Articles and Quickpicks !

Quickpick 04/20/16


Selfish for shellfish

Cajun Crab Dip, Salads of the Sea brand, Lakeview Farms LLC, Delphos, Ohio

A delicious blend of imitation crab meat, cream cheese, red peppers and Cajun spices”

Ingredients: Imitation crabmeat (fish protein from Pollock and/or Whiting), cream cheese, mayonnaise, water, seasoning

There is NO CRAB in the CRAB DIP. The company does, in small print state that its “imitation” crab meat. The FDA frowns on the tiny print. It is deceptive, especially when you don’t have your reading glasses on.

FDA: “Use the same type size and prominence for the word “imitation” as is used for the name of the product imitated” 21 CFR 101.3 (e)

Quickpick 03/18/16


Bunches of Fun”

Sagitun Farms in Belize offers a banana farm tour that is extremely informative. Even as a food scientist, I was unaware of the complexity that is necessary to operate a banana farm from the growth of the plants through harvesting, packing and shipping. Our host, Ms. Evin Zabaneh, who studied international agriculture in the states, walked us through and delivered not only interesting, but scientific explanations for much of the goings on. The two farms have over 1000 acres and over 40 miles of a “tram pulley system” (my words), where up to 25 bunches (weighing up to 80 Lbs), are pulled by man power alone to the sorting and packing area.

The banana plants (not trees) themselves are a wonder of nature, their stems or filled with canals of water rich in nutrients, that feed the one bunch the plant will produce in its life, and then through its rhizome root system, sprout an adjacent “daughter” plant to continue the cycle. There were nuances the way the workers pruned and chopped with the machete, the way they placed bags over the banana bunches for protection from the elements and insects, the way they made carrying an 80 Lb bunch gingerly and look easy and loading them onto the pulley system.

A few facts that I found interesting: The bananas we have in our supermarkets in the US are “Cavendish” bananas, evidently there are many types and these are suited best based on heartiness and growth. Other nomenclature: when we go to the store we by a “cluster” of bananas. The “bunch” is what the plant delivers, composed of rows of “hands” that are broken down to “clusters” and each banana is a “finger”.

Tours are up to five times per week, if you’re in the area check it out.

Quickpick 12/09/2016

veggie chips 1 veggie chips 2

Potato Chips at the Masquerade Ball

From the Good Health Snacks website: “we pack our veggie chips with extra goodness™! …You can enjoy being good”. We’re not so sure, you be the judge. These aren’t dried veggies, they are mostly dehydrated potatoes, potato starch, oil and salt. So where are these other veggies? They fall after salt on the ingredient statement. Since ingredient statements list the ingredients in order of weight, there are less dried vegetables (other than the dried spuds) than salt!

We can determine fairly closely the amount of potato, oil, salt, and dried veggies based on the nutrition facts panel and ingredient statement. Both are needed to determine the numbers: (enquiring minds can see the calculations below) serving size is 1 ounce (28 grams)

potato and potato starch: about 57% (16 grams)

oil about 25% (7 grams)

dried vegetables: less than 1.8% (about a half a gram per serving) listed as tomato, green pepper, parsley, spinach paprika, garlic and celery

Really?, “veggie” chips with dried vegetables other than potato at 0.5 grams is about ¼ teaspoon. These are really only contributing color.


Oil: fat listed at 7g, divided by serving size 28g = about 25%

Dried veggies: (remember it came after “salt” on the ingredient list, looking at the sodium level of 200 mg/serving}: 200 mg divided by 0.39 (factor for Na in NaCl) = 513 mg salt. So, 0.513 g divided by the serving size 28g is about 1.8%. Therefore, the dried veggies have to be equal or less than the salt.

Potato and potato starch: total carbs is 18g, subtract the carbs from the other veggies and its roughly 16g. The other ingredients on the list do not contribute any other carbs.

Quickpick 11/12/15

Feeling Fresh?

