I am so excited about the upcoming Expo West Trade show in Anaheim, California– I can’t wait to walk the miles of aisles all teeming with entrepreneurs who are eager and hopeful about bringing their ideas to market. I love hearing their stories, their successes and their regrets about the path they took to get to where they are- and hearing about their challenges ahead! As a food scientist my job is to help entrepreneurs navigate the confusing food industry waters and figure out the right path and the right order of steps within that path! The more stories of confusion I hear, the more chapters I can add to my E-book The Food Business Tool-Kit for entrepreneurs-How To Research, Develop and Produce A New Food Product to alleviate that confusion!

I want to share a common practice that many entrepreneurs partake in that not only is a waste of time and money but can lead to incorrect assumptions about the food product you want to bring to market. This practice involves trying to develop a product on your own at home without any professional supervision. I am not talking about super early stage creations-sure you can make a few fun batches that represent your “concept” and show it to your family and friends—get some feedback. But it needs to stop there! I have had many entrepreneurs tell me about the months they have spent trying to get their product “just right” and they are ready to go to a manufacturer and make a go for it. When I look at their formula I sadly shake my head and tell them they have a long way to go to make it “commercial ready”. Here are some of the common mistakes that entrepreneurs make when developing products from their home (without professional food science supervision!)

Not Using Industrial Ingredients- Unless you are working with extremely commodity ingredients (sugar, vegetable oil, salt and perhaps water) anything you get from the supermarket is not going to be the same ingredient used at the manufacturing plant. Even something simple like the organic gluten free flour from whole foods- will perform differently in production. When you start using more complicated ingredients like pureed fruit, spices and protein powders – The supermarket brands are not the same, not even close! Spices in the supermarket are not nearly as fresh as what the manufacturer made, fruit purees are often concentrated to various brix levels for consistency and and most protein powders on the market are blended with flavorings and other sweeteners. The solution here is to work with industrial ingredients only. You will have to track down the ingredient suppliers that sell to manufacturers, request samples and work with those ingredients.

Not Using a Proper Scale: I have some sad news… the $25 dollar scale you bought online is not accurate. It usually measures to the nearest gram and in production, those half grams and partial grams are important. Spices and other lightweight items that you weighed out with your inexpensive scale are going to be inaccurate. You may think you weighted out 1 gram of oregano, but it could just as easily have been 1.5, but you will never know because your scale only went out to the 1-gram accuracy. My advice is to spend $300-$500 on a good scale that goes out to the 100th decimal point. So your 1.53 gram of spice weighs out to exactly that.

Relying On Nutritional Information Provided On The Supermarket Label Ingredient: I already mentioned you should not be using supermarket ingredients but for those who are or did, they also tend to rely on that nutritional information on the label. That nutritional label has already been extrapolated down and rounded to match up with the serving size on the package. The FDA regulations have lots of rounding rules that can result in a teaspoon of spice having no calories when actually Oregano has 38 calories per 100 grams and its 9% protein, 69% carbohydrates and 42% fiber. But if you look at a label on a spice jar in the store- it will probably say zero calories, zero carbohydrates, zero fiber. Yes, that may be the case for the tiny 3 gram serving that is recommended.

Not Knowing The Process: You can’t really develop a product if you don’t know how it will be ultimately processed. Unless you have millions of dollars and plan to build your own manufacturing plant and bring in special equipment from Italy- chances are the unique process you created by boiling, dehydrating, freezing, crumbling and adding back into your cake is just not going to fly at the manufacturing plant. Food manufacturers are not going to adapt their process to fit your idea unless you plan to pay for those adaptations. Your process needs to reflect the manufacturers process, not the other way around. I recommend that you find your manufacturer first- understand how they make the product and try to simulate your process to match theirs. This can be done by online research, checking out co-packer websites or simply networking and finding a local food scientist or food science university and asking the professors there for some assistance. Don’t assume that your method can be done in mass production (it probably can’t!)

Spending months perfecting your formula in your own kitchen is not an efficient use of time or funding. After a few initial basic prototypes that you show your family and friends, your next steps should be to either contact a food science consultant or find a manufacturer who can guide you through their processing steps so you understand how to create the product in a commercially viable way. If you hand over your homemade recipe with your own fruit concentrates and vanilla flavored protein powder from whole foods your co packer will probably tell you to recreate the formula so it can be made commercially. What does that mean though? It means follow the points I mention in this article.

