Letters to the editor, December 2013

This article was originally published in December 2013

Thankful for PCC

When I read the letters in the Sound Consumer, I see customers wanting PCC to “do more.” Having worked in the grocery business, I am amazed you do so much!

All the educational information you provide in addition to offering products that mainstream retailers won’t touch is a truly wonderful service and far beyond “just doing business.” In addition, I do bagging at my local food bank, so I see how much good, healthy food you donate to the poor.

As a grateful consumer, I say “thank you.”
— Anna Johansen

Organic almonds

We read conflicting information about what defines organic almonds. Would you please let us know the current information about what defines organic almonds? Are they all steam-pasteurized because of U.S. Department of Agriculture laws? What actually occurs when almonds are pasteurized? Is this process safe?
— name withheld upon request

PCC replies: California-grown raw almonds are required to be “pasteurized” following enactment of a federal rule in September 2007, after two cases of salmonella linked to California non-organic almonds were documented. California organic almonds undergo a high-heat steam treatment, while non-organic almonds typically are treated with the toxic chemical propylene oxide.

California almond growers challenged the rule, but an appeals court rejected the farmers’ challenge in February, so the mandate stands. The rule reportedly has put California growers at an economic disadvantage, since imported almonds (from Spain and Italy, for instance) aren’t required to be pasteurized.

PCC’s organic almonds are from California and are pasteurized with the steam treatment.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is requesting feedback on salmonella risks in all raw nuts. (See: www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-10-03/pdf/2013-24171.pdf). It could mean the government is considering mandating pasteurization treatments for all U.S.-grown nuts. We encourage you to comment before the December 16 deadline.


I have wanted to add almond milk to my diet but I noticed the almond milks carried by PCC contain carrageenan. My understanding is that carrageenan is not the greatest thing to ingest. (See cornucopia.org/carrageenan-2013.)

To be fair, I did some more research and found a report on WebMD that states carrageenan is used to treat what the information in the link above says it causes. Further research on the web indicates pros and cons for this ingredient. What’s PCC’s take?

I really would like to avoid this substance and would appreciate more alternative milks without this ingredient. If there are any, please let me know. Maybe I missed something. For now, I’m enjoying Westsoy’s organic vanilla unsweetened soymilk.
— Virginia Southas, PCC member 25+ years and loving every minute of it

PCC replies: Indeed, we are aware of the research raising concerns about carrageenan. PCC submitted comments to the National Organic Standards Board encouraging it to stop allowing carrageenan in organic products. Read the comments here »

We’ve been told some manufacturers are going to switch from carrageenan to other gums, such as xanthan gum.

Until that happens, there still are some milk alternatives at PCC that don’t have carrageenan. In addition to the Westsoy soy milk you’ve been buying, we also have almond milk from Silk, Rice Dream, Edensoy, Pacific’s Oat Beverage and hemp milk.

Recycling bags

I love my recycled bags from PCC; however, a few have been thoroughly loved and need to be recycled again. What should I do with these worn bags?
Thanks for being an inspiring leader on the food front!
— Monica Johnson

PCC replies: The illustrated bags with the cute designs are type-1 plastic, recyclable in all areas.

The purple bags are made out of non-woven polypropylene. This is a recyclable, type-5 plastic. It’s not accepted in all areas, but it is recyclable in King County.

Soy in the deli

Please provide more soy-less options at your deli counter, particularly slaws. For all of us with soy intolerance it would be greatly appreciated if PCC could alternate soy mayo with canola mayo. Thank you.
— Don Abatecola

PCC replies: Soy is high on the list of ingredients that our shoppers tell us they would prefer to avoid, so please know that this already is on our radar. Many other shoppers, however, tell us they wish to avoid canola.

We use a couple of different mayos in our delis, as some contain eggs and others are vegan. Our meat-based salads (chicken, tuna, etc.) usually use the canola/egg mayo and the vegan salads usually use the mayo containing soy. Our Crunchy Beet Slaw and Arame Coleslaw both are soy-free, however. Both our tuna salad and chicken breast salad are soy-free as well, using canola oil instead of soy.

