Food Chain News - April 5

As March transitioned to April, these are a few of the food chain stories that caught our eye. What food chain news is making you stop and think?

Temple Bar Food Market in Dublin. Image by William Murphy, used via CC BY-SA 2.0.

Temple Bar Food Market in Dublin. Image by William Murphy, used via CC BY-SA 2.0.

The challenge of listeria contamination continues to rear its head, turning up in processed foods from bagged lettuce to deli meats, while Blue Bell has instituted new training and inspection processes to avoid future listeria outbreaks like the one that caused their 2015 nightmare.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new initiative to bolster the supply chain for local food systems around 10 U.S. cities. 'Food LINC' will connect demand for local food in 10 urban areas with supply from area farmers and ranchers in an effort to  strengthen each region's local food business sector and increase consumer access to local food.

Peeled oranges, repackaged in plastic. Image by Paul Sableman, used via CC BY 2.0.

Peeled oranges, repackaged in plastic. Image by Paul Sableman, used via CC BY 2.0.

Strengthening local agriculture seems to be a priority for USDA, which also announced a $90 million grant program for locally grown specialty crops and support for promoting other local agriculture programs, including farmer’s markets.

Eleven universities will receive funding to research ways nanotechnology can be used to improve food safety, enhance renewable fuels, increase crop yields, manage agricultural pests, and more.

Peeled oranges being sold in plastic containers? Wait, isn’t that what the rind is for? The Irish Times examines the history of food packaging, an ever-evolving industry. Case in point, this week canned-food giants Campbell Soup and Del Monte said they would be removing the chemical BPA from their packaging.

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As genetically modified foods continue to reach the market, the debate about their pros (quick-growing, specific nutritional benefits) and cons (safety concerns) proceeds apace. Where do consumers stand in this discussion? Will opinions change once labels are required? Vermont’s GMO label regulations go into effect July 1. Some companies, including Kellogg and Mars, are charging ahead with GM labels.

But even outside of government requirements, some companies are sharing more information about where their food comes from, what’s in it, and how it was produced. Sometimes the information can be found on packages. In other instances, the details are on websites. “The food industry historically was based on trust. And now it is trust but verify,” said Randy Fields, chief executive of ReposiTrak

One way for consumers to get around a middle step in the food delivery process is through food co-ops. Startup Wholeshare has brought the convenience of e-commerce to this analog idea of sharing wholesale purchases. The founders liked the old-fashioned model of the buying club for a couple of reasons: ”It gives people more control over the supply chain. It allows you to get the food you want,” said co-founder Matt Hatoun.

And on April 1, WestJet announced a food delivery innovation for its in-flight snacks. RALFH (robotic automatic light food handler) runs on a track above the center aisle and dispenses orders placed through smart phone apps directly to your seat. Or does it?

Finally, Food+City’s own Robyn Metcalfe is headed to this weekend’s Food + Enterprise Summit, a two-day investor-entrepreneur meet-up that catalyzes connections between entrepreneurs and investors to finance a better local food system. Follow the conference on Twitter and Instagram. And check back here for Robyn's takeaways from the summit in an upcoming post.