Rachel Zemser is a food scientist who helps entrepreneurs bring their food products to market. Her website is www.alacarteconnections.com

AIMG_6886nother IFT has come and gone – as I get older my show navigation skills have improved! I noticed this year that all the long timer booths (like David Michael, Kerry and Tate & Lyle) were located in the same spots on the McCormick floor as last year. I also am really good at finding the best freebie giveaways like the illuminated egg from Okaloosa, the beautiful green t-shirt from the honey board and flashing bracelets from Qualisoy. I should also mention that Qualisoy had a talented artist mold a head out of shortening. Not everyone may have caught this because it was way in the 4000’s aisle!

The real ongoing theme of IFT this year however was every food scientist’s favorite (and least favorite) topic—Clean Label! As a consultant who develops food products for both entrepreneurs and large companies I get frustrated when I am forbidden from using top notch functional ingredients because my client does not understand what it means, and replace it with something that kinda works, but maybe not as well- but comes with a word that is known to mere mortals (aka non-food scientists). Luckily I have ingredient trade shows like IFT and Supply Side West that give me the opportunity to explore and interact with the latest and greatest clean label functional ingredients that I can then introduce to my mortal clients who understand what the word means, and in turn put it on the “ok to use” list.

Ingredient trade shows like IFT and Supply Side link me up with the best clean label alternatives out there! For example—every time I make a dry powder mix (protein shakes, fruit powder sport drinks, pancake mix, cake mix) I need anti caking agents. The most popular anti caking agent is Silicone Dioxide. The scientists of the world know that Silicone comes from quartz and oxygen comes from – the earth. It’s as natural as can be, but to the uninformed mortals they are just eating “chemicals”. Well in come Ribose, a leading organic natural clean label rice based alternative. Their Nu-Flow anti caking agent can be used to replace SiO2 or the even dirtier “Tri-calcium Phosphate” (oh no, not CALCIUM!) with simple “rice concentrate”! Boom! Done! Everyone is happy! I feel safe in knowing my dry blend won’t clump and my clients can breath a sign of relief that no nasty chemicals that will offend their clients will be on their ingredient statement. It’s a win win situation.

Phosphates are very common in the cured meat in industry, used to retain moisture, maintain flavor. They increase the water holding capacity of meat by forcing proteins apart, allowing water to move in between the protein molecules. Most people don’t really know what this word means or how it functions—they don’t want to see it on the label. Luckily I found Prosur’s “PRS PHR”, an innovative clean label solution made out of yeast extracts (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, Pichia Jadinii) and citrus extracts. They have a synergistic effect on the solubilisation capacity of actomyosine, which boosts the water retention of meat in a more natural way. In layman’s terms—this works like a phosphate and translates to an ingredient statement that says: Yeast Extract, Citrus Extract. Yeast and citrus are clean, phosphates to the consumer are not.

TIC Gums is a true leader when it comes to clean label ingredients. Why? First of all, gums were never really un clean to begin with and many have been used for hundreds of years and everyone knows that if our grandmother used it then it must be clean since most people don’t have food science grandmothers. TIC has a great “clean label hydrocolloid” chart that they passed out, reminding food scientists like me that High Methoxyl Pectin can simply be called “Pectin” and Locust Bean Gum can be called “Carob Gum” and the hippies in the 60’s ate Carob instead of chocolate so it must be clean. High Acyl Gellen Gum can be called just “Gellen” gum. Some gums are organic, which translates scary sounding “inulin” to “organic agave or chicory”. Lots of confusion out there in gum world-TIC is there to help us legally relay the truth to the consumer. Unfortunately for ingredients like sodium alginate (AKA Seaweed!) there is no clean label- it is up to the manufacturer to educate their consumer that it is seaweed, organic compliant, non-GMO compliant and on the published whole foods compliance list.

