Raw Water: Harmless Trend or Health Threat?

An unusual trend has been gaining steam since late 2017. It’s called raw water, and its fans say it’s healthier than tap water, more natural, even probiotic. Raw water has mostly taken off in California and in affluent areas of the East Coast, among the same demographics who might go in for raw food diets or juicing. And some customers are willing to pay a premium to call themselves raw-water drinkers.

Of course, “raw water” is not a new thing. People have collected water directly from roadside and trailside springs for centuries, and specific springs have long been reputed to offer health-promoting properties. Many bottled water brands tout their water’s origin at some of these same springs, though bottled water is required to be tested and treated, if necessary, to bring it within federal and state water quality standards.

So, is “raw water” just re-branded bottled water? Or is this trend actually unsafe?

To answer this, it’s important to distinguish between different types of untreated water. Water safety depends on both the source – surface water, groundwater, or rainwater – and on what the water has been in contact with on its way from the source to the consumer. For all sources, water testing is very important to ensure safety.

Surface water and groundwater

Collecting untreated surface water (like the water in streams, rivers and lakes) for drinking can certainly make you sick. E. coli, Cryptosporidium, Shigella and hepatitis A virus are just a few of the infectious agents frequently found in untreated water located near human residences. Industrial and pesticide contamination are also concerns. Runoff from farms, factories, roads and cities easily enters surface bodies of water.

Clearly, in today’s world, it’s extremely difficult to find a stream or lake that’s untouched by human activity. But when it comes to microbes, even that bubbling mountain stream is likely not as clean as it looks. The parasite Giardia lamblia is shed in wild animal droppings and can survive for several months in a wilderness stream. This parasite can make you miserable for six weeks or more.

In contrast with untreated surface water, groundwater – in its original state deep under the earth’s surface – is often safe without treatment. Groundwater supplies are built up over time as water seeps into the earth through layers of soil, sand, silt and clay. Microbes and many organic contaminants get caught in tiny pores and stick to particles as the water passes through. Thus, deep ground water is naturally filtered and is typically free of microbes or even viruses.

Deep wells and water collection at natural springs are both ways of accessing this potentially safer water resource. But there are some major caveats: groundwater quality ranges widely among regions. Contaminants in some groundwater supplies can include industrial chemicals, petroleum, natural chemical or mineral contaminants like arsenic, and bad-tasting components like sulfur. In some areas, very high natural levels of fluoride exist – much higher than the levels added to tap water that some raw water drinkers are intent on avoiding. And groundwater can be contaminated near the surface or on its way to the bottling spot.

All this means testing is necessary. Over 15 million Americans access groundwater through private wells, and the CDC recommends that these homeowners have their wells tested at least yearly for both pathogens and pollutants. Many municipal water supplies originate as groundwater, too, but only after in-depth testing and treatment.

What about probiotic claims?

One of the biggest selling points for some raw water aficionados is the idea that “raw water” is probiotic or “alive,” and that it’s healthier to consume products that contain microbes. But there’s a huge difference between the microbes in probiotic foods and the microbes in untreated water. In yogurt and properly fermented food, benign microbes outcompete and suppress harmful ones. In drinking water, on the other hand, the presence of bacteria and other life forms is not a positive as there’s no fermentation process to suppress dangerous organisms.

Looking beyond the hype, raw water appears to be just another incarnation of bottled water, something the environmentally-concerned public is turning away from. The environmental costs of its transport and bottling are likely similar to those of traditional bottled water. The cost to the planet might be even higher when you consider that some customers pay to have this "super-premium" water shipped across the country.

Raw water that is advertised as probiotic could be worse than a waste of money and resources, though. If it’s not properly tested, there’s no way to know what you’re getting.

Much ado about ‘cue: Six things everyone should know about BBQ

Especially where our Texas roots are planted, there’s nothing more indicative of warmer temps than pulling out the barbecue pit or smoker so family and friends can gather to a great meal (and maybe a couple of cold brews).
Coincidentally, there’s no other cuisine in the US of A that inspires as much passion or devotion as barbecue. Still, with passion comes debate, so the Apron team is here to tell you what you need to know about BBQ.

