Thinly sliced: Twelve more sickened by salmonella outbreak, USDA axes organic “checkoff” program, and more
This is the web version of a list we publish twice-weekly in our newsletter. It comprises the most noteworthy food stories of the moment, selected by our editors. Get it first here.
Not over (easy). Twelve more people have been sickened by the ongoing salmonella outbreak linked to a North Carolina egg farm, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. In case you missed it, here are all the gory details on the conditions that led up to the outbreak. (Hint: “ongoing rodent infestation.”)
Checkmate. The federal government has nixed the proposed organic “checkoff” program, according to a notice published by USDA on Friday. The checkoff—which would have funded research and “Got Milk?”-style promotions with a tax on organic stakeholders—was a source of both heartache and hope for the industry. As we reported last year, the divisive proposal sometimes amounted to a civil war within the organic community, opening rifts between various players with shared interests. That lack of consensus was one reason USDA cited for not moving forward: Sifting through more than 15,000 comments, the agency found “uncertain industry support for and unresolved issues with the proposed program.” Guess “Organic: It’s what’s for dinner” didn’t have the right ring after all.
Fat foe. The World Health Organization (WHO) has asked governments around the world to eliminate the use of trans fats. Countries in Europe and North America, including the United States, have already banned trans fats in their food supplies; as Vox notes, this push is directed at countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, where partially hydrogenated cooking oils are still used for frying and baking. (The initiative was developed with a health group backed by Michael Bloomberg, who led the nation’s first municipal ban on trans fats as mayor of New York City.) Meanwhile, in America, the ban on trans fats—which exempts natural occurences in some meat and dairy products—becomes fully effective next month.
Icy hot. Frozen food is so hot right now, Bloomberg reports, even as grocery stores continue to struggle with new forms of competition. Sources of growth include hip new freezer-aisle offerings, single millennials, and vegans.
Chewed over. Food delivery start-up Munchery has announced it will close down in three coastal cities, retrenching to its home base in San Francisco, Fast Company reports. The company, which was once valued at $300 million, has been shedding staff for years, and was reportedly losing millions in undelivered food from its kitchens. Meanwhile, Good Eggs, a grocery delivery service which met a strikingly similar fate back in 2015, shows new signs of life—including a new round of venture capital funding, and an eventual goal of returning to Los Angeles. Food delivery has turned out to be a brutal business—but tech VCs can’t stop, won’t stop.
Lunch money. Thanks to low wages and meager benefits, fast-food jobs have long been considered work for teenagers, even though teens make up only 30 percent of the fast-food workforce. Now, it seems, fast-food companies are trying to reinforce that perception by offering employees college tuition assistance. Taco Bell will double scholarship awards this year, hot on the heels of McDonald’s announcing a $150 million college tuition program for its part-time employees. What’s the implication? Even though the big-time fast-food employers have cash to burn, employees shouldn’t expect a raise or better health care—only a way out.
High-rise pigsty. Chinese pork producers are starting to house hogs in multi-story buildings, in what appears to be an effort to take efficient land use to the literal next level, Reuters reports. These vertical pig farms, dubbed “hog hotels,” have raised concerns about an increased possibility of spreading disease. Will this high-rise, high-risk idea pay off? Only time will tell.
Union made. In April, workers at a Burgerville in Portland, Oregon voted to unionize. This past weekend, employees at a second location followed suit, after enduring what they described as extensive union-busting behavior by the chain, the Portland Mercury reports. Now, Burgerville management is trying to claim credit, taking out full-page ads in the Mercury in an attempt to wring a PR win from the skirmish. For a sense of the dynamic between workers and the company, see the union’s scathing response to a self-congratulatory video, “A History of Firsts,” tweeted by the company. We’ll see what happens on May 22, when negotiations begin.