Letters to the editor, June 2014

This article was originally published in June 2014

Produce stickers

I’ve asked the question whether the stickers on fruits are compostable. Seattle Public Utilities says they are not and does not want them in Clean Green bins. Then I wondered if they should be on fruit at all. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) webpage on this issue says something about “polymers. To me that means “plastic.”

Does PCC really want all those little bits of plastic on its fruit? Both because it could be ingested and because they surely end up in landfill and composting sites, both commercial and home.

So, can you tell me the composition of the stickers?
— Celia Bowker

PCC replies: These stickers are put on produce at the packing house, typically by a crew that sorts, “grades” and packs produce. 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 beginning with the number 4.

The adhesive used for the stickers is a food-grade “food contact substance” regulated by FDA 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.

Not all produce at PCC has the stickers. When we’re able to source directly from farmers, rather than through a packer/distributor, we ask farmers not to use the stickers. 

Choose organic to avoid pesticides

I found the article about toxins on our food (May 2014) to be so sad. Sad in respect to the pregnant woman who unknowingly harms the fetus by ingesting pesticide-laden produce and chemical-dosed meats, and the unknowing parent who surrounds her unborn baby or infant in toxins found in plastics, furniture and processed foods. Since the mid-’80s when the epidemic of autism began, there has been a steady increase in toxins with no accountability from the greedy CEOs who encourage purchasing these products.

Only in America would the CEO of an automobile company that didn’t report ignition switch problems be brought to a governmental hearing but CEOs of the big chemical companies who knowingly produce harmful foods and products are not held accountable. Your article on pesticide residue unfortunately is singing to the choir, the customers of PCC. Family doctors and pediatricians should warn parents and young adults about the whole litany of toxins in their homes and products they purchase, and educate them about the importance of choosing organic and non-GMO foods.
— Elinor Kriegsmann, Seattle

Grass-fed and feedlots

I was hoping you could provide a little more info on your 100-percent grass-fed beef. I heard it’s obtained from sources throughout the Northwest but I’m curious if you have any additional information.

One thing I’m interested in is whether the animals spend any time on feedlots (even though fed grass and not grain) and, if so, how long. Thank you.
— Travis B.

PCC replies: PCC’s grass-fed beef and Skagit River Valley Ranch grass-fed beef do not spend time in feedlots. Feedlots are designed for “finishing” animals on grain, to add weight quickly.

Feedlots are different — in purpose and design — from barns, where grass-fed or pastured beeves are housed during the muddy season. Standing in wet mud causes health problems. So in the wet seasons, cows are kept off muddy fields and stay more in lots, or barns. 

Grapeseed oil

I just read Nick Rose’s article about canola oil (Questioning canola? April 2014), and I’m wondering if, aside from cost, there is any downside to using grapeseed oil instead of canola oil in any situation.
Are there some uses for canola oil where grapeseed oil would not be as good, and/or does grape seed oil have its own controversies?
— Linda Mendelson

PCC replies: Grapeseed oil is a great choice for an all-purpose cooking oil. The only potential downside is that grapeseed is a very hard seed and typically oil must be extracted with heat and/or chemicals. This can result in harmful by-products in the final product. So be sure to look for expeller-pressed (or mechanically pressed) grapeseed oil. All the culinary oils sold at PCC are expeller-pressed and never heat- or solvent-extracted.


I did not see a statement or PCC policy regarding microbeads on your website. Can you tell me if PCC is free of microbead products?
— Marilyn Baylor

PCC replies: None of PCC’s body care products contain plastic microbeads. Microbeads are tiny balls of plastic that have been detected in more than 200 different consumer products including facial cleansers, soaps, sunscreens and toothpaste. Microbeads may be less visible than plastic bags but they’re no less problematic environmentally.

They look just like fish eggs and, therefore, look like food to a variety of aquatic organisms. All marine micro-plastics are troublesome because they tend to absorb persistent pollutants that accumulate in the fatty tissues of anything that eats them.

Moreover, when plankton, lugworms, mussels or fish fill up on plastic, they may lose their appetite for healthier food. Read more about the environmental impacts of microbeads .

