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HFHC January/February 2011 Newsletter

Oregon Healthy Food in Health Care
January/February 2011 Newsletter

HFHC Update
You are what your food is wrapped in? Reduce packaging, improve health and environment
When most think of hospitals improving the sustainability of their food service, the first item on the agenda is often addressing the food they serve. While this is a key component to a healthier food service, many other important topics are overlooked. Food packaging falls into this area. How our food is packed and what it’s packed in can have direct effects on our health, the environment, and your food service budget.

Excess packaging puts demands on environmental resources (e.g., the more paper and plastic products used the more trees cut down and the more oil drilled for) and takes up a lot of room at the landfill. Reducing the amount of packaging used in your kitchen not only improves the health of the environment but can also save you money. Less waste means lower garbage tipping fees.

A variety of chemicals are found in food packaging that make their way into the meals we eat and ultimately into our bodies. From dyes and chlorine to bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates our bodies are becoming host to a whole slew of toxic chemicals and we are only just beginning to learn about their negative health impacts.

There are a number of things hospitals can do to help improve the environment, protect health, and save money through reducing the packaging they use in their kitchens.

Steps Hospitals Can Take to Reduce Packaging:

  • Create a Sustainable Food Policy – By having a sustainable food policy in place that address waste and food packaging, hospitals can ensure that reduced packaging and limiting exposure to chemicals continues at the facility even with staff turnover.
  •  Incorporate Reusables – A great way to reduce packaging is to incorporate reusable containers both within your kitchen and in your cafeteria. Some hospitals have begun to use reusable clam shells for cafeteria to-go items. Receiving kitchen produce in reusable crates can have a large impact on waste reduction as well. Talk to your distributor to learn if this option is available.
  •  Buy in Bulk – Purchasing things like grains, beans and even fruit that can be frozen in large quantities can help reduce the amount of packaging smaller quantities can create. Even better, try to buy things like beans in their dry version rather than canned. Not only can this reduce waste but it also avoids exposure to BPA from can linings.
  •  Seek out BPA-Free – in addition to buying “outside of the can,” look for companies that offer products in BPA-free containers to reduce patient, staff, and costumer exposure to this harmful chemical (see the below story for more information on BPA health effects).
  •  Eliminate Bottled Water/Promote Tap Water – Plastic bottles are ubiquitous in the US. While individuals may be more hydrated because of them, they are also likely exposed to more chemicals and contribute to a huge amount of landfill waste. Eliminating bottled water will help reduce exposure to harmful toxins and benefit the environment. Encourage patrons to consume water by offering reusable water bottles for sale and providing access to drinking water stations (e.g., water fountains, filtered tap water, etc.).
  •  Purchase Whole Produce – Talk with your produce distributor to see if purchasing produce that has not be processed and packaged is possible. Purchasing a whole head of lettuce versus a bag of chopped lettuce helps keep plastic out of your kitchen and the land fill.

Community Partner Highlight
Health Effects of Packaging – A Spotlight on BPA
By Dr. Susan Katz

Dr. Susan Katz, a retired pediatrician and Board Treasurer for Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, is heavily involved in the Oregon PSR Environmental Health Committee and is particularly interested in toxins and neurodevelopment.

Bisphenol A , BPA, is a chemical used as a building block in polycarbonate plastic bottles and epoxy linings used for most metal cans containing fruits, vegetables, liquid infant formula and other liquids. It is known to cause a wide range of reproductive and developmental problems in animals, and it is known to be present in the bodies of 90% of US residents tested. Since it is a synthetic estrogen it works at very low levels to disrupt normal endocrine functioning in animals.

 So what can you do to reduce exposure in the hospital setting? When possible, use frozen instead of canned fruits and vegetables, buy soups and beverages in glass containers or cardboard packaging. Acidic foods like tomatoes are the most likely to leach BPA. 

Do not use plastic packaging marked with the recycling #7 like polycarbonate plastic bottles. Use, but do not microwave in plastic containers marked 2, 4 and 5 which do not contain BPA. 

The good news is that consumer demand led to the removal of most polycarbonate plastic infant bottles and water bottles from major retailing outlets.  And manufacturers and food companies are trying to find BPA alternative for the linings of cans. One is known, and it is a polyester lining.  Others are being sought which will be the least expensive and longest lasting and stable. The process is slow but it is happening, as documented by a recent survey "Seeking Safer Packaging" commissioned by Green Century Capital Management. Several major manufacturers earned an A for accepting the dangers of BPA, disclosing them to stockholders, and actively seeking alternatives. 

