Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Public Policy & Legal Issues

The FDA poised to get a bigger stick

Gavel

In a world where we get garlic from China, shellfish from Thailand and sugar cane from Mexico, Congress is poised to approve an ambitious food safety bill that would strengthen the nation's top regulator and impose new rules on domestic production and trading partners. 

The legislation is aimed at preventing tainted food from entering the supply chain, sickening Americans and forcing massive recalls. It would give the Food and Drug Administration sweeping new powers to demand recalls and require importers to certify the safety of what they're bringing into this country.

The House is expected to pass the measure Tuesday. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime update. A lot has changed since 1938," when the current food regulatory regime was established, said Ami Gadhia, policy counsel for Consumers Union. "This will put FDA in a posture to prevent food-borne illness before it happens."

Read more in Tuesday's front-page analysis:

Photo credit: Associated Press

If you seek a Mountain Dew, L.A. County machines just won't do

Vend

Before the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to make the food in most of its vending machines more healthful, it heard from people who wanted to comment on the idea. Among them was the director of recreation and community services for the city of Baldwin Park, Manuel Carrillo.

Baldwin Park passed a similar motion in 2003, and it has since taken several other actions to improve the health of its residents. According to Marlen Garcia, a City Council member, the city has many young families that need education and assistance in finding ways to buy and eat nutritious food.

In L.A. County, 400 to 500 vending machines will be required to offer only choices that meet guidelines set by the state for machines and student stores in schools. The guidelines limit fat and sugar in foods, among other things.

When Baldwin Park switched vending machine choices from fried chips to baked, and from soda to water (sports drinks are still there  too), there was some griping from adults but not from young people, Carrillo said. Initially, there was a slight decline in revenue, “but it quickly returned to normal revenue,” he said after the vote.

“If someone is thirsty after they play in a basketball game, it really doesn’t matter,” he said, adding that they’ll take a sports drink or water if soda is not available.

And he should know: All that health information prompted him to cut down on sodas, change his eating habits and exercise more. He lost 30 pounds.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Maribel Carmona buys a drink at Santa Ana City Hall. Photo by Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times

Menu labeling law takes effect: How many calories in that sandwich?

Quiznos
Would you reconsider your lunch order if you knew the number of calories in that bacon cheeseburger or chili fries? California legislators are counting on it.

California's latest effort against obesity takes effect today: Chain restaurants with 20 or more locations have to provide brochures listing the nutrition information about their foods. That's the first phase of California's new menu labeling law.
 
The brochures must contain counts of calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium for all standard menu items. For sit-down restaurants, the information must be provided at the table -- in a brochure or menu insert or on a table tent. 
 
“The way Californians order food is about to change. More than 17,000 restaurant locations throughout California will provide important nutrition information starting today.  California is the first state in the nation to tackle obesity with menu labeling,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), the author of the legislation with Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) and Assembly member Marc DeSaulnier (D-Concord).

The next phase will hit diners more directly: Beginning Jan. 1, 2011, calorie information must be on menus and indoor menu boards.
 
The legislation was modeled on a New York City ordinance that affects large chain restaurants that now post calorie counts on menu boards, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks and Quizno’s.
 
Nearly 16 million Californians are obese or overweight, and many suffer from diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Quizno's menu with calorie counts. Credit: Center for Science in the Public Interest

 

Getting trans fat out of school vending machines

Cafeteria On Wednesday, a state law goes into effect that bans food containing trans fats from being sold at schools in vending machines and by outside contractors. The bill was signed into law two years ago but gave schools and vendors time to prepare for it.

“A poorly nourished child often makes a poor student who can’t concentrate or study well,” said Sen. Elaine K. Alquist (D-Santa Clara), the author of the bill, SB 490.

A separate legislative effort covers school cafeteria food.

Trans fats can be found in vegetable shortenings, cookies, crackers, pies and other foods made with, or fried in, partially hydrogenated oils.

Trans fats have been linked to heart disease. Many restaurants and food manufacturers have eliminated them in response to consumer demand or legislation.

California law requires restaurants to use fats with less than half a gram of trans fats per serving by Jan. 1, 2010; the standard will apply to deep-fried bakery goods a year later.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Meal time at Cesar Chavez Elementary. Photo by Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times


 

Sampler Platter: placentas, piroshkis and classic cocktails

Beef stroganoff, black bread, piroshki, shchi (a soup loaded with cabbage, beef and carrots) and Russian lemonade at Cafe Rus. Credit: Paul Morse / Los Angeles Times

Tons of tasty food news for today...

  • Yelp will finally allow small business owners to respond to negative comments. New York Times
  • Most disgusting food trend ever, placenta cuisine: "It's a good 6 pounds of meat that's just chock full of lingering blood, vitamins and hormones." Momlogic
  • Changes in the kitchen at the French Laundry. SF Gate
  • Canelé is named one of the top 10 brunch spots in the nation by Bon Appetit.
  • The first ever Passover Seder at the White House included traditional matzo ball soup, brisket and kugel. Mrs. O
  • Ritz Bites blogs about the piroshki lady of Plummer Park.
  • 10 classic cocktails that have stood the test of time. Saveur
  • Amelia Saltsman, author of the "Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook," reports on the best finds at Wednesday’s market. Eat LA
  • Kansas legislature approves bill 2295 restricting dairy farmers from labeling their products as free of bovine growth hormones. The Pitch
  • Is "big food" is the new "big tobacco?": "Both industries dismiss legitimate scientific studies as junk science; both put scientists on their payrolls to make it appear that there is a lack of scientific consensus about the bad health effects of their products; both have knowingly marketed unhealthy products to children." The Daily Bread

-- Elina Shatkin

Photo: Beef stroganoff, black bread, piroshki, shchi (a soup loaded with cabbage, beef and carrots) and Russian lemonade at Cafe Rus. Credit: Paul Morse / Los Angeles Times

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.