Who is enjoying some sauerkraut at their July 4th BBQs? Pacific Sun magazine featured three Northern California sauerkraut makers — Sonoma Brinery, Wildbrine and Wild West Ferments. The article highlights the different fermenting techniques of the three brands and features this fascinating insight from David Ehreth, president and managing partner at Sonoma Brinery:
“If I can go nerd on you for a moment,” Ehreth warns, before diving into a synopsis about the lactobacillus bacteria that exist on the surface of all fresh vegetables. “You can’t remove them by washing.” What’s more, they immediately begin to feed and reproduce — but not in a bad way, unless they’re a bad actor, he insists.
“Those bacteria will really stake out their turf,” says Ehreth. “They’re very territorial. They go to war with each other.” The incredible part of it is that the four horsemen of the food industry — listeria, E. Coli, botulinum, and salmonella—are on lactobacilli’s hit list. None survive. Five bacteria enter — one bacterium leaves.
Quoting the Food and Drug Administration, Ehreth states, “There has been no documented transmission of pathogens by fermented vegetables.”
Read more (Pacific Sun)
Should a fermented food process need a patent? PepsiCo has filed a patent to ferment oat flour and dairy milk together. PepsiCo-owned Quaker Oats is creating a “spoonable or drinkable” clean-label product comparable to yogurt. The process involves co-fermenting a grain, dairy and a set of metabolites. This patent is unique because, while there are existing food products that combine unfermented and fermented dairy and grains, none co-ferment grain and dairy at the same time. In their application, PepsiCo notes that consumers are increasingly consuming fermented food products for health benefits.
Read more (World Intellectual Property Organization)
Though studies link fermentation to positive health benefits, little is known about the underlying biology behind why consuming the live bacteria in fermented food and drink is good for your gut. Scientists from Germany have uncovered that link. They found a cell receptor unique to humans (and apes) that binds to the lactic acid bacteria in fermented foods, triggering positive effects in the immune system. The study says the bacteria or microbes are part of a large group of “functional microorganisms” that are present in food like yogurt and sauerkraut.
Read more (Medical News Today)
Put down the Gatorade, athletes — the best performance-enhancing substance is fermented food and drinks. An article in sports magazine STACK says athletes are overlooking fermented products for workout nutrition. Fermented products — like raw sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and kefir — heal the body with beneficial bacteria and combat gut imbalances. “The better our digestion, the better we utilize the food we are putting into our body, leading to even better improvements in our strength and health,” the article states. Though there is little research in the field, the article points to one study which found probiotics helped female college athletes improve body composition and deadlift performance.
Read more (STACK)
A salmonella, E. coli or botulism outbreak can destroy a food brand. Entrepreneurs must be vigilante about food safety, understanding their suppliers, copackers and labels.
Linda Harris, the department chair for the Food Science & Technology Department at the University of California, Davis, shared advice for new food producers to safely launch a business. Harris spoke with her UC Davis colleagues during an education session at Natural Products Expo West. Fermented products, which undergo unconventional processing, are not exempt from food safety measures. Harris emphasized putting “raw” on a label doesn’t protect a brand from food regulations.
“What I would caution someone who would be putting raw on their label is, first of all, understand what you mean by the word raw,” Harris said. “Having raw on your label doesn’t eliminate your responsibility to do the hazard analysis for your product. If a pathogen is a significant hazard, you still have to control for it. … It doesn’t get you off the hook by putting ‘raw’ on the label.”
Recalls as Cautionary Examples
Harris jokes she specializes in being a downer. As a food microbiologist, she shares cautionary examples of brands responsible for food poisoning. Food companies ask Harris for advice on how to maneuver food safety regulations, and Harris admits she still has to look up regulations because they are so complicated.
“You must understand how to control your hazards,” Harris said. “For some entrepreneurs, some smaller processors, that’s been a bit of a challenge to do because.”
She shared the example of the mystery green powder. Many food producers use green powders to make their product – but Harris says brands need to understand the ins and outs of their ingredients. Testing alone will not deal with vulnerabilities. Companies need to ask questions, like: Does the supplier label exactly what’s in the ingredient? If it’s labeled, is it accurate? What processes are used to make the ingredients? Does the process enhance safety? What contaminants are in the ingredients? What kind of controls are in place?
The 2016 Garden of Life RAW Meal Organic Shake & Meal outbreak was one such example. Salmonella in the powder infected 33 people in 23 states. The Salmonella was traced back to a supplier’s ingredient. Can food processors trust each one of their ingredient suppliers, Harris questioned?
“A very challenging thing to do by any strength of the imagination,” she said, especially for a small processor. “How do you know when you’re buying your powders that there aren’t things beyond the Salmonella or the bacteria that I’m concerned about or pesticides or other chemicals or heavy metals that might be present?”