All these companies and more will be exhibiting their functional and clean label alternative solutions to the food scientists that will be attending Supply Side West. I started checking out Supply side several years ago and wasn’t quite sure if it was just herbs, supplements or an up and coming IFT type show. Every year more and more ingredient companies are exhibiting at Supply Side and the show is almost beginning to outgrow the smaller expo exhibit hall in Vegas at Mandalay Bay. In the past I didn’t go to Supply Side very often as I felt it was very supplement and vitamin oriented, but now it’s one of my regular trade shows that I attend. I love that it is in Vegas too—lots of affordable hotels, great restaurants and nighttime entertainment.

This year at IFT there was an eye opening consumer panel called “A Clean Label Revolution”. Random consumers not from the food industry were actually on the stage and sharing their thoughts and feelings about ingredient statements and what they would and would not use. The message was clear—if consumers don’t know what it means or if there is unexplained fear monger attention surrounding it (like carrageenan or GMO’s) then they don’t want to buy it!
Clean label is no longer just a thing for the Whole Foods and artisan crowd- it’s becoming an everyone thing and the food industry needs to start doing a better job of educating the masses on what sodium chloride is and the differences between high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup, or come up with some brand new functional alternatives that have names our grandmother could have lived with. This is what happens when the food industry pretends like our food was made by Friendly Green Giants and Keebler Elves for the last 100 years- and consumers find out that it was actually made in stainless steel tanks in a factory by scientists and engineers. Yes, consumers now know the truth, that food is made in a scientific and methodical way in clean sanitary plants by people that wear hairnets and practice GMP’s. Time to educate, inform and fix it so we can continue to take advantage of past and future food science contributions to the functional ingredient world.

Oh, unrelated to the clean label trend –a few other cool things I saw at IFT this year was a new competitor to Genesis, a less expensive spreadsheet software program for nutritional analysis called Formulator. An edible vitamin cup from DSM and Loliware. Edible food wrap film from Monosol – a transparent, odorless and tasteless film that is biodegradable, dissolves in water reduces environmental waste. There was freeze dried high antioxidant purple corn from Suntava which was used to make energy bars that I ate for breakfast during the show. In the equipment world it’s all about recording results with the blue tooth pH meter from Hanna instruments. This is on my food science consultant wish list along with a not yet on the market but they showed it at Expo anyway—a unit that measures salt, acid, pH and brix all on the same unit from Atago. Can’t wait for this to come out, a must have for any laboratory!

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Years ago the only companies that made food products were large corporations that had teams of industry professionals in marketing, food science, microbiology, food safety and packaging. They made sure that the products they created tasted great, looked beautiful and most importantly were “safe” for consumption and made under strict USDA and/or FDA guidelines.

In recent times, many of the new food products emerging on the market are not made by big food companies, but by people that are from non-food science backgrounds like finance, fitness or medicine. They are created by people who have stories to tell about how the concept that they created in their personal home kitchen saved the lives of their kids who had, before that, been forced to eat products that contained GASP* sugar that came from beets and not from cane—oh the horrors of it all! Or they are created by the fitness professional who learned that his chocolate cake made from chicken protein isolate is the answer to losing fat and gaining muscle (hey that’s a pretty good idea right there!)

These saavy entrepreneurs with no experience in food science, food safety or microbiology often come to the conclusion that they can do it all on their own and they don’t need the expertise of those who have dedicated their lives to studying food safety and science. They furiously develop recipes in their home kitchen using non-scientific measurements like tablespoons and cups to measure out their recipe. They use ingredients that they picked up from whole foods like trail mix and flavored protein powders. They don’t take into account water activity, rancidity issues or potential staling. Packaging options are not even considered. Of course it’s not all their fault that they assume it’s easy to bring food products to market- after all, when was the last time you saw a documentary on food science or product commercialization? Probably never! The food industry is notoriously secretive on how it’s all done , they don’t want to scare the masses by elaborating on unpleasant sounding topics like preservatives, HACCP plans and third party microbiology testing. The only vaguely real life examples we see are cute short videos on the food network show “Unwrapped” which makes food manufacturing look like a Willie Wonka chocolate factory.

So back to our do it yourself entrepreneurs, who after they have concocted their amazing idea (in cups and tablespoons!) they call a co-packing facility and wonder why they don’t get a response or why co-packers are so impossible to get a hold of, or why no co-packers are jumping at the chance to test out their product and help them get it on the market. After all, this is the opportunity of all opportunities!

