The leeway doesn’t apply to a change that increases the safety risk because it contains a food allergen or gluten, or that replaces a key ingredient or one featured in the name or marketing. For example, a product that claims to be made with “real butter” cannot now be made with margarine, and raisin bread must contain raisins.

Before the pandemic, Ingredion, a company that makes sweeteners, starches and other ingredients used by large food companies, often had its 500 scientists and 26 labs all over the country working on new products for companies. But in recent months, much more of their time has been spent figuring out what happens to the taste, texture and shelf life of a food when one or two ingredients are switched out.

“The overall reformulation of a product is a very complicated equation,” said Beth Tormey, a vice president and general manager of systems and ingredient solutions at Ingredion. “It has to meet parameters of texture and taste so that consumers like it, but it also has to fit into the regulatory box and the nutrition box. It all sounds simple from a distance, but it’s not.”

Take eggs. They are, explained Leaslie Carr, a senior director at Ingredion, a key source of protein for many products, but they are more than that. For baked goods, for instance, they provide moisture and volume, helping make cakes light and fluffy.

“Salad dressings also use a lot of egg for body and texture,” Ms. Carr said. “So we’re trying to figure out how to use different emulsifiers to reduce the amount of egg used, maybe reduce the egg amount by half, to produce the dressings. That gives you some flexibility to continue to manufacture the product until the egg situation stabilizes.”

General Mills started to notice the supply chain disruptions late last year.

The company’s plant in Wellston, Ohio, which had churned out Totino’s pizza and pizza rolls, working to meet the surge in sales that accompanied the pandemic, suddenly couldn’t get key ingredients.

“First it was the starch that we use for the cheeses,” Mr. Nudi said. “Then certain packaging and oils were hard to find. A lot of the materials that we use for Totino’s were challenged from an ingredient standpoint.”

By February, there weren’t enough Totino’s pizza and pizza rolls to keep grocery freezer sections full.

By then, the company had started daily meetings across its research and development, procurement and supply chain departments to figure out how to revamp and substitute ingredients. For instance when starch became difficult to find, the company began substituting and combining different starches in order to figure out what worked to make the pizza rolls look and taste the same.

In March, the company had filled freezer sections again, Mr. Nudi said.

But the lessons being learned from the “new normal” in the supply chain are being felt across the entire company.

Before the pandemic, the packaged food industry was a stable environment, with a consistent level of growth, Mr. Nudi said. That made having a secure, steady supply of ingredients easier.

Now General Mills is lining up multiple suppliers for each ingredient and keeping more ingredients on hand.

“Just-in-time deliveries don’t work anymore,” Mr. Nudi said. “We’re adding to inventory, holding more dry ingredients and fats and oils, even though that’s tough too right now. We need tanks to store those liquids, and those just aren’t readily available.”

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Grocery Inflation Is Still Increasing

Consumers are still seeing an increase in grocery costs, despite a 0% increase in overall inflation for the month of July.

New numbers released this week by the government gave us a little good news on the inflation front.  

On a monthly basis, prices overall were unchanged from June to July. That’s the first time that’s happened in over two years. 

“I just want to say a number: zero,” President Biden told reporters. “Today we received news that our economy had 0% inflation in the month of July.” 

But the cost of food went up 1.1% in July.

And year on year, it went up about 13% over July of 2021. That’s the largest 12-month increase since March of 1979. 

Annette Economides owns Moneysmartfamily.com, and gives tips on how families can save money. 

“If you just go into the grocery store mindlessly man, your grocery prices could have doubled with what’s going on right now,” said Economides.  

The ingredients to make a burger, for example, have increased. The government said beef was about 3.4% more expensive last month than it was in July of 2021. Cheese went up 12.5% year on year. And bakery products like buns went up 13.7%. 

Wash it down with a soda and that’ll be 12.9% more or a beer up 4.6%.  

About the only thing that costs less on that burger would be tomatoes, which are about 1.4% cheaper now than a year ago. 

Gene Sperling Sr. is an adviser to President Biden.

“Food prices is probably, you know, the place where we didn’t see as much progress as we would like,” Sperling said.  

Several factors have contributed to rising prices: higher costs for fuel and labor; a deadly Avian Flu in the U.S.; a drought in Brazil, and the war in Ukraine. 

Consumers are seeing year-to year increases in milk (15.5%), breakfast cereal (16.4%) and potatoes (13.3%). 

You actually notice your bill now. 

For Michael Nelson in Cleveland, the rise in prices has him rethinking what he puts into his cart. 