As more natural food brands enter the market, processors are sourcing unique ingredients, many from international suppliers.
“(When) youre not able to see that process or interact with that process, I think that’s a real concern,” Harris adds. “That’s where I see small entrepreneurs being especially vulnerable because they don’t have the power to say ‘I am going to buy 50 pounds of your powder, so I’d like to have a full tour of your facility.’ You lose some of that power compared to being a large manufacturer where millions of dollars are at stake.”
Question Every Step
Harris shared tips for avoiding food safety disasters.
- Check with regulators early and often. From USDA and FDA inspectors to state government agencies, Harris said she’s found government regulators are very willing to share feedback on food safety.
- Tour supplier and processor facilities. The SoyNut Butter E. coli outbreak of 2017 was another supplier mistake. After 32 people became infected from SoyNut Butter, the brand recalled the product. During their investigation, they found their contract manufacturer was operating in unsanitary conditions. The facility was dusty, equipment hadn’t been cleaned for 15 months and there was no hot water or soap. Harris noted, if the food company simply walked through the facility, they would have quickly seen issues.
- Use a copacker. Copackers are food safety experts, and a great option for small companies to avoid safety hazards. Copackers will take a recipe, make the food product and package it. They are the food safety experts, so a new food company doesn’t have to master food safety. Still, Harris warned, tour the copacker facility. “If you think just a small processor is vulnerable to issues with copackers… even major companies can I think get into a lull of not making those checks and not following up to make things are going well,” she said.
- Ask lots of questions. Harris advises, if a food brand is putting ingredient or processing trust in another company, be prepared to double check their facilities and healthy claims.
Harris recently had to practice what she preaches. As the department chair, she had to axe the students plan to make vegan ice cream for the university’s Picnic Day. The powder the students found was sourced from a Midwest company who wouldn’t share details on how they eliminate pathogens. So Harris did not give students permission to buy the powder for vegan ice cream.
“If you’re in this area, I think you do need to be able to understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” she said. “When you go to your supplier to ask them how are you controlling for these things in the ingredient you’re giving me, that you expect transparency.”
Fermented Products Not Exempt
Fermentation often creates a false air of safety, Harris said. Just because fermentation has a global tradition doesn’t mean fermented foods are all created under safe conditions.
In 2013, The Cultured Kitchen had to recall their cashew cheese after 17 people became infected with Salmonella. Testing found the fermented cashews were the source of the outbreak. The copacker had multiple critical equipment malfunctions, like an uncalibrated thermometer and no kill step.
Fermented food, Harris stresses, are extremely safe. Fermented foods have a long history of safety. But new products and ingredients that are fermented which have historically never been fermented before, makes food safety murky.
For more information on food safety, check out the UC Davis Food Safety website.
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Danone is releasing its collection of 1,800 yogurt strains to the public. In a press release, Danone said the announcement coincides with Danone’s “commitment to promoting open science, a movement toward openness in scientific research, sharing and development of knowledge through collaborative networks.” Danone would like others to use the strains for research purposes. The French company is also granting access to its current collection of 193 lactic and bifidobacteria ferment strains deposited at the National Collection of Cultures of Microorganisms, held in the Biological Resource Center of Institut Pasteur in Paris. The first Danone yogurt was made by Isaac Carasso in 1919 in Barcelona. Barcelona’s own children suffered from poor gut health, and he was inspired by research from the Institute Pasteur that detailed the role of ferments in gut and overall health. Barcelona began selling his first yogurts, which were fermented with lactic ferments, in Barcelona’s pharmacies.
Read more (Danone)
The gut microbiome is pivotal to human health, and the biggest aid to nourishing a healthy microbiome is our diet.
“The tools of our diet…are a really valuable resource for our microbiome,” says Maria Marco, professor in the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology. “They’re noninvasive, easy to use, low cost. We can improve our microbiome using specific ingredients, targeting microorganisms, using foods like living fermented foods or probiotics to directly contribute to our microbiome.”
Marco, a speaker at Natural Products Expo West, shared insight from her research at UC Davis’ Marco Lab, where Marco and a team of students study microorganisms impact on food safety, food quality and gut health. Their cutting-edge research is scratching the surface of the complex microbiome.
Microbiome research has transformed in the past 10-15 years. Marco says scientists had relied on 19th Century microbiology of the prior hundred years. New advancements in chemistry, engineering, data science and DNA sequencing “revealed this hidden world.”
“We’re riding a wave right now. We’re appreciating more than ever before that we are living in microbial world,” Marco said. “The magnitude of what these microorganisms can be doing…is tremendous.”
Our bodies are only 1 percent human – the rest of our body structure is made of trillions of microorganisms. Every human carries about 1 kilogram of their bodyweight in microbial biomass.
