Letters to the editor
This article was originally published in March 2021
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I applaud the changes made to nutrition labels last year (“2020 Brings Big Changes to Nutrition Label”), but unfortunately they don’t address the basic problem I have with them: serving size. You have to have a kitchen scale to make serving sizes work. If you use the cup/tablespoon/whatever method, the amounts aren’t even close to the weight. I’ve been told by a couple of manufacturers that those designations are determined by the U.S. government.
Anything we can do about that?
I once had a can of coconut milk that said by weight there were 2 servings (true), but that one serving was equivalent to a cup. Trouble was the entire can was only 12 ounces!
Don’t know where they got the extra 4 ounces from!
PCC replies: Thank you for writing and for your question on serving sizes. Serving sizes are standardized and are based on guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These guidelines are in turn based on the FDA’s understanding of the amount of that food an individual typically eats at one time, officially known as “Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACCs).” Those reference amounts have changed in some cases —mostly increasing—with the new labels. Figuring them out should not require a scale, though an inexpensive digital scale can be helpful in some areas, especially for obtaining consistent results in baking. (A cup of flour, for instance, might contain substantially different amounts depending on whether the flour is spooned into the cup or scooped up from a jar.) The FDA does call for serving sizes to be provided “in familiar units, such as cups or pieces,” followed by the metric amount (e.g., the number of grams), along with other nutrition labeling requirements. We encourage you to check out the following website for more background:
Generally speaking, I’m sorry to say that there’s not much an individual can do about these measurements beyond sending your feedback on their drawbacks to the FDA.
If you suspect, however, that a product is severely misrepresenting the quantity, weight or serving amount on their packaging, then you may want to consider filing a complaint with the FDA. Information about filing complaints with the FDA can be found here.
Finding information on pine nuts
Can you suggest an article(s) I can read about pine nuts? I see most are grown in China and that the situation is not the best for ecological reasons. I’m struggling to find accurate information.
PCC replies: We certainly understand that it is difficult to find reliable information online sometimes. You are correct that there are some ecological concerns associated with products from China, and PCC tries to mitigate this by limiting the number of commodities we source from China and purchasing organic if available. Our bulk pine nuts are from China and Turkey and are organic.
We have been monitoring for a domestic source and found one supplier in Nevada, but, according to one of our merchandisers, they are very expensive and have a limited supply. Ecological impacts can also be a consideration at the domestic level, so we will continue to monitor for producers that prioritize protective practices regardless of location.
In our research, we found the following articles that might be helpful in learning about some of the ecological issues surrounding pine nuts:
We hope these resources are useful. Thank you for being an engaged shopper!
We are longtime members. For many years, I bought Choice organic teas, which came in paper teabags. Recently, my husband couldn’t find the Choice brand teas, so brought home two boxes of Barnes and Watson organic tea in the same flavor. I was disappointed when I opened the box to see the tea is packaged in synthetic teabags. I called Barnes and Watson to see if the teabags are made of plastic, which would release high numbers of microplastics upon brewing. I received a call back saying that their tea is packaged in nylon bags. The science is not conclusive about whether nylon teabags are safe when subjected to hot water, which is then consumed. We do know that nylon is non-biodegradable, cannot be composted, and the production produces nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas that depletes the ozone layer. I would like to request that PCC find a source of organic teas that use an environmentally friendly and healthy tea bag. Otherwise, I will need to just use bulk teas. Thank you.
— Diane Hardee, Monroe
PCC replies: Thank you for writing, for your long membership and for your question on teabags. We agree that the science is not settled on nylon teabags (as well as teabags made from other synthetics) and related environmental issues. As you noted, it’s hard to tell on sight which teabags may contain plastic components. Loose-leaf teas are the surest guarantee to avoid these problems, though at PCC most brands we carry do use a compostable fabric or paper-like material to form the tea bag. Some of these involve other tradeoffs; for instance, Steve Smith Teas uses compostable sachets created from a plant-based material, sealed without use of glue or staples, but its teas are not certified organic. Fortunately, we do carry teas that are both organic and use plant-based material for their bags, including Choice organic teas.
With the caveat that this list only reflects a moment in time, as manufacturers do sometimes change their products, here are a few other recommendations for other companies whose lines of organic teas we stock, based on information from company websites:
Stash Organics: The filter paper used for Stash Tea bags is made from 100% cellulose fibers (wood). Stash tea bag filter paper is machine folded and pressed, therefore no glue is needed or used.
Yogi Tea: Our tea bags are completely biodegradable and can therefore be disposed in the compost: They do not have a metal clip, are bleached with oxygen, free of genetically modified material and plastic-free. The bag itself is made of Manila hemp, also known as Abacá, a type of banana native to the Philippines. The string of the tea bag is made of biologically certified organic cotton and the tea tag is made of FSC®-certified paper.
Traditional Medicinals: Our compostable, non-GMO tea bags are made from sustainably harvested abacá (Musa textilis), also known as Manila hemp, and FSC-certified wood pulp. The tea bags do not contain plastics. The tea bags are treated with an environmentally-friendly, non-toxic cleaning process that is free of bleach and other harmful chemicals. This process utilizes oxygen and peroxide and ensures the removal of plant resins remaining in the wood pulp fibers so that your tea bag is clean and doesn’t break apart.
Numi Organic Tea: Our teabags are compostable and made from biodegradable unbleached Manila hemp fiber. They are non-GMO verified and meet the highest standards for safety in the European Union. We also use an oxygen process to whiten our tea bags, so there is no bleach present in the tea or the bags.
Thank you again for raising this issue. We will continue to track microplastics in packaging, and it is helpful for us to know which issues are important to our members when making decisions about adding or removing products.
Sound Consumer in stores
Please keep the PCC newsletter in print at stores. We depend on it and we would not long read the online version. Thank you! It’s a fantastic newsletter!
— Daulot Fountain
PCC replies: Thank you so much for your kind words on the Sound Consumer! It is available in print at all PCC stores.
Raw Flour Warnings
Recently I’ve noticed a warning on bags of flour, saying that it is not safe to eat raw. I don’t recall seeing these before, are they new? Is organic flour any safer than non-organic? Are some flour/grain types safer than others? Is it as dangerous as raw eggs, or more so?
Also, is this a new thing? Like many of us, I grew up eating bits of raw cookie dough and such, especially when making holiday cookies. Is this now not a safe thing to do with my kids until they’re old enough to reliably not eat any of the raw dough?
Thanks so much for any insight you can provide.
PCC replies: Thank you for writing and for your question on flour.
Some flour manufacturers have added a warning not to eat raw flour to their packaging in recent years, following multistate outbreaks of e. coli either conclusively linked to raw flour or suspected to have such a link. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does recommend against eating raw cookie dough, both due to the salmonella risk associated with raw eggs and due to the more recently publicized risks associated with raw flour. The agency recommends against eating any product containing raw flour, noting that “the wheat grains from which flour is ground are grown in fields and, like all foods grown outdoors, they may be exposed to a variety of harmful bacteria like Salmonella and pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli).” Organic flours would not be exempt, and in theory the same risks would hold for flours made from other grains. E. coli and salmonella are both killed by high temperatures, though, which is why outbreaks have not been linked to flour use in fully cooked foods. Some manufacturers now use heat-treated flours for products such as refrigerated commercial cookie doughs, while cookbooks and cooking instructors offer recipes for heat-treating flour at home for family projects like cookie dough or homemade playdough. Some additional tips from the FDA can be found online here.
Again, thank you for writing!