I have said this before—and written it many times but the madness continues. There is a reason why the co-packers won’t call you, the entrepreneur, back and that’s because they don’t want to deal with the entrepreneurs naïve understanding of the food industry. They don’t want to hold the entrepreneurs hand and explain the meaning of third party micro testing, and they don’t want to spend hours breaking down their costs, knowing they probably won’t be able to afford the minimums anyway. Co-packers get hundreds of calls a month and they can smell the novice from miles away.

So what is an entrepreneur to do in this day and age? My advice is to not try to do this alone! The second you have an idea on how to bring a product to market the first call should not be to your lawyer, web designer, or graphic design expert but to your food scientist! It doesn’t even have to be “your” food scientist, just go to the IFT.org website and find a local food scientist from their reach out program who can give you some advice, or attend a local IFT (Institute of Food Technologists) regional meeting and network with the experts. The IFT is an amazing information resource. They have free regional local ingredient trade shows, online links to information and more.

If you are an entrepreneur who wants to bring a new product to market, make sure you do your initial homework. Read up on food science and the food industry. Make sure you have funding and that you understand the safety and regulations surrounding the type of product you want to make. If you don’t understand then hire a guide or consultant that can help you get started. Sometimes there is a reason why your concept is not on the market, and it’s not because no one thought of it already! It may not be something that can be made safely, or it might be too expensive, or the ingredient you want to use (bee nectar from the rain forest) may not be readily available.

Everyone knows what a plumber does, what a lawyer does, what an architect does and we seek out those experts when their services are needed, because we know that we don’t have the time or knowledge to do it ourselves correctly. But yet, when it comes to developing food products- thanks to the secrecy of the food industry and the glossing over by fakeumentary TV, entrepreneurs are learning the hard way that it’s not so glossy after all.

 

As a food science consultant myself, I have heard all the horror stories and tales of food start up companies that didn’t research properly and spent thousands more than was necessary. Failed production runs, overpaying for lab tests and shelf life issues that could have easily been avoided had they just hired a technical expert to assist them. Simple tools that cost a few hundred dollars (like pH meters and refractometers) can help ensure consistency while you develop your idea, versus paying a lab to do it for you. Understanding how to use a simple spreadsheet to set up nutritional analysis (hey finance gurus turned food experts– this should be a walk in the park for you). Don’t rely on your co packer to assume that your first production run will be a success, and don’t blame them when your organic natural color solution turns black in month because you did not do your shelf life study (I wish I had a bitcoin for every shelf life study that was not done and subsequently lead to a failed launch- for the sake of expediting to market).

It makes me sad when I walk the floors of Expo West and Fancy Food Show and hear entrepreneurs tell me “if only I had found a food science from the get-go”. Well I am here to remind all those who are just starting out that they should do JUST THAT! Consider this the dime store advice that you will wish you took in 2 years from now.

I get calls from lots of start up companies asking me how they can keep their label “clean” and ensure that their product has no preservatives, is all natural and uses fresh local ingredients—oh and they also want it to be affordable and shelf stable too!

Everyone wants their product to hit all the current trend buttons (natural, clean label, locally sourced, GMO Free, Organic) – but sometimes you have to compromise in order to ensure that you are creating something that is both safe and affordable- and it also helps to understand that just because something sounds like it is not natural, doesn’t mean that it isn’t!

Lets start with mold inhibitors- anyone who wants their somewhat moist baked good to last on the shelf is going to have to keep the fuzzy stuff at bay –and there are a wide variety of natural and synthetic versions. Potassium sorbate for example is a great yeast and mold inhibitor that is inexpensive and works in a wide variety of pH’s and food bases- it’s not natural but it does the job! Sodium benzoate is also cheap, synthetic and keeps the bad bacteria at bay! There are more natural options that you can use- and they are called cultured dextrose- (sold locally by Mezonni Foods http://www.mezzonifoods.com/) – It’s a cleaner label bacteria inhibitor that is created via fermentation of milk and sugar with probiotic organisms and works in a wide variety of applications like salad dressings and cured meats, soups and dairy products. They cost more but allow you to maintain a “natural” statement on your label (assuming all other ingredients are natural as well). Of course you can always cook your product (IE canned foods and jarred shelf stable sauces often just rely on heat as a the preservation method-however any thermal process must be approved by your local health inspector and the FDA!) or you can add tons of salt or sugar- those too can inhibit bacteria by lowering the water activity of the product.

