Letters to the editor, June 2010

This article was originally published in June 2010

Stickers on produce?

I enjoy shopping at PCC because I feel that I’m supporting a good use of our earth and not just my diet. Keep it up.
My questions, below, may seem trivial but I have been wondering about them for a long time: The little sticky tabs on fruit are ubiquitous. More than once I have missed them and ground them up in my blended fruit drink. Plus, when you peel them off, they often take off part of the skin, so forget about setting out a nice, unblemished bowl of whole fruit for guests.

Nevertheless, if PCC is using these tabs, you must have a good reason. Here are my questions. I bet some other people are wondering, too.

  1. Why are the stickers there, who puts them on and when?
  2. What are the tabs made of? Can they go in the compost recycling bin along with other fruit waste? Or, when I peel a banana, do I need to put the peel in the compost and the tab in the garbage? Some tabs seem to be plastic and others seem like paper.
  3. What kind of adhesive is used to hold the tabs to the fruit and is it safe to eat? Surely some of the adhesive is left behind on the fruit when the tab is removed.

— Nayak Polissar

PCC Produce Merchandiser Joe Hardiman replies: These stickers are put on produce at the packing house, typically by a crew that sorts, “grades” and packs it. The stickers have a Price Lookup Code (PLU) to make checkout easier for cashiers. Organic produce has a 5-digit PLU beginning with the number 9. Non-organic produce has a 4-digit PLU number beginning with the number 4. 

The adhesive used for the stickers is a food-grade “food contact substance” regulated by the Food and Drug Administration’s rules 175.105 and 175.125B. It’s reportedly present at “insignificant levels” and considered non-toxic and “safe” to consume if any remains after removing the sticker and washing. Nonetheless, in our view, it’s best to remove the tab and any adhesive before consumption. 

It’s also best to remove stickers before putting waste in the compost because most are plastic and don’t decompose. There are paper stickers and a water-based adhesive but these cause problems in displays since misters often wash off the adhesive and the stickers fall off. So paper stickers are used only for produce on dry tables.

Local produce in season?

My husband and I are trying to eat healthier with more fruits and veggies — and also with an eye toward eating locally produced foods.

I’ve been struggling with what is “in season” and sure would like to get a better handle on that. It is not efficient to find out if an item is available locally when I’m at the store because then I don’t have recipes in front of me to know what other items I need. Where can I find a list of what can be bought locally this time of year?
— Krista Perkins

Editor replies: We have created a chart of when various types of organic produce are in season locally. We’ve posted it on our Web site at pccmarkets.com/producechart.

Soil testing

I think the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should take a more active role in helping farmers maintain healthy soils in order to grow healthy food for our families. I spoke to a Washington organic farmer who said that when a USDA officer comes to visit, he looks through his paperwork but doesn’t test soil.

Third-party soil testing should be a mandatory part of USDA organic certification. With big business wanting part of the profits, we need to make sure organic growers actually are building healthy soils (remember the Horizon organic dairy skirting organic requirements?).

I also would like to see more grants and funding available for organic growers to expand their business and productivity in a sustainable way. If organic growers had a fraction of farm subsidies to invest in their sustainable operations, farmland acquisitions and research, it could lead to more reliable and dependable income to stay on the long-term track of maintaining our connection to clean food and water.
— Michelle Pearson

Editor replies: The organic rules stipulate that if the certifying agent has cause for concern, such as pesticides or other contaminants, soil testing may be ordered. In other words, a certifier can — and some have — order testing. Soil testing is not a required, routine part of the organic certifying process. Some say soil testing is not done routinely because it’s expensive and not always a clear indicator, one way or the other, of problems. Also, organic farming is a “process-based” system with specific practices required for compliance. It is not primarily a test-based system.

Soy allergy

Just read the April Letter to the Editor and the response regarding Vegenaise (that no more Vegenaise with soy will be used in non-vegan deli dishes). Thank goodness. My son is allergic to soy protein and my research into it shows lots of controversy as to its benefits and risks. I therefore avoid it as well.

So when you did the blanket switch to Vegenaise, we stopped purchasing anything from your deli. Now I will give the deli a second look.
— Dorothy Neville

Sierra Nevada cream cheese

As a young natural foods baker, I learned to use cheeses in our professional kitchen. Patrons and friends wanted the secret, which really was the cream cheese.