Fresh New Look” the label says. Sometimes it’s just “New Look” and apparently Campbell Soup Company thinks this is a good marketing strategy. The Low Sodium V8 juice label has this “Fresh New Look” burst on it. So, we checked. The juice looks the same, the bottle looks the same, the ingredients are the same, and the nutrition facts are the same. There is nothing different with this product other than finely placed photos of sliced celery, carrots and tomatoes on the label. I (Bill) like this product and frequently purchase it, however I am an equal opportunity offender. Fresh juice is better, but life is busy. The question is, are we going to buy something we know is the same thing when we put some lipstick on it? Sadly, I think yes, we do eat with our eyes and the fortune 500 marketing squads wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. What do you think Sandy?


Bill, this is a marketing ploy that is frequently used in the food industry and the cosmetic industry as well: re-packaging in order to make the product seem new or better. I know our focus is on food in this blog, but in the cosmetic industry the same old products are repackaged every season (fashion changes and cosmetics must follow suit!) with splashy advertising campaigns to go along with them, when in reality the makeup products are EXACTLY THE SAME. One thing that frequently happens with food and cosmetic products when re-packaging is implemented is that the amount of product in the package is reduced, even if it is a small percentage, but sold at the same price as before. Not only is this done to increase profit margins, but is also done to compensate for the cost of the redesigning and producing the new packaging.

Quickpick 8/18/15

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Mama Mia!

It was started by a couple that came to the US in the 1920’s. We don’t think this is the same product. “Authentic Italian Since 1930” it says on the box for Celeste brand Vegetable Pizza. At the bottom of the package with the pizza photo it says “enlarged to show quality”. These two claims got our spidey senses up and are calling out Pinnacle Foods Group, LLC out of Linden, NJ to task. The pizza brand has changed hands numerous times over the last few decades. Let’s see what this pizza is all about and the ingredients history:

1930’s: Celeste Pizza, introduced by Mama Celeste and her husband Anthony

1960’s: high fructose corn syrup used commercially, included in today’s pizza

1990’s L-cysteine monohydrochloride (dough conditioner) google it to see where it comes from, in the pizza

2000+ (who knows when) fake “Mozzarella”, they don’t say “cheese “as that triggers label regulations, clever. It’s basically water, palm oil, starches, salt, gum and color-no cultured milk at all. Yuk.

1930’s pizza also didn’t include maltodextrin, xanthan gum, sodium citrate, sodium phosphate and a bunch of other ingredients. “Authentic Italian since 1930”? Nope.

And to the founders, Celeste and Anthony Lizio who have long passed, they changed your pizza.

Followers, you receive original and not re-hashed information on our blog, as with all our posts, unlike the others, find it here first

Bill and Sandy

Quickpick 7/31/15

This Bites

pic for bites

Dockside Classics brand “Breaded Lobster Bites” states on its principal display panel “MADE WITH REAL LOBSTER”. Yes, but not much. The first ingredient is “lobster surimi”, this is basically washed whitefish protein with less than 2% lobster meat, flavors and phosphates. The next three ingredients are lobster meat, mayonnaise and bread crumbs. The real lobster appears to be minced body meat. Unfortunately, there are many products named crab, shrimp, lobster which include dips, spreads, patties etc. that use surimi, a blend of whitefish proteins (Alaskan pollock is a primary one) and flavors as the major ingredient to mimic the real thing. Read the labels. From their website “…treat yourself to a waterfront meal-so good you’ll swear you can smell the salt air-right in your own home”.