“I’m more discriminating what I buy now, I don’t buy the luxury items the desserts and so forth – cut back,” Nelson said. 

There are ways to trim your grocery bills. 

Registered dietician Amy Patton says make more meatless meals. Use beans and lentils as protein instead. 

“Right now it’s getting more expensive to eat but you can still find some inexpensive options,” Patton said.   

Cut up produce because pre-cut fruits and vegetables are more expensive. 

“Maybe you’re making a big stew or a big stir fry and you’re using a recipe that calls for a cup of celery for example. Maybe you take that celery and you dice it up and you have the rest as a snack with hummus or peanut butter,” Patton said. 

Lastly, stock up on staples that can be used for different meals. 

Source: newsy.com

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Covid Test Misinformation Spikes Along With Spread of Omicron

On Dec. 29, The Gateway Pundit, a far-right website that often spreads conspiracy theories, published an article falsely implying that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had withdrawn authorization of all P.C.R. tests for detecting Covid-19. The article collected 22,000 likes, comments and shares on Facebook and Twitter.

On TikTok and Instagram, videos of at-home Covid-19 tests displaying positive results after being soaked in drinking water and juice have gone viral in recent weeks, and were used to push the false narrative that coronavirus rapid tests don’t work. Some household liquids can make a test show a positive result, health experts say, but the tests remain accurate when used as directed. One TikTok video showing a home test that came out positive after being placed under running water was shared at least 140,000 times.

And on YouTube, a video titled “Rapid antigen tests debunked” was posted on Jan. 1 by the Canadian far-right website Rebel News. It generated over 40,000 views, and its comments section was a hotbed of misinformation. “The straight up purpose of this test is to keep the case #’s as high as possible to maintain fear & incentive for more restrictions,” said one comment with more than 200 likes. “And of course Profit.”

Previous spikes in pandemic-related falsehoods focused on the vaccines, masks and the severity of the virus. The falsehoods help undermine best practices for controlling the spread of the coronavirus, health experts say, noting that misinformation remains a key factor in vaccine hesitancy.

The categories include falsehoods that P.C.R. tests don’t work; that the counts for flu and Covid-19 cases have been combined; that P.C.R. tests are vaccines in disguise; and that at-home rapid tests have a predetermined result or are unreliable because different liquids can turn them positive.

These themes jumped into the thousands of mentions in the last three months of 2021, compared with just a few dozen in the same time period in 2020, according to Zignal Labs, which tracks mentions on social media, on cable television and in print and online outlets.

The added demand for testing due to Omicron and the higher prevalence of breakthrough cases has given purveyors of misinformation an “opportune moment” to exploit, said Kolina Koltai, a researcher at the University of Washington who studies online conspiracy theories. The false narratives “support the whole idea of not trusting the infection numbers or trusting the death count,” she said.

policies that prohibit misinformation that could cause harm to people’s physical health. YouTube said it was reviewing the videos shared by The New York Times in line with its Covid-19 misinformation policies on testing and diagnostics. Twitter said that it had applied a warning to The Gateway Pundit’s article in December for violating its coronavirus misinformation policy and that tweets containing false information about widely accepted testing methods would also violate its policy. But the company said it does not take action on personal anecdotes.

Facebook said it had worked with its fact-checking partners to label many of the posts with warnings that directed people toward fact checks of the false claims, and reduced their prominence on its users’ feeds.

“The challenges of the pandemic are constantly changing, and we’re consistently monitoring for emerging false claims on our platforms,” Aaron Simpson, a Facebook spokesman, said in an email.

No medical test is perfect, and legitimate questions about the accuracy of Covid-19 tests have abounded throughout the pandemic. There has always been a risk of a false positive or a false negative result. The Food and Drug Administration says there is a potential for antigen tests to return false positive results when users do not follow the instructions. Those tests are generally accurate when used correctly but in some cases can appear to show a positive result when exposed to other liquids, said Dr. Glenn Patriquin, who published a study about false positives in antigen tests using various liquids in a publication of the American Society for Microbiology.

“Using a fluid with a different chemical makeup than what was designed means that result lines might appear unpredictably,” said Dr. Patriquin, an assistant professor of pathology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

Complicating matters, there have been some defective products. Last year, the Australian company Ellume recalled about two million of the at-home testing products that it had shipped to the United States.

But when used correctly, coronavirus tests are considered reliable at detecting people carrying high levels of the virus. Experts say our evolving knowledge of tests should be a distinct issue from lies about testing that have spread widely on social media — though it does make debunking those lies more challenging.

said in July that it would withdraw its request to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use authorization of one specific test at the end of the year. Hundreds of other Covid-19 tests are still available from other manufacturers, the C.D.C. later clarified.