What about flavorings? No one in the specialty food industry wants to put artificial flavor in their products and that is understandable but keep in mind that natural flavors are more expensive and less concentrated than artificial so you need to use more of them to get a flavor impact. If you want to flavor up a lemon cake- you may only need 0.02% artificial flavor but would have to use 2 to 3% of a natural flavor to get the same effect—AND that natural flavor is going to cost you more money. So what can you do? You can use a flavor called WONF (with other natural flavors) which is a blend of similar flavors used to make up the flavor you like but at a slightly reduced cost- you can tell your flavor supplier that you want an “off the shelf” flavor that they may already sell to several companies (a stock flavor) that they probably produce in bulk at a cheaper price. Talk to your flavor supplier about options!

Even starches can fall in the natural or not natural category—If a starch is referred to as a “modified food starch” it is not a natural thickener—you need to ask your supplier to provide you with a natural “unmodified” food starch. There are also other ways to thicken a product like via dehydration or evaporation of water—using tomato paste (if your product is tomato based), or experimenting with gums and hydrocolloids. Most hydrocolloids are natural like xanthan, gum Arabic, and gum acacia. Gum supplier websites like TIC (www.ticgums.com) have a wealth of information about gums and to use them to improve everything from particulate suspension to moisture retention in your food products.

There are always natural alternatives in the world of ingredients and it’s just a matter of balancing out what you need with the right price point.

IMG_3401Can someone please tell me what is wrong with gums and stabilizers—and why did so many of the beverage entrepreneurs in the beverage competition at the BEVNET show (www.bevnet.com) refer to it as “filler”. As far as I a concerned, something used to help suspend and thicken at the 0.05% usage level that comes from the root of a tree is hardly filling up any space at all—we should be grateful that some genius food scientist was kind enough to identify it, isolate it, purify it and sell it in powder form so entrepreneurs don’t have to dig up roots and grind it themselves. But yet, the company MALK based their Bevnet winning pitch on the fact that their product does not have all those “fillers”.

I just got back from Bevnet.com and was amazed, amused and hydrated all at the same time. I was invited there by Draco, a company in northern California that sells whole fruit and vegetable extract powders, they asked me to speak on their behalf as an unbiased third party and educate attendees on functional ingredients.

While at the show I got to taste everything and make a mental summary in my mind of what is trending in the beverage world. First and foremost—coconut is not going anywhere any time soon—we no longer want just the water but we really need to drink in all that heavy coconut cream fat as well—MCT’s and other fatty acids are good for us!

Aside from that there were the usual interesting and exotic options like lemon juice with charcoal (to detox me), lots of coffee, lots of Kombucha and one drink that even claimed to work as a sunscreen if you drank it 30 minutes before going into the sun.

I love to report back on the trade shows I attend and this is one of the interesting ones. For a consultant like me I get to see what is new and interesting as well as connect with local ingredient suppliers and co packers. For beverage entrepreneurs, they get to attend classes, connect with suppliers and learn about how to commercialize and market beverage products. The BEVNET website is a wealth of information for anyone interested in reading about the beverage world. Up to date and relevant material!

For years I have been going to the IFT (Institute of Food Technologists) show because it’s the biggest ingredient show for food scientists and a great opportunity to source industrial ingredients like starches, gums, flavors, colors and organic ingredients. BUT for the last few years another ingredient show is slowly emerging on the food science scene.

The Supply Side show! Years ago no one except people in the vitamin and supplement world used to go to Supply Side, held every year in early October in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. But that is all changing as more and more ingredient supplier companies like David Michael Flavors, TIC Gums and Danisco/Dupont are slowly beginning to take over. As a matter of fact, one of my friends, a flavor sales rep who lives in the Vegas area told me he was SHOCKED at the new ticket price to attend Supply Side because in the past, “They had to practically pay people to attend”.

