Caffeine, alcohol combo a recipe for trouble

FDA says caffeine and alcohol don't mix

The US Food and Drug Administration warned four companies that the caffeine added to their malt beverages is an “unsafe food additive” and said further action, including seizure of their products, is possible under federal law.

The companies receiving warning letters and their products are:

  • Charge Beverages Corp.: Core High Gravity HG, Core High Gravity HG Orange and Lemon Lime Core Spiked
  • New Century Brewing Co., LLC: Moonshot
  • Phusion Projects, LLC (doing business as Drink Four Brewing Co.): Four Loko
  • United Brands Company Inc.: Joose and Max.

FDA’s action follows a scientific review by the agency in which it examined the published peer-reviewed literature on the co-consumption of caffeine and alcohol; consulted with experts in the fields of toxicology, neuropharmacology, emergency medicine and epidemiology; and reviewed information provided by product manufacturers. FDA also performed its own independent laboratory analysis of these products.

“FDA does not find support for the claim that the addition of caffeine to these alcoholic beverages is generally recognized as safe, which is the legal standard,” says Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner. “To the contrary, there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern.”

Experts have raised concerns that caffeine can mask some of the sensory cues individuals might normally rely on to determine their level of intoxication. The FDA said peer-reviewed studies suggest the consumption of beverages containing added caffeine and alcohol is associated with risky behaviors that may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations.

The agency said the products named in the warning letters are being marketed in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the FFDCA). Each warning letter requests the recipient inform the FDA in writing within 15 days of the specific steps that will be taken to remedy the violation and prevent its recurrence.

Though removing the caffeine from these drinks is a step in the right direction, Michael F. Johnson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says this isn’t enough. “I applaud the FDA for tackling youth-oriented caffeinated alcoholic drinks and effectively getting them reformulated. Four Loko and Joose might no longer have caffeine, but they still contain three to four beers’ worth of alcohol in 23-ounce, single-serving cans. That’s a bad idea that deserves further scrutiny from regulators at the federal, state, and local levels. That these drinks are made with kid-friendly flavors like watermelon, blue raspberry, and lemonade says all one needs to know about their target audience.”

China accused of circumventing US trade policies

The American citric acid industry asked the US Department of Commerce to investigate possible circumvention of antidumping (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) orders on citric acid and certain citrate salts from China. The target of this initial request is the transshipment of Chinese citric acid products through Thailand. The American citric industry consists of Archer Daniels Midland Company; Cargill, Inc. and Tate & Lyle Americas LLC.

In May 2009, AD and CVD orders were imposed on imports of citric acid products from China. These orders require importers of Chinese citric acid products to post CVD duties of between 3.60 and 118.95 percent, and AD duties of between 94.61 and 156.87 percent. By transshipping the citric acid products and declaring the intermediate country as the country of origin, Chinese producers and exporters avoid payments of these duties. These actions not only rob the US Treasury of significant revenues, but they also threaten the health of American citizens by rendering the source of an important food, beverage and pharmaceutical ingredient untraceable.

At least one official of a major Chinese citric acid producer has made public statements confirming this practice in the July 2010 edition of Corn Products China News.

The request to investigate this possible circumvention is only the first of several possible anti-circumvention actions to be filed by the American citric acid industry. The US producers continue actively to monitor and collect information on global Chinese shipments and are gathering evidence regarding possible transshipment of Chinese citric acid products through a number of other countries, including Israel, Indonesia, India, the Dominican Republic, Japan, S. Korea and Taiwan. In addition, the US citric acid industry is monitoring imports for possible product mislabeling, including the practice of blending Chinese citric acid products with other ingredients to avoid duty payments.

Source: Rez-Tech Corp.

The shrink is on for big-mouth bulk containers

Plastic wide-mouth containers are frequently used to sell bulk items such as nuts, chips, cookies, chewing gum, pretzels and toys-typically in big-box club stores. However, these containers are not limited to dry goods, and are also used for everything from bulk-size salsa to pickles.

These bulk containers are going through a literal shrinking process on multiple fronts, says Jack Podnar, president of Rez-Tech Corp., a Kent, OH-based manufacturer of PET and vinyl plastic containers. In a win-win for both the environment and the reduction of packaging costs, jar redesign has led to a reduction in the amount of plastic used without sacrificing stacking strength. At club stores, bulk container sizes are also shrinking (often imperceptibly to the consumer) to maintain price points. Not to be outdone, grocery chains eager to jump into the bulk goods market are working with manufacturers to introduce new small-bulk sizes down to 48 oz. to compete with the club stores.

“New design techniques are enabling the manufacture of 15 to 25 percent lighter jars, with less plastic, less cost and greater environmental sustainability,” says Podnar. New packaging-specific CAD-CAM software enables significantly less plastic to go into the manufacturing process due to improved jar geometry, design ribbing, design simulation and other design techniques. These factors maximize strength and performance for required stacking, while minimizing material and cost. The problem with traditionally made containers is they tend to be overbuilt, wasting material and capital, especially if not recycled, says Podnar.