Quickpick 6/24/2015


Making Your Own Homemade Pepper Spray

In some countries it’s illegal to possess a capsaicin pepper spray, and in others it’s just plain expensive. We don’t advocate breaking the rules, but do not believe producing a hot pepper infused vinegar condiment a legal breach anywhere. So let’s start-you will need:

  1. Vinegar   vinegar
  2. Nitrile gloves (if you’re using Ghost chiles or Scorpion chiles) gloves
  3. Squirt guns or squeeze ketchup type bottles-anything with a nozzle squirt guns
  4. Fresh Hot Peppers hot peppers

Chop up the peppers. Ghost are best at 1,000,000 Scoville “heat” units, Habanero are good if you can’t get the Ghost chiles, the Habs are about 300,000 Scoville units. Jalapeno peppers will work but are low at the 5,000 Scoville unit range. chopped peppers

Soak the chiles in vinegar in a jar (fill to the top of the chiles), for a week. pitcher of pepper juice

Strain off the liquid and put into you’re squirt gun or squirt bottle. Good for bad dogs and bad people. Save the left over chiles in the fridge for your culinary tastes.

Note (usual disclaimer): the authors make no claim to the efficacy, effectiveness nor legal standing in any jurisdiction, nor responsibility for any harm or injury for the use of the homemade pepper spray recipe(s).


Quickpick 6/3/2015

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain”


You won’t find Coca-Cola at Whole Foods Market. The soft drinks contain additives on their “unacceptable ingredients” list. Regular Coke contains high fructose corn syrup and a class IV caramel color (aka sulfite ammonia caramel color) a byproduct of which is 4-methylimidazole*. Based on the sugar content listed on the nutrition facts panel, a 12 fl oz can of regular Coke has about 3 tablespoons of HFCS. Diet Coke contains the artificial sweetener aspartame and caramel color. It would appear that WFM would rather distance itself from the Coca-Cola Corporation we think, but is this true? You decide.

In this May 3, 2011 photo, shoppers depart a Whole Foods Market store location in Providence, R.I. Whole Foods Market Inc. reports quarterly financial earnings Wednesday, May 4, 2011, after the market close.   (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Under the “Core Values” WFM website page is its “Declaration of Interdependence” in part reads: “We are a mission driven company that aims to set the standards of excellence for food retailers”.

So, what’s the big deal? WFM does market other Coke owned brands, ones that fit their standard for acceptable ingredients and other criteria, maybe no problem with that. Now comes the heavy hand of hypocrisy, Coca-Cola trucks are not allowed on WFM property to deliver those other branded Coca-Cola owned products. Products such as Vitamin Water, Smart Water and others come in to a distribution center on Coca-Cola marked trucks and have to be off loaded and then loaded onto other trucks so that you would see one of Coke’s Juice brand trucks instead. Maybe WFM is saying “we’ll buy from Coke, but don’t let anybody see us doing business. We don’t want customers paying attention”?

*Center for Science in the Public Interest (June 2012)

Quickpick 5/24/15


fish photo

Would you like some fish to go with that breading?”

Let’s look at three fish entrees common to most supermarkets and found in the freezer aisle. The fish (Alaskan Pollock) are FBF (formed breaded fillets), not made from mince. The side dish is a carb (rice, pasta or potato). All were priced around $2.50.

The differences we are looking at between the three are the amount of fish and the amount of breading (aka the percent pick-up). The pick-up generally includes a predust, batter, breading and fry oil.

Lean Cuisine Lemon Pepper Fish:

Entree: 9 oz calories: 310 breaded fish: 2.90 oz actual fish: 1.36 oz 53% PU

Stouffer’s Fish Fillet with Mac & Cheese:

Entree: 9 oz calories: 410 breaded fish: 5.28 oz actual fish: 3.08 oz 42% PU

Smart One’s Fish & Chips

Entrée: 5.11 oz calories: 310 breaded fish: 3.03 oz actual fish: 1.83 oz 40% PU

The Lean Cuisine has very little fish, a pathetically small amount. The Smart One’s has almost a half-ounce more fish than LC, but it’s a small entree. If you’re not counting calories and want a little more gravitas to your fish dinner, go with Stouffer’s. It’s has more than twice the fish of Lean Cuisine.






