Letters to the editor, July 2016

This article was originally published in July 2016

Silicone bakeware

I love the Sound Consumer and all the helpful information and research it contains. I noticed on my last trip to PCC that you carry silicone-coated bakeware.

I haven’t been able to find much information about the health and environmental studies done on silicone. Can you please share the research you have found?

— Becky Bartlein

PCC replies: The use of silicone in cookware is fairly new and there hasn’t been much research into its safety with food. In 1979 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that silicon dioxides — the basic elements in silicone cookware — were generally recognized as safe in food-grade contexts. But the first silicone cookware (spatulas) didn’t show up on store shelves until a decade later, and the FDA hasn’t conducted any follow-up studies to determine whether silicone leaches out of cookware.

Health Canada says, “Silicone rubber does not react with food or beverages, or produce any hazardous fumes.” It appears safe for the oven (up to 428 °F) and freezer. It’s touted as being stable or inert, not changing the flavor or releasing odors that might affect food quality. The David Suzuki Foundation concludes, “silicone is a safer alternative to non-stick cookware.”

Silicone is a synthetic rubber that contains bonded silicon and oxygen. It’s a natural element that’s abundant in sand and rock — one reason it’s considered eco-friendly.

If you’re concerned about safety, consider time-tested cast iron, stainless steel, ceramic or glass cookware instead.

“Flavor” in chicken broth

For years I have been buying Imagine Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, specifically because it doesn’t have any “other” ingredients, such as canola oil or other stuff. I recently decided I needed to know more about one ingredient that was in it: “natural chicken flavor.”

Unfortunately, all my research points to “natural chicken flavor” as being either monosodium glutamate (MSG) or an equivalent lab-concocted excitotoxin-type product. I’m unhappy.

Do you think Imagine would reformulate to remove “natural chicken flavor” from its otherwise organic chicken broth? Do you sell any organic chicken broth with no added oils or lab chemicals? In light of all the research on MSG and excitotoxins, is PCC doing anything to provide us with prepared foods (like broths) that do not contain these additives?

— Consuelo Gonzalez

PCC replies: Imagine says it does not add MSG to its Organic Free Range Chicken Broth and the “natural chicken flavor” is derived from chicken. The chicken broths from Field Day and Savory Choice (concentrated) contain “natural flavor.” Pacific Foods’ organic chicken broth lists “chicken flavor,” as does Tabatchnick, which says it’s from “organic chicken and organic cane sugar.”

But we sell several chicken broths without any added flavor, including “bone broths.” The bone broth brands at PCC all are certified organic and contain no added flavor, just whole ingredients.

PCC sells bone broths from Pacific (shelf-stable), made from organic chicken, water, rosemary extract, cider vinegar and onion. Epic bone broths (refrigerated) are made from filtered water, organic chicken, garlic, cider vinegar, onion, celery, carrots, sea salt, turmeric and lactic acid. BonaFide Provisions bone broths (frozen) are made from organic chicken bones and feet, onion, garlic, sea salt and parsley.

Grass-fed meat

I was speaking with a meat guy at another local grocer about beef: grass-fed versus corn-fed, organic, etc. He told me that it’s possible to feed the cows grass for much of their lives, but to “finish them” with corn, or fatten them up at the end of life with corn. He said they still can call this “grass-fed” beef if the cow was fed grass a certain percentage of its life. He said there is no real 100-percent grass-fed beef.

Do you have information or an opinion about this issue? It made me concerned about how can you know if you are actually getting pure grass-fed beef or not?

— Monica

PCC replies: There absolutely is 100-percent “grass-fed” beef and we sell it, under the SunFed brand! However, there is no longer a federal standard defining “grass-fed.” There was a standard, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) withdrew it early this year, causing some confusion. Now, if a label says “grass-fed,” USDA says we should be able to assume it’s 100-percent grass-fed. If grass is only a percentage of the feed, USDA says that percentage should be stated on the label and backed up with information in the labeling claim application. For instance, “50-percent grass-fed/50-percent grain-fed” or “90-percent grass-fed/10-percent grain-fed.”

If USDA has reason to believe a claim is not truthful, it will investigate and if the label is found to be untrue, USDA will rescind those labels at the establishment where they’re applied. Claims are approved case by case, as long as they’re truthful and backed up with documentation.

PCC merchandisers visited our grass-fed beef producer, SunFed, twice in the past year to verify its grass-fed status and that it’s meeting our strict animal welfare standards.

