Buffet And Cafeteria Food Sales Take A Nosedive
Pizza Hut, Ponderosa Steakhouse, Bonanza Steakhouse, and other restaurant chains have suspended use of their dining room buffets to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Las Vegas casinos have also postponed their popular self-service buffets. Likewise, Whole Foods Market, Wegmans Food Markets Inc. and other grocery stores have closed their popular salad bars and hot food bars. According to Nielsen data, salad bar sales in grocery stores this June are down 95.5% since the same time last year, and sales of self-service bars are down 71.5%.
According to the NPD Group, restaurant buffets account for roughly 1% of the annual $500 billion in overall restaurant sales. The FDA’s recommendations to suspend buffets as well as state guidelines to eliminate buffet service in at least 38 states have contributed significantly to financial losses at restaurants. Eager to resume dine-in services, restaurants are still grappling with how to incorporate or whether to eliminate their buffet and salad bar services. In May, Garden Fresh Restaurants, which owns about 100 Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes restaurants that are based on expansive food buffets, filed for bankruptcy, as sales dropped dramatically and the company saw no clear model for takeout.
UN Seeks Food Funding As Millions To Go Hungry Around The Globe
The United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) appealed for nearly $5 billion to help poor and middle-income countries that are food insecure due to the pandemic. The WFP aims to help 138 million people, far exceeding its past record of 97 million in 2019 and making it the biggest humanitarian response in history. According to the WFP, the amount of people going food insecure in countries where WFP operates could balloon to 270 million before the end of 2020, an 82% increase since the pandemic bega. Latin America has been hit the hardest, as the number of people in need of food assistance increased three-fold. Central Africa has seen a 135% increase in food insecurity, and Southern Africa sees a 90% rise. More than half of WFP’s response plan consists of cash transfers, and aid will be sent as both cash and vouchers so that communities in need can buy food at local markets to further boost struggling local economies.
Bagged Salad Recall: More Than 200 People Sickened In 8 States
Fresh Express has recalled a bagged salad mix sold in several grocery stores under the Fresh Express brand label as well as store brand labels such as ALDI Little Salad Bar, Giant Eagle, Hy-Vee, Jewel-Osco Signature Farms, ShopRite Wholesome Pantry, and Walmart Marketside. The recalled salads were manufactured by a Fresh Express facility in Streamwood, Illinois, and are linked to a multistate outbreak of Cyclospora infections, which typically causes diarrhea. So far, 206 people in 8 states have been sickened, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Get the full story here at USA Today or CBS News. Details on identifying the recalled products can be found here at the Centers for Disease Control
Grocers Revamp Salad Bars And Hot Bars
When coronavirus shutdowns first went into effect, grocery stores remained open but self-serve salad bars and hot bars did not. According to market research firm IRI, prepared food sales fell by 47% in mid-April, year-over-year. Grocers gradually revived their prepared foods business, and sales have slowly picked up, down by only 27% in the last week of May. When shopping, you may notice several new approaches in the prepared foods section of your favorite grocery store. Texas-based supermarket chain H-E-B transformed its cold food bars into beer coolers, and some coolers are now filled with prepared meals from local restaurants. Florida-based Publix reopened its salad bars and hot bars in mid-May, but instead of being self-serve, employees now assemble the dishes. Likewise, at Central Market in Texas, where huge food bars have always been a big part of the business model, items like specialty olives are now pre-packed and employees put together salads and hot bar plates to order. New York-based Wegmans took a similar approach, moving its hummus, olives, and other self-serve foods behind counters for cheese shop employees to assemble.
Prior to the pandemic, growth rates of hot and cold bars had already been waning, according to Jonna Parker, leader for fresh food insights at IRI. As the downward trend continued, grocers responded by selling salad in other ways. The restaurant franchise Saladworks had already been expanding into grocery stores with staff-run kiosks in four locations of the ShopRite grocery chain. Now, it has plans to open 20 more Saladworks kiosks and recently signed a deal with another major grocer, according to CEO Kelly Roddy. Some grocers are considering salad robots as well. Prior to the pandemic, the Chowbotics automated salad kiosk known as Sally was mostly used in universities and hospitals, but Chowbotics just signed three new grocery store deals with more on the way, according to Chowbotics CEO Rick Wilmer. The company’s new app will even allow touchless ordering as customers scan Sally’s QR code then order tailor-made salads on their phones from a mix of 22 different ingredients.
U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee Makes Its 2020-2025 Recommendations
Last week, a panel of 20 nutrition scientists met via videoconference to discuss recommended changes to the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines are updated every five years by the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services, and they directly affect eating habits for millions by way of food stamp policies, school lunch menus, food manufacturing, and advice given by nutritionists.
Overall, the panel’s recommendations are similar to those from the previous five years, except for advice on the consumption of alcohol and added sugars. The panel recommended that men keep alcohol intake to one drink per day rather than two drinks, as previously advised. In addition, the panel recommends that all Americans cut back on added sugars.
The advisory committee has been highly scrutinized this year, as more than half of its members have ties to the food industry. For instance, scientists running new subcommittees on pregnant women, lactating mothers and toddlers receive funding from the baby food industry. African-American and Hispanic communities are also skeptical of the recommendations because almost all of the panelists are white. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has final approval over the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are scheduled for release later this year.
