Transitioning Omnivores Shift Toward Plant-Based Diets

Posted on:October 22, 2019

“Where does ‘science’ meet a company’s marketing objectives?” And, what does ‘clean label’ mean?” So enquired Rachel Cheatham, Ph.D., Founder & CEO, Foodscape Group, LLC in her presentation titled “Delivering Clean Label to the Transitioning Omnivore.”

“There are a lot of words to describe clean labels … ‘raw,’ ‘organic,’ ‘fresh,’ ‘natural,’… but there still exists no formal or regulatory definition of what it means,” she added. Cheatham cited a survey indicating that consumers generally associate clean label with organic labels (68%); with products found in the fresh foods sections of grocery stores (61%); and/or foods with ingredient labels containing only “recognizable” ingredients (58%).

Because the clean label term is not regulated, there are no fixed rules. This has spawned a wide variety of definitions and individual initiatives that can be contradictory and confusing. Major grocery (e.g., Kroger’s, H.E.B.) and restaurant (e.g., Panera) chains have responded by developing their own published definitions, listing ingredients that are either approved or not permitted in their categories.

The situation is further complicated by consumer confusion; Cheatham shared some outtakes from her LinkedIn commentaries. Some comments reflect fear and misinformation, such as: “Gums are lab formulated and come hidden in compound ingredients. Even a manufacturer doesn’t know of them.” Another comment was more ominously aimed at the processed foods industry: “Personally, I don’t care if a label is clean or not, because most of the food I buy has no label.”

Cheatham argued that the term clean label itself is too industry- focused. Consumers, she said, prefer to focus on “clean eating.” Citing a Nielsen study, she identified five label categories for foods: 1) conventional labels with no restrictions (a slightly declining category); 2) free-from labels, free of specific ingredients; 3) clean, defined as “free-from artificial and other objectionable ingredients;” 4) simple, containing only recognizable ingredients; and 5) sustainable. Sustainability, she said, was the fastest growing category, encompassing a smorgasbord of social justice criteria, ranging from non-GMO to workers’ rights.

From this foundational analysis, Cheatham segued to her organization’s Top10 Metatrends Report, a meta-analysis that draws a picture of a global omnivore diet transitioning away from animal proteins to plant-based diets, the subject of her presentation. She claimed that, today, “2-10% of any developed country’s population” is vegetarian, while estimating that “0.5% of the global population is vegan.” These numbers grossly underestimate the overall trend toward increased plant-based food consumption, she argued, as even dedicated omnivores are replacing more meat products with plant-based products in their daily diets. This trend has spurred the development of new, technology-based alternatives to harvested animal proteins.

As examples, she pointed to the “Beyond Burger®,” a plant-based beef burger substitute previously featured at the Global Food Forums conference. Although 100% plant- based, the product’s ingredient statement might not, at first glance, be viewed as clean label, so there are label trade-offs. Ocean Hugger Foods, Inc. created Ahimi™, a tuna substitute made from non-GMO vegetables, soy, sugar and sesame oil.

She also cited growing interest in animal cell-based (i.e., laboratory grown) meat technologies, noting global animal- protein giant Tyson Foods’ 2018 investment in Memphis Meats, a San Francisco-based start-up focused on laboratory-grown animal cell-culture products. In San Diego, BlueNalu is attempting to do the same with seafood proteins.

There has also been a proliferation of dairy product knockoffs, beginning with a plethora of nut, legume and cereal- based milks, but also cheese and yogurt substitutes.

While concluding, Cheatham re-minded audience members that there are always exceptions to ongoing trends: “Consumers make exceptions to their own rules and, sometimes, it is best not to tinker with proven-winner food products…clean label or no clean label. And, although clean label has no legal definition to date, this should not prevent companies from developing their own working definitions, thereof.”

It is complicated and challenging, she suggested, but “clean label efforts present an opportunity for greater internal alignment between Innovation/R&D and marketing communications.” Finally, she also proposed that company clean label policies be implemented enterprise-wide, rather than just at the SKU level.