When talking about barbecue (called BBQ by some) let’s get a couple of facts straight. We’re specifically referring to the process when meat is hot-smoked, low and slow, between 200 and 250 degrees. This is often done in a barbecue pit or a grill. However, grilling refers to high, direct heat and faster cooking. And the general barbecue process is even different than smoking; smoked meats are cooked low and slow, but with indirect heat at less than 200 degrees. With that out of the way, these are the top six things to know:
  1. HISTORY: Barbecue predates George Washington, who twice made mention in his diaries about attending a “barbicue” (he was a horrible speller). Recent presidents have also hosted barbecues - the late Lyndon B. Johnson threw the first White House barbecue, while Jimmy Carter opted for a “pig-pickin” for 500 people, and George H. W. Bush gave foreign guests at taste of Texas-style barbecue at his Kennebunkport getaway.
  2. METHOD: There’s much debate on whether to use wood (and what type), charcoal, or gas. It can also be cooked wet, using a sauce or marinade, or via dry rub. It takes trial, error and [lots of] time to find the perfect combination.
  3. MEAT: You can barbecue everything from sausage, brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, chicken and ham to turkey, pork shoulder (or the whole hog), turkey, goat and lamb – although we’re partial to beef here at Apron. There are even four different types of pork ribs - spare ribs come from the underbelly; St. Louis-style are spare ribs without the breastbone; country-style are made from the pork shoulder; and baby-back are from the top of the ribcage.
  4. REGIONS: You may know there are regional differences (think Kansas City, known for its meat variety, Memphis with its tomato-vinegar-based sauces, Chicago’s known-for of dry rubbed meats, and even the hotly-debated Brooklyn). Interestingly, the Carolinas have three regions of their own – Eastern North Carolina, Piedmont, and South Carolina – and Texas has two – Central and East Texas.
  5. SAUCES:With regions come sauces that have developed a cult-like following. To name a few, folks can choose from Alabama white sauce, Texas-style mop sauce, sweet and tangy Kansas City sauce, South Carolina mustard sauce, Eastern North Carolina vinegar sauce and Lexington dip.
  6. STATS: Oklahoma has the most BBQ restaurants per capita (one for every 5,000 residents), while Alabama has the highest percentage of BBQ restaurants (8% of all restaurants in Alabama are barbecue). On the other end of the scale, Connecticut has the least number of BBQ restaurants in the nation while New York has the lowest percentage. Our barbecue-loving hearts can’t imagine!
That’s it for your dose of BBQ trivia. We’d love to hear from you – what are your favorite BBQ styles and restaurants?

Is Menu Labeling Finally Here or Not?

Only a few more days stand between the FDA’s May 7 compliance deadline for the federal menu labeling standard signed into law by President Obama in 2010. But that compliance date has been delayed several times already, and its future isn’t entirely clear at this point, either.

Although Congress passed the law in 2010, FDA did not finalize its rule implementing it until December 2014. After that, FDA delayed the rule’s compliance date until December 1, 2016; Congress subsequently delayed it until May 5, 2017; and FDA delayed it once more until May 7, 2018.

So, we’re there – right? No, not exactly.

On February 6, the House passed H.R. 772, the so-called "Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act," which amends the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act to clarify the information certain retail food chain establishments, with 20 or more locations, must disclose about nutrition to the consumer. This amendment sought to prevent overly burdensome regulations for certain establishments, such as convenience stores, supermarkets, grocery stores and pizza restaurants, and to provide flexibility in how restaurants display calorie information.

Specifically, the bill allows retail food establishments where the majority of orders are placed by customers who are off-premise at the time their order is placed, such as pizza restaurants, to disclose nutritional information on a remote-access menu (such as an online menu) as the sole method of disclosure instead of on-premise wall signs or menus. The bill also eliminates criminal penalties and allows restaurants and retailers to take corrective action as well as preempts civil litigation for violations of the federal menu labeling law and any state laws that may exist. The bill makes accommodations for inadvertent variations that occur during the food preparation process.

This bill was received in the Senate on February 7, 2018, where it must clear committee and be voted on and passed by the Senate body before being sent to President Trump for signature. Should all that in fact happen, the compliance date would have to be moved once again to allow the FDA time to write the regulations necessary to implement the new law. Actually, the Senate version of the bill (S. 261) contains language specifically stating, “Regulations pursuant to this bill or the clause amended by this bill cannot take effect earlier than two years after final regulations are promulgated.” We would be looking at sometime late in 2020 as the next earliest compliance date if that language remained in the final bill.

