to secure enough of the vaccine to meet their needs.
  • Vegetable “milk” companies stand firm against name change. Speaking November 14 at the Food Vision USA conference in Chicago, executives of companies making plant-based foods said they have decided not to change the names of their products despite efforts by the dairy industry to have them declared deceptive. The dairy industry is pressing for passage of the Dairy Pride Act, which would bar companies from using terms like “soy cheese” or “almond milk” for plant-based products. Executives said it would actually be more confusing to consumers if manufacturers were forced to stop using names that include the words “milk” or “cheese.” Dr. Liz Specht, senior scientist at the Good Food Institute, which represents makers of plant-based foods, said, “If you’re having to call your product bean juice, consumers don’t know what to do with that. They know what to do with soy milk or coconut milk.”
  • Company announces guacamole recall. On November 17, the FDA announced that Casa Sanchez Foods of Hayward, California, is voluntarily recalling all of its “Real Guacamole” and “Spicy Guacamole” products. The FDA reports that the recall came about after it discovered positive test results for Listeria “on two packages out of many samples collected” in the agency’s random testing program. The products were distributed throughout California, Nevada and Hawaii, and, FDA notes, no other Casa Sanchez Foods products are being recalled. No illnesses or consumer complaints have been reported concerning the products.
  • Soda-tax ballot effort in Oregon is postponed. Supporters of a drive to pass a beverage tax in Multnomah County, Oregon, have decided to postpone their effort to put the tax on the ballot until November 2018 or later. They originally were aiming for a May 2018 ballot referendum. Campaign manager Terri Steenbergen said November 27 that the group made the move because it thought voter turnout would be higher in the November general election, improving their odds of success. But Felicia Heaton, spokeswoman for Move Forward Multnomah, a coalition of more than 670 small business owners funded in part by the American Beverage Association, said the date change “won’t fix any flaws in this tax plan.” Multnomah is the most populous county in Oregon and includes Portland.