Origin of the egg and food safety

Today we have more possibilities to choose when purchasing eggs. Several types compete on the market that are differentiated by the form of raising the chickens (in a cage, on the ground, free range or organic). The egg shells are subsequently marked with their corresponding code.

For that reason, it is normal for consumers to wonder if the form of raising chickens influences the quality of the egg, and if some types of eggs have advantages over others. Moreover, with certain frequency, consumers receive contradictory opinions that almost never correspond to the knowledge provided by the abundant scientific research of the last 20 years.

For the vast majority of consumers, as shown in all surveys, the most important factor about the quality of the egg is the safety of consuming it, that is, that the egg is free of health risks due to microbial contamination, especially Salmonella, as well as the presence of waste and chemical contaminants. This aspect is the one we will address here.

Eggs and microbial contamination

In general, the content of the recently laid egg is practically sterile. It is on the surface of the shell where there is a range of microorganisms, mainly bacteria. Most are innocuous, but sometimes microbes can be present that are capable of altering the product or causing infections in humans, which in some cases may reach inside through pores on the shell, or due to crossed contamination in kitchens.

In studies published over 40 years ago, the contamination of cageless chicken eggs was much greater than in chickens kept in cages. However, this data tended to belong to small groups of chickens kept in the rural environment for self-consumption (“coops”).

The studies carried out in practical conditions in several research projects, in parallel with the progressive development of the commercial production of cageless chicken eggs in Europe, have clearly shown that in these eggs, the microbial load on the shell is more variable—10 times greater on average. However, in most cases, it continues to be below the limits considered correct.

These differences are due to different conditions of hygiene and biosafety amongst farmers (sometimes between facilities belonging to the same poultry farmer), and in general, due to the presence of a bed, which implies a greater contact of the cageless chickens with their feces, and greater contamination of the air inside their shelters.

It is more important to clarify whether or not there are theoretical differences in the risk of eggs being more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella in cageless chickens due to the same reasons, compared to chickens that go outside, due to coming into contact with transmitting animals. The intense research carried out in the EU 10-15 years ago showed that in all raising systems, there were flocks of chickens that tested positive for Salmonella. Nevertheless, at that time, the incidence in cageless systems tended to be lower. This was due to their greater size, having more recent buildings, and the early and massive use of effective vaccines, which was also later done by the poultry farmers that worked with laying cages.

However, today this question is no longer relevant. Today in Spain, the proportion of flocks that tested positive for potentially pathogenic Salmonella is below 1%, as required by the EU. These flocks are tested through periodic self-controls that are supervised by the Administration and official controls. In case of infection, all birds are sacrificed, and until that time, their eggs cannot go to direct consumption. These standards are the same for all raising systems. Thanks to them, the number of egg consumers affected by salmonellosis has drastically dropped in recent years in Spain.

To minimize the risks of microbial contamination, the integrity and cleaning of the shell are essential. The comparative studies between raising systems offer quite variable results, as the quality of the shell is much more influenced by the nutrition and handling of birds than by the system of sheltering the chickens in it.

In general, at the farm level, more broken eggs tend to be obtained in cages and dirtier eggs in alternative systems. For the consumer, this does not have any practical importance, as all commercialized eggs must comply with the same strict limits for these defects.

Eggs and chemical contamination

Each year, the results of the European Waste Monitoring Plan are published, obtained from samples representing the commercial production of each country. However, until now for eggs, the system of raising the chickens has not been identified. In Spain, the same conclusions have always been reached: there is a total absence of illegal products and the tiny proportion of non-compliant samples (on the order of 1 per 1,000) is one of the lowest of all foods originating from animals.

The scarce non-compliant samples are almost always due to the accidental contamination in the chicken feed plant with antibiotic waste used in feeds from other animal species, though in quantities lower than those considered safe. Research carried out in several countries has shown that this could occur in all types of eggs, though it appears to be slightly higher in organic eggs, probably due to the lower level of current technology of the factories specialized in producing food for organic chickens.