Quickpick 5/4/15


Great Expectations

There are many vegan and vegetarian foods being marketed as alternatives to animal based products. These alternatives, supposedly mimicking the counterpart rarely do so. Product developers are no match for mother nature. Fakin Bacon doesn’t, Chik’n isn’t and Toona sounds sounds… sorry, fishy. My opinion is that these actually taste pretty good, but not at all what they are trying to represent. My daughter calls me (Bill) a “lacto-ovo-pescadarian” because I consume dairy, eggs and seafood and not meat or chicken, this for the last 30 years. The only time I would consume meat or poultry was because of my occupation.

Let’s look at two items: Albacore tuna (a generic) and Vegan Toona, made by Sophie’s Kitchen, Inc. I liked the product. It tasted good, nice texture, it had that umami (savory) I like. It looked nothing like tuna, tasted nothing like tuna, the texture was unlike tuna. It’s dark brown color is due to the high temperature processing after canning that causes browning (like when a roux is made from a white flour).tuna2tuna1

Vegan Toona is primarily pea protein and pea and potato starches, water and a few other ingredients. Per serving Toona has 5 grams of fat and the Albacore 1 gram and 40% less protein than Albacore. 

The point is that these alternatives should simply be named differently and not end up being a bad mother nature knock-off. I have great expectations.





Weekly Quickpick 3/21/15

      An Ode about Artificial Sweeteners


Two common artificial sweeteners

Two common artificial sweeteners

Zero Calorie Sweeteners? Not Really

See them in the restaurants, see them in the store

Add them to your coffee, add a couple more

The calories say zero, but actually it’s more like four

Don’t think there is no sugar, there is dextrose galore

Pretty names like Splenda, Equal and Sunette

Fancy names for some chemicals I would really bet

So when you go shopping ask if you really need these

After all it may contribute to your diabetes

Weekly Quick Pick 1/31/15                              chips


Throughout Central America and the Caribbean there are numerous food products exported from the United States. All the Frito-Lay, Inc. snack products are labeled “EXPORT”. Why are they labeled differently? Are they sub-par or somehow irregular? These include Lay’s potato chips, Ruffles potato chips, Cheetos, Doritos and others. Yet the nutrition facts panels, ingredient statements and net weight all match US product. PepsiCo, Inc. (Frito-Lay, Inc. packs for them) Consumer Relations replied promptly to our query with the following, and the answer is quite simple:

Our export snacks need a longer shelf life so we use thicker packaging and a special air fill suitable for air travel (so the bags won’t split at high altitude). The snacks in export packaging are the same as those sold in the United States”.

The packaging of food is a separate science in itself. Food Science programs offer individual courses in packaging. Packaging’s ultimate goal is to protect the integrity of the product and keep the bad things out. It’s also what sometimes sells the product.

 Quick Pick for 1/5/14


We Want To “Pump You UP”

Bill: If you’re old enough, you may remember Hans and Franz on SNL encouraging you to get pumped up. Even before these guys, companies were pumping up food products. Shrimp is frequently soaked in water and phosphate (sodium tri-polyphosphate is a common additive). Phosphates help protein bind water. It was meant to bring back the water in seafood that was lost during processing and packaging to its original moisture content. Shrimp costs more than water and abuse has become rampant. If you can “soak” shrimp a bit longer and thus pump it up with extra water more than the normal water loss, you’ve got some extra profit. When you cook up shrimp and it stays glossy and opaque after cooking and is rubbery-that’s a pumped product. Read the label, don’t buy shrimp with phosphates added. I was former Product Development Manager at one of the largest shrimp importers and we soaked lots of shrimp.

Sandy: Phosphates can also be damaging to human health. Phosphates increase the aging process by damaging blood vessels. Not only are phosphates used in the process that Bill just described, phosphates are used heavily as a food additive in fast food and phosphates are found in high levels in sodas. Phosphates have been shown to increase risk of osteoporosis. In fact, individuals who drink sodas show, on average, 4% less bone density than individuals who do not drink sodas. Phosphates also increase the incidence of kidney stones in persons who are prone to getting them. Look for phosphate-free shrimp and avoid fast food and sodas. Read labels! Avoid damaging your kidneys and slow the aging process by avoiding phosphates.


