Letters to the editor, May 2015

This article was originally published in May 2015

PCC quality standards

Thank you for the article, “PCC quality standards” (April). I am reminded once again of the extra miles PCC goes to provide high-quality products. I feel sure there are very few (if any) grocery store chains that have a Quality Standards Committee that meets biweekly.

All PCC customers can feel grateful that you do the investigative work that not only aids your clientele but helps change the foodscape in our country.

— Cynthia Lair, author, “Feeding the Young Athlete”

I had noticed the coffee creamer I’d been buying for a while had changed and wondered, “This is the same brand but different contents, isn’t it?”

When I read the latest Sound Consumer article about the decision to pull food with ingredients that were in the creamer, it clicked for me. I’d been using that former creamer in my coffee, which tasted good but had side effects. I’d use it in my coffee during the work week and have some, ummm, gastro distress on arriving at work. I’d even looked up ingredients online to see if something in that creamer might be the cause.

The contrast was having coffee at my sweetheart’s place on weekends with only honey added … and no ill side effects.

Reading the reasoning behind your decision to pull this item really helped me identify a food that didn’t sit well with me. The replacement creamer is different in taste but fortunately doesn’t cause those same ill effects.

Thanks for looking out for us!

— Doug

Organic berries in PCC bakery

I recently purchased in your deli a carton of vegan strawberry rhubarb crisp.

Later I looked at the ingredient list. I noticed it did not say the strawberries were organic. I find it hard to believe that a store as conscientious as PCC would use non-organic strawberries knowing that they top the list of the “Dirty Dozen.”

I certainly hope they were sourced from a farm that is transitioning, as I went ahead and ate it. Were they?

— Linda Young

PCC replies: You’ll be happy to know that the strawberries used by our bakery for the vegan strawberry rhubarb crisp are organic. It was a mistake in the scale label not to point that out. The deli merchandiser is reviewing the department labels for bakery containing strawberries to make sure all items are labeled consistently to ease any concerns. Thank you for your awareness about the “Dirty Dozen” list and taking the time to ask.

Supplement purity

Since the February 3 front-page article in The New York Times on the action by the New York attorney general demanding the removal of herbal supplements from GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens stores, I think it is necessary for PCC to reassure its consumers that we are buying safe and effective supplements.

I cannot look up the PCC brand of melatonin because there is no manufacturer listed on the bottle. None of the supplements I buy have a seal of approval from any independent testing laboratory. Would PCC please be more forthcoming in informing consumers whether we are consuming questionable products?

Meanwhile, I think the Washington attorney general needs to be encouraged to look into this poorly regulated business.

— Sandra Bowman

PCC replies: New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman refuses to release data from the study he cited when asking four retailers to remove herbal supplements from their shelves. He claimed a third-party lab used DNA barcoding to identify botanical ingredients, alleging 19 of 24 products tested contained DNA that either was unrecognizable or from a plant other than what was claimed on the label. Schneiderman fails to mention that botanical extracts are unlikely to have intact DNA, making the test he relied on unfit for that purpose.

PCC’s supplements are provided by the Vitamer Company. Vitamer certifies its products are manufactured under strict quality systems that ensure label claims are met. The identity of 100 percent of all raw materials used is confirmed through testing. The purity of each raw material also is verified by testing for gluten, pesticides, heavy metals and microbes. Additionally, each lot of finished product is tested.

Vitamer says it follows all the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices for dietary supplement manufacture, which includes testing and labeling procedures. Its records are audited routinely by the FDA.

Recycling meat and fish trays

I’m hoping you can tell me about the meat and fish trays that PCC uses. I recycle styrofoam at the center by IKEA in Tukwila but it does not accept the trays from PCC. Are they compostable? Recyclable? What are they made from?

Thanks for the info!

— Annette N. Stephenson

PCC replies: PCC uses a bioplastic (made from plants) product called Naturetray, manufactured by Sealed Air, for meat and seafood packaged by PCC staff. They are light brown in color, come in several sizes, and are 100-percent compostable and approved by Cedar Grove Composting. A few products come to PCC already packaged and they may be packaged in Styrofoam trays. These trays are white and are disposed of as garbage.

Composting manure?