“Delivering Clean Label to the Transitioning Omnivore,” Rachel Cheatham, Ph.D., Founder & CEO, Foodscape Group LLC

This presentation was given at the 2019 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Clean Label Conferences at

A Five-Step Approach to Certification of Food & Ingredient Supply Chains

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Mincing no words, Steve Taormina, Business Manager, NSF International, warned of major battles brewing in the food certification arena in his presentation “Behind the Label: Clean Label ‘Musts’ for the Ingredient Supply-Chain.” NSF International is a not-for-profit organization focused on science-based health and safety services that operates independently and is committed to professional certification. He emphasized, “NSF does not take positions on the merits of perceived public health issues, such as GMO or clean label definitions.”

Taormina warned that science is losing its battle to influence public perceptions on food safety risks, putting added pressures on food and beverage companies to comply with ever shifting and sometimes vague consumer expectations.

Taormina cited a 2018 PEW Research Center survey of 2,537 U.S. adults regarding their perceptions of food and beverage risks. While 70% of respondents acknowledged that science had had a “mostly positive effect” on foods, nearly 50% also expressed fears about the safety of food additives and claimed that GMO foods could lead to health or environmental problems.

Science and industry have been trying to push back by promoting uniform certification standards, such as the federal National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standards. Independent groups, like the Non-GMO Project (Bellingham, Wash.) are writing their own standards for GMO-free food certification, with the ultimate goal of revolutionizing how foods are produced and processed worldwide, noted Taormina. Referencing “non-GMO” and “gluten-free” certifications, Taormina proposed a five-step approach toward companies’ certifications of their ingredient and food supply-chains.

Step one is to commit to full supply-chain transparency. “In the context of non-GMO standards, it all comes down to DNA verification,” expressed Taormina. Full transparency anticipates consumer expectations that all that is hidden will become exposed.

Step two is segregation of high-risk inputs. “For non-GMO certification, we know that minerals (salt, baking soda) have no DNA, so they can be overlooked,” said Taormina. “‘Low risk’ applies to crops and other ingredients not currently available in genetically modified forms. Most fruits and vegetables fall in this category, as do herbs and spices. ‘High-risk’ ingredients, on the other hand, include corn, soybean, canola, alfalfa, sugar beet, papaya, potato, squash/zucchini and ‘arctic apple,’ all of which may or may not include GMO variants. These warrant scrutiny,” he added

In order to comply with organizations such as the Non-GMO Project, one must be able to document the raw material sources of ingredients ranging from amino acids and flavors, to vitamins and the materials used in their processing. In the case of animal products, it also requires certifying the non-GMO status of feed ingredients…even the plants and flowers used to produce honey.

Step three is to establish, document and guarantee the traceability of ingredients all the way throughout the supply chain. Pointing to the ingredient list for a raspberry filling as an example, Taormina asked, “If it is sugar, is it made from beet or sugarcane? If citric acid, what was its raw material source? If flavors, what are their origins and methods and materials used in their extraction, and was the extraction material non-GMO?”

Step four is to ensure that allergen-control systems are in place to eliminate allergen risks. “What are the traceability protocols and operating procedures necessary to prevent commingling or cross-contamination by allergen or gluten-containing ingredients?” he asked.

Step five is to determine third-party certifications or the proper certification agencies with which to work. While certain retailers such as Whole Foods make clear their expectations, manufacturers face a plethora of choices. NSF is also working with the Plant Based Foods Association, an organization focused on providing vegan-friendly certification. Taormina anticipates some potential regulatory confusion regarding emerging plant-based products, given the liberal application of terms, such as “meat” and “milk” applied to plant-based products. Increasingly, companies must also deal with emerging consumer and retailer expectations regarding certifications pertaining to social justice issues, such as human and animal rights.

Remember, in the end, the goal of those seeking certification is not only about science, health or reason; it’s also about changing the face of global agriculture and the types of foods we eat.