Still, posts claiming that the agency had withdrawn support of P.C.R. tests went viral on Facebook. The most widely shared post pushing the falsehood in July collected 11,500 likes, shares and comments, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analytics tool. The post added the falsehood that the C.D.C.’s advisory meant that P.C.R. tests could not distinguish between the coronavirus and the flu, when in fact the agency had simply recommended the use of tests that could simultaneously detect and distinguish between the flu and Covid-19.

Despite being fact-checked within days, the claim never fully went away. The Gateway Pundit article revived the claim at the end of the year, collecting nearly double the earlier post’s likes, shares and comments on Facebook. On Instagram, screenshots of the article also went viral, collecting hundreds of likes.

Mr. Gregory said a similar phenomenon had occurred with social media posts claiming various liquids turned at-home coronavirus tests positive.

On Dec. 23, 2020, a video on YouTube showed coronavirus tests turning positive after being tested on kiwi, orange and berry fruit juice. It collected over 102,000 views. In the same month, a video producing the same results with Coca-Cola was posted on YouTube, collecting 16,800 views.

One year later, a spate of similar videos with the same theme appeared on TikTok and Instagram.

For Ms. Koltai, the re-emergence of false narratives even after social media companies labeled them a year earlier shows the power of misinformation to “thrive when it can latch on to a current event.”

“That is how narratives can peak at different times,” she said.

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Live Updates: Covid Wave Dampens New Year Observances Worldwide

Life was supposed to return to normal this year. Instead, 2021 turned into a kind of purgatory. But there is good reason to hope 2022 will be better.

As this year comes to a close, we want to look back on the arc of the pandemic — and look ahead to the new year that starts Saturday.

This past year began with the ramping up of a mass vaccination campaign, which many people celebrated by taking post-shot selfies of their bandaged arms. By February, new Covid-19 cases were plummeting, and by spring, the virus seemed as if it might be in permanent retreat. On June 2, President Biden gave a speech looking ahead to “a summer of freedom, a summer of joy.”

But then came a turning point of 2021: the emergence of the Delta variant.

It began spreading in the U.S. in the late spring and caused many more infections among the vaccinated than earlier versions of the virus. The overwhelming majority of these breakthrough infections were mild, but they did have the potential to cause serious illness in the older and other vulnerable people.

Delta also sparked new outbreaks among the unvaccinated, and tens of thousands of them died. Ultimately, the U.S. death toll from Covid in 2021 — more than 475,000 — exceeded the 2020 toll. The increase is especially tragic, epidemiologists say, because the availability of vaccines had made most of those deaths avoidable.

Altogether, the year ending tonight has often felt disappointing and grim.

In addition to the direct damage from Covid, the disruptions to daily life — intended to slow the spread of the virus — have brought their own costs. Children have fallen behind in school, and for many, isolation has worsened their mental health. Adults are struggling, too; Americans’ blood pressure has risen, and drug overdoses have soared.

Even people who have avoided the worst of the pandemic’s damage often feel fed up. And the latest variant, Omicron, has sent cases soaring again, to their highest levels yet, and raised the prospect that 2022 will be another year of pandemic purgatory.

At this point, it should be clear that there are no Covid guarantees. Perhaps future variants will emerge, even more dangerous than Omicron or Delta. But the most likely scenario is more hopeful, many experts believe. As the New Year arrives, there are reasons to hope that 2022 will become what people expected 2021 to be — the year that Covid switched from being a pandemic to an endemic virus, not so different from the flu.

Emerging evidence suggests that Omicron really is milder than earlier versions of this coronavirus (either because of intrinsic biological reasons or because of higher levels of population immunity). In South Africa and England, as well as New York, San Francisco and other parts of the U.S., hospitalization numbers are lower than doctors feared.

Omicron will still do terrible damage, especially among the millions of middle-aged and older Americans who remain unvaccinated as well as the hundreds of millions of adults worldwide who remain unvaccinated, because of either vaccine skepticism or unavailability. Many hospitals face the risk of being overwhelmed in the coming weeks.

But when the current surge begins receding, it will likely have left a couple of silver linings. Omicron is so contagious that it will have infected a meaningful share of the population, increasing the amount of Covid immunity and helping defang the virus.

As important, the world has more powerful weapons to fight Covid than it did only a few weeks ago: two new post-infection treatments, one from Merck and a more powerful one from Pfizer, that lower the risk of hospitalization and death. With Pfizer’s treatment, the reduction is almost 90 percent, according to early research trials.