In short, manufacturers will respond to consumer demands for BPA free products, so we all have a part to play. 

Action Alert
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is set to approve Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. GE contamination of non-GE crops (including organic) is a serious problem recognized by the USDA. Most organic dairies utilize organic alfalfa. If GE alfalfa is approved, these organic farmers are at risk of having their feed source contaminated – which could put them at risk of losing their organic certification. Help protect our food system from GE contamination, ask President Obama to disallow GE alfalfa.  

New Resources/Guides
A Review of Pesticide Exposure and Cancer Incidence: A new report reviewing research on pesticide exposure from the National Institute of Health was just released. The authors found that 19 different pesticides were associated with increase with at least one type of cancer.

Coming Soon!Green Guide for Health Care Food Service Credits Toolkit: Look in the next Oregon Healthy Food in Health Care Newsletter for links to the newly developed Green Guide for Health Care Toolkit. The toolkit will help hospital food service staff navigate the Food Credits, provide a framework for creating baselines, and track progress on creating a more sustainable food service.

Companies, hospitals move away from toxic material. Worried about toxic waste and chemical exposure, more and more companies and hospitals are moving away from polyvinyl chloride.

Phthalates: Are they safe?More than ever, people are worried about how all the chemicals we're exposed to are affecting our health – among them a family of chemicals known as phthalates, which are used in everyday plastics.

Waiter, there's a potential carcinogen in my soup.BPA is ubiquitous. Simply put, just about anything you eat that comes out of a can -- from Campbell's Chicken Soup and SpaghettiOs to Diet Coke and BumbleBee Tuna -- contains the same exact chemical. The exposure to BPA from canned food "is far more extensive" than from plastic bottles, researchers say.

Coming soon: A corn-based BPA replacement.BPA has been a hot topic as of late. That's because most industries have been slow to adopt alternatives to the petroleum-based estrogenic compound. Enter isosorbide, a corn-based industrial ingredient that the Archer Daniels Midland Company is touting as a safe, renewable alternative to BPA.

A warning by key researcher on risks of BPA in our lives.The synthetic chemical, BPA — found in everything from plastic bottles to cash register receipts — is a potent, estrogen-mimicking compound. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, biologist Frederick vom Saal harshly criticizes U.S. corporations and government regulators for covering up — or ignoring — the many health risks of BPA.

BPA may inhibit pregnancy. Even as women choose to have babies later in life, more are having trouble conceiving, and the chemical BPA might be partly to blame, suggests a new study.

Bottled water pits Nestlé vs. greens.In this idyllic town on the north slope of Mount Hood, an autopsy on three dead rainbow trout may play a role in Nestlé SA's efforts to reverse a deep slide in its bottled-water business.

Upcoming Events
7th– Cascade Pacific’s
Local Food Resource Connection (Eugene, Oregon – Lane Community College)
8th - Friends of Family Farmers
InFARMation – 5:30PM-8:30PM (Portland, Oregon – Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison)
Organicology – (Portland, Oregon – Doubletree Hotel and Conference Center)
Annual Northwest Environmental Health Conference – 9AM-4:30PM (Portland, Oregon - Smith Memorial Building, Portland State University, 1825 SW Broadway)
18th -
Oregon Healthy Food in Health Care Workgroup Meeting – 10:00AM-11:30AM (Clackamas, Oregon - Kaiser Permanente - Sunnyside)
19th-21st – Oregon State University
Food Justice, Security, and Sustainability Conference (Eugene, Oregon)

7th– Chef’s Collaborative
Farmer Chef Connection – (Oregon City, Oregon – Clackamas Community College)
8th - Friends of Family Farmers
InFARMation – 5:30PM-8:30PM (Portland, Oregon – Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison)
18th - Oregon Healthy Food in Health Care Workgroup Meeting – 10:00AM-11:30AM (Clackamas, Oregon - Kaiser Permanente - Sunnyside)

12th - Friends of Family Farmers
InFARMation – 5:30PM-8:30PM (Portland, Oregon – Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison)
14th - 16thFood for Thought Conference (Keynote by Michael Pollan) – Main day is the 16th 8AM-8PM (Portland, Oregon – University of Portland Chiles Center, 500 N. Willamette Blvd.)

15th - Oregon Healthy Food in Health Care Workgroup Meeting – 10:00AM-11:30AM (Location TBA)