“Behind the Label: Clean Label “Musts” for the Ingredient Supply- Chain,” Steve Taormina, Business Manager, NSF International

This presentation was given at the 2019 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Clean Label Conferences at

Flavor Use: Is Natural Necessarily Clean Label?

Posted on:October 20, 2019

“All natural” and “clean label” do not necessarily equate with one another, began Deepthi K. Weerasinghe, Ph.D., Principal, dP3 Consulting, in his presentation “Formation of Flavor—Is Natural the same as Clean Label?”

In the absence of a regulatory definition for clean label and only vague guidance by FDA and USDA as to what constitutes “natural flavor,” such determinations are widely subjective. His presentation outlined a growing struggle between existing and evolving flavor production technologies and regulatory strictures working hard to keep up with shifting consumer expectations.

So, what constitutes natural? To begin, raw plant and animal products have generally been accepted as “natural.” However, their naturalness immediately becomes subject to interpretation, depending on whether genetically modified organisms, pesticides, antibiotics and/or other chemicals were used in their production and handling. Aspergillus oryzae, for example, is a filamentous fungus used to produce soy sauce, miso and sake. The growth media for A. oryzae cultures can be manipulated to create lactones as flavoring compounds.

“Since they are produced through natural fermentation, the lactones would be considered natural at that point, as they are not all that different from other products of fermentation, such as beer, yogurt, bread or cheese,” said Weerasinghe. But what happens when one starts genetically manipulating the enzymatic components of fermentative microorganisms?

Weerasinghe noted a patented process that converts kaurenoic acid into steviol and rebaudioside(s) (sweet components from the stevia plant) using genetically modified microorganisms. Companies need to be alert to such developments and their implications for clean and/or natural label designations.

It is also possible to manufacture colors through genetic modification. Weerasinghe cited a technical paper outlining how four bioengineered microbes could be used sequentially to transform glucose into callistephin, an anthocyanin color found in strawberries, pomegranate and blue corn. Would clean label consumers deem such an ingredient natural?

A demarcation between “soft” vs. “hard” chemistry may also define what is natural. Weerasinghe noted that the flavor industry had contended with this issue years ago with hydrolyzed vegetable proteins (HVP). While initially manufactured using “hard” inorganic chemicals to hydrolyze the proteins into amino acid-based flavor enhancers, consumer pressure shifted the industry toward using natural enzyme-catalyzed hydrolyses (i.e., “soft” chemistry).

This demarcation may not be quite so clear-cut today, especially under more restrictive EU regulations, said Weerasinghe. “Soft chemistry also refers to processing methods similar to common kitchen practices,” explained Weerasinghe, as in the use of juice concentrates and heat to manipulate pH conditions. Weerasinghe pointed to a patent describing the production of aliphatic alcohols and aldehydes from vegetable oils using enzymes naturally present in guava juices and soy flour. But, even then, he said, “The methodology used to extract and purify such enzymes will factor into their regulatory and clean label designations.”

The types of flavor extraction processes used also impact natural label designations. It makes a difference, he noted, if flavors are extracted with water, with ethanol (tinctures), or with natural oils or organic chemical solvents (oleoresins). Vanilla extractions typically use ethanol and water. However, the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) also allows the use of glycerin, propylene glycol, sugar, dextrose and corn syrup in such extractions. Even such minor extraction-process modifications that could ultimately affect label designations.

Processed flavors, which rely on Maillard reactions and Strecker degradations to produce savory flavors, are regulated in terms of process conditions (temperature, time, raw materials) to determine what constitutes natural. In the EU, they must be called “processed flavors.” But their appeal also lies in the ability to create vegan meat flavors from vegetable proteins. “You can make a wide range of chicken or beef flavors without using animal proteins,” said Weerasinghe.

Whether or not they qualify as natural or clean label will depend upon both regulatory authorities—and where vegan consumers are willing to accept trade-offs
“Clean label folks don’t like black box ingredient designations like ‘natural flavors,’ because it doesn’t tell them what is in there,” concluded Weerasinghe. “Customers today are looking for safety; many are looking for comfort. Many customers have health challenges; they want protection from the unknown.”