But as the old saying goes— where the ingredient suppliers exhibit the money from those exhibiting ingredient suppliers will follow — the organization that runs Supply Side (which also, I just learned runs one of the industrial food trade journals food product design) is realizing how much the food industry is growing and the big trend in start up companies that want to combine both food and supplements (why swallow a boring pill when you can have naturally nutrient infused full fat paleo style ice cream!?)

So it seems like every trade show I attend has a growing “ingredient supplier section” – like Expo West formerly a hippie all natural finished product show, now has a whole separate WING referred to as Engredia dedicated to helping those start ups find industrial ingredients (flavors, sweeteners, organic ingredients, gums, starches, vitamin mixes, gluten free flours) and co packers (private label energy bars, pouch co packers, bakeries). I think Expo West realized that if the show is to keep growing they need serious cash and ingredient companies have that kinda cash! It’s a win-win for everyone because not only can the small start ups in the basement of Expo West show their exciting new wares but they can then wander over and source out new ingredient suppliers as well.

Too bad Supply Side is only two days long, I could have wandered that show that show for several days! Here are a few interesting trends I noticed

Probiotics—dry form, powdered form, liquid form, shelf stable form. Yogurt is so 2010—we just need to mix it into a freeze dry powder now!

CBD’s– The NON psychoactive part of the marijuana plant. It gives you a body high and not a mental high.

New Age Ingrdients: Maca, Spirulina, Chia, Matcha, Hemp, Tumeric and Omega-3’s. Its not like these ingredients didn’t exist before but now they are slowly showing up as value added food ingredients.

Honorable mention and KUDOS to the ONE non-edible trade show exhibitor that dared to exhibit at an ingredient foodie show. The Health Mate Infrared Saunas! I had a chance to take a break and sit in their sauna box for awhile and rest my feet in their sauna foot box. The booth reps were extremely friendly and fun and they told me if any of my readers are interested in such an item, they will extend their trade show discount (just tell them you heard about their products through Rachel the food scientist). Sometimes its nice to have a booth where you can just sit and rest your feet without feeling like you have to talk biz with the booth owners.

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Supply Side West will now be part of my regular yearly trade show tour. The attendance fee varies but check in with me in 2016 and I may be able to forward you a pass from one of the kind vendors that offer up 2-day floor passes for $75. Rooms can be as expensive or as cheap as you want (just be sure to stay at a hotel that has tram or easy access to the convention center or else you will have serious taxi fees (Vegas just started allowing Uber and Lyft— the economical way to get around vegas!)

 

A salt meter can help you measure…. SALT percentages for consistency and accuracy in final products!

A carpenter has his saw and hammer, a doctor has wooden sticks and stethoscopes and a food scientist has refractometers, water activity units, pH meters, bostwick, brookfield and salt analyzers. The more tools we have, the better we are at ensuring consistency and accuracy in both the creation and manufacturing of food products. What are these tools and how can they help you, the food maker, make consistent quality products that will never disappoint your clients.

Water Activity: These units measure the amount of “available” water in your energy bars, gummy bears and rice crispy treats. Your goal is to have a Aw reading below 0.65 to ensure no yeast and mold growth. These units typically cost around $2,000 dollars and can be used for quality control, product consistency and will help ensure that each batch will consistently last as long as the last batch.

Refractometer: In the wine world, refractometers are used to measure the amount of sugar in grapes- or the “brix”-so the wine makers know when the grapes are ready to be picked. In the food world, a refractometer is used to measure sugar and other “soluble solids” in an edible product. If you are making beverages this will ensure that the person who made the batch added the right amount of sugar, salt, caffeine and anything else that dissolved in your water or liquid base. When you buy a refractometer make sure that you purchase one with a brix “range” that fits your product. If you are making candy, you want a refractometer that can measure a range of 50 to 100, if you are making a beverage, you may only need a 0 to 50% range.

pH Meters: Acidity is important in food, not only for safety but also for flavor and quality. There are lots of pH meters on the market and you can buy a good one for under $300. Make sure you also purchase calibration fluids and calibrate your pH meter before you use it every time.