The low use of antibiotics in Spanish egg-producing poultry farming is recognized at the official level for its excellent health situation. Although in theory, free-range chickens are more exposed to certain bacterial infections, and therefore, the need to use therapeutic antibiotics may be greater than in those raised in cages, there is no data to confirm this possibility.

The presence of pesticide residue and contaminants like dioxins and PCBs is currently practically null. Isolated cases have been cited in free-range, organic eggs, especially in Central Europe, if the chickens’ fields have been close to pollutant industries or located on contaminated lands.

The case of Fipronil, a pesticide used to fight parasitic mites in chickens, which in 2017, was found mainly in organic eggs in Holland and Germany, was due to a very different reason: organic poultry farmers, obliged to use natural products for this purpose, were victims of fraud by a company that provided them with a product that wasn’t what it was supposed to be, and didn’t report that it included an illegal compound. The European alert systems quickly identified and removed the contaminated eggs from the market, which did not reach Spain.

In conclusion, all eggs that are put on the Spanish market, independent of the system of raising the chickens, are safe for the consumer. The great professionalism of Spanish poultry farmers and the application of demanding official control plans guarantee it.

Ricardo Cepero Briz: Doctor in Veterinary, Professor of the Department of Animal Production of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Zaragoza and member of the Advisory Council of the Institute of Egg Studies.

Increasing rigor and information to combat food populism

The food industry is a strategic one and of great interest to the population. Food influences society and occupies a central place in people’s lives, since it is an essential requirement for life, due to the influence on people’s well-being and its impact on health and life expectancy.

We have quality verification systems run by administrations and we have developed the management of fraud control systems and the alert network; technology and scientific innovation help us detect fraud, both for distributors and manufacturers and exporters; the companies have developed further those issues related to the management of distribution operations and the traceability of the products that are put up for sale. There is new information every day that generates distrust among consumers and calls into question the reliability of the food chain. Continue reading Increasing rigor and information to combat food populism

Facing changes quickly and efficiently

For years the term startup has been naturally integrated into our language, but also in our environment and daily lives. Those that were startups at some point, mere fish in the sea at high risk of being eaten by sharks, are now the large multinationals that do the eating. Such is the life of startups, they either evolve or disappear, the latter being most common. According to the data, 90% of startups fail and the 10% that survive are also close to failure. Continue reading Facing changes quickly and efficiently

An almost impossible equilibrium

The distribution sector is probably one of the most competitive owing to 1) the large number of highly qualified companies, 2) the competition of players who sell exclusively in the online universe and also in the world of food distribution and 3) low sales margins.

This week, a report by the ratings agency Moody’shighlighted that the impact on the price decrease unleashed by a food distribution company triggered a fall in prices in other distribution companies with the resultant impact on the income statement. Whilst it is true that for the customer falling prices are more than welcome, and all distributors always work toward this end, it is also true that unsustainable competition would lead to some competitors pulling out of the market; leading to less competition and, make no mistake; the dominant operators would end up raising prices.

This situation has even led some food distributors to raise this issue publicly—whether this model is sustainable in the medium or long term. And it has gone even further, suggesting that some competitors were selling at a loss. Without this point being discussed here, what must be considered are its consequences and the reason why price readjustments cause this situation in the food distribution sector and not in others. The answer is simple, the margins.

Lately large conglomerates have enjoyed high earnings, making it clear that the margins they work with are not the same. Mondelez, with 26 billion euros in sales, has turned a profit of 2.338 billion euros, or Unilever with 53.700 billion in sales has exceeded 6 billion in profits. In the case of Coca Cola European Partners, profits total 688 million euros with sales exceeding 11 billion euros, or Nestlé with more than 6.2 billion in profits and sales of 77.7 billion euros.

Another industry whose income statements are not released to the media or for public scrutiny, also plays a large part of the country’s industrial food sector. We’re talking about the myriad number of SMEs (99.5% of the food industry in Spain) that compete with these large multinationals.

Both industries impact the raw materials market in different ways.

