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Business Bites: FDA’s plans to revamp Human Foods Program, Kerry salmonella case, Super Bowl snacking trends

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On this week's plate: FDA announces overhaul of food program after careful review; Kerry pleads guilty to role in 2018 salmonella outbreak; Osage Food Products and EverGrain launch upcycled protein; and much more.

FDA proposes redesign of Human Foods Program

In 2022, FDA sought guidance for its Human Foods Program. At the request of FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf, an external evaluation was conducted by an expert panel of the Reagan-Udall Foundation, as well as a separate internal review of the agency’s infant formula supply chain. After reviewing the findings and recommendations from both, Califf proposed a new “transformative” vision for the Human Foods Program, which will combine the functions of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), Office of Food Policy and Response (OFPR), as well as certain functions of ORA into one entity. FDA will appoint a deputy commissioner to oversee the program, who will report directly to Califf and have “decision-making authority over policy, strategy and regulatory program activities … as well as resource allocation and risk-prioritization.” To support the deputy commissioner and FDA’s newly envisioned efforts for food safety and innovation, Califf also proposed establishing a Human Foods Advisory Committee, which will consist of external experts.

Kerry pleads guilty to insanitary plant conditions linked to 2018 salmonella outbreak

On Feb. 3, food and ingredient manufacturing company Kerry Inc. pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge that it manufactured breakfast cereal—Kellogg’s Honey Smacks—under insanitary conditions at a facility in Gridley, Illinois, which was linked to a 2018 salmonellosis outbreak. As a result, the company agreed to pay a $19.228 million criminal fine and forfeiture. If accepted by the court, the fine will constitute as the largest-ever criminal penalty following a criminal conviction in a food safety case, according to DOJ. The manufacture and subsequent distribution of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal under insanitary conditions violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). According to the plea agreement, routine environmental tests performed as part of Kerry’s environmental monitoring program found salmonella in the plant approximately 81 times between June 2016 and June 2018, including at least one positive sample each month, while employees at the Gridley facility routinely failed to implement corrective and preventive actions (CAPAs) to address the test results. Kellogg’s voluntarily recalled all Honey Smacks manufactured at the plant when FDA and CDC announced the salmonella outbreak in June 2018; however, CDC identified more than 130 cases linked to the outbreak, beginning in March 2018. Kerry issued an official statement on Feb. 3: “Kerry regrets the unacceptable practices and failures that occurred at Gridley. Arising from the issues, conduct and practices that occurred there, the company made the decision to permanently close the plant. The company also undertook a comprehensive review of its food safety, practices, policies and oversight, with a particular focus on ensuring adherence to group standards and governance. Though the issues at Gridley were plant-specific in nature, Kerry has invested and continues to invest significantly in all aspects of its food safety and quality processes and to further embed safety as a central pillar in everything that it does.” 

Smashburger debuts jackfruit burger

Smashburger is adding to its line-up of plant-based burgers at select locations in Colorado, New Jersey and New York. The fast-food chain has partnered with plant-based specialty food brand Jack & Annie’s to introduce a jackfruit-based patty, the Plant-Based Classic Smash Burger. The jackfruit burger will have all of the toppings that the chain’s Classic Smash Burger has—without the meat. Customers will also be able to substitute the Jack & Annie’s patties for traditional proteins in all the other Smashburger menu items.

Running out of snacks is worse than losing the Super Bowl, survey says

Frito-Lay unveiled its Super Bowl Snack Index just in time for this weekend’s big game. The index, which polled 2,000 U.S. adults on snacking habits and preferences, found that nearly half of Americans claim running out of snacks would be worse than their team losing the Super Bowl. With half of Americans open to trying new flavor varieties, the survey pointed out how younger generations—61% of Millennials, 57% of Gen Z and 52% of Gen X—are most eager to try new snack flavors, while older generations like Baby Boomers prefer to stick with the classics. It also highlighted how younger generations are most likely to connect with other people over snacks—79% of Gen Z, 72% of Millennials and 61% of Gen X—while the majority of Baby Boomers are not.

Alternative sweeteners on the rise

Like allulose, tagatose is a rare sugar that occurs naturally in foods like fruit and dairy. The low-calorie natural sugar, which attained GRAS status in the early 2000s, has shown to provide support in type 2 diabetes, hyperglycemia, anemia, hemophilia and fetal development (J Med Food. 2002;5[1]:23-26). ASR Group, a refiner and marketer of cane sugar, and Bonumose Inc., a startup food ingredient company, have partnered to begin producing the alternative sweetener, which will soon be available globally. According to the companies, tagatose works similarly to sucrose, is 90% as sweet and has 60% fewer calories. The partnership’s keto-certified sweetener has also achieved Non-GMO Project Verified status. Currently, tagatose content must be included in Added Sugars totals on product labels, which Bonumose has attempted to overturn.

Upcycled vegan protein hits the market

Upcycling is on the rise. Osage Food Products recently partnered with Anheuser-Busch InBev’s (AB InBev) subsidiary EverGrain to launch a vegan plant-based protein that utilizes upcycled ingredients. The SolvPro Vegan Plant Protein Blends, available in six different flavors, incorporate EverPro, a barley protein that dissolves almost instantly into beverages. Tapping into brewers’ spent grains, EverPro is Upcycled Certified and Non-GMO Project Verified.

Heather Carter is the associate editor of Food & Beverage Insider at Informa Markets. She has worked in trade publishing for nearly a decade, covering a variety of topics, from tile to bedding. Reach her at [email protected].

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