Bostwick: The Bostick, also known as a “consistometer” is a tool used in the sauce and condiment industry. It is a simple metal trough that is about 14 inches long. The Trough has a spring-loaded gate at one end, into which you load your sauce product. When you release the gate, the condiment slowly (or quickly) travels down the slightly angled trough and the distance that the trough travels in 30 seconds is your final reading. The thicker the condiment, the less distance it will travel.

Brookfield: A Brookfield unit is used to measure the viscosity of fluids. It consists of a metal spindle that pushes its way through a liquid or syrup—measuring the force or internal friction of that fluid. It is used to ensure that the mouth feel and texture of food products like yogurt or syrups are the same from batch to batch.

Salt Analyzers: A salt analyzer is just that—you take a drop of your solution mixture, place it on the readable unit, press a button and in less than a minute you will know the percent salt of your solution. Typical salt solutions will read between 0 and 5% or 0 and 10%.

These simple tools are available online or you can go directly to the manufacturer websites and order directly from them. I have complied a list of amazon available tools on my website RESOURCES page.

In early 2012 the International Maple Syrup institute (IMSI) put out a  recommendation to unify the maple syrup grades among maple syrup producing jurisdictions. Currently the USDA, CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), and the Agencies of Agricultures have adopted rules based on the recommendation of IMSI. Most States and Provinces are transitioning to the new system over the course of 2015. The USDA standards are available online and have been official since March 2, 2015.

Just so everyone is clear, what is maple syrup? It is the liquid food derived by concentrating and heat-treating sap from the maple tree (Acer) as defined in the U.S. FDA standard of Identity for Maple Syrup (they used to spell it Sirup but now it has been officially changed to Sirup!) The solids content of the finished maple syrup shall not be less than 66 percent by weight (Brix) (21 CFR 168.140)

All maple syrup is now Grade A. U.S. Grade A is the quality of maple syrup that has not more than 69.9% solids (brix) content by weight, has a good uniform color, has good flavor and odor, and intensity of flavor (maple taste) normally associated with the color class. It is free from off flavors and odors considered as damage and is free from cloudiness, turbidity, sediment and it is clean. No deviants for damage shall be allowed in Grade A. (USDA Section 52.5962)

Grade A is now divided into several categories. There is a Grade A- Light Amber that has a buttery vanilla taste, light flavor and is often perceived as sweeter due to lack of the strong maple flavor profile. Grade A Amber should be used on ice cream, crepes or other foods that you may not want the maple flavor to overpower but just be subtly there. Then there is Grade A-Amber Rich, which has a solid base maple flavor- this is good for all around usage on pancakes, French toast and in beverages. Next in line is the Grade A-Dark Robust which has stronger maple, caramel and brown sugar flavor notes. This is a good grade to use for oatmeal, formulated into beer, brownies and cakes.

There is no longer really a Grade B- it is referred to as “Processing Grade” now. Processing grade means (by USDA definition) that it does not meet Grade A requirements but meets the requirements of Processing Grade for use in the manufacturing of other products. Maple Syrup for processing can be packed in containers of 5 gallons or 20 liters or larger. It cannot be packed into consumer size containers for retail sale. Obviously if someone were buying a 5 gallon container that is ok since it would typically be used in a processing scenario at that minimum volume. The Processing Grade can’t have more than 68.9% brix, it can contain some off flavors and odors and it can have a very strong taste.

What does this mean for you (the consumer and the artisan food maker?) Don’t disregard commercial or processing grade maple syrup just because you may perceive it as a lower value. A Grade A Light Amber may not work well at all in your maple syrup oatmeal cookies- the flavor may not come through. Alternatively don’t use the commercial grade if you have a delicate tasting product that you plan to add it on to.

Talk to your maple syrup provider/manufacturer and set up a tasting so you can see for yourself how the different versions of “A” will taste and which is the best version for the best price to incorporate into your food product.

For more information on Maple Syrup- here are a few links

Food for scientists

Manufacturing and selling food to the masses is serious business. Its all fun and game to think about the media attention the fame and glory at the trade shows and the fun times but are you thinking about your food safety plan and the processes you must have in place in order to comply with FDA regulations? Big co-packers do, smaller start up companies often forget about these pesky details!