The question remains: Are regulatory environments helping or hurting such aspirations?

“Formation of Flavor—Is Natural the Same as Clean Label,” Deepthi K. Weerasinghe, Ph.D., Principal, dP3 Consulting

This presentation was given at the 2019 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Clean Label Conferences at

Food Safety & Preservation of Clean-Labeled Foods

Posted on:October 18, 2019


Kathleen Glass, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a self-professed “preservative fanatic.” Keeping food safe is her highest priority. However, she also respects consumer demands for clean labels. Glass highlighted clean label strategies for inhibiting Listeria monocytogenes growth in foods in her presentation titled “Challenges & Solutions for “Preservative-free, Microbial-safe Foods.”

In 1985, L. monocytogenes was the “newest bug on the block.” Following an outbreak of L. monocytogenes in cheeses, and not yet knowing the organism’s infectious dose, FDA and USDA took a zero-tolerance approach to the pathogen. The ready-to-eat (RTE) meat industry realized their products were also vulnerable, leading Glass and colleagues to test a variety of RTE meat products and identify pH, moisture, nitrite and competitive microbiota as critical factors for listerial growth.

The first listeriosis outbreak in an RTE meat (frankfurters) occurred in 1998-1999. In response, USDA fast-tracked the 2004 approval of lactate and diacetate to control L. monocytogenes in processed meats. In the meantime, however, a 2002 listeria outbreak associated with turkey caused 46 illnesses and ten deaths. Lactate and diacetate, often in combination with nitrite, became the gold standard for L. monocytogenes control, with propionate and benzoate added to the anti-listerial armamentarium in 2013. Unfortunately, L. monocytogenes outbreaks have continued to occur, particularly when antimicrobials are not used, as in the devastating 2018 South African polony outbreak: an RTE sausage product killed 216 people.

Glass compared using an anti-listerial in a product to that of wearing a seat belt: you don’t expect an accident, but you wear a seat belt, just in case. Using preservatives controls microbes throughout the food chain, providing insurance against improper holding temperature and protecting susceptible consumers.

Sometimes, protection against pathogens can be achieved simply by adjusting pH (<4.6) or water activity (<0.92). Combinations of low pH and low water activity are even more effective. In the cases of moderate pH and water activity, however, additional hurdles, such as antimicrobials, are needed. The effectiveness of an antimicrobial in food depends on many factors such as fat content, salt concentration and more. Different acids may have different activities, even at the same pH; acids with higher pKas tend to be more effective against Listeria monocytogenes in cheeses. Because it is difficult to predict what will work in a particular food, validation testing in the food is essential.

Pathogens can be controlled while maintaining a clean label. Clean label substitutes with documented efficacy exist for some synthetic preservatives, including cultured sugar/milk/wheat for lactate or propionate; vinegar for diacetate or acetic acid; cultured celery for nitrite; and acerola cherry powder for erythorbate or ascorbate. However, not all preservatives have suitable clean label substitutes, particularly sorbate, which is effective against molds, yeast, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium botulinum. Some clean label antimicrobials may also be required at high levels, which may impact product flavor.

Commercial fermentates (proprietary, clean label mixtures of organic acids, vinegar and bacteriocins) can be effective antimicrobials but may exhibit variability between suppliers or even between lots.

Starter (protective) cultures are another clean label strategy to prevent listerial growth in some products. Glass showed how effective cultured milk solids can be at controlling L. monocytogenes growth in mozzarella cheese. She also described using protective cultures to prevent L. monocytogenes growth in cottage cheese and on apples, while highlighting the need for challenge studies to identify the most effective ways (temperature, application process/location) to use these antimicrobials in a specific food.

While there are no magic bullets, clean label options for pathogen control in foods exist, with ingredient companies actively developing new clean label alternatives. Clean label antimicrobials that are familiar to consumers have the potential to enhance the safety of foods while building consumer confidence.