Certified Humane dairy

Will all PCC dairy products (milk, cheese, etc.) be Certified Humane? Are organic standards trying to add elements of humane certification?

PCC replies: Organic standards already address fundamental animal welfare criteria, so any organic dairy already meets or exceeds Certified Humane standards. But any conventional dairy — some yogurt, butter and ice cream — probably does not. It would be difficult to achieve since non-organic dairy typically comes from confined animals without access to pasture.

Certified Humane products at PCC also include eggs from Vital Farms, Wilcox and Stiebrs; goat dairy from Redwood Hills Farm; and lactose-free dairy from Green Valley Organics. Rumiano cheese is American Humane Certified.

Local berries

You do a great deal of good things with your mission supporting some local farmers and I do appreciate that. But why do you use farmers that are far away when there are local alternatives? Let’s take cranberries. Why would I buy cranberries from Quebec when I know there is a bog farmer in Oregon who has organic cranberries?

In the summer, there are lots of local organic berry farmers, yet I still see Driscoll’s taking up a large space, even in season. I have seen some blueberries from Oregon, which is good, but there are large, local organic berry farmers whose goods I’ve never seen. I know you used to get produce from Rent’s Due Ranch but I haven’t seen that for a while.

— Name withheld upon request

PCC replies: We have a strong preference for local, organic produce and we always shift to local as soon as it’s available. But customer demand and variability of supply availability means we must augment with non-local berries year-round. In season, we sell Rent’s Due Ranch berries, Mark LaPierre’s organic blueberries from Zillah (also available frozen year-round), and Younquist organic berries from Mt. Vernon. We sold local, organic cranberries last year in addition to Canadian cranberries.

Soap fragrance

I was happy to see the article on the personal care products at PCC (“New standards for PCC health and body care,” May). I would like to complain that the soaps PCC carries are truly sickening to smell — especially when trying to buy food.

Food smells good! Soap does not. Could you get all soaps wrapped? That’s a minimal suggestion. Ideally, keep those nasty products out of a food store. They ruin the entire experience. I look forward to day when I can go in PCC and smell the deli and the food and not be tasting and smelling soap and essential oils.

— Pat Davis

PCC replies: You’ll be glad to know we have begun the process to change manufacturers for our PCC brand soap, which is the unwrapped soap. This is a fairly slow process, as it requires test batches of soaps that must be cured over the course of several weeks, so we don’t have a firm timeline. But we will have a wrapped soap.

We offer soaps made with essential oils, without any artificial fragrances. This is not true at most grocers, including some focused on “natural” products. But we’re sensitive to concerns about fragrance, which is why we’ve chosen to change our soap.

Ingredient integrity

There are some products I have concerns about because they can’t be sourced. Things like the ramens, Marie Callendar’s mix, etc.

Some of the premixes can be sourced but some you can’t; some of them come from countries that are not as vigilant about quality and how things are produced. Yet PCC sells these foods. I realize people want these things, but to be honest, they can get these at other stores and the space could be used for better quality foods.

— Name withheld upon request

PCC replies: Ramens are popular with consumers and the brands we carry are an alternative to the poor-quality brands in other stores. Koyo, for instance, is made with organic heirloom wheat, vegetables and spices. Lotus Foods ramens are made with fair trade, sustainably grown rice from small family farmers. Compare these choices with Cup Noodles, the instant ramen that contains MSG, corn syrup, caramel color and many other undesirable ingredients.

We sell only one Marie Callendar’s product, a certified organic corn bread mix, simply because we have trouble sourcing other cornbread mixes consistently.

PCC Deli grilled chicken breast

I’m wondering if the grilled chicken pieces in the deli are brined as well as rubbed. I can wash off the rub but not brining. The issue for me is lowering sodium.

— Sandy

PCC replies: The chicken is marinated for 1 hour before cooking, but the chicken is not brined before cooking, so you should be able to reduce the sodium content by scraping off the herb rub, if desired.

Also, we have a “low sodium” search filter on our deli nutrition website. You can use this to find items that contain less than 140mg sodium per serving, the FDA’s definition of “low sodium.”

Also in this issue

Your co-op community, July 2016

Bothell's July 4th Freedom Festival and Grand Parade; Parkadilly, Kids Concert, Fair & Fun; Columbia City Farmers Market; and more

Plastics & packaging

We want to explain why PCC is shifting much of our recyclable packaging to compostable packaging.

News bites, July 2016

Huge bee losses, Drugs in Puget Sound salmon, Fruit protects against cancer, and more