PCC offers Sierra Nevada, an organic cow’s milk cream cheese made with only cream, milk, salt and cultures. There are no agar or tree gum additives. Unlike simple cream cheese ingredients, these additives mixed with milk and cultures extend the longevity and quantity of the “philly”-type cream cheese products, and offer a creamy consistency when brought to room temperature. Some contain added sweeteners. However, they’re much stiffer and more difficult to work with in cooking.

Sierra Nevada is not as spreadable as “philly” but is superior for cooking because its taste is excellent and it mixes readily. In the container, it’s a bit crumbly, as are many fresh cheeses. Once mixed, it is easily spread. Cooks can blend it by hand, in small batches — spoons preferred — but I use an electric mixer. It’s important not to mix too long, to keep the integrity of the cheese.

After preparing it for your recipe, you can fold in savory or sweet ingredients, such as smoked salmon, herbs, tapenade, fruit or vegetables. If your cheesecake recipe calls for “philly”-type cheese, you may find it better to reduce the added liquid (not eggs, though) and possibly even the sweetener. The result will be lighter and fluffier.
— Alice Dubiel

Plastic packaging

I read your response to the member wanting butcher paper-wrapped meat with alarm (February 2010, Letters to the Editor). First, I would debate that all consumers want to see what they’re getting. I don’t — not at the cost of all that plastic and styrofoam — and clearly the other letter writer didn’t either.

Why don’t you show what we’re really getting? Put a picture of the Midway Gyre on each shrink-wrapped cheese, meat, seafood and poultry. How many generations can we justify this for?

I just don’t believe it isn’t possible to have one piece out for show, then wrap the rest in butcher paper. My grandmother bought it that way; heck, QFC will do it for me — why won’t PCC? Who really wants organic food at the expense of the health of the ocean?
— Amy Elkins, LMP, Seattle


As a customer of many years, I’m increasingly alarmed and disturbed by the ubiquity of unnecessary plastic packaging at PCC. I feel the co-op has lost its original intent when all those deli foods are served up in plastic throwaway tubs. There is not a great enough market for recycled plastic and the reality is most of it is thrown away.

Plastic trash in the ocean is becoming one of our bigger health risks both for individuals, through fish ingestion, and for the planet. It is in no way sustainable to use a plastic tray every day for lunch.
— Amy Wolf, LMP

Editor replies: Some shoppers may welcome paying for individual service at a meat or seafood counter (where chosen cuts are wrapped to order in butcher paper) but research shows that an overwhelming majority of PCC members are price-sensitive to the cost of natural and organic foods. Providing full-service meat and delis, to eliminate packaging, would mean higher prices from increased labor. Would shoppers welcome the trade-off? That’s the debate.

PCC intentionally dedicates more space to bulk and fresh foods than other grocers, encouraging environmentally sustainable choices. At Edmonds and Redmond, we also provide dinner plates for hot or cold deli foods, encouraging shoppers to sit down and enjoy a convenient lunch or dinner on-site, without the grab ’n go plastic trays. We hope increasing numbers of shoppers will choose this option.

Our stores and shoppers all contribute in varying degrees to the use of plastics so perhaps we individually need to challenge ourselves to advocate the best answer to the problem of plastics around food: choose bulk staples and whole, fresh foods, and cook — without relying on ready-to-eat foods.

BPA in tomato cans

I love PCC and really appreciate all the great work that is accomplished by educating us in this newsletter. As an often-consumer of PCC’s excellent soups, I inquired recently about the source of the tomatoes. I was told they are from a can.
Wouldn’t BPA from the plastic lining (in the can) be a concern? I admit that I am pickier than most regarding chemical contamination of food, but is there any other option that will not “break the bank”? Thank you very much,
— Steve Bradley, Edmonds

Editor replies: There are no canned tomatoes that we know of in food service size without BPA in the resin of the lining of the can. But Muir Glen, which supplies canned tomatoes to the deli, recently announced that it would no longer use cans with BPA, starting with the next tomato harvest. In our grocery aisles, there are preserved tomatoes in jars and aseptic containers.

Also in this issue

What I learned from the bees: patience

Ninety percent of flowering plants and 40 percent of the foods we eat depend on pollinators — mostly honeybees. They pollinate everything from almonds and apples to tomatoes and watermelon. Bees also are wonderful teachers.

Saving farmland, generating questions

This saving farmland business, it’s complicated stuff. In essence our mission is simple, but realizing it is fraught with complexity. There is the enormity of the task, of course: attempting to save farmland from inside a giant system that does not, generally speaking, value farming.

News bites, June 2010

Economical horse power, College sheep club, BPA action, and more