Vaccine Mandates, New Freezing Method and More

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While some companies and organizations are mandating vaccines, Dr. David Acheson cautions that following along just because it’s a trend might not be the right approach. Plus, a new freezing method and more in The Scoop.

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October 12, 2021

© Anna Tretiak | iStockphoto

Tyson Foods became one of the largest food companies in the United States to announce that it is requiring employees to be fully vaccinated. U.S. office location employees have until Oct. 1, 2021, to be vaccinated, while all others are required to be vaccinated by Nov. 1, 2021, “subject to ongoing discussions with locations represented by unions,” the company said.

With a rise in U.S. case numbers largely due to the Delta variant of COVID-19, Tyson’s decision comes on the heels of companies such as Disney and Walmart making similar announcements.

Dr. David Acheson

While many food companies might be asking themselves if the vaccine mandate trend is something to consider jumping on, Dr. David Acheson, founder and CEO of The Acheson Group (TAG), said it might not be a good fit for everyone.

“My view is, following a trend is inherently a bad thing to do just because it’s a trend,” said Acheson, a Quality Assurance & Food Safety magazine advisory board member and former internist specializing in infectious diseases. “Do it for the right reasons. Look at every aspect of this. Do not do it just because you feel like if you don't, you'll be left out.”

Quality Assurance & Food Safety magazine: Why is it important for food companies to do their part in protecting employees as much as possible from COVID-19?

Dr. David Acheson: It goes back to the environment in which food industry employees are working. And it goes back to the preventive controls and the risks that were identified in March and April 2020 when we started to see a significant uptick in cases in the food industry, particularly in poultry plants, where the nature of the business is that employees are very close together. The physical environment is one in which the risks are higher. And that was not just theoretical as we saw large outbreaks occurring in poultry plants, including Tyson and others.

QA: Should food companies follow Tyson’s example?

DA: I talked to dozens of different companies about the vaccines when they were first launched. People wanted to know about their efficacy and their safety and what they should do about it. We created four tiers of strategy to help people think through what to do. The first was educate. Everybody should do that. It’s a corporate responsibility to educate your workforce about the vaccines. The second was facilitate. So, “I need a day off. I need three hours to go get vaccinated. Is that OK?” “Yes, it's OK. We're not going to dock your time. We'll pay you to do that.” The third is incentivize. We'll give you $100, for example, if you go get vaccinated. And then the fourth is mandate. Everybody was uniformly in with the education. Pretty much everybody got on board with facilitate. Some went in to incentivize. Putting on my medical infectious disease hat, I'm not a fan of a mandated vaccine. That doesn't mean that corporations that make those decisions are wrong, because they're looking at it from a bigger picture.

QA: What are some of the reasons you aren’t a fan of a mandate?

DA: My personal and professional belief is, a vaccine should be left up to the individual. The other side to this too is, we’ve got a massive groundswell of mandates going on, led by the government saying federal workers are going to be vaccinated. That was quickly followed by Walmart and Tyson and Disney. These are big, big, big corporations. And now we've got the military talking about it. They're going to mandate vaccinations using vaccines that were designed against viruses that aren't around anymore. We’re going to mandate vaccination with a vaccine that's not optimized for the viral strains that are in circulation at the moment. There's an illogicity there. The other part of the conversation, which is just not happening, is natural immunity. There's growing science to say that natural immunity is protective, and it's pretty robust and it lasts a decent amount of time.

Cold Case

A new freezing method called isochoric freezing works by storing foods in a sealed, rigid container — typically made of hard plastic or metal — completely filled with a liquid such as water.

ALBANY, Calif. — Shifting to a new food freezing method could make for safer and better-quality frozen foods while saving energy and reducing carbon emissions, according to a new study by Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and University of California-Berkeley scientists.

“A complete change over to this new method of food freezing worldwide could cut energy use by as much as 6.5 billion kilowatt-hours each year while reducing the carbon emissions that go along with generating that power by 4.6 billion kilograms, the equivalent of removing roughly one million cars from roads,” said ARS research food technologist Cristina Bilbao-Sainz. She is with the Healthy Processed Foods Research Unit, part of ARS’s Western Regional Research Center (WRRC) in Albany.

“These savings could be achieved without requiring any significant changes in current frozen food manufacturing equipment and infrastructure, if food manufacturers adopt this concept,” Bilbao-Sainz added.

