Tag Archives: foodsafety

Job one for food processing is food safety. Many traditional food processing methods help minimize food safety risks, including canning, freezing, drying, irradiation and pasteurization.

Modern industrial processing has expanded the concept. Many substances have been added to food to preserve, protect freshness, or extend shelf life. Job two is to be sure those substance are also safe for human consumption.

It’s always okay to consult your gut.

 

Consult your gut is a good food rule. Usually the context of the rule is to choose smaller portions, but it’s applicable to many other situations. Like my gut and the Boca Burger.

Boca Burger made its debut in 1978. The burger in its original formulation was around for a long time before Kraft-Heinz reformulate and rebranded the item in 2018. The goal was to modernize the image and appeal to the vegan market.

The product qualifies as a bonafide ultra-processed industrial formulation. The ingredient list includes mostly substances / additives and no recognizable intact food. The tomato slice and lettuce leaf are recognizable but no part of the product. As for that green stuff, your guess is as good as mine, but what ever it is, it’s still not part of the product.

There may be a couple of Boca Burgers in your freezer right now. If your gut responds well to Boca, it’s not a bad choice. The burgers are ubiquitous and reasonably priced. The additives are considered safe and allowed for human consumption by the FDA. The Boca Burger is low fat as compared to a ground beef burger. So as long as your gut is happy eating Bocas, go for it!  If your gut gets a little queasy, however, like mine does, it’s also okay to say no thanks.

Just because an additive is safe doesn’t mean the substance sets well in everyone’s gut. My gut is unhappy with one of the substances. Is it the soy protein concentrate? Or perhaps the modified cellulose, the wheat gluten, the hydrolyzed wheat protein, or the natural flavor? Or perhaps it’s simply that my gut is not used to metabolizing substances that only come from time to time?

What ever the reason, it’s still okay to say no thanks. Trusting your gut is just common sense and there’s nothing wrong with good old fashioned common sense.

Processed or Ultra-Processed?

photo credit | gourmetmetrics

The best lasagna I ever ate was home made. Even the pasta! 100 grams durum semolina flour and 1 egg, diligently hand mixed, kneaded, then rolled into thin sheets with this cool little pasta machine I brought back from Rome one year. Pelati, canned whole peeled Italian tomatoes, olive oil, some garlic and onion, fresh basil and parsley, gently boiled down into a traditional marinara sauce. Fresh ricotta cheese. A mixture of ground beef and pork browned and seasoned. Layer by layer all that deliciousness was carefully arranged in my pan and baked to perfection in the oven. It was incredibly delicious! 

My home made masterpiece was a spontaneous event. I don’t even remember following a recipe although I had a general idea of ingredients before I set out. But I’ll never do it again. Why? Because the process took one whole day!

When I serve a lasagna these days, my choices are store prepared or store bought off the shelf. I’ve had good lasagnas, but I’ve never found a replacement that matches the taste of that lasagna I made myself. Not at least until recently …

Rao’s Made for Home, the same folks who produce a wicked good Marinara sauce, has gone into the frozen entrée business and one of their offerings is Meat Lasagna. 

Pre-prepared meal entrées are often disappointing because they are ultra-processed formulations of inferior ingredients intended to displace real food. Convenient yes. Delicious no. Never as good as the dish they intent to replace. But hope springs eternal, especially after a year of pandemic isolation, so I decided to give it a try. 

What a pleasant surprise!

What truly amazed me was the quality of the pasta. The taste and consistency of those sheets of lasagna actually reminded me of that lasagna I made by hand. It’s an amazing accomplishment because Rao’s Made for Home lasagna is a manufactured product, so by definition it’s both an industrial formulation and ultra-processed. Or is it ultra-processed?

INGREDIENTS

The ingredient list reads like a recipe for home made lasagna: Italian Whole Peeled Tomatoes (Tomatoes, Salt, Basil Leaf), Ricotta Cheese, (Milk [Whole & Skim], Vinegar, Salt), Pasta (Durum Semolina), Water, Beef, Mozzarella (Pasteurized Part Skim Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Pork, Romano Cheese (Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Onions, Olive Oil, Egg, Salt, Spices, Garlic, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder. 

The ingredients are recognizable. And the label is beyond clean because no additives of any kind are listed. What isn’t on the label is as significant as what is. No modified corn starch, no natural flavor, no carrageenan, no gums. No messy additives to clean up!

The ingredients are top quality. Whole peeled Italian tomatoes are listed instead of tomato paste or purée. Fresh ricotta cheese instead of dry curd cottage cheese. And olive oil instead of canola or soybean oil.

Bronze cut does not appear in the ingredient list but the words can be found on the back of the box on the right panel. “Snuggled between every layer of bronze cut pasta …”. Those words bronze cut pasta are significant and may explain why the Rao’s lasagna reminded me of my hand rolled sheets.

Pasta has been made in Italy since the 13th century, but up until recently it was mixed and cut by hand. Manufacturers today use an industrial process called extrusion. The dough is mixed then forced through a mold or “die” which forms the familiar shapes we find on the grocers shelf: orecchiette, penne, lasagna. Most modern producers coat their dies in Teflon producing a smooth shinny pasta. Using bronze is the traditional method but its use fell out of favor because Teflon is cheaper. 

