Letters to the editor, June 2015

This article was originally published in June 2015

Ample vegan options

I just want to say you guys make being vegan super easy and affordable. I eat whole plant foods and also three-ingredient or less packaged food, which you guys offer so much of.

I truly could care less about the fake vegan cheeses and meats but I am glad to know you are watching out for those who do. Thank you for all you do!

— Yumi Akiyama, via Facebook

PCC product standards

We’ve avoided products with carrageenan and titanium dioxide and it is great to read PCC has been watching out for them, too! I’m always so grateful for the co-op!

— Meenu Luminous, via Facebook

PCC replies: April’s cover story, “PCC quality standards,” referenced carrageenan, a controversial additive that may cause gastrointestinal distress. PCC has decided not to allow it in any new organic products, even though it has been allowed in organic foods since the mid-1990s. It’s in many organic and non-organic soy and nut milks, some ice creams, and numerous vegan “cheese” and “meat” analogs. PCC’s Quality Standards Committee also continues to keep on the radar other controversial ingredients such as titanium dioxide, a whitening agent found in vegan cheeses and some gluten-free items.

Great PCC staff

I want to share how much my husband and I enjoyed our March tour of the Kirkland PCC. While we thought we knew a great deal about the store, our eyes definitely were opened by Nick Rose, one of your nutrition educators.

Nick did a phenomenal job providing information about products, sharing recipes, and involving everyone on the tour. Nick encouraged people to ask questions and also share their experiences. Everyone we talked to following the tour really appreciated Nick’s knowledge.

We thought PCC should know what a terrific employee and ambassador the co-op has in Nick Rose.

— Janice A. Johnson

PCC replies: Whether you’ve shopped our stores for decades or are new to PCC, the 90-minute Walk, Talk & Taste classes taught by our nutrition educators are bound to teach you something new about the foods and other products we offer. Learn more and sign up.

Ultrapasteurized milk

I’ve read that ultrapasteurized milk products contain chemicals that are added during the heating process. Also, has research been done on the nutritional value of ultrapasteurized milk?

— John M.

PCC replies: Ultrapasteurization heats milk at 280° F for two seconds. No chemicals are added. Ultrapasteurized milk may be labeled “UHT” (Ultra-Heat Treatment). Ultrapasteurization is used because it greatly extends shelf life.

The most common type of pasteurization is HTST (High Temp Short Time), which heats the milk to 161° F for 15 seconds. HTST pasteurized milk is labeled simply “pasteurized.”

The most traditional method (but least common today) is vat pasteurization, which heats milk to 145 °F for 30 minutes. Vat pasteurized milk isn’t always labeled but three brands at PCC are vat-pasteurized — Pure éire, Grace Harbor and Twin Brooks. We think the slower vat process lends a superior consistency and flavor.

All heating causes some loss of vitamins, but minerals remain intact. Nutrients such as protein, calcium and riboflavin — several reasons people drink milk — are not greatly affected.

There was some controversial evidence published by Dr. Kurt A. Oster, M.D., and Donald J. Ross, Ph.D., in 1983 that homogenization — the process of breaking up fat molecules so they’re evenly suspended — initiates damage to the artery wall, leading to heart and circulatory disease. As far as we can tell the research wasn’t repeated. PCC sells several non-homogenized milks, from Pure Éire, Grace Harbor and Twin Brooks.

Safety of Chinese foods?

How does PCC monitor product quality from China? I have so little confidence in China that I don’t even buy organic from China, except Silk Road Teas.

I hold great stock in PCC’s approach to food and grocery, having started with PCC when there was only the Ravenna store, a landmark at the time, more than 50 years ago.

— Name withheld

PCC replies: We emailed the National Organic Program to ask for data and any updates to its 2010 pledge to inspect organic farms and processing facilities in China. The U.S. Department of Agriculture referenced us back to the very same 2010 promise. In other words, there’s no update, rather disappointing.

Whey protein powder

I brag all the time about your stores. I shop there regularly. Yet, here is a question that I haven’t asked yet about a product I have been buying for years.

Does your PCC-brand whey powder meet the following criteria?

  • A whey protein concentrate, not an isolate. Isolate is more processed.
  • Cold-processed (un-denatured). Cheap whey protein often is heated in the processing, which destroys some of the most important nutrients, such as ALA and CLA (beneficial fats) plus l-cysteine, an amino acid that prevents muscles from weakening.
  • From grass-fed cows, which produce milk with higher amounts of nutrients.
  • Free from toxins, including pesticides and chemicals.
  • Ultra-filtered to remove impurities while preserving healthful fats and amino acids.
  • High in protein.
  • Free of artificial ingredients and sweeteners.