Isochoric freezing is a new freezing method that aims to protect food from ice crystallization.
Photo courtesy of USDA ARS

The new freezing method, called isochoric freezing, works by storing foods in a sealed, rigid container — typically made of hard plastic or metal — completely filled with a liquid such as water. Unlike conventional freezing in which the food is exposed to the air and freezes solid at temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, isochoric freezing preserves food without turning it to solid ice.

As long as the food stays immersed in the liquid portion, it is protected from ice crystallization, which is the main threat to food quality.

“Energy savings come from not having to freeze foods completely solid, which uses a huge amount of energy, plus there is no need to resort to energy-intensive cold storage protocols such as quick freezing to avoid ice crystal formation,” Bilbao-Sainz said.

Isochoric freezing also allows for higher quality storage of fresh foods such as tomatoes, sweet cherries and potatoes that are otherwise difficult to preserve with conventional freezing.

Another benefit of isochoric freezing is that it also kills microbial contaminants during processing.

“The entire food production chain could use isochoric freezing — everyone from growers to food processors, product producers to wholesalers, to retailers. The process will even work in a person’s freezer at home after they purchase a product — all without requiring any major investments in new equipment,” said WRRC center director Tara McHugh, co-leader of this study. “With all of the many potential benefits, if this innovative concept catches on, it could be the next revolution in freezing foods.”

UC-Berkeley biomedical engineer Boris Rubinsky, co-leader of this project, first developed the isochoric freezing method to cryopreserve tissues and organs for transplants.

Since then, ARS and UC-Berkeley have applied for a joint patent for applying isochoric freezing to preserving food. The research team is now developing the best applications for this technology in the frozen foods industry, especially scaling up the technology to an industrial level. They also are seeking commercial partners to help transfer the technology to the commercial sector.

UC-Berkeley mechanical engineer Matthew Powell-Palm, one of the lead authors of the study paper, noted that “isochoric freezing is a cross-cutting technology with promising applications in not only the food industry, but in medicine, biology, even space travel.”

Delivering Good

The Partnership for Food Safety Education is behind one of the first national food safety campaigns for food delivery.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Responding to the increasing use of food delivery services, the Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE) has launched a new national campaign to help food delivery users ensure the safety of their delivered foods. Prep Yourself: Food is on the Way, one of the first national food safety campaigns specifically targeting users of food delivery services, seeks to encourage safe food handling at home and educate consumers on what to consider when ordering from food delivery services.

“The coronavirus pandemic kicked food delivery usage into overdrive,” said Shelley Feist, former executive director of PFSE. “We’re excited to have led the expert collaboration behind these new, consumer-tested resources. Using this campaign is a great way to start a conversation with people who want to ensure health and safety when ordering food to be delivered.”

Head to fightbac.org/prep-yourself for Prep Yourself marketing materials.

Food delivery services include meal kits, restaurant delivery and grocery delivery. According to an April 2020 survey conducted by Statista, more than one-third of both suburban and urban respondents said they used online food delivery services or restaurant apps to order food. According to the 2021 Food and Health Survey conducted by the International Food Information Council, 72% of Americans say the pandemic is changing the way they eat and prepare food. This study showed 42% of consumers are shopping for groceries online at least monthly.

“Where consumers get their food has changed, from around the corner to around the world. With foods now delivered to their homes by a variety of delivery models, empowering consumers with the knowledge they need to keep their families safe is key to the prevention of foodborne illnesses and a central tenet of FDA's New Era of Smarter Food Safety,” said Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “We are grateful for the good work done by the Partnership for Food Safety Education to provide consumers with food safety educational messages during these changing times.”

Prep Yourself: Food is on the Way includes digital advertising, social media and print collateral that can be integrated into food delivery service provider food safety educator communications. With a suite of downloadable resources, PFSE encourages anyone who is interested in communicating about food safety in the delivery space to access the free materials.

“The food industry needs resources to help communicate with consumers amid this changing landscape,” said Steven Mandernach of the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO). “PFSE’s new Prep Yourself campaign will help food safety experts and other people who deal with consumers in the food safety space reach consumers with important information about how to keep food safe at home. We're in a new era of food safety, and it requires that everyone understand their role in maintaining the safety of our food from the farm to our tables.”