On the other hand, if the Senate fails to act or to act in time for the bill-to-law process to be completed before May 7, the 2010 law and its resultant regulations will go into effect, and the FDA will be required to ensure compliance with those rules. While retail food establishments affected by the original legislation should be prepared for compliance on May 7, we’ll keep an eye on the outcome of these intervening legislative efforts.

Pack your bags, we’re going on a BBQuest!

Apron is producing a new original, online video series for Beef Loving Texans called “BBQuest”. This documentary-style, episodic series takes a look at some of the best barbecue joints in Texas, uncovering secret menu items and other hidden gems.

Season one features barbecue restaurants and other popular day-trip attractions in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. BBQuest kicked off with Austin, filming at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in March. The series launches later this summer.

The event at Cooper’s was incredibly well attended with Texans lining up around the building wanting to see bands William Clark Green and Paul Cauthen and eat some delicious barbecue.

The goal of BBQuest is to share Texans’ love of barbecue with other Texans by showcasing popular and out-of-the-way barbecue joints across the state. These different barbecue restaurants and pitmasters highlight the diversity of barbecue beef recipes and grilling tips.

About Beef Loving Texans

Beef Loving Texans is Texas Beef Council’s consumer brand created to share unique recipes, stories, cooking and shopping tips and expert nutrition information. Beef Loving Texans is a community built around Texas pride, heritage and our shared love for beef. We represent the Texas Beef Council and the 130,000 beef farmers and ranchers across the state. Beef Loving Texans works to inspire mealtime solutions that create special moments and balanced lifestyles with beef.

More information about Beef Loving Texans can be found at BeefLovingTexans.com.

Communicating GMOs in a TL;DR World

TL;DR: "Too Long; Didn’t Read."

You’ve probably noticed TL;DR versions of stories popping up on news sites, where three or four bullet points recap a (now considered lengthy) 500-word article. CNN calls this feature “Story highlights.”

The New York Times has started summarizing its top stories in bullets on its homepage. Email newsletters such as The Skimm have flourished in recent years, providing readers with a three-minute daily digest of all the news they need for the day in a pithy, easy-to-read format.

The way consumers take in their news is changing for a few reasons. Because of the internet, there is simply a much larger volume of news available today than 10 years ago. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 81 percent of Americans get at least some of their news through websites, apps or social networking sites. There is even more competition when you consider other digital communication forms like text messaging and email. With 8 trillion text messages sent each year, it hardly seems to leave room for much else.

For food brands needing to communicate complex issues, this consumer mindset creates challenges. It can feel nearly impossible to communicate a complex issue such as FSMA, GMO use or traceability in a few bullet points, but there are ways brands can relay their message successfully.

Know your audience.

Brands falter when they make assumptions about their audiences. Instead, it’s important to ask critical questions such as:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • What do they know on this subject?
  • What is their attitude toward this subject? Toward my brand?
  • What misperceptions will they have on this topic?

If you’re unsure about the answers to these questions, consider investing in a baseline research effort. Online surveys can be fielded quickly and for a fairly low cost these days – it doesn’t have to be a big undertaking. Not only will it better inform your messaging, it will also give you something to measure against later.

Carefully craft your message.

Once you clearly answer these questions, you can better put yourself in your audience’s shoes and craft messages that will resonate. Carefully consider your headline – what is the one thing I want my audience to take away from this message? Lead with that message and let the rest of your messaging support that headline. The food industry is notorious for using technical speak and jargon; be sure to use consumer-friendly, easily digestible language.

Choose your channels.

The number of communication channels available presents both a blessing and a curse. Should you use Twitter, your blog or a newspaper op-ed? With a clear understanding of your audience, you can choose the channels to most effectively reach them. For example, a seafood company may want to communicate the concept of traceability to its customer base in the Southeast United States. Knowing from research that its customers are mainly female grocery shoppers with children who have limited knowledge of the traceability concept, they would be wise to choose a channel this audience uses most frequently, Facebook. Additionally, they might consider video because it performs so strongly on the platform and, if done correctly, is a great medium for synthesizing complex information.