Non-GMO Project Verified

Why do some organic bulk items have the Non-GMO Project Verified sticker on some organic items, while other organic bulk items don’t have the sticker? Aren’t all organic items non-GE (genetically engineered)?
— name withheld

PCC replies: The Non-GMO Project Verified sticker (with the butterfly) marks items that are verified by the Non-GMO Project. Organic food always starts as organic seed, but many organic companies choose to verify their products by the Non-GMO Project. Genetic engineering is an excluded method of production in organics, but throughout the supply chain testing is not required, as it is by the Non-GMO Project. You will notice many non-organic foods also bear the Non-GMO Project seal. Learn more about the Non-GMO Project »

IGF-1 in GE salmon

I read that GE salmon, which is set to be approved by the FDA, has higher levels of the hormone IGF-1 than wild salmon. Is this hormone going to be active in people eating GE salmon?
— name withheld upon request

PCC replies: IGF-1 stands for Insulin-Like-Growth-Factor 1. Elevated levels of IGF-1 are found in dairy produced with genetically engineered growth hormones known as rBGH, and the GE salmon that FDA has recommended for approval. The concern is that consuming foods with elevated IGF-1 could be a health risk. Elevated levels of IGF-1 are linked to several cancers, such as prostate, breast and colon cancer.

The developer of the GE salmon, AquaBounty, acknowledges its own study found elevated levels of IGF-1 in its GE salmon. In comments to the FDA, Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers Union pointed out that the studies were “based on sloppy science and deficient data.” One study found the GE salmon had 40 percent higher IGF-1 levels than natural salmon.

Salmonella in spices

In light of the New York Times report about salmonella in spices, what can you tell us about your spice suppliers, their sources, and what testing is performed routinely? Because the salmonella was introduced in the post-harvest processing, not found in the herb plants themselves, does buying organic spices mean we avoid such contamination?
— Jim Powell

PCC replies: Our main spice supplier, Frontier, does microbiological testing for yeasts, molds and pathogens, including salmonella. Frontier says “significant steps are taken to ensure that quality specifications are met and comply with third-party audited GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) standards … Where applicable, we utilize a sophisticated steam sterilization system, which eliminates pathogens such as salmonella.” Further lab tests confirm the absence of pathogens. The spices are packaged in a facility operating under the same GFSI certification. Because salmonella is introduced in post-harvest processing, organic certification doesn’t necessarily provide any special protection against the pathogen.

Rennet in cheese

I have a question regarding the rennet used for cheese that is used in in-store products such as the jalapeño cheese bagels. Can you tell me if it is vegetable- or animal-based?
— Divyangi

PCC replies: Companies do not have to indicate on food labels whether or not they use an animal or vegetable rennet, so we don’t always know. Some companies choose, however, to indicate the source of rennet in the list of ingredients on the food label.

Sometimes cheese that’s marked with a Kosher symbol indicates it’s made with vegetable rennet, as Jewish dietary laws prohibit mixing meat (including enzymes) and dairy.

The “vegetable source” of rennet most often comes from a genetically engineered bacteria. But the gene used to engineer the bacteria is derived from an animal source. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, the vast majority of rennet used in the United States is the microbially derived variety.

Great service

Today was the first time I visited the Issaquah PCC. I could not have been more impressed, mostly due to an employee in your produce section. I asked for his assistance in selecting a pineapple. Not only did he spend a good amount of time with me teaching me how to select pineapples, he found me in the store a few minutes after I spoke to him and offered me a sample of one of the pineapples. He told me if I was unhappy with any produce purchased at PCC, I could bring it back.

He was so kind and helpful, I wanted to come to PCC more often and in particular this location because I love vegetables and fruits, and I would like to learn more about selecting some produce that I’m a little unsure about. This man also happily prepared fruit for some children. As I checked out, the woman who helped me was so nice.

I look forward to shopping at the Issaquah store again. I know you must be very proud to have such kind and helpful people working at your store.
— Nancy White

Also in this issue

PCC Board of Trustees report, December 2013

Board report, Urban agriculture tour

Hard ciders for winter nights

We Northwesterners sure are lucky. Not only do we live in a place abundant with organic, heirloom apples, but it's also a hotspot for turning those apples into delicious, artisan hard ciders.

Shaking the tree

In the 1970s, Northwest farmers ripped out dessert-apple trees to plant higher value wine grapes. The re-surging popularity of hard ciders is leading to a small shift in that trend, and providing a market for blemished and undersized apples.