In the stretch-blow-molding process typically used to make wide-mouth and other PET container types, the plastic is first molded into a tube-like shape called a pre-form via injection molding. However, to simplify manufacturing, the pre-form, which is heated and blown into the proper shape, is often larger and thicker than required. This is changing as cost and green issues become more important, and food manufacturers, retailers, packagers and consumers turn to the lighter, more environmentally sustainable containers, says Podnar.

“Tweaking container size and shape is faster and easier than ever before and can have significant payback,” explains Podnar. “Reducing diameter by a quarter-inch may be virtually imperceptible to consumers, but it can help a food manufacturer hit a critical price point by reducing total cost by 8 to 10 percent or more. Amid cutthroat competition, this can help to win bids and shelf space.

“Non-club stores, who’ve wanted to do efficient pallet pack merchandising, without the excessive bulk of club stores, are now offering small-bulk containers at their end caps,” says Podnar. “This minimizes stocking and handling, and can be especially effective with wide-mouth containers.”

Instead of using new materials to manufacture the containers, which depletes the earth’s finite resources, adding recycled content to them can also give stores and consumers a way to distinguish themselves and help environmental sustainability, says Podnar. Some “small-bulk” wide-mouth container manufacturers, for instance, give the option of using 15, 25 or 100 percent recycled content in the container’s manufacture.

“Another plus to the ‘small-bulk’ wide-mouth containers is that consumers seek them out and reuse them for home storage of cookies, cereal, toys, nails, crayons, craft items and other objects,” says Podnar. “Marketers and brand managers appreciate how reuse of the containers can keep their brand in front of the consumer indefinitely, which helps with the next purchase.”

Automation News

System integrator Automation Dynamics teamed with Intelligrated to install an automated material handling system at KeHE distributors in Allentown, PA. The system achieves 99.9 percent order accuracy. Source: Intelligrated.

KeHE DC sees 300 percent productivity gain with automated material handling system

KeHE Distributors, a large US distributor of natural and specialty food products to small and mass market retailers across the country realized distribution center (DC) productivity gains of 300 percent after implementing a material handling system from Intelligrated and Automation Dynamics, a system integrator.  

KeHE, which operates 13 DCs across the US, instigated a centralization strategy that consolidated two of the company’s Northeastern DCs into a new 312,000-sq.-ft. DC in Allentown, PA, forming a single, high-efficiency operation. According to KeHE Vice President of Distribution Operations Craig Turner, the DCs were operating at maximum capacity and were unable to accommodate increasing demand. The challenge was to redesign the Allentown facility to reduce the number of touches, meet increased order throughput and efficiency and build in reserve capacity for future growth.

The Allentown installation, valued at $1.8 million, is a hybrid system of horizontal pick carousels, a pick- and put-to-light carton flow module and a conveyor system to route product through the various pick and pack zones. The system optimizes cubing and vertical space to achieve a dense pick, minimized footprint and increased picking accuracy while maximizing the efficiency of the existing labor pool.

“We are extremely pleased with the effective teamwork and cooperation between KeHE, Intelligrated and Automation Dynamics,” says Turner. “We think that our design here can outperform any competitors in an each-pick environment. Other systems have pick-to-light and carousels, but they use them in such a traditional way that they do not reach their full potential. The system integration team did an excellent job studying our SKU mix to rethink these technologies.”

For more information, contact Emily Smith, Intelligrated, 513-881-5239 or by e-mail.

Fieldbus Foundation announces first registered devices implementing advanced field diagnostics

The Fieldbus Foundation has registered the first FOUNDATION fieldbus devices incorporating advanced field diagnostics technology. The new registration requirements help standardize how fieldbus devices communicate their diagnostic data to the host and asset management tools within a plant automation system.

Advancements in field diagnostics support a structured approach to asset management, which simplifies plant operators’ tasks and increases their confidence in using equipment diagnostics and asset software. This initiative will enable improved process performance, greater reliability, increased uptime and lower operating costs.

Yokogawa (field indicator) and FCI-Fluid Components International (thermal mass flowmeter) are the first FOUNDATION fieldbus H1 (31.25 kbit/s) device suppliers to pass the field diagnostics registration process.

The Fieldbus Foundation developed a profile specification enhancing the organization and integration of device diagnostics within FOUNDATION fieldbus systems. The new diagnostic profile includes a standard and open interface for reporting all device alarm conditions, and provides a means of categorizing alert conditions by severity. The technology facilitates routing of alerts to appropriate consoles based on user-selectable severity categories. In addition, it provides recommended corrective actions and detailed help, as well as an indication of the overall health of the device.

The FOUNDATION fieldbus Diagnostics Profile Specification (FF-912) was defined to allow any Electronic Device Description (EDD)-based system to access and configure the diagnostics in fieldbus devices. The field diagnostics profile makes no changes to the existing FOUNDATION fieldbus stack specifications. However, the profile does introduce a new field diagnostic alert type. System updates will provide more extensive integration capabilities (such as Wizards for configuration) that will enhance diagnostics performance.

