Sunday, September 6, 2009

Au naturale: aside from their healthy aspects, organic products help increase the overall quality and flavor of an establishment's food.(the safe zone

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One of the fastest-growing trends in food-service over the last decade has been the desire to serve organic food. While it is certainly noble to offer foods that are naturally grown and not treated with chemicals, a big benefit has resulted from this trend: Improved food safety.

Some might consider it a fairly large leap from organic foods to safer foods, so the connection warrants explanation. Hopefully, you will soon come to the same conclusion that I have--by serving organic foods in your establishment, you will be increasing the level of food safety at your restaurant.


Organic foods are those that are made naturally, without the help of chemicals, pesticides, insecticides, artificial additives--basically, anything you would not find in nature. For meats to qualify as organic, the animal must be fed with organic grains or grasses and it cannot be given any growth hormones or antibiotics. The animal also must be raised on a certified organic pasture and receive humane treatment throughout its life span.

The National Organic Program (NOP) is in charge of certifying foods and farms as officially organic. Producers cannot just put the word "organic" on the label without being certified first. Since there are specific sets of guidelines that govern whether food can be considered organic, the manufacturers need to keep a close eye on their produce and/or animals to make sure nothing artificial goes into the products. For this reason, organic farms tend to be a lot smaller than non-organic manufacturers and more time (and usually more care) is given to the crops as they grow and are harvested.


Clearly, with the care that must be taken to produce organic food, it tends to be fresher and have better flavor, since that flavor is always natural. Every time farmers add a preservative, pesticide, growth hormone or anything else to food, they are adding something that was not naturally meant to be there. Not only do these chemicals take away the food's natural flavor, but there are also specific ingredients that can be harmful to consume.

Without going into medical specifics, some pesticides and insecticides, artificial preservatives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), and growth hormones have all been found to be potentially harmful to consume for certain people. Obviously, these things are added to food because they perform some type of purpose, whether it be keeping insects off the crops, increasing the size of crops or animals, preserving food to last longer or make it more tender. While these are certainly beneficial to foodservice operations looking to put out a consistent product, they are not always in the best interest of the consumer. Most foodservice establishments would choose to serve a bigger, more attractive tomato than a smaller, more flavorful one, which means they are usually more concerned with the perception of their food rather than the actual flavor.

Another food safety advantage is that smaller domestic farms tend to produce organic crops and meats. As mentioned before, more time and attention goes into the manufacturing process, which is always a good thing. The more thought and care that goes into growing a natural food product, the less likely contamination will occur at any point during the manufacturing process. Foodservice establishments are at the mercy of their purveyors and producers when it comes to many of the products they choose to bring in.

The recent headlines have been littered with foodborne illness outbreaks where contamination occurred on the farm or at a processing plant, which is completely out of the control of the establishment that served the food. Or is it? With organic farms, you have the choice to buy from a smaller, more diligent producer, so why wouldn't you? The fact that most of these farms are domestic is also a huge benefit.

Most of the recent cases of food poisoning have originated at a farm or processing plant located outside the United States. It is no secret that many other countries, such as Mexico and China, have less stringent guidelines when it comes to food production. This could mean the difference between a Hepatitis A outbreak at your establishment or a clean bill of health.


The biggest detraction of organic foods is that they tend to be slightly more expensive than the alternative. Many foodservice establishments will purchase a less expensive ingredient, which is certainly understandable in these economic conditions. However, the argument for organic foods is that while you will be spending 10 to 30 percent more for ingredients, you are reducing the likelihood of a foodborne illness outbreak, which can cost several millions of dollars. Another benefit is that the food is going to taste better, which usually leads to more and repeat customers. By trying to save a few dollars up front, you are restraining the flavor of the food you serve.

There is also a public relations benefit to serving organic food. By advertising you are part of the green revolution, you may gain a lot of respect among people who are environmentally conscious, and are more likely to gain their business. It is likely one will boycott you for serving organic foods, but some might if you don't. Essentially, you are expanding your potential market, which should more than make up for the slightly higher food cost.


So you've made the decision to buy organic. Remember that this is just the first step. You still need to take the care in receiving, washing, prepping and cooking that you did with non-organic food. Just because the label says "organic" doesn't mean you are completely safeguarded from foodborne illness. Organic food is still susceptible to the same contaminants that non-organic food is, so make sure your employees continue to be mindful of how they are handling the food. Organic chicken still needs to be cooked all the way through and vegetables still need to be washed well. Your employees still need to wash their hands regularly and keep an eye on times and temperatures.

In the end, carrying organic food products will reduce the risk of food-borne illness, increase the overall quality and flavor of your establishment's food and improve the public perception of your brand name. Kind of seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it?

Lee Biars is the director of industry relations for Safe Food Solutions. He can be reached at or

Source Citation:Biars, Lee. "Au naturale: aside from their healthy aspects, organic products help increase the overall quality and flavor of an establishment's food.(the safe zone)." Food and Drink (Fall 2009): 12(2). General OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 6 Sept. 2009

Gale Document Number:A205644426

Disclaimer:This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

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