Every year 48 million (1 in 6) people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Our food supply system has become quite complex with ingredients and major food components being imported from all over the world. Even if you have a handle on your own food safety procedures, do you know what all your suppliers are up to? Have you visited their plants in China and Germany or wherever else your supply comes from? Just because your ingredient came from a broker here in the USA, doesn’t mean that the food came from here.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are the new FDA rules for food safety. It was signed into law on Jan 4 2011 and the goal is to protect our public health by strengthening our food safety system. Scientifically based standards must be implemented from farm to table to fork to mouth! Everyone is and will be impacted by the act- from farmers to importers, to foreign countries to start up food companies making energy bars out of a commercial kitchen in the east bay! No one is immune to bacteria!

The major components of FSMA are similar to your company HACCP Plan (do you have one of those—if not, you should!) Every food establishment should evaluate the hazards in their system, figure out how they will control it and prevent it, how they will monitor it, correct errors, verify those corrections and of course keep track of it all. All food making facilities should have – at the bare minimum- a sanitation program, a training process for employees, GMP (good manufacturing practices) in place, a allergen program, a recall emergency plan and a supplier verification program. This includes commercial kitchens that are being used to make retail products.

The FDA is going to start cracking down—as they should! There will be more plant inspections and if anything in your facility is amiss, the FDA can now issue a mandatory recall (in the past it was all voluntary- now the FDA can force you to shut down) There will be more heavy monitoring at the borders to ensure that imported foods coming into the US are following their own similar safety plans.

The FDA is doing what they can to assist but you, the food maker, cannot rely on their program alone. Food makers have to have their own strict plans in place, it is your responsibility to ensure that you are well versed in all regulations and are following them.

How can you learn more about these regulations? You can start off by reading the FDA code of federal regulations. Its available for free and on-line ! You can specifically read about the FSM Act You can sign up for HACCP certification courses all over the U.S.

Private label co packers often have teams of food safety staff ensuring that all regulations are being followed. If you choose to work with a co packer don’t be shy about asking to see their HACCP plan and pre requisite programs. While the co packer holds the ultimate liability on the safety of your product, you still own the reputation. Do you want to be on the 6 PM news as the latest company to have killed 23 people in the Midwest?!

If you choose to make the food yourself via a commercial kitchen then you own the liability. Before you being to produce and sell make sure you speak with the health department about the specific safety concerns related to your product and understand all the requirements on managing that safety. Even if you are not meat or juice, you should still learn HACCP and set up a plan in your kitchen. HACCP is a great way to get a handle on your food safety process.

Taking SAFESERVE, the 30 minute online course- is not enough to ensure you are producing safe food. The day long classes that reenforce hand washing is also not enough. And knowing that TDZ (temperature danger zone) is also not enough. You need allergen programs, recall programs and a way to monitor your safety plan. Supplier verification does not mean knowing which stall you bought your kale from last week- it means knowing where that farm is, visiting it and knowing they are not washing it in dirty dish water.

Food safety is a shared responsibility. You, the FDA and your co packer.

See, making food ain’t so simple after all–!!

I would like to thank the city of Hayward, CA for proving a free workshop last week on FSMA.  The speaker Nikoo Arashteh did a great job of summarizing the latest information. You can learn more about her services via linked in https://www.linkedin.com/pub/nikoo-arasteh/3/ba0/2b0  The seminar inspired me to write this piece and I have used information directly from the presentation!

 

Seminar Here http://yournextep.com/presentations.a5w

For more musings on food safety, food science, development and research chefs check out my website The Intrepid Culinologist 

 

I have been a food scientist since 1996— well, really I was born a food scientist but I didn’t know it till the 90’s– It then took a team of experts at the University of Massachusetts Food Science Department and my mentor at U-Illinois (Dr. Scott E. Martin) and all good (and bad) bosses I have had– plus all the fellow food scientists, ingredient suppliers, organizations — It took all these people plus 20 years of crazy experiences to get to where I am today– brave enough to say what I really think on the Justin Hall Show—  Justin Hall  must have felt my food science excitement vibe because he asked if I would do a video interview with him as part of his interview series.

Hopefully in 20 years I will still feel the same way!