Plastic bags

I have just finished using a plastic bag for the 20th time. I threw it away. Now, out of guilt, I will fish it out and wash it before recycling it. It still may end up in the landfill, possibly deemed not clean enough if I don’t get all the residue off of it.

How many times have I thrown away a plastic bag because I was “just too busy to deal with it?” How many times has that happened to you? Do you wash and reuse plastic forks? The people reading this are more conscious of these things than many Americans.

How many readers use their bags 20 times? How many wash them before recycling them? In the recycling world, if they are dirty, they are considered garbage and thrown away. How many people actually reuse them at all? How many people use paper instead for their produce or bulk or baked goods? Plastic is so much easier and keeps it fresher!

Even socially conscious people likely are sorely lacking in taking the kind of responsibility of the plastic mess we find ourselves in. Your stores can make a difference in education and encouraging members to use paper, and consider creating biodegradable plastic bags for produce and encouraging paper for bulk items. Pave the way to the future or we will be literally choked by plastic.
— Janna Wachter

PCC replies: Your efforts to reuse and recycle plastic bags are admirable.

PCC provides paper bags in the bulk and produce areas and we often review the “Bio-bag” brand of compostable plastic bags. So far, they cost many times more than our current bags. If prices come down, it may be more viable to make the switch. We also have Bio-bag cling wrap and (resealable) sandwich bags available for sale.

Arsenic in rice

I have been hearing rumors that arsenic has been found in rice, even organic rice. I would like to know if PCC buyers are researching these rumors and investigating the rice and rice-based products that PCC carries.
— Linda Cook Young

PCC replies: The following Q&A from Sound Consumer should answer most questions you have: Arsenic in the food supply

How rice is grown (dryland or paddy), what part of the country, and the type of soil are the biggest factors in how much arsenic will be in rice. California rice, for instance, tends to have lower levels than rice from the American South and some parts of Asia, such as Pakistan. Some varieties of rice sold at PCC, such as those from the Lotus Rice brand, are comparatively low in arsenic.

Arsenic concentrates in the outer bran layer of rice, so whole brown rice tends to have higher levels than white rice since the bran is polished off to make rice white. We recommend reading the Consumer Reports article, “Arsenic in your food“.

You’ll notice signs in front of the rice milks at PCC, an advisory from scientists that children younger than 5 should not consume rice milk because of potentially high levels of arsenic.

Food sensitivities

Re: the question from a PCC member about what people with sensitivities do when traveling or eating out (May 2014): I have numerous food and chemical sensitivities, and here are some things I do to cope in these situations.

Eating out: Look at the menu online, then call ahead to alert them of your plans to come to their restaurant. Ask if they can accommodate your needs. It helps to give them at least a 24-hour notice, as many things are prepared ahead in large batches.

Potlucks: Make a dish you can eat and mostly stick to that. You’ll be sure to know what’s in it and there will be at least something you can eat.

Family gatherings: Communicate your needs and take your own food. At Thanksgiving we always have gluten- and dairy-free options for the people who need them.

Friend invites: Recently a neighbor invited us to dinner. I said I was flattered but wasn’t sure if she knew what she was getting into with all my food allergies. She sent me her planned menu with lists of ingredients, and we tweaked it until it was ok. I offered to take a salad. It worked out great.

Travel: I look for condos with kitchens, or at least ask for a small refrigerator to be brought into my room. I go online ahead to locate organic grocery stores, co-ops, restaurants, etc. When flying I always pack my own food in my carry-on bag.
— Judy

Also in this issue

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Learn about the shortage of hard cider apples, why prices for limes are sky-high, grants for young farmers, and how chickens are the latest therapy animals, providing companionship for the elderly in nursing homes.

Take our picnic safety quiz

You may be surprised to learn what things you need to do to keep food safe next time you’re packing for a picnic or other outdoor excursion.

GE labeling victory

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a Wash., D.C. lobbying group, says it will sue the state of Vermont in federal court to overturn the nation’s first law to label genetically engineered (GE) foods.