It is positive for society as a whole for businesses in the agri-food chain to be sustainable in the long term; the wealth this generates is not in question, but we need to be aware of the narrow margin the food distribution sector works with, which is always in theory blamed for all evils. Either because it does not innovate, or because it raises prices or because it supposedly lowers them, it always squeezes industry. That same industry with margins no distributor can even hope to achieve. (more information: notice 1 and notice 2), because the business distribution is based on the rotation of low unit value products and ultimately it is the sale of the product and the choice of the consumer who will decide if your business will be sustainable.

Compostable bags vs plastic bags

We have all used a plastic bag in a supermarket to carry the fruit or vegetables that we needed to buy. We were probably not aware that such bags are considered “light or very light”, unlike those that are delivered at the checkout to carry the groceries, which are larger and heavier. Well, from 2020 onward, according to the Draft Royal Decree on the reduction of the use of plastic bags, instead of the current ones, in the fruit, vegetable, charcuterie, meat, fish and bread departments among others, we will have to use a compostable or biodegradable bag rather than a light or very light one. Continue reading Compostable bags vs plastic bags

“Major companies need to develop skills so as to explore other models that can enable them to find the customer of tomorrow”

Intrapreneurship, Lean Startups, the Internet of Things… these are increasingly common words in the world of work. To shed some light on these terms and to understand why they are used with ever increasing frequency, last week we went to the head office in Madrid to talk with Nestor Guerra, one of the leading lights in the world of startups. Nestor is CEO and co-founder of IEC, a startup that develops solutions for smart cities, a professor of Business Design & Lean Startup at the Industrial Organisation School (EOI) for Postgraduates, MBAs and in-Company and Professor of Innovation and Lean Startups at the h2i Institute.

– After assimilating the startups concept, another term appears, lean startups, of which you are a keen exponent. Could you tell us more about this term?

A lean startup is still a formal process for trying to resolve or validate business models. It’s based mainly on knowledge validated by experimentation and integration with the customer. Basically, it’s a framework of methodologies that in turn include different methodologies to enable a startup to be as adaptable as possible when it finds a product that fits in the market. Continue reading “Major companies need to develop skills so as to explore other models that can enable them to find the customer of tomorrow”

The concept of the boycott and its consequences

These days, due to the sociopolitical context in Spain, the word “boycott” has become commonplace, probably without the majority of people being aware that they have been practiced in the food sector for years, but have been dressed with concepts or nomenclatures that are more politically correct.

To boycott is to impede or interrupt the normal undertaking of a process or act as a means of protest or as a means of pressure to achieve something. Products such as palm oil or sugar have recently been immersed in a demonizing campaign to make them responsible for numerous evils. This has and continues to be true for brand name milk from the distributor, manipulated allusion links better price to lower quality. It has also happened with fish…and we could continue on with many more products because at any time of the year, whether due to problems of price, production and origin, there is always some boycotted product or company. Every year without exception.

Here, we don’t wish to debate the damages or benefits of food, rather one of the questions we raise is if the citizen thinks about the consequences of boycotts. There is no reliable data, at least that is publicly available, that exactly quantifies the drop in consumption of, for example, palm oil. However, the evidence we have shows a drop in prices at the origin. The same happens with sugar, which for example, dropped 40% in 5 months on the international market.

We do know that evolving demographics contributes to the drop in consumption of milk, and that campaigns that question its quality without a doubt harm the product.

But when demand for one product falls, normally demand for the other goes up. In the case of palm oil, the counterpoint is butter. After publishing several studies praising the properties of butter (it wasn’t long ago that it was vilified, by the way), it has been made into the star of the commodities market, reaching historical prices…The fall in milk consumption has its counterpoint in the demand for vegetable drinks, and we could continue on with the others.

Change, therefore, is obvious and always has been, but is it really change that the consumer wants?

Speaking of boycotts, it was inevitable to bring up Catalan products during these times. Trying to reflect beyond what we’re seeing and hearing in the media, many products that by definition are of Catalan origin are in part from other regions of Spain (because of its packaging or the preparation involved). When a boycott is considered, who is damaged most? And who really benefits from it? Perhaps other products from other Autonomous Communities, or perhaps, in a globalized world with markets so open, it’s possible that other neighboring countries have come out on top that at one point were boycotted…

In day-to-day business, companies have been willing to provide data of their purchases to other countries, but there is a difference between the CIF of a company, its headquarters and its factories.