Marco said for years we’ve thought of the intestines as an empty tube, but these microorganisms reside in our digestive tract. The microbiome performs critical functions, like digestion, detoxification of food, synthesis of vitamin and development of immune system and brain.
But our microbes may not always aid our body. The beneficial organisms that create a rich microbiome have changed over human history because of the prevalent use of antibiotics, and changes to diet, hygiene and lifestyle.
There are only a few ways to improve the microbiome, Marco says – drugs, fecal transplants or diet. Marco said the best way to achieve a healthy microbiota is through the diet, by eating the microorganisms our gut needs.
The diet, she says, needs to be full of fermentable fiber. Humans eat diet-associated microbes in prebiotics and probiotics.
One study from Marco Lab found that, when adults added fermentable fiber to their diet, the microbes thrived off these nutrients, and the good bifidobacteria thrived. The microbiome was significantly altered.
“How do we get microorganisms? First of all, just by eating fresh foods and vegetables,” Marco says. The second is eating “fermented foods (which give us) exposure to a higher number of these organisms. They hey have to be foods where the microbes are still alive, such as in yogurt or fresh sauerkraut. And then lastly, we can have probiotics, organisms that we either take in supplements or put into foods in an even higher number so were getting an even higher doses of these organisms over time.”
There are specific bacteria strains found in fresh fermented foods, and some are sold today as strains in probiotic supplements. Thousands of clinical studies show probiotics are beneficial to digestive health – but today, microbiologists are seeing probiotics aid other areas of the body, like vaginal health and neurocognitive function.
“As we study these organisms, we’re really guided by a couple questions, practical questions that need to be answered in order to take probiotics to the next level of where we need to have them in our food and medicine,” Marco said. Like what strain should be used, what dose taken and how long should it be used. “We don’t really have answers to this and it’s really hard as a consumer to know which to use.”
Marco Lab studied 42 strains of lactobacillus bacteria, and found each strain has different properties. “The breadth of what we saw was really outstanding,” Marco said.
The future of the field of research is knowing the individual properties of these strains, Marco said. Like can a certain strain alter our mood, another prevent obesity and another support our immune system? The strains are so complex, “we’re starting to get a handle on what specific things they’re doing.”
Safety of the strains is critical. Marco noted the next generation of probiotics need food safety standards. These are organisms that are not found in foods, and Marco said “the bar needs to be quite high.”
“More studying needs to be done. In the microbiome world, we’re really at the starting stages,” Marco says. “But we need the right science so we know if we’re giving the right organisms to the right people at the right time.
There are beer wars over fermentation practices between two of the country’s biggest beer brands. MillersCoors is suing Anheuser-Busch over a Bud Light Super Bowl ad that shamed Miller Lite and Coors Light beers for using corn syrup during their brewing process. The controversial ad shows the Bud Light King trying to figure out what to do with a giant corn syrup barrel delivered to their castle by mistake. The Bud Light knights attempt to deliver the barrel to both the Miller Lite and Coors Lite castle, since both beers have corn syrup in their ingredients. MillersCoors says the ad is false advertising. The brand says corn syrup is used in brewing to aid the fermentation process, but their final product does not include corn syrup. MillerCoors also alleges that Anheuser-Busch is playing on consumer’s fears of corn syrup. Focus groups show consumers view no difference between corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup. Dietitians say corn syrup is not unhealthy in brewing, but high-fructose corn syrup is an additive linked to obesity. The lawsuit also alleges Anheuser-Busch also uses corn syrup as a fermentation aid in some of the brand’s other drinks (Stella Artois Cidre and Bud Ice). MillerCoors is asking Bud Light to stop the ad immediately and pay all of MillerCoors’ legal fees.
Read more (CNBC)
Fermented foods are “a ‘new’ health trend with roots dating back to 6000 B.C. in civilizations all over the world” writes nutritionist Danielle Mein from the University of Maryland Medical System in a column for the Baltimore Sun. The amount of probiotics in a food is determined by the length of fermentation, Mein adds. True fermented foods, she argues, “must be refrigerated and unpasteurized” — what do you think, would you still call a product fermented if it was shelf stable?
Read more (The Baltimore Sun)
“To meet the growing demand for fermentation expertise within the food industry,” an updated edition of the textbook “Microbiology and Fermentation of Foods“ has been released by author Dr. Robert Hutkins, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and member of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics. The book was first released in 2006 during a time Hutkins said fermentation was considered an old science, “with nothing new to be learned.” There were few universities offering specific fermentation programs. But recent microbiological advancements — and growing consumer interest in fermented foods — means more people are seeking fermentation expertise. The new edition includes chapters in distilled spirits, cocoa, coffee and cereal products. Hutkins notes scientists across multiple fields are studying fermentation today, from nutritionists to biochemists to archaeobiologists.
Read more (International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics)