Sunday, January 23, 2011

Traceability: Jet Packs of the Food Industry.

Lyndsey Layton wrote an article about traceability in the Washington Post today.  For those unaware, traceability is the idea that food companies can trace exactly which of their ingredients went into each of their products.  Of course, they already know what type of ingredient is going into a specific product, but they may not be exactly sure when that ingredient was received or what lot # is associated with that exact ingredient where it was shipped.

It's confusing, I know.  I'll try to explain a little better and also give my ideas on how this can work.

When the major food safety overhaul passed, it contained a provision that food companies must be able to track where all their ingredients came from and where it's going.  It sounds simple in theory, but there are complications involved.  It's basically how we think about jet packs.  As Joe Rogan said in his stand-up act, 'Where's the jet packs, bitch?!'  We've heard about jet packs since the 50's and yet it never comes to fruition.  We have the technology... so where are they.  Traceability has the same sort of dichotomy involved.  Small problems and a matter of organization make this simple matter, simply complicated.

Here is the situation:  A wheat farmer brings his wheat to market, where it is bought by a mill.  This mill takes in the wheat, cleans it, and mills it into flour.  The mill then sells this flour to one or many food companies for a variety of applications.  The food company may use this shipment of flour on one product, several products, or even several different runs of several different products.  To further complicate matters, the wheat may be mixed with other winter or summer varieties from other farms before it's milled, so if there is a problem with the flour, it can come from anywhere.  This situation is the same for peppers, cilantro, onions, or whatever.

What each buyer/seller in the supply chain must do is track the place they bought from and the place they sold to.  I see the solution involving either rfid tags or upc bar codes.  The original source i.e. farmer, prints a code to affix to any paperwork as well as to the shipment.  This code or tag, when scanned, stores their farm's establishment number as well as a lot number for that item, as well as a time stamp. The next person in line must scan this bar code/tag then print their own.  The tag they print out contains the code from the original source.  This tag/code is printed and affixed to every shipment that contains THAT source. Fast forward to a bakery that is baking multiple products that day and multiple products the next day.  When they got that ingredient in, they scanned the code/tag and replaced it with their own as everyone else has done in the supply chain.  So now their code shows the time location and lot number for that ingredient for EVERY step of the supply chain.  

This is where it get's tricky. The bakery is going to run brownies and two types of cookies with the ingredient.  For each product they create, they must embed a code/tag with the ingredient's information... which contains every step in that process for every ingredient.  This bakery has the codes tied into their inventory system so they can look up and see some sort of a flow chart that shows every step for every ingredient, which can become hundreds of locations/lot numbers.  They can also use this to ensure they're using 'first in, first out'.

Traceability has a number of logistical problems.  First is how to figure out how a system for the lot numbers.  It can't be whatever the farmer/plant manager comes up with because we can't have duplicate codes floating around.  So the lot numbers must somehow use part of their establishment number to differentiate.  Each entity must have compatible computer systems, but honestly, you can do this with an Excel spreadsheet and a bar code scanner gun.

The feds must be the leaders here or what is simple and a little complicate becomes impossible.  They must act on how this framework will exist and they'll need a lot of resources($$) to get it right the first time.  Republicans need to realize this and not fly off the handle and defund it because it grows the government.  You know what's worse than an overblown government?  An inefficient government.  This part of the regulatory system can be a huge bonus to the industry, but if we start smoking and drinking while this baby is in the womb, it's going to be born slow and defective.  So let the government spend the money and staff the agencies with smart people(I'm available) to piece this together the right way so it can run efficiently.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cory Booker: A Tale of Two Budgets.

I meant to blog about either the lame Pepsi - Yale research fellowship non-controversy or David Zinczenko's scientifically bankrupt Yahoo! articles about the worst foods.

But I see a better opportunity to educate here using one of my Twitter followers now public example.

Some econo-wonks already know about Newark Mayor Cory Booker's budget troubles.  He's tens of millions of dollars in the red with his city's budget and is forced with making deep cuts.

See, the recession meant that people had less taxable income.  Coupled with declining property values and a foreclosure crisis, that means that a large, trying-to-grow city like Newark has much less revenue to work with.  Imagine you get paid hourly and you get your hours cut.  You had planned to use your next check to pay rent, utilities, and groceries, but your check is about 2/3 of what you expected it to be under normal circumstances.  What do you pay... or more importantly, what don't you pay?  That's what Cory Booker faces.

At the same time, Cory has come to terms with another out of control budget.  Cory used to play football, and according to his Facebook post, played at 265lbs.  Football players play very hard and lift weights, so they can normally eat what folks on the farm would call a free ration diet.  Muscle mass acts as a food furnace, craving calories to keep up the bulk.  Many football players have trouble later in life with finding a compromise between the level of activity(weight training and cardio) and caloric intake.  He says that he got down to 230lbs(where he says he wants to be), but ballooned back up to 295 while dealing with his other budget.

Cory Booker is a bold and brave person to post this info online to a cruel and unforgiving internet.  He stands at a vulnerable point in his weight loss, because he will hear advice from many people.  But that's the problem with that internet, isn't it?  It's something I call being Google Educated.  All the knowledge in the world and all the experts in the world are at our fingertips... but so are the crazies.  You can learn about dna or how pasteurization works, but you can also learn about various JFK conspiracy theories or how vaccines are bad for kids.

