Going organic

Buying & serving organic foods helps the environment, but are they safer to eat? Are they healthier or more nutritious?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic foods account for only 2% of the U.S. market. But the market has been rapidly growing—as much as 20% annually nationwide over the past decade.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) reports organic products now total more than $10 billion in annual consumer sales. However, organic foods can cost 10% to 100% more than conventional foods. Are they worth it?

Organic standards: In 2002, USDA set national standards for domestic and imported foods to be certified “organic” based on how they are grown or raised. The regulations prohibit use of most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers for at least three years before harvest of organic crops. Organic does not mean pesticide-free, since natural (e.g., sulfur, copper, plant extracts) and some synthetic pesticides are still allowed.

Use of irradiation, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and sewage sludge (for fertilizer) for crops, and growth hormone and antibiotics for farm animals, is prohibited. Livestock must be raised on 100% organic (pesticide-free) feed and have access to the outdoors.

There are no “organic” standards for fish. Be careful—seafood marked organic may be farmed and contain contaminants like mercury.

Organic farming uses methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment by conserving water and oil, recycling animal waste, releasing fewer chemicals (creating less pollution), improving soil fertility (creating less erosion), promoting crop diversity (crop rotation), and protecting farm workers, wildlife and livestock from potentially harmful pesticides (e.g., using biological pest control like beneficial insects).

Food safety: Organic foods do not guarantee safety or purity. These foods can be spoiled or contaminated with bacteria like E. coli or salmonella that can cause illness or death. Proper food handling and thorough cooking are just as essential for organic foods like meats and eggs as for conventional foods. Organic produce must be washed well.

Organic products packaged without preservatives will spoil faster. Refrigerate and/or use them quickly. Freeze organic meats cured without nitrates or nitrites.

Studies show organic foods contain less pesticide residues than conventional foods, yet there may be residues from chemicals used years before. Also, cross-contamination may occur from synthetic pesticides carried by wind, rain, ground water or soil from other farms. Low residue levels pose minimal health risk. The health benefits of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables (either organically or conventionally grown) daily outweigh the potential risks of pesticides.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public watchdog and promoter of organic foods, recommends buying organic (due to high pesticide residues in non-organic) for the following 12 fruits and vegetables: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach and strawberries.

Nutritional value: Organic crops compare favorably in taste and appearance to conventional crops. But research shows organic foods may not be nutritionally superior or healthier than conventional foods. Processed organic foods (e.g., candy, soda, crackers, desserts, snacks, cereals and frozen dinners) may still be high in calories, fat and sugar and low in fiber.

For example, although organic potato chips don’t contain unhealthy trans fats or many food additives, they still are not nutritious.

Plants can’t distinguish between organic and synthetic fertilizers. Fertilizers must be broken down to nurture crops. Nutrient content depends on many other factors including plant genetics, variety and maturity, climate, soil quality, growing region, handling and storage methods. Locally grown produce may be fresher and more nutritious than food shipped cross-country.

Some studies show organic produce contains more high-quality protein, minerals, Vitamin C and phytochemicals (plant substances that may help prevent diseases like cancer and heart disease) such as lycopene (e.g., tomatoes) and phenols (e.g., strawberries, corn). Organic crops may also contain fewer nitrates, which can be toxic if consumed in excessive amounts.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Maryland will begin offering weekly specials at all of its dining halls this semester, The Diamond Back reports.

The weekday specials will allow Dining Services to offer past menu items that students miss as well as new dishes students have been requesting, according to a spokesperson.

Students can find out which specials are being offered each week via dining hall table tents as well as through Dining Services’ social media. During select weeks, the specials may reflect a particular theme, such as Taste of the South.

Read the full story via...

Ideas and Innovation
coal creek student salad bar

When I was visiting Minneapolis Public Schools, I saw that they have these cool signs on top of their salad bars. As soon as we got back, we re-created them. They are big and branded, and have the portion requirements. They say “Taste something new today” on one side, and we support our local farmers on the other. They help the bars look fresh and delish, and attract students’ eyes.

Menu Development
chicken tetrazzini bowl

The No Whey station in the main dining hall at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga., offers students meals that are free of the eight most common allergens. When Brittany Parham, the dietitian who oversees the station, polled food-sensitive students on which favorites they missed most, “comfort foods” was the overwhelming response. Parham, who herself has food allergies, worked with chefs on the 20,000-student campus to focus on allergen-free versions of pasta bakes, biscuits, banana bread and other down-home dishes. Recently, the chefs reworked the school’s traditional chicken...

Ideas and Innovation
university chicago medical center renovation workers

As The University of Chicago Medical Center prepared for the revamp of one of its kitchens to feed an additional 202 patients, it wasn’t just foodservice executives coming to the table to make decisions. The process, which began in fall 2014, involved hourly employees from the ground up, says Daryl Wilkerson, vice president of support services. “They actually helped build this [kitchen], which is why I think this is so spectacular,” he says. “Normally what you’ll get in a lot of projects is senior people sitting around in shirts and ties making decisions.”

The hospital follows the...

FSD Resources