Behind every product, and behind every company, there are many employees and citizens. We shouldn’t boycott “flippantly” because in most cases, we don’t know what we’re boycotting.

DIA’s digital commercial model wins the WfMC global awards

DIA Group has been chosen from a long list of Spanish and international companies as the winner of the Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) awards for the development of its DCM (Digital Commercial Model) project. The WfMC is an international organization composed of innovators, developers, consultants, analysts and researchers committed to the workflow model and Business Process Management (BPM).

For just over a year and a half, the company has been working on the implementation of a task manager, owned by the company Auraportal, which has enabled full digitalization and greater automation of the mechanisms related to its commercial back office, analyzing the previous processes in depth to further optimize them in each of the countries in which it operates: Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Argentina.

Continue reading DIA’s digital commercial model wins the WfMC global awards

More action and collaboration to face a growing problem

The growing problem society has been facing in recent times as a result of the dangerous underage-drinking-fun equation is no secret. There are also many voices raising the alarm about the increasingly younger ages at which these young people try alcoholic beverages for the first time.

Last year’s data provided by the Ministry of Health in Spain itself are a wake-up call to everyone. Questions arise when we discover that according to these same figures, practically half of schoolchildren aged 14 who participated in outdoor drinking parties during last year have suffered at least one acute alcohol poisoning episode? Why is this figure so high? How do they have access to alcohol if it is banned by law? Is today’s society trivializing the effects that alcohol can have on the body and on the development of the youngest?

It is not about demonizing spirits. Not at all. From DIA we have always defended freedom of choice between each and every one of our products and which of course we consider the best in the market in their respective segments.  The point is to raise awareness and try to tackle widespread consumption among a segment of the population for whom alcohol intake can be fatal in the long term.

To this end, it is critical to be clear about who are the key players involved in this problem. In first place, the family. Without a fully aware family environment, it is impossible to make those young people realize that consumption at an early age will affect their short-term performance and their long-term development. Secondly, the participation of local bodies. A permissive legislation or an incorrect application of the same allows the attendance to mass outdoor drinking parties or to never ending night events in places where mass consumption occurs, relating the weekend or events with the consumption of alcoholic drinks. Thirdly, actions by businesses, distributors and those in charge of the sale. Without escaping responsibility that corresponds to us regarding the sales in our establishments, we should point out the existence of unorganized distribution stores that do sell alcohol to minors while looking the other way and without asking any questions. We must not forget the role of the hotel industry either.

This is the aim of DIA’s recently launched initiative “Stop Underage Drinking, A Challenge For All”. Involve each and every one of the people, bodies and companies that can and should do something to eradicate a problem that is clearly increasing. We are aware that this is a difficult task that cannot be faced by a single person or entity, thus the need to join forces in a project that we would like to share from DIA. DIA is already working to reinforce the training to communicate the message in a widespread manner; employees, adult consumers, our main target groups, but also minors whom we will address from our sports and social action projects. We also review our procedures and would like to contribute to this important challenge. It’s a long-distance race. We are aware.

In short, we would like to be the starting point, the hinge that opens the door to new projects, joint collaboration and, above all, common success.

We encourage active participation from the company. We must not forget “Stop Underage Drinking, A Challenge For All” and to benefit society as a whole.

It’s never too late: Comments on the Ruling of the ECJ regarding Spanish Regulations on below-cost-sales

On 19 October, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a ruling (Case C-295/16) declaring that Spanish regulations on below-cost-sales contained in the Retail Trade Regulation Act (Law 7/1996), and therefore all related regulations applicable in autonomous regions, generally prohibiting below-cost-sales due to them being considered unfair in essence, except in cases where a company “is attempting to reach the prices of one or several competitors with a view to significantly affecting their sales, or in the case of perishable products that are reaching their sell-by date”, are illegal and contrary to the Law of the European Union. Continue reading It’s never too late: Comments on the Ruling of the ECJ regarding Spanish Regulations on below-cost-sales