Letters to the editor, February 2015

This article was originally published in February 2015

PCC serves specialty diets

PCC has saved my culinary life! I’m nursing my young kiddo, who has a tough case of allergic colitis, resulting in critical ingredients banned from my diet: dairy, eggs, nuts, corn, wheat and soy. PCC has cupcakes, bread, chips, meat, pasta and other goodies that I am able
to eat on my uber-restricted diet.

Thanks a million for carrying all of these specialty products. It helps me feel like I’m not on a deprivation diet.

— Corinne Woods, via Facebook


Holistic pet care

As a veterinarian I’d like to respond to a few points in the article “Holistic health options for pets” (December).

Essential oils can be toxic to cats, especially tea tree oil, and some cats can die from the toxicity. We have very little data on the exact toxic amount in cats, but the recommendation is not to apply more than a 1:100 dilution, or to stay away from tea tree oil completely. Dogs probably can handle a 1:10 dilution.

The article recommends garlic to deter fleas but fails to mention that garlic can cause serious toxicity in dogs and cats. Cats again are more sensitive than dogs and even as little as three cloves of garlic or a teaspoon of garlic powder could cause a problem.

A nutritional deficiency occurs from corn or soy only if the pet is fed one of these ingredients exclusively, or not as part of a balanced diet, but this applies to any grain or protein source. Corn and soy don’t “trigger” allergies more than any other foods. Research has shown that allergies to beef, dairy, wheat and chicken are much more common.

Also, it’s a misconception that all meat byproducts are bad. They include organ meat (livers, kidneys, spleens, etc.) without hair, horns, teeth or hooves and can be an important source of nutrients.

Although raw food diets can work wonders for some pets, others do poorly. Raw vegetables are great, but I’ve had patients become sick from Salmonella poisoning and pick up parasites from eating raw meat. Before making your pet’s diet at home, it’s necessary to get a balanced recipe from a reputable source. Be sure always to discuss every part of your pet’s diet with your veterinarian.

— Chelsea Newby, DVM, Loyal Family
Veterinary Hospital, Bellevue


High-oleic oils

According to a PCC nutrition blog, PCC’s delis are using a blend of olive and high-oleic sunflower oil but ingredient labels do not mention high-oleic oils. Instead, many foods identify their fats as an olive/sunflower oil blend. Perhaps PCC’s deli items actually are labeled correctly and contain only “old-fashioned” sunflower oil — that would be great. But if not, foods made with high-oleic oil should be identified so that consumers who wish to avoid them can do so.

Because high-oleic oils differ substantially from other oils, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that high-oleic oils be labeled as such. And most food manufacturers using high-oleic oils identify them as such. They do not label their high-oleic sunflower oil as sunflower oil (e.g., Amy’s pizzas).

High-oleics are refined oils that lack the antioxidants found in extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO).

PCC should label clearly any of its prepared foods that contain high-oleic oils. Finally, I hope PCC is using EVOO rather than a refined, antioxidant-poor, lower-quality olive oil. If so, it would be a big plus to see EVOO on the ingredient label rather than just “olive oil.”

— Kathy Abascal

PCC replies: We have very limited space on deli salad signs and adding “high-oleic” would make it even harder to fit all required information. The oil blend used in our delis is made from organic cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil and organic expeller-pressed high-oleic sunflower oil. We mix the EVOO with the sunflower oil because EVOO congeals and becomes very unappetizing — yellow and waxy — when used in refrigerated salads. 

It’s true sunflower oil doesn’t contain the beneficial antioxidants found in EVOO, but high-oleic sunflower oil offers the exact same “heart-healthy” oleic acid, the monounsaturated fat naturally present in olive oil. Blending this oil with EVOO extends the benefits of olive oil’s fat profile although it reduces the antioxidant profile. 

The “old-fashioned” sunflower oil you referenced is very high in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that many shoppers avoid because of its role in promoting inflammation. PCC’s nutrition education team is confident that expeller-pressed, high-oleic sunflower oil is an excellent choice for cooking and blending with olive oil in our deli salads. 


Allergens in eggs and meat

If poultry or livestock are fed corn, soy or wheat (all allergens), could it cause problems for consumers requiring gluten-free, soy-free or corn-free diets? In other words, do the allergens transfer through the meat, milk or eggs?