All of which suggests that the U.S. could emerge from the Omicron wave significantly closer to the most realistic Covid future — one in which it becomes an endemic disease that is a more normal part of daily life. It will still cause illness and death; a typical flu season kills about 35,000 Americans, most of them older. For the foreseeable future, battling Covid — through vaccination, treatment and research — will remain important.

But endemic disease does not need to dominate life the way a pandemic does. It does not need to cause the sort of social isolation and public health problems that Covid has over the past two years.

If the U.S. reaches that point in 2022 — as looks likely — the next New Year’s Eve will feel a lot more satisfying than this one.

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New Zealand Wants a 90% Vaccination Rate. Its Street Gangs May Hold the Key.

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Rawiri Jansen, a Maori doctor, had an urgent message for the 150 people, mostly patch-wearing members of New Zealand’s plentiful street gangs and their families, who sat before him on a bright Saturday afternoon.

Covid is coming for them, he said. Cases in New Zealand’s hospitals are rising rapidly. Soon, dozens of new infections a day might be hundreds or even a thousand. People will die. And vaccination is the only defense. “When your doctors are scared, you should be scared,” he said.

By the end of the day, after an exhaustive question-and-answer session with other health professionals, roughly a third of those present chose to receive a dose then and there.

Having abandoned its highly successful “Covid-zero” elimination strategy in response to an outbreak of the Delta variant, New Zealand is now undergoing a difficult transition to trying to keep coronavirus cases as low as possible. On Friday, the country set a target of getting at least 90 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated — a goal, the highest in the developed world, whose success hinges on persuading people like those who gathered to hear Dr. Jansen.

intensely criticized, including by police leaders.

Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna recipients who are eligible for a booster include people 65 and older, and younger adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 because of medical conditions or where they work. Eligible Pfizer and Moderna recipients can get a booster at least six months after their second dose. All Johnson & Johnson recipients will be eligible for a second shot at least two months after the first.

Yes. The F.D.A. has updated its authorizations to allow medical providers to boost people with a different vaccine than the one they initially received, a strategy known as “mix and match.” Whether you received Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer-BioNTech, you may receive a booster of any other vaccine. Regulators have not recommended any one vaccine over another as a booster. They have also remained silent on whether it is preferable to stick with the same vaccine when possible.

The C.D.C. has said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster shot include: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney or liver disease; dementia and certain disabilities. Pregnant women and current and former smokers are also eligible.

The F.D.A. authorized boosters for workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The C.D.C. says that group includes: emergency medical workers; education workers; food and agriculture workers; manufacturing workers; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service workers; public transit workers; grocery store workers.

Yes. The C.D.C. says the Covid vaccine may be administered without regard to the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacy sites are allowing people to schedule a flu shot at the same time as a booster dose.

Chris Hipkins, the minister responsible for New Zealand’s Covid-19 response, acknowledged earlier this month that the decision to enlist gang leaders was an unusual one.

“Our No. 1 priority here is to stop Covid-19 in its tracks, and that means doing what we need to do to get in front of the virus,” he said. “Where we have been able to enlist gang leaders to help with that, and where they have been willing to do so, we have done that.”

Some gang leaders have acted independently to help the vaccination effort. They have connected members of their community to health officials, organized events with health professionals like Dr. Jansen, and streamed events on Facebook Live to allow an open forum for questions about rare health risks. In some cases, they have taken vaccines to communities themselves.

“Our community is probably less well informed; they’re probably not as health literate,” said Mr. Tam, the Mongrel Mob member, who is a former civil servant and who received the border exemption. Constant media criticism has turned them off from reading traditional news outlets, he added.

“They then resort to social media, because they have much greater control,” he said. “It’s also a space that perpetuates conspiracy theories and false information and all the rest of it.” Health advice has to come from trusted individuals and leaders in the community, he said.

In the past week, Mr. Tam has traveled almost the length of the country organizing pop-up vaccination events for members and their communities, as well as coordinating with other chapter leaders to get their members vaccinated, he said.

It was difficult work that put him at personal risk, he said, and that invited intense skepticism from people who thought of gangs only as violent or connected to organized crime.

“Why do we bother?” Mr. Tam said. “We bother because we care about those people that others don’t care about, as simple as that. They can talk about my gang affiliation, all the rest of it. But it’s that affiliation that allows me to have that penetration, that foot in the door. I can do the stuff that they can’t do.”

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