Food safety issues front and center for NAMA – Baking Business

Food safety issues front and center for NAMA


by Josh Sosland

NAMA's Jim McCarthy reviews diverse issues confronting milling.

DANA POINT, CALIF. — A broad agenda encompassing issues ranging from food safety and transportation to product promotion and food aid were on the agenda Oct. 27 during the North American Millers’ Association board of directors meeting. Reflecting the widening range of issues requiring serious attention from millers, NAMA approved a proposal to update its committee structure.

Matters addressed during the board meeting were reviewed by James A. McCarthy, NAMA president and chief executive officer, in an Oct. 28 interview with Milling & Baking News. The NAMA annual meeting was Oct. 26-29 at the Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point.

Food safety ranked high among topics discussed at the NAMA board meeting, Mr. McCarthy said. Elevating concern about the issue have been numerous incidents over the past two years related to the detection of peanuts in flour and foodborne illness from E. coli in flour.

“We’re still talking about our campaign to educate consumers about the potential for pathogens in raw flour, cookie dough or cake batter,” he said. “We’ve adopted a video that was created by Smucker and Ardent, and so have the Canadian Millers’ (Association).”

NAMA has engaged Sean McBride with DSM Strategic Communications & Consulting, Washington, to help find ways to disseminate the 60-second video that explains the safe handling of flour, dough and batter. Particular focus of DSM is sharing the video on social media and general messaging around food handling.

Mr. McCarthy recently attended the Home Bakers Association annual meeting to discuss the issue. “Recipe cards” were distributed that have been developed on safe food handling as well as time and temperature guidance for baking.

“We are reaching out to the Food Marketing Institute, the National Grocers Association and the National Restaurant Association and other allied groups to educate them on the label we developed to share with our members as well as the campaign we have for education,” he said.

Concern about glyphosate has been building for some time, but the issue is coming to a head because the state of California is requiring a Proposition 65 warning statement that would take effect in July 2018 for products with glyphosate residue. Mr. McCarthy said the approach of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) toward the issue of glyphosate has not been grounded in sound science.

“Any food that uses glyphosate at a certain residue level would need to put the warning statement,” he said. “OEHHA grabs the number out of the sky with no scientific rationale for why they choose the residue level. You need to meet the level or label the product. NAMA needs to address consumer concerns about this and work with the wheat growers. Not that we believe there is any danger. No health effects have been proven.”

Reflecting the evolving profile of issues confronting the millers, a committee restructuring plan was approved during the board meeting. The new structure better aligns with the NAMA strategic plan approved in 2016, Mr. McCarthy said.

“The plan helped us focus on three crucial areas — food safety, nutrition and supply chain,” he said. “At the board meeting, the creation of a supply chain committee was officially approved. Its principal focus will be on transportation.

“The Technical Committee was handling so many different issues, it had become the committee of the whole in a sense. It had oversight of too many things. It’s not that it wasn’t doing a good job. It was stretched too thin. I think this will be very helpful going forward for members, helping attract more voluntary members to the committees and subcommittees and also helping the staff compartmentalize the duties and areas of responsibility.”

Spearheading the development of the new committee structure was NAMA vice-chairman Robert Harper, president of Hopkinsville Milling Co., Hopkinsville, Ky.

Giving the decision heightened impetus was the elevated importance of transportation issues to the millers, Mr. McCarthy said.

“Transportation always has been important, but it’s really become vitally important over the last few years,” he said.

Concerns about developments in the rail and trucking industries will be central areas of focus for the Supply Chain Committee, Mr. McCarthy said.

Issues like the Food Safety Modernization Act, with sanitary transportation requirements, may be split between the Food Safety subcommittee of the Technical Committee and Supply Chain Committee, Mr. McCarthy said.  He called CSX rail service issues earlier in the year a “classic example” of an issue requiring NAMA member expertise to advise the staff about how to respond.