 QuickPick for 11/5/2014


I left my artichoke heart in San Francisco”

Spanish settlers brought the first artichokes to California and planted in fields south of San Francisco. Nearby is Castroville (pop. about 6500), and it’s the artichoke capital. It holds an annual artichoke festival, crowns an artichoke queen, and has an official artichoke festival website. So, while cruising across the central valley last week I had to stop and check it out. I took a selfie with the giant artichoke there. Of course I had to sample the fare. 3 ounces of artichoke hearts (cooked/drained) is about 45 calories, and an excellent source of fiber (7 grams) and a good source of vitamin C (10% RDI). At the market near the giant artichoke was NOT how it was served. They offer 20 piece battered and breaded deep fat fried artichoke hearts for $7. I ate four of them. They stayed with me until reaching the Pacific. Yummy, and a rare indulgence of which I will not dwell on the caloric or fat intake today. If you are traveling west from Nevada to the coast, stop in, it’s kitschy and fun.

 Quick Pick for  10/20/14

Sodi-Yum, It’s all in the claim

Bill: Salt makes things taste good. Even in sweet things like pancake syrup, processors will put a little of it in. In our processed food world, high sodium levels abound: pickles, olives, tomato juice, processed luncheon meats and on ad nauseam (pun intended).

If you want to reduce your sodium intake, simply purchasing an item claiming to be “reduced sodium” may not be the way to go. Let’s look at what defines “low” or “reduced” per FDA regulations (and I paraphrase):

Low sodium: has to be less than or equal to 140 mg sodium per serving (and meet it for a 50 gram amount for serving sizes that are small eg. Hot sauce, mustard)

Reduced Sodium: at least 25% less sodium than the regular product, or comparable marketed products.

There is a BIG difference here. I’ll occasionally have a low sodium V-8 juice (140 mg sodium per cup serving size). If I choose to use a “reduced sodium” chicken soup base in a soup I am making, a teaspoon is 500 mg sodium, because the regular base is 680 mg sodium. Clever, accounting for the rounding on nutrition labels, the Better Than Bouillon brand of chicken base is exactly 25% less sodium (they bring the salt level down as near as they can get to the magic number and add potassium chloride to get back that sodium chloride kick). This is how it’s done for mostly all “low sodium” and “reduced sodium” reformulated products. I think BTB brand bases are tasty and I use them, just in moderation.

Sandy: Because I rarely use pre-packaged foods of any kind, I generally don’t worry about sodium, and even add a dash of salt to some foods. However, it is always interesting to me that when I eat things such as cheese, especially cottage cheese, I blow my sodium intake for the day if I also intake pre-packaged protein drinks such as Muscle Milk or Premium Protein and/or protein bars. These things are usually “sweet” in taste, but pack a fair amount more sodium than you would think. For people that have to watch their sodium though, don’t just assume that because it says “reduced” or “low” it is OK to use. There are trackers online and tracking apps for your phone that can help you keep up with your sodium intake if that is an issue for you. 

label with sodium

note the “reduced sodium” qualifier at the bottom of the nutrition information


Weekly quick pick for 10/13/14

"All Natural" label

“All Natural” label

Bill, can I call my product All Natural?” I am asked this frequently. The quick answer is usually “yes” and that’s based on the FDA’s lack of any real regulation on its definition. The FDA’s position is if it doesn’t say artificial (artificial flavor), or artificial color (like the coal tar dyes red 40, blue 1, yellow 5 etc. and a few other obscure things) in the ingredient statement then you may call it “natural”. Even without a firm rule, there are some things that are clearly not naturally derived. It’s just that it’s difficult getting people to agree where and how to draw a line between what defines natural and not natural. It’s really in the eye of the beholder (or marketer). Example: Trader Joe’s market has a sign at its Portland, ME store stating that they “do not use artificial preservatives” in any of their products. While shopping for some dried fruit at TJs, I noticed many of the products contained added sulfites (sodium sulfite, sodium metabisulfite) which are used for preserving the original color of the fruit. I contacted TJ’s corporate about it and their reply was “sulfites are natural”. Technically, yes, naturally occurring sulfites can be found in some foods (cheese). But not at the levels that will keep dried papaya bright orange! Many of the elements in the periodic table “natural”- Arsenic and Old Lace anyone? Sandy, I know you primarily shop the perimeter and are careful about what you eat. What foods do you try to avoid because of what’s in them?