NUTRITION

Using current nutrient reductionist criteria, lasagna is not a healthy choice. Whether frozen and re-heated, served at the Olive Garden, or prepared at home with hand rolled lasagna sheets and carefully sourced ingredients, lasagna gets classified as “empty calories”. Too many grams of saturated fat and too many milligrams of sodium. 

There are other ways to think about what’s healthy and widen the focus however. Like ingredient quality. Or degree of processing.

TASTE

So why does the Rao’s lasagna remind me of my home made lasagna. Maybe it’s because of the whole peeled tomatoes or the fresh ricotta? Or maybe the bronze cut sheets of lasagna? Or maybe the olive oil? It’s not cold-pressed extra-virgin, but at least the oil is pressed or centrifuged from olives instead of rape seed or soybeans. 

Because taste is 100% subjective, I don’t know if you would like the lasagna as much as I did but two facts are indisputable. The lasagna is made with quality ingredients. And it costs twice as much as its competitors. 

SO IS RAO’S LASAGNA  PROCESSED OR ULTRA-PROCESSED?

There’s an argument to be made for either side. As per this 2019 commentary:  Ultra-processed foods are not ‘real food’. As stated, they are formulations of food substances often modified by chemical processes and then assembled into ready to consume hyper palatable food and drink products using flavours, colours, emulsifiers and a myriad of other cosmetic additives. 

The product is a formulation that is industrially made and mass produced. That’s why the product will taste exactly the same every single time. These are characteristics it has in common with Twinkies, Oreos, and Doritos.

However, the ingredients are real food. I’m being subjective here, but I don’t see the ingredients listed on the label as food substances. Or as Michael Pollan puts it “food-like” substances. Rao’s lasagna uses precisely the ingredients that I would use to make lasagna at home. No additives needed. No flavors, colors, emulsifiers, or any other cosmetic ingredients. Just real food.

I want to classify the product as processed because the taste is clean and the list of ingredients is simple and straightforward. But I can’t ignore the technological sophistication which guarantees that taste will be consistent in every box. So there you have it. Is Rao’s meat lasagna processed or ultra-processed? It all depends …

Bottom line, there are some wrinkles in the NOVA food classification system which will be need to be ironed out.

Just don’t do anything that will poison us!

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Those were Jeff’s words of encouragement when I told him I wanted to make a sauerkraut.

Why you may be asking did I want to make sauerkraut? Here’s why. My CSA had put a gigantic humongous incredibly heavy 5 1/2 pound cabbage in my box and, along with other 10 pounds of assorted vegetables, I had one week before the next delivery to figure out what to do with the lavish abundance. Besides I never made a sauerkraut before.

Now I am not a complete novice. I did ferment some cucumbers once. Granted it was way before I met Jeff, but I didn’t poison my self that time. And that was really before I had a clue what I was doing.

Just for the record, those fermented cucumbers were the best pickles I have ever eaten.

I still don’t really know what I’m doing now, but I’m a lot more knowledgeable today and even more important I know where to start looking. So with Jeff’s words of encouragement ringing in my ears, I began my search.

For do it yourself sauerkraut, the Internet really excels. So I did my due diligence reading up on the matter and determined that fermentation is one of the older forms of preservation practiced by us humans. As it is technically called, lacto-fermentation has been practiced for centuries as a method for preserving excess vegetable at the end of the growing season.

During the fermentation process, the vegetables are cut or shredded, and salt is added. The salt draws out the vegetable liquid and the vegetables ferment in their juices.

State Extension Services seem to have the more detailed technical information like percentage of salt solution and temperature ranges most favorable to promote the growth of the good guys i.e. lactic acid and discourage entry of the bad guys i.e. spoilage or food poisoning microorganisms otherwise know as the stuff that makes you sick.

I also checked a FaceBook group for people who love to ferment all kinds of weird stuff. I got a lot of moral support and realized there were lots of people out there who ferment cabbage into sauerkraut and have lived to talk about it.

I need to Follow directions. Need to be careful. It’s times like this I am glad I took microbiology.

Okay, if primitive illiterate humans can ferment a cabbage and live to tell about it, a well educated, intelligent, twenty-first century female should certainly be able to rise to the occasion.

So I gathered my references, pulled out my biggest bread bowl, washed and sliced my caggage, measured out my salt solution, and set it all to ferment at the appropriate temperature. And I checked it every day.

The fermentation process appears to be variable. As little as three days and as long as three months. Depends on which source you read and which person you talk to. However on day ten, here in New York we got hit with a cold spell so I decided it was time to close down the cottage industry. I packed the sauerkraut into to liter glass containers and moved them to the frig. We had pork chops on Sunday, so I served some kraut alongside with sweet potatoes.

Jeff’s responce “This tastes pretty good … It sure tastes like sauerkraut … “.

Next step is to build up enough courage to take a taste straight up. I tagged it safe. Now I need to follow through and taste it without heating the kraut up first.