Challenges & Solutions for ‘Preservative-free,’ Microbial-safe Foods,” Kathleen Glass, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

This presentation was given at the 2019 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Clean Label Conferences at

Do Clean Labels Have Unintended Health Consequences?

Posted on:October 3, 2019

Dietary recommendations for clean eating are consumer-driven and not backed by science, according to Joanne Slavin, Ph.D., RD, Professor, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota. Slavin’s presentation was titled: “Do Clean Labels Have Unintended Health Consequences?”

Clean labels are not based on decades of nutritional recommendations, which haven’t changed a great deal since first articulated in 1894 with a focus on protein and calories.

Enrichment of foods, such as vitamin A and D in reduced-fat milk or dairy-alternatives, is needed to help consumers meet recommended levels of intake of these nutrients. However, their listing on labels as “vitamin A palmitate” and “vitamin D3” may be viewed as chemicals and not acceptable when clean label “rules” are followed.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) have been published since 1980 and are developed by experts on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committees (DGAC). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the department of Agriculture, jointly publish the DGA every five years to provide evidence-based recommendations to promote health, prevent chronic disease and maintain healthy weight. The DGA are important, as they form the basis of federal nutrition policy and programs; help guide health promotion and disease prevention initiatives; and inform various organizations and industries. However, Slavin noted that some recommendations “are unrealistic, difficult to communicate to consumers and promote a ‘hit list’ of dietary components associated with disease.”

Slavin asked: “What is a clean label?” In his 2008 book In Defense of Food, journalist and activist Michael Pollan stated that consumers should “not eat anything with more than five ingredients or ingredients you can’t pronounce.” In 2014, one international ingredient vendor offered that “a clean label means the product can be positioned as natural, organic and/or free from additives/ preservatives.” These definitions stress use of ingredients accepted by consumers. The ingredient list should be short, simple and feature minimally processed ingredients where possible.

In the pursuit of clean label, the ultra-processing of foods has been demonized by some. Ultra-processed has been defined as “made from processed substances extracted or refined from whole foods… with little or no whole foods. Products include burgers, frozen pizza and pasta dishes, nuggets and sticks, crisps, biscuits, confectionery, cereal bars, carbonated and other sugared drinks, and various snack products.” Ultra-processed foods are associated with for profit, big food and drink companies.

NOVA food classification, proposed by World Public Health Nutrition Association, is a four-tiered classification system ordered according to the extent of processing rather than nutrient content. NOVA Category 4, ultra-processed foods, includes industrial formulations with many ingredients, usually. “Although public health advice of NOVA is that ultra-processed foods—with an emphasis on fat, sugar and salt—should be avoid- ed to achieve improvements in nutrient intakes,” noted Slavin, “disease links between intakes of ultra-processed foods and health are lacking.”

There are nutritional and health challenges to clean eating, including Orthorexia Nervosa—a condition coined by Steven Bratman, M.D. in an essay published in the October 1997 issue of Yoga Journal. “Orthorexia Nervosa is defined as a fixation on the virtue of food or an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating,” in which people feel a sense of satisfaction and control with extremely restricted and ordered healthy eating.

“Required vitamins and minerals for enrichment cannot meet rules of clean label, as many view these as chemicals. Intakes of nutrients of concern—fiber, potassium, calcium and vitamin D—will only get worse by clean label ‘rules,’” explained Slavin. She provided the example of protein quality for plant-based ingredients, such as soy, which has improved digestibility and absorption due to processing. The same is true for the addition of healthy ingredients—whole grains, vegetables, fruits, pulses—as well as the removal of added sugar, sodium, and saturated and trans fats in some processed foods.

Slavin concluded that the movement to greater support for plant-based diets over nutrient intake will continue. Ultraprocessing is the new villain associated with a distrust of food technology as the solution for nutrition problems—even if that technology solves issues. She stressed, “It is critical to have those skilled in food technology and production on scientific panels that determine nutrition policy.”

“Do Clean Labels Have Unintended Health Consequences,” Joanne Slavin, Ph.D., RD, Professor, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota

This presentation was given at the 2019 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Clean Label Conferences at

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