Hotels Suspend Buffet Service While Cruise Ships Forge Ahead
Hotel chains such as MGM Resorts, Hilton, Marriott, and Four Seasons and are revamping or eliminating breakfast buffets to prioritize guest safety. Marriott has gathered a team of health and hospitality experts in its Global Cleanliness Council. Council member Dr. Richard Ghiselli, who is also head of the School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Purdue University, says “Restaurant operators are advised to discontinue self-serve buffets and salad bars.” Ghiselli notes that buffets may survive in some locations with updated guidelines. “Where they are permitted, they must have sneeze guards in place,” said Ghiselli, “and staff are advised to change, wash, and sanitize utensils frequently, and place barriers in open areas.”
Hotel buffets may be changing in other countries as well. In Italy, Claudio Scarpa, director of the Venice hotel association says,“The breakfast buffet will be a thing of the past.” The association recently issued a 10-page list of regulations and recommendations for area hotels, and instead of a morning buffet, “guests now receive a breakfast bag,” says Scarpa.
As crowded areas where guests share serving utensils, buffets have come under intense scrutiny during the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, buffet restaurant chains Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes threw in the towel and closed all 97 locations permanently. Buffets on cruise ships, however, will likely continue. “Buffets will exist in some sort of form,” says Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of Cruise Critic. Faust notes that buffet food will mostly likely be dished out by staff, there will be fewer communal tables, and staff will be required to wear masks or face shields.
New Research Links Coffee Drinking to Lower Body Fat In Women
A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition examined data from the expansive 10-year National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 50,000 Americans. Organized by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the research found that women of all ages who drank two to three cups a day of coffee had an average of 2.8% less body fat than those who did not drink coffee. Women aged 20-44 who drank the same amount had 3.4% less body fat than nondrinkers, and those aged 45-69 who drank four or more cups a day had 4.1% less body fat. In men, the relationship between coffee consumption and body fat was less significant.
According to senior author of the study, Dr. Lee Smith of Anglia Ruskin University, “Our research suggests that there may be bioactive compounds in coffee other than caffeine that regulate weight and which could potentially be used as anti-obesity compounds.”
How To Stay Safe With Takeout And Delivery
Restaurants across the U.S. have begun to reopen with outdoor and/or indoor seating, but for those who don’t want to cook at home, takeout and delivery remain the most widely accessible options. Are takeout and delivery safe? Public health experts generally say “yes,” and weigh in with specific advice.
Which is safer, takeout or delivery? “The safest choice is going to be the one that avoids contact with the most people,” according to Donald Schaffner, an extension specialist in food science at Rutgers University. For that reason, delivery remains the safest option, especially since online ordering is a contactless transaction. To minimize risk with takeout, pay in advance if possible, maintain a safe distance from other patrons, and ask restaurant staff to place food down before you pick it up.
What about packaging? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that although the coronavirus can survive and spread on surfaces, the risk is relatively low. “Even if an infected person did touch a package,” says John Williams, chief of pediatric diseases at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh, “the risk of transmission is slim.”
Takeout utensils also pose a low risk, but if you are concerned, you can use your own utensils at home. Experts also say it’s not worth worrying about what food to order. There is no evidence that the coronavirus is transmissible via food. It transmits from person to person, so the bigger concern is the safety of restaurant workers. If you are concerned when ordering, ask the restaurant what measures it is taking to keep workers safe, such as wearing masks and gloves and maintaining social distancing guidelines.
MIND Diet Shows Promise In Helping Ward Off Dementia
Currently, 5.8 millions Americans live with some form of dementia, a degenerative brain disease that causes memory loss and an inability to perform certain tasks. While anecdotal and “soft” evidence has shown a correlation between diet and lifestyle and dementia, scientific studies have not yet established a link. Now, two new studies are investigating the connection between diet and lifestyle choices and the mitigation of dementia’s effects.
The first study centers on the MIND diet, a mashup of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Developed by the late Martha Clair Miller of Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, the MIND diet prioritizes leafy greens over other vegetables, antioxidant-rich strawberries and blueberries over other fruits, and olive oil over butter or margarine while minimizing sweets and fast food. In 2015, Miller published a study showing that adults who followed the MIND diet were cognitively 7.5 years younger than their non-MIND diet peers. The new study will last three years, and participants will be tested to see if there is similar correlation between the MIND diet and cognitive function.
The second study, called U.S. POINTER, follows a Finnish study called FINGER. This trial focuses on lifestyle changes: Researchers will study the mental health effects of not only diet but also exercise, social stimulation, and management of risk factors for heart and vascular disease. This study, funded in part by the Alzheimer’s Association, is expected to release results by the end of 2022 or early 2023, and like the MIND diet study, could provide a blueprint for dementia mitigation programs.
Food Insecurity To Affect 54 Million Americans, Analysts Say
Record numbers of Americans face hunger this year, as economic setbacks in the wake of COVID-19 leave tens of millions unable to afford adequate food to feed their families. An estimated 1 in 4 children could need food aid this year, a 63% increase compared to 2018. In total, approximately 54 million Americans may lack access to affordable and nutritious food this year, according to an analysis by the national food bank network Feeding America. “If the numbers stay like this, no way food banks can cope, it’s beyond our capabilities, a lot will depend on how long federal help lasts,” said Michael Flood, president of the Los Angeles Food Bank, which has distributed an average of 80% more groceries since the pandemic began.