Business Bites: Bird flu beef still safe, claims USDA

5 scoops of news: USDA finds bird flu particles in beef, maintains food is safe; European authorities are concerned about the possible health risks of ashwagandha; antibiotic alternative could reduce antimicrobial resistance; and more.

Scott Miller, Staff writer

June 3, 2024

4 Min Read
Cow and chicken.

At a Glance

  • In USDA testing, no viral particles were found in 108 out of 109 beef samples.
  • Ashwagandha could be toxic and cause hormone interactions, according to some European authorities.
  • More than 70% of antibiotics sold globally are used in food animals, potentially increasing antibiotic resistance.

All these reports of bird flu hitting the food supply are making the blood pumping in my skull sound like a passing freight train. Anyone else? Just me? Cool.

Also this week, ashwagandha draws the ire of the European Union despite having been in circulation for hundreds if not thousands of years, and a “residue-free” antibiotic substitute could increase welfare for dairy cows without a negative effect on yields. Plus, some companies could be reshaping the future of coffee, and a brand-new electric spoon is making food taste saltier. So, put away that shaker and start reading.

Bird flu found in US dairy beef, no concern warranted, mooo-ve along

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) just announced “the final results of its beef muscle sampling of cull dairy cows condemned at select FSIS-inspected slaughter facilities,” according to an update on the USDA website. And if that sentence doesn’t sound dystopian to you, you might want to read 1984 again.

FSIS tested 109 muscle samples, and no viral particles were detected in 108. Viral particles were found in one cow, but based on the update, no meat from “these dairy cattle” entered the U.S. food supply, which seems like suspicious wording to me. Nonetheless, USDA maintains that the American beef supply is safe.

The most relevant tidbit is related to cooked beef: USDA found that, after inoculating ground beef patties with a “very high level” of H5N1 Influenza A virus, no virus was present in burgers cooked to an internal temperature of medium (145 degrees Fahrenheit) and well done (160 F). Even cooking burgers to rare (120 F) “substantially inactivated the virus.” Well, that’s a relief.

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European authorities worried about ashwagandha

Withania somnifera, more commonly known as winter cherry or ashwagandha, is an evergreen shrub with powerful roots. The root powder has well-established uses as a functional ingredient, and yet some lawmakers in Europe and the UK remain unconvinced about its safety.

According to NutraIngredients Europe, the UK Food Standards Agency recently added ashwagandha to its Risk Analysis Tracker, and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands has issued a warning. Supposedly, concerns about toxicity and hormone interaction exist. The report states that “Little scientific research has been conducted into the harmful effects of ashwagandha.”

Although ashwagandha has been used for centuries, a 2023 review of the research suggested that more study was indeed needed. That said, many experts decried even this simple recommendation, with one calling the debate “smoldering horse sh*t.”

New antibiotic substitute could change animal farming forever

Mileutis, an Israeli biopharmaceutical company, has developed a “residue-free” antibiotic substitute, composed of two products named Imilac and Milac. This system increased milk quality and yield in trials involving 500 dairy cows while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint.

More than 70% of antibiotics sold globally are used in food animals, not only for treatment but also as a replacement for proper hygiene, and these treatments are gradually increasing antibiotic resistance worldwide.

Imilac should be administered at the beginning of a cow’s “dry period” to manage mastitis, or inflammation of the udder, and increase production, while Milac can treat intramammary infection during lactation. The goal is reportedly to increase the comfort and welfare of dairy cows while supporting “economic access to sufficient and nutritious food.”

Starbucks, others work to secure the future of coffee

The cost of coffee beans continues to fluctuate, with some varieties recently reaching a 45-year high, thanks to the effects of climate change. Humanity’s impact on the climate can alter wet seasons while extending dry seasons, reducing crop yields and putting the future of this popular beverage in jeopardy. As a result, researchers predict big changes by 2050.

Luckily, corporate interests sometime align with human ones, and as such, some big companies are trying to make a positive difference. Starbucks, for example, has launched 10 Farmer Support Centers over the past two decades. These centers, strategically placed around the globe, have helped more than 200,000 farmers by providing free access to education and resources.

Still, the landscape of coffee is changing, and over the next few years, this inexpensive everyday drink could turn into a luxury.

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New electric spoon enhances salty, umami flavors

Kirin Holdings, the Japanese beer company, has invented a spoon that makes food taste better. What’s more, you can already buy it, assuming you can read Japanese.

The electric spoon, collaboratively developed with Meiji University, boosts the saltiness of low-sodium foods by around 1.5 times by applying a unique current electric waveform to the tongue, which attracts sodium and increases the perception of saltiness.

Why is a beer company making electric spoons? According to Kirin’s press release, the average Japanese person over the age of 20 consumes twice the World Health Organization’s daily recommended intake of salt, and that statistic remains remarkably consistent across the global population.

No word yet on how this spoon might affect the flavor of already salty foods, like, say, french fries. But if you’re eating fries with a spoon, you probably have other things to worry about.

About the Author(s)

Scott Miller

Staff writer, Food & Beverage Insider

Scott Miller brings two decades of experience as a writer, editor, and communications specialist to Food & Beverage Insider. He’s done a little of everything, from walking a beat as a freelance journalist to taking the Big Red Pen to massive technical volumes. He even ran a professional brewing industry website for several years, leveling up content delivery during an era when everyone had a blog.

Since starting at Food & Beverage Insider, he’s written pieces on the price of greenwashing (and how to avoid it), debunked studies that served little to no purpose (other than upsetting the public) and explained the benefits of caffeine alternatives, along with various other stories on trends and events.

Scott is particularly interested in how science, technology and industry are converging to answer tomorrow’s big questions about food insecurity, climate change and more.

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