Sandy: Funny you should bring up dried fruits, because that is one of the first things that sprung to my mind. I avoid DO avoid them because of the sulfites, but it is possible to buy dried fruits that are sulfite-free from some stores; you have to read the label. The “All Natural” label is one of the most misleading marketing tools that food manufacturers use. What, “all-natural” as opposed to “all-synthetic”? Like you said, Bill, many things are “all-natural” and very dangerous. Socrates (according to legend) died by  drinking  hemlock…and that was “all-natural”!   If you get right down to it, most of the processed food on the shelves is “all natural”, even soda pop. Sure, it has phosphoric acid in it but that is naturally occurring in some foods, so doesn’t that mean it is OK? Not a chance, of course. I, for the most part, avoid anything that comes in a box, bag, or  can, with the exception of some frozen vegetables and fruits, and canned tuna (haven’t seen non-canned tuna in my area, yet). Beware the “all-natural” label on things. READ the label and if there are things that you can’t pronounce or are not familiar with, chances are the product is NOT very natural.

Weekly quick pick for 10/6/14

Ocean Beauty Has Us Seeing Red”

The bright red salmon, almost unnaturally fluorescent, catches your eye while you pass the frozen seafood case. Wow! 3oz of cold smoked Sockeye (aka Red salmon) for $3.50!. Not so fast, check the ingredients in Nathan’s brand Nova Salmon: it is “Chum Salmon”. “Chum” is the old name, but you can find this salmon under a variety of names: “Keta”, “Wild”, “Pacific” or just “Salmon”. We eat with our eyes and a bright red Sockeye is more inviting than a wild caught pale Chum. Farmed salmon can be fed food with dyes in it (most all Atlantic salmon), but not wild salmon. So, what Ocean Beauty (Nathan’s brand), Vita brand and Morey’s brand do is to add coal tar artificial dyes (such as yellow 5, yellow 6, red 40, blue 1) to get that nice color. Additionally, Nathan’s pumps in way too many chemicals to preserve the fish. You do not need the sodium erythorbate or the sodium nitrite in frozen product (these are color preservatives as well as bacterial inhibitors). The coal tar dyes don’t lose their color over time or in a freezer as natural colors do. The addition of sodium benzoate also makes little sense, mold and yeast won’t grow in the freezer, and if its slacked out in a refrigerated case, it’s good a couple months without it. Lastly, Nathan’s needs to redo their nutrition facts panel: It’s a single serve package based on its net weight (FDA single serve rule), not 1.5 servings (but having almost 1000 mg of sodium for a serving doesn’t “look” as appetizing!).


Weekly quick pick for 9/03/14

Tortilla chips! This week we have some tortilla chips sold at a northeast supermarket chain. There are 10 ingredients in the chips and out of those 10, 4 are preservatives and 1 is lye. the two parabens are rarely used in foods. They are used primarily in cosmetics. Are we pickling ourselves?

Parabens in tortilla chips

Parabens in tortilla chips

Weekly Quick Pick for 09/10/14

This week we are looking at a major producer of stuffed clams. Look down the list of ingredients and try to find  “clams”. you have to look way down, after the “contains 2% or less of…” phrase. The chewy stuff you may think are clams are bits of hydrated textured soy protein. You been PUNKED!

stuffed clam ingredient label

stuffed clam ingredient label