Rather than introduce significant changes to the current FOUNDATION protocol, the new diagnostic profile specification builds upon the existing diagnostic capabilities of FOUNDATION fieldbus equipment and, at the same time, adds a greater degree of organization so field instruments can represent their diagnostics in a more consistent way.

Yokogawa’s registered field indicator offers not only the standard functions of a field indicator, but also PID function block, link master and software download capabilities.

Fluid Components International’s registered thermal mass gas flowmeter is industrial process and plant-grade suitable for all air and gas flow measurement applications. It provides direct gas mass flow measurements, including flow rate, totalized flow and temperature; specialized versions also include pressure measurement.  

A complete list of registered FOUNDATION fieldbus products is available on the Fieldbus Foundation’s website at

Food Safety News

FDA, USDA, Cornell University create alliance for produce safety

A public-private organization, the Produce Safety Alliance, will provide produce growers and packagers with fundamental, on-farm food safety knowledge in advance of a proposed produce safety regulation. The organization consists of the US Food and Drug Administration, the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA/AMS) and Cornell University.

The new alliance is a three-year, $1.15 million partnership funded by FDA and USDA. It will be housed at Cornell University through a grant from AMS. Cornell’s national Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) program has been instrumental in the development of materials on GAPs and in its dissemination of food safety knowledge to the agricultural community.

Key elements of the alliance’s work include:

  • Developing a standardized, but multi-formatted and multi-lingual education program on GAPs and co-management.
  • Creating an information bank of up-to-date scientific and technical information related to on-farm and packing house produce safety, environmental co-management and eventually the FDA’s proposed produce safety rule.
  • Launching a website to make the alliance’s work and information readily accessible.
  • Establishing a network of educational collaborators.
  • Conducting an assessment of existing educational outreach tools to identify knowledge gaps and to provide for continuous updating.
  • Working with partners on the steering committee and others to develop and deliver train-the-trainer materials and sessions.

In 2011, FDA is expected to issue a proposed rule on the safe production, harvesting and packing of produce. The alliance is aimed at giving produce growers and packers training and educational materials as well as opportunities to learn about current risk- and science-based best food safety practices and future regulatory requirements.

The alliance will have representatives from the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), land grant universities, growers and shippers, produce trade organizations and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, joining FDA, AMS and Cornell officials on the alliance’s steering committee.

“In our 12-plus years of working with growers and packers on how best to implement GAPs, we have seen how much they want to do the right thing and meet the industry demand for food safety,” says Betsy Bihn, coordinator of Cornell University’s National GAPs Program. “What growers and packers want is science-based information they can use in the fields and the packing houses to improve food safety practices in practical ways. Our goal is to meet that need today and down the road as FDA moves forward in its rule-making process.”

The FDA and USDA will issue updates on the progress and activities of the Produce Safety Alliance in the coming months. For more information, visit the FDA Web page: Fruits, Vegetables & Juices and/or the FDA Web page: Produce Safety Information.

New Congress may prompt food safety focus

With the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives, there will be new committee chairs when the next Congress is seated in January. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), in line to become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has prominently mentioned food safety as an area of concern for his committee.

In a September 2 letter to current committee chairman, Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY), Issa argued that the panel should expand its focus to a number of food safety issues.

“Currently, over 15 departments and agencies have jurisdiction over our food’s safety,” Issa wrote. “This top-line, multi-jurisdictional approach to food safety creates unnecessary bureaucratic overlap and confusion.”

Much of that overlap is addressed in the Food Safety and Modernization Act, passed by the house in 2009 but still languishing in the Senate. The measure could be among those targeted for action in the upcoming lame duck session of Congress.

European Commission suspends animal cloning

Based on an October report, the European Commission is proposing a temporary suspension of animal cloning for food production in the EU. The commission also plans to suspend for five years the use of cloned farm animals and the marketing of food from clones.

The debate about the appropriateness of cloned animals for food purposes began a few years ago when cloned embryos were imported into the EU. According to current EU regulations, food produced from clones is considered novel food since it is not produced via traditional breeding techniques and, therefore, falls under the scope of the Regulation on Novel Foods, which is now under discussion at EU level.

The report is a response to calls from European Parliament and Member States to launch a specific EU policy on this sensitive issue. The communication presents an assessment of cloning technology in relation to food production and examines the relevant aspects of cloning in light of the existing legislative framework.

The report acknowledges the challenges posed by animal welfare issues and takes into consideration the ethical aspect of cloning. It also notes there is no scientific evidence confirming food safety concerns regarding foods obtained from cloned animals and their offspring.

The EC is calling for further study on the issues and a review after five years. The proposal will not suspend cloning for uses other than food, such as research, conservation of endangered species or the production of pharmaceuticals.