So I'm writing this for 3 purposes: 1. to write another post, which I haven't done in a while  2. to give tips to Cory in one place rather than annoying him through my Twitter account @samvance and 3. to dispel some myths and misinformation before America's Mayor gets corrupted by them.

It's not what you eat so much as how much you eat i.e. your caloric budget.
Many people who mean well in the obesity fight tend to demonize certain foods.  They say crazy, unscientific things like 'Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize.' or 'stay away from processed foods and preservatives'.  It's the calories, stupid... For example, a Kansas State University nutrition professor lost 27 pounds in 2 months eating mostly snack cakes.  How did he do it?  Calories.

Cory weighs 287 right now according to today's facebook posting.  That means, Cory needs to consume about 3,444 calories with no extra calorie burning activities to maintain that weight.  Since Cory is a male, he takes his current weight and multiplies it by 12(women should multiply by 11) to get a very basic idea of caloric consumption.  If Cory is active, like running or shoveling snow for people, then he would need even more calories to maintain that weight.

Cory can use this knowledge to his advantage, however.  While similar in structure to a monetary budget, the mathematics of a caloric budget are the opposite.  More isn't better in this case.  So what can Cory do right now?  Two things; monitor and set a goal.  Luckily, Cory has started the process by selecting a target weight - 230 lbs.  

Using the calorie math, we can do a little algebra to determine about how much he needs to get reach his goal.   

His current weight is represented as follows: 287 * 12 = 3,444  
For his goal weight, we use the following: X = 230 * 12  X = 2,760

So if Cory limits his caloric intake to 2,760 calories a day and leads an otherwise sedentary lifestyle, he will eventually get down to 230 lbs.  That's a difference of 684 calories a day.  A pound of fat = 3,500 calories, so theoretically, every 3,500 calories he shorts himself will result in another pound lost.  This will take approximately 5.11 days to lose 1 pound and 291 days to lose the 57 pounds it will take to get to his goal weight with just a sedentary lifestyle.  

But we all know from his Twitter feed that he isn't a sedentary person.  This is where the monitoring come's in.  For one or two weeks before beginning this process, I suggest Cory keep a food diary.  I have one on an Excel spreadsheet I can send to him that I got from Dr. Mike Mangino, who taught FST 201: The Science of Food at Ohio State.  The chart should include the portion, nutrients, and caloric content of everything he eats as well as the length of time or distance for any physical activities.  All of these things show how much he energy he really expands.  This is important because he may eat way more than 3400 calories given the amount of activity, so his caloric goals must account for that.  Meaning that 2,760 would be the minimum amount of calories he needs to be at 230.  If he burns an additional 500 or 700 calories a day through walking the neighborhoods, running, and yes, even sitting in meetings, then those calories must be added back in.

This is important so you avoid what I call the Race To Zero, where people try to eat as little as possible instead of the appropriate amount.  This is one reason I object to David Zinczenko's crappy Yahoo! articles about the Worst Foods in America.

Avoid processed foods? What does that even mean?  All foods undergo some level of processing. Ignore it, Cory.  Your concern is calories, protein, carbs, and things like potassium.

Avoid HFCS? No.  Pop is a hindrance because it represents empty calories.  Sugar is sugar, so it doesn't matter if it's cane, HFCS, raw, or pureed guava.  You can have soda and still lose weight, but cutting pop for at least a while is something very easy to trim from your bloated caloric budget.  Drink 1% or skim milk(casein is an efficient protein), orange juice(Vit C, Potassium), or unsweetened iced tea(0 calories).

My tips:
Carb up in the beginning of the day and work in proteins a little at lunch and the rest for dinner.  Cream of Wheat or oatmeal, orange juice, and fruit start you off with energy and don't slow you down.

Snack time!  If you need a snack or two throughout the day, don't forget to count those calories, and try things like dried fruit, almonds, beef jerky, or a yogurt.  Bananas are good too.

Lunch - Some proteins but still mostly carbs. Tuna or chicken salad sandwich. Salad. Unsalted fries.

Dinner - Good time for protein.  Great low-fat options are chicken breast, fish, and turkey.  Lean beef and pork cuts are good, too.  

Not one of the first things people think of at the end of the day, but an omelet gives you all the amino acids your body needs to synthesize new proteins while you sleep and are a great way to add in other things that are rich in nutrients.

Potatoes!  Yes, Cory, potatoes are fine.  A great option for lunch and dinner, potatoes are sodium/fat free and high in fiber and potassium.  Potassium is very important in regulating cell fluids and blood pressure.  The average potato is only 110 so you can eat a lot and feel full.

Don't skip meals.  This creates that crazy strong hunger that causes you to overdo it on the next meal.

Don't deny, manage. It's a simpleton's route to banish foods that you like as if you're some foodaholic.  And you're not the Mayor Of Simpleton, are you? Have a cookie or a slice of cheesecake in moderation, just remember that those calories count.

Don't panic if you go over! If you blow your planned caloric budget for one day, then account for the overage for the rest of the week by shorting the calories a little more.

I hope this helps and doesn't come off as more unneeded, unsolicited advice.  As for the other budget, consult an economist.