For an example of a job well done, check out this recent #DrinkGoodDoGood campaign from Naked Juice to bring awareness to the issue of food deserts. Looking at their messaging, they clearly understood their audience’s lack of information on the issue and used a simple headline to capture their attention: “Nearly 30 million Americans have limited access to fruits and veggies.” They also used celebrity influencers relevant to their audience to deliver the message. Most importantly, the campaign worked: #DrinkGoodDoGood was used nearly 50,000 times and campaign videos saw nearly one million views.

Story Behind Food Deserts
With all the clutter and misinformation in today’s news, food brands must carefully plan their communication efforts to make sure their target audiences both see and receive their messages.

Is Your Food Product Healthy in Consumers’ Eyes?

It’s no secret Americans are paying more attention to the food they eat – and talking more about it, too. We see huge volumes of conversation, particularly online, around food. For example, according to one recent article, there were 168,375,343 posts on Instagram using the hashtag #food and another 76,239,441 posts for #foodporn.

The increasingly fragmented media ecosystem is shaping the contours of this dialogue. Niche blogs such as SkinnyTaste and Nerd Fitness have quickly become go-to sources of food information, especially for Millennials. The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2016 Food and Health Survey tells us one-third of the Millennial generation relies on trusted health, food and nutrition bloggers for information.

Consumers are responding to food news from both traditional and new media outlets by changing their behaviors. According to IFIC:

“The media were a top source that caused a less healthful view of enriched refined grains, saturated fat, added sugars, and low-calorie sweeteners. Whole grains, protein from plant sources, and natural sugars were among the dietary components that gained a more healthful opinion from consumers based on media headlines.”
The IFIC study found that 31 percent of Americans changed their minds about at least one dietary component, such as grains, sugars or protein, for better or worse. In most cases, media headlines and articles were at or near the top of the sources that altered consumers’ opinions, drove changes to their food purchasing decisions, or led them to engage with friends, family or coworkers in conversations about food and nutrition. When given a list of attributes that describe a “healthy eating style,” 51 percent of consumers chose “the right mix of different foods,” followed by “limited or no artificial ingredients or preservatives” (41 percent).
IFIC Food Decisions

Brands can capitalize on these perceptions in their marketing efforts. While consumers care about the perceived health of their food, their perception of healthy food is so broad that almost any brand or product can find a relevant attribute to use in its positioning. Food brands can exercise several options to reach consumers using the latest health trends.

Let’s look at how health messages might sound for a product based on three such options. Low-calorie sweeteners have had it tough lately; after enjoying decades of popularity, real sugar has come back in full force. Consumers are moving away from low-calorie sweeteners as studies have found the body metabolizes these products in the same way it does real sugar.

  • Refute existing health claims. With this option, food brands fight back against disinformation, which oftentimes means going up against trusted consumer sources (and note there’s a distinction here between trusted and credible). A low-calorie sweetener brand could hire its own third-party health experts to talk about the evils of sugar and its path to diabetes and other chronic diseases. However, there are also many health professionals who would argue that real sugar in small doses is better for the body, so this is a risky option for this product.
  • Bolster their own claims. A brand can acknowledge and capitalize on its own strengths. Low-calorie sweeteners could acknowledge the existence and even importance of real sugar, while marketing the benefit of a low-calorie sweetener as a way to manage diabetes and other chronic conditions that afflict millions of Americans.
  • Focus on non-traditional attributes. Sometimes brands simply have to recognize that traditional health messages won’t work for them and instead focus on other factors that consumers perceive as wholesome, such as freshness and authenticity. Many QSR brands have seen success with this option by touting fresh-cut produce and minimally processed meats. However, this option wouldn’t work as well with a heavily processed and largely artificial product such as low-calorie sweeteners.

If I represented a low-calorie sweetener brand, I would go with the bolstering option and own the product’s opportunity to help the 29 million Americans affected by diabetes better manage their condition. The campaign spokesperson could be a relevant health blogger (since we know they are a trusted source) and would include a big media relations push to change the narrative around this product. The important takeaway for brands is to remember that “healthy” is a complex concept that can pose challenges to marketers, but also creates opportunities for new kinds of storytelling.