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Setting The Record Straight On Fresh Express’ FreshRinse Wash

The great thing about the Pundit is the readership is so diverse and so willing to engage that, although we can, of course, make a mistake, we can’t be wrong for very long.

When Fresh Express leaked the story regarding its new FreshRinse product to The New York Times, which headlined the article, Post-Recalls, A New Way to Clean the Greens, we were inundated with inquiries and quickly responded with a piece titled Fresh Express Claims A Food Safety Breakthrough…But Does It Work And Will It Cause Consumer Confusion?

Among the points made by the Times was this point regarding the composition of the rinse:

“The new wash solution, called FreshRinse, contains organic acids commonly used in the food industry, including lactic acid, a compound found in milk.”

Now this was pretty cryptic and we wondered about the implications for vegans, those who observe the Kosher laws and lactose intolerant folks. After reading The New York Times article, we wrote that the wash “contains what appears to be a derivative of milk.”

Well, we were wrong on that one. The experts advise us, and Fresh Express now confirms, that there is no milk derivative used in making FreshRinse. Here is a sampling of the letters we received on the subject:

Regarding the Fresh Express acid-rinse story: Lactic acid sounds like it is from milk, like oleic acid sounds like it comes from olives (especially if you speak Italian or know Latin). Lactic acid is produced commercially by industrial fermentation using various micro-organisms such as lactobacillus and other bacteria. It can be produced by rhizhopus and other fungi as well.

[The acid] should not be an issue for vegetarians or kosher rules — unless you were suggesting a perception problem by consumers. That could be real.

I would guess the big issue is consumer trust, especially if Fresh Express does not publicly list all the ingredients in the rinse or fails to allow independent labs to confirm their claims.

One would want independent confirmation of greater efficacy against pathogenic strains of salmonella, e. coli, listeria etc. Better kill of coliforms wouldn’t be enough, for example.

One suspects that the old Fresh Express would have managed all this better?

— Dan Cohen
Maccabee Seed Company
Davis, California

Regarding the concerns over FreshRinse, it does not contain lactose, which is a disaccharide sugar most common to legume seeds. Lactic acid is a 3-carbon organic acid found in any living cell under low-oxygen conditions — in no way related to lactose.

Brad Murphy
Department of Horticulture
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, Arkansas

I assume you have already gotten feedback about confusing lactic acid with lactose. Lactic acid is found in fermented products and is not considered a dairy product. It also has nothing to do with lactose intolerance. It may get confusing for consumers because of the name, but it has none of the dairy concerns raised.

John Mount
Associate Professor
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee

I have enjoyed your newsletter for years. Thank you for your services.

We are writing today in regard to your earlier article on the FreshRinse product used by Fresh Express in their efforts to improve the safety of produce. The article makes mention of lactic acid as a component of FreshRinse and alleges that the lactic acid therein could pose a problem for vegans, kosher consumers and lactose-intolerant consumers on the basis of it being derived from a dairy source.

This statement is not correct. The name lactic acid is actually derived from the culture that is used in the fermentation — lactic acid bacteria. The substrate used in the fermentation is sugar, NOT dairy ingredients. Thus there are no dairy derivatives in the lactic acid.

You may be confused because similar lactic acid bacteria are used to produce lactic acid in cheese and cultured dairy products. But the source of dairy here is the milk — not the culture. Besides vegetable decontamination, lactic acid is used in wide variety of foods, including candy coating, dressing and sauces, prepared meals, as well as cosmetics applied directly on the skin.

PURAC is the world’s largest producer of lactic acid, which has been in commercial production since 1935. PURAC lactic acid is considered natural and organic, made from sustainable ingredients. It is also kosher.

The salt derivative lactate is widely used as an antimicrobial in the meat industry.

This should answer your obvious consumer’s concerns about the use of lactic acid in food. If you have any questions regarding lactic acid and its derivatives, we would be happy to respond.

— Jan Payne
Business Development Mgr/Preservation
Lincolnshire, Illinois

OK, three strikes with a wet noodle for the Pundit. We certainly wish we had clarified the situation up front.

Of course, with publications such as The New York Times going on about FreshRinse and milk, we doubt we were the only ones confused. In fact, we know that was not the case because we received e-mails from industry members trying to make heads or tails out of The New York Times article.

We are, of course, pleased to set the record straight and glad the product doesn’t raise issues related to milk.

We think the lesson for the industry as a whole and for individual companies, though, is the danger in going for a PR splash when you are dealing with issues such as food safety.

Very predictably, William Neuman, the author of the piece in The New York Times, tried to vet the claims Fresh Express was making by calling on a national produce trade association. Quite logically, he called David Gombas, whose position at United Fresh is Senior Vice President for Food Safety and Technology. Did David deliver a ringing endorsement of this new product as a major food safety advance? No, actually, he said he didn’t know anything about it:

Fresh Express is a member of the produce association, but Mr. Gombas said that he was not aware of the company’s plans or the results of its research.

How hard would it have been to give United, PMA and the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement a briefing on the matter so they could speak intelligently about it? Instead, they sound uninformed, and consumer confidence in the competency of the industry was lessened.

In fact, the confidence in FreshRinse was lessened. How much better for the future of the product if reputable scientists and technical experts, not paid or employed by Fresh Express, expressed confidence in the product.

Perhaps this wash will prove desirable. We hope it is a food safety advance. We also hope that companies in the industry will think beyond their immediate interests and think about the delicate condition of consumer and regulatory confidence.

Many thanks to Dan Cohen, Brad Murphy, John Mount and Jan Payne for standing vigil on our scientific content.

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