Editor's Plate: Why Can’t This Get Done?

June 11, 2015
One processor, one restaurant after another are cleaning up products. Why not school lunches?

As happens sometimes, I look through the table of contents of this month’s FOOD PROCESSING and see seemingly contradictory stories.

In our news section are three articles about products being “cleaned up.” Panera Bread created an exhaustive list of 150 ingredients it’s either removing from or never will put in its foods. Pizza Hut will remove artificial flavors and colors from pizzas by the end of July. Sister chain Taco Bell is doing much the same, as well as targeting unsustainable palm oil. Subway is working on eliminating caramel color from cold cuts like roast beef and ham and preservative proprionic acid from turkey. Subway will also replace the artificial dye Yellow No. 5, and instead color its banana peppers with turmeric. And it’s cleaning up its sauces and cookies.

On the processor side, Nestle USA is removing artificial flavors and some sodium from its pizzas and Hot Pockets. Nestle’s U.S. candy business earlier this year said it would remove artificial flavors (like vanillin) and colors (such as Red 40 and Yellow 5) from more than 250 candies, mostly chocolate products, by the end of this year.

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Last month we chronicled the label-cleaning efforts of Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and Tyson.

To me, it’s not so remarkable that these things are getting done but rather that they can be done. Labels can be cleaned up, artificial ingredients can be replaced. It’s been a battle for years, with food companies dismissing the purer food fanatics as a minority. And they are. But no one, not even consumers in the silent majority, is pro-artificial ingredients. So if you can clean up your product, why wouldn’t you?

Then I turn to our Wellness Foods story on the school lunch program and wonder why there’s a battle going on there. The mandates for sodium and whole grains do sound aggressive, but I bet they can be achieved. It will take extra effort and some financial cost on everyone’s part, but conquering childhood obesity is a worthy cause.

In researching that story, I found the school lunch program was suggested by an Army general at the end of World War II because most draftees were being turned away due to malnutrition. Now, the Dept. of Defense is rejecting most recruits because of obesity.

Food and beverage processors belong in any dialogue about improving school meals. But as solvers of the problems, not as obstacles. If anyone can create the needed solutions, they can. And should.

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