— a PCC fan, Linda Young

PCC Health and Body Care merchandiser Terry DeBlasio replies: Yes, our PCC brand protein powder is from whey protein concentrate, not an isolate. Yes, it’s cold-processed (undenatured). The whey is processed at a low temperature and cold-filtered, but pasteurization is used for the whey in the beginning stages of the process and then it’s cold-processed for the rest. It’s a safe temperature that doesn’t affect the quality of the whey protein and contains un-denatured proteins.

Yes, it’s from grass-fed cows. The proprietary filtering process uses only natural enzymes and high-quality membrane filters, and it’s considered micro filtered. Micro filtration separates the whey and preserves essential nutrients. It also may remove certain microbes. Yes, it has a high protein content: a minimum of 18 grams per serving. There are no artificial ingredients. All are sweetened with stevia only, except the unflavored, which is unsweetened.

Toxins in mushrooms?

Regarding the “Almighty mushrooms” page on PCC’s website, there may be a little more to the story about mushrooms that you haven’t written about. Here’s what Andrew Weil has to say about portobello, crimini and white mushrooms:

“In general, I advise against eating a lot of the familiar cultivated white or ‘button’ mushrooms found on supermarket shelves throughout the United States. (Portobello and crimini mushrooms are the same species.) They are among a number of foods (including celery, peanuts, peanut products, and salted, pickled or smoked foods) that contain natural carcinogens. We don’t know how dangerous these toxins are, but we do know they do not occur in other mushrooms that offer great health benefits.

“I strongly advise against eating these or any other types of mushrooms raw, whether they’re wild or cultivated. If you’re going to eat them, cook them well at high temperatures by sautéing, broiling or grilling. Heat breaks down many of the toxic constituents.”

— Subhan Schenker

PCC nutrition educator Nick Rose replies: I agree with Dr. Weil that cooked mushrooms definitely are better for maximizing the nutritional benefits of mushrooms, but I disagree that raw mushrooms are as harmful as Dr. Weil believes.

The compound in raw mushrooms that’s a suspected carcinogen is called agaritine. A review article published in the 2010 Journal of Functional Foods concludes that “the available evidence to date suggests that agaritine from consumption of cultivated A. bisporus (button) mushrooms poses no known toxicological risk to healthy humans.” That finding essentially is corroborated by the International Society for Mushroom Science “Mushrooms and Health” 2010 report.

The case for eating mushrooms well-cooked is compelling, however. Their cell walls aren’t very digestible unless heat-treated. Cooking makes their good properties readily available and the immune system-enhancing constituents are very heat stable. Best of all, fungi get sweeter with longer cooking. Like onions, the more they sautée, the more they caramelize.

Food safety at PCC

Regarding product standards as recently outlined in the Sound Consumer (“PCC quality standards,” April) and in light of recent moves by the retailer, GNC, regarding testing requirements for supplements and a New York Times article about the food testing that Costco and other giant suppliers can support: exactly what can PCC afford and not afford to do to ensure the foods and non-food products I get at stores are safe from contamination and contain what they purport to contain?

At PCC this might mean, for example, finding what manufacturers or vendors regularly run safety testing.

It’s all very nice to support ethical, moral and environmental standards with purchasing practices, but what about the very basics of product safety for shoppers? In a way, the number of recall emails I get, I suppose, reflects vendors’ efforts to ensure product quality. How do I, as a member and consumer, gauge the big picture?

— Sandy Prescott

PCC replies: We don’t know of any food vendors that test every batch of their foods for contaminants. Since it’s not required by government, it’s not an established practice.

The New York Times said Costco is testing some foods it sells and passing that cost on to vendors. That works for Costco because it has relatively few foods compared to most major grocery retailers, and vendors can make up the cost of testing with sales volume. Grocery retailers, such as PCC, sell many thousands of foods, and testing each one would be burdensome and costs would add up onto food prices.

Many recalls from PCC by auto email are not due to harmful pathogens in any food, but prompted by ingredient or labeling errors.

Almost all supplements sold at PCC are from vendors compliant with Good Manufacturing Practices. The companies also retain samples of each batch for testing in case any issues arise.

Also in this issue

Online shopping at PCC

CEO Cate Hardy has announced plans for PCC to provide online shopping and delivery. We'll have more to share soon about when this service will be available.

Choosing a safe sunscreen

A good sunscreen can play a role in preventing sunburns that are a major risk factor for melanoma – provided you use it correctly. Learn about what makes PCC's chemical-free sunscreens a good choice.

PCC Board of Trustees report, June 2015

Annual meeting recap, Board meeting reports