— Ellen

 PCC nutrition educator Nick Rose replies: The allergens present in farm animal feed do not transfer to the meat, milk or eggs produced by those animals. Allergens are proteins and proteins in feed are broken down by the animal’s digestive system into amino acids, which are used to synthesize new proteins that appear in the meat, eggs and milk.


Plastics for storage and reuse

Our family decided several years ago to stop purchasing food products in plastics. This took us on a journey to finding or making alternative products at the store and farmer’s markets. We still use Ziploc plastic bags for collecting our bulk food items at the store and storing our summer harvest, in the freezer, during the winter months.

A few months ago, I was having a conversation with friends about plastics. A couple of them talked about the degradation of plastics when they are washed and reused. After hearing this, I started researching this. I could not find anything on plastics and the safe use of them for storing or reusing. Most of what I found talked about the environmental impact of plastics. I’m wondering if you know whether it’s safe to use plastics for storing and reusing, after washing.

I know now, after some research, that I can make some cotton reusable bags to collect my bulk items that I then transfer to mason jars at home. I still need an alternative for storing food items in the freezer that do not take up a lot of space, and an understanding of the safety of the packaging that I only know to use now, ziploc bags.

I would appreciate any thoughts you may have on this topic.
Thank you!

— Meghan Peterka

PCC replies: According to the Environmental Working Group, the toxicity of plastics is not fully understood or adequately tested. What we do know is that plastics typically contain chemical additives to change their qualities. Phthalates, for instance, are used to make plastics soft and flexible, as for plastic bags. Phthalates are believed to be hormone disruptors and so is another additive, bisphenol-A (BPA), used to make plastics hard and durable.

Food storage/freezer bags typically are made from polyethylene, which is considered nontoxic. We don’t know of any data verifying the safety of washing and reusing such bags. But since this practice potentially could make them prone to leaching, we don’t recommend it.

Other additives we don’t know much about because there’s a paucity of research. A 2011 study tested 455 store-bought food containers and storage products and found 72 percent leached synthetic estrogens; every type of plastic commonly used in food packaging (polypropylene and polystyrene, for example) tested positive in some cases. Scientists also have found BPA-free plastics still emit estrogenic properties.

We recommend the use of glass and ceramic instead of plastics. When you have no choice, plastics made from #1, 2, 4 or 5 resins don’t contain BPA and may be better choices.

Avoid polycarbonate containers (sometimes marked #7 or “PC”). These plastics are rigid and transparent, e.g., plastic food storage containers and water bottles. BPA can migrate from the containers into the food or liquid, especially if heated.

See more tips for use of plastics at www.ewg.org.


Sustainable palm oil

I’ve been a loyal customer to PCC for more than 10 years. Currently, I’m also an employee at the Issaquah store, where I work in the cheese department. My concern is the palm oil in products we carry such as Olivia’s gluten-free products as well as some others I’ve noticed, which I’d be happy to send you more information on. I feel a rising concern about the palm oil industry and its effects on ecosystems in the tropics. I want to know, to what depth do we understand the impact of the palm oil products we carry on our shelves? To know that PCC could be a contributor to the destruction of habitats of orangutans, tigers and countless other species would be heartbreaking to me. Please contact me with what you know.

— Amber Christiansen

PCC replies: Please see the article, “Sustainable palm oil?“. PCC doesn’t have a palm oil policy but we notice when vendors present products with sustainably sourced palm oil. Some say their palm oil sources meet the standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

We understand RSPO is criticized for loopholes and abuses. RSPO members may clear-cut and burn pristine forests, and forced labor and child labor have been documented. So we give preference to companies that exceed RSPO standards, such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Newman’s Own Organics, Spectrum Naturals, Nutiva, Justin’s Nut Butter and Earth Balance, which source directly from farmers in South America. Deforestation from palm oil plantations has been a big problem in Indonesia and Malaysia. 

A segregated supply chain for sustainable palm oil has yet to be established and since it’s a bulk commodity, palm oil from both certified and uncertified sources often is mixed during the journey from grower to consumer. The vast number of suppliers creates difficulty tracking the origin of each batch, making it difficult to set and implement a sustainability standard for palm oil products.

Also in this issue

Organic nearly as productive as industrial farming

New research from UC Berkeley makes a strong case that organic farming can play an important, and growing, role in "feeding the world."

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Learn about American’s rising berry consumption, innovative coffee farmers, Europe’s commitment to seafood traceability, and more.

GMO labeling call-in week

The week of February 9 through 13, let’s ask President Obama to make good on his campaign promise to label genetically engineered foods.