Concerning the judgment against Cow Palace for polluting groundwater with its high “emissions” of cow manure (“Washington dairy guilty,” March News Bites): I don’t know why a farm as large as Cow Palace hasn’t created a composting facility already to sell composted manure.

Or it could do what Holland does. How do you think Holland, with so many dairy animals below sea level, manages to survive with so much manure and urine? They grow tulips!

— Lynne Hoverson

Stabilizers and additives in organics

While I have been a staunch supporter of organic foods for more than 45 years and a member of PCC for nearly that long, I am deeply concerned about recent changes in food stabilizing for longer shelf life and modification of natural and organic foods with additives for “taste” within the organic food industry.

Organic Valley’s line, for example, has introduced ultra-pasteurized dairy products that have changed milk’s natural state in human digestive tracts. Its ultra-pasteurized milk extends shelf life but does not make great cheese, as written about by a number of independent cheese-makers and teachers in the United States. In my other local grocery store, they don’t always carry the non-ultra pasteurized alternatives and, then, only in one-gallon containers, which is too much for us to use fresh. Organic Valley’s other dairy products have additives to extend, stabilize or thicken, such as carrageenan (currently under study for negative health impacts on humans), guar gum, locust bean gum and gellan gum. Nutritionally speaking, fresh is always best.

Organic Valley’s products have drifted over the years from organic whole foods without additives to thicken, stabilize or extend shelf life, to market-driven priorities that include unneeded and undesirable additives. Its web page informs us that it is looking to replace carrageenan and has done so with some products. However, it is working to replace the additive with another (possibly more acceptable).

In contrast, quality organic competitors, such as Nancy’s, do not use any stabilizers, thickeners or extenders and, frankly, the flavor and shelf life are superior!

I have requested that Organic Valley, at the very least, return to producing its line of truly organic, whole food products, alongside the market-driven innovations mentioned above.

Meanwhile, my dollar goes to vendors like Nancy’s.

If you would like to contact Organic Valley, email: organicvalley@email-organicvalley.coop.

— Janis Swalwell

PCC replies: PCC organic consumer views opposing synthetic additives were documented by a 2011 survey. We also believe USDA is misreading the organic rules to allow carrageenan, gellan gum or other synthetics used primarily to improve texture. We said so in comments to the National Organic Standards Board.

Beer and wine ingredients

As a member of PCC I’m often quite excited to get the monthly newspaper. I find myself enjoying the members’ questions and responses. On a shopping trip today it finally dawned on me that your beer selection doesn’t really stay on par with your organization’s mission. The simplest example would be Guinness beer, which obviously is a huge seller during the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

As an amateur brewer and huge beer fan, it’s a little disconcerting that you carry a beer with more fillers and clarifiers, such as fish bladder, than should be allowed. I know it’s near impossible to carry brews that aren’t somehow owned by the Big Three but at the very least, carrying beers without additives, stabilizers and unnecessary clarifiers seems reasonable.

— Name withheld upon request

PCC wine and beer merchandiser replies: Various claims have been made regarding the ingredients in Guinness Stout — none that we’ve found to be verified, except the use of isinglass. Isinglass is derived from fish swim bladders as a clarifying agent, not an ingredient. It’s used widely in making both beer and wine and precipitates out in the clarification process. Any remaining traces are in negligible amounts and should be of concern only to those who seek to avoid any animal product.

As with all departments at PCC, we seek to offer beers, wines and ciders that are scrupulously and responsibly produced. We exclude those produced using any of the hundreds of ingredients not permitted at PCC. While beer and cider producers are not legally required to list their ingredients, most have been forthcoming when we’ve requested this information — even when the information means we discontinue their product. PCC is considering a policy that would exclude products from producers unwilling to disclose ingredients.

Also in this issue

News bites, May 2015

PCC's top-rated canned tuna, Nutrition panel: less sugar, Cheese dust is not food, and more

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Learn about how weather will impact cherries, how Washington's snowpack will impacts harvests, the rise of "Paleo," honeybee economics and more.

Exceptional eggs

PCC carries eggs raised a variety of ways — "cage-free," "organic," "omega-3" and "pastured." PCC's high standards are rare: nationwide, only 6 percent of the 350 million egg-laying hens are cage-free. Learn about the brands we carry and the health benefits of pastured eggs.