“We did participate on that issue with the N.G.F.A. (National Grain and Feed Association),” he said. “Our members submitted problems they were having to N.G.F.A. through NAMA, and those were brought up at the hearing. In fact, the N.G.F.A. has an Agricultural Transportation Coalition that we’re very active in. There are many groups in this, including the bakers, and it has been very helpful with a number of issues like the peanut transportation, the rail blockage we had three years ago and now the CSX issue.”

Cooperation between NAMA committees will be required in certain instances, Mr. McCarthy said.

“When it comes to what is required regarding pathogens and allergens in the food supply, that will be in the Food Safety Subcommittee area,” he said.

Also discussed during the NAMA board meeting was preliminary findings related to a possible checkoff program for the grain-based foods industry. Utilized by numerous other commodity segments, including dairy, pork, beef, lamb and cotton, checkoffs are industry-funded generic marketing and/or research programs overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In recent months, Statler Nagle a Washington consulting firm with experience in checkoff programs, has been engaged by the Grain Foods Foundation to do exploratory work. Specifically, representatives of the firm have interviewed numerous industry stakeholders, collected industry data and gathered key information about how a checkoff program would work in grain-based foods to help the industry decide whether to support such a program.

During the NAMA meeting, the board heard from Tom Statler, a managing partner at the firm, and Christine Cochran, executive director of the Grain Foods Foundation.

Mr. McCarthy said the presentation attracted considerable interest, but that NAMA has neither endorsed nor opposed the idea.

“We have not formally taken a position,” he said. “It’s up to the members to decide whether they want to pursue this or not. The board offered the opportunity for them to have a presentation. This is at the feasibility study level. We’re exploring whether it would benefit the members and whether they want to pursue it.”

Also under consideration at the board meeting was the establishment of the Communications Committee.

“We decided at this time not to have that, but we will have communications considered in all of the different committees,” Mr. McCarthy said. “We are going to try to bring in expertise from the various companies into the standing committees as they will exist.”

The focus of these efforts principally will be in crisis management, Mr. McCarthy said.

“So, when an E. coli or allergen issues comes up or something like the glyphosate issue or G.M.O.’s, we have resources in the various committees that have some communications background and can give us some advice,” he said.

Mr. McCarthy noted that a month before the NAMA annual meeting, a joint meeting between the Technical Committee and the Canadian Millers’ Association Technical Committee at the Canadian Millers’ annual meeting in Ottawa.

“That has become very effective,” he said. “We’ve been doing that every other year the last few years. There are more and more issues that go across the border, food safety issues, such as E. coli, pesticides and herbicides. We’ve become very close with the Canadian milling industry, and that has been very helpful.”

Gordon Smith, head of the Department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University, spoke at the annual meeting about strong enrollment in the milling science program and new areas of exploration, including the installation of a specialty mill and the potential for new milling research that could be conducted at the university. Mr. McCarthy said the relationship between NAMA and K.S.U. is strong with the potential for new areas of cooperation.

“We’re talking to them about taking on the food aid program so that when Paul (Green, longtime consultant to NAMA) retires next year at this time, we are hoping to incorporate our food aid program into their International Grains Program,” Mr. McCarthy said. “It’s still in the conception stage, but we are moving in that direction. They have a lot of resources in that area. They take trips to Sub-Saharan Africa, the same places that Paul goes, promoting superfoods similar to what we are doing. K-State has that infrastructure. Having a major university like K-State adds clout to the mission, but NAMA would still be the primary contractor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Foreign Market Development Program. But we would work very closely with Kansas State.”

NAMA also has become involved in Oat Global, an initiative launched in January 2014 between the University of Minnesota and a number of companies, including PepsiCo, Inc.; General Mills, Inc.; and Grain Millers, Inc. Also participating has been the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We’ve collaborated with the University of Minnesota to help really focus research on the oat area, and the Canadian oat growers are supportive as well,” Mr. McCarthy said. “So, it’s the Oat Division, the Canadian growers and others with the companies.” 

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