Tag Archives: corporate responsibility

Food Service Focus: Celiac Awareness Month

May was Celiac Awareness Month, but managing this serious autoimmune disorder is a year-round job. If you’re in the foodservice industry, here’s what you need to know about Celiac Disease.

Celiac Basics

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, celiac disease is a genetic disorder in which the body’s immune response to gluten (a protein found in wheat and many other grains) is to attack the lining of the small intestine (the villi).

The attacks damage the villi over time, which affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to other autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis as well as serious neurological conditions and even stomach cancer. Short-term symptoms for adults usually include diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss as well as other forms of gastric distress.

Approximately 1 percent of Americans have celiac disease.

Celiac Treatment

There is currently no cure or medical treatment for celiac disease. The only way to keep celiac disease at bay is to adhere to a lifelong gluten-free diet. Unlike food allergies or food intolerances, which may wax and wane during a lifetime or have gradations of seriousness, celiac disease requires complete avoidance of even trace amounts of gluten for the rest of the celiac patient’s life.

Avoiding Gluten

Thanks to heightened awareness of celiac disease, it’s easier than ever for people with this disorder to shop and eat normally. Many foods are naturally gluten-free: especially “whole” foods like meat, fruit, and vegetables. And due to a rise in the perceived effects of gluten intolerance, there are many options for gluten-free bread and crackers as well as other processed food.

Standards/Certification

Since only trace amounts of gluten can set off the immune system of someone with celiac disease, it is important that any food that is labeled Gluten Free (GF) is truly free from gluten. The Gluten-Free Certification Organization provides verification through a “stringent review process” that any certified GF product has 10 parts per million or less of gluten.

Food Service for Customers with Celiac Disease

The most important tool for people with celiac disease is knowledge. To best serve team members with celiac disease, it is not necessary to provide only certified GF food items (although it is nice to have a few); what is necessary is to provide easily-accessible nutrition information for all food so that everyone can be sure of what they are eating.

In a food service kitchen, it is also crucial to avoid cross-contamination with gluten—like avoiding cross-contamination with nuts for people with nut allergies. This means keeping equipment separate or cleaning it thoroughly between each use. Frequent gluten-spreading culprits include cutting boards, knives, toasters, spatulas/wooden spoons, and even spreadable condiments like butter or mustard. Kitchen employees should also be sure to wash their hands carefully before working with food that will be served as “gluten-free.”

Diversity in the Workplace: Honoring Ramadan

This week marks the beginning of Ramadan, the holiest Muslim month. During the ninth month in the Muslim lunar calendar, observant Muslims all over the world commemorate the revelation of the Quran to Muhammed by both feasting as fasting. Islam is the world’s second-largest religion; what do HR departments and employees need to know about this important holiday?

Diversity in the Workplace - Ramadan

Even during the rest of the year, observant Muslims eat only foods that are halal. Like kosher foods, halal (lawful) rules of Islam prohibit pork, as well as “carnivorous animals, birds of prey, animals without external ears (some birds and reptiles), blood, alcohol, and foods contaminated with any of these.” According to Today’s Dietician, processed food containing ingredients like gelatin, emulsifiers, and enzymes may be unlawful for some Muslim consumers, so providing nutrition information is especially important.

The timing changes every year. Ramadan goes by a lunar calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar that is most widely used in secular society. The holiday starts the day after the new moon of the ninth month, and ends with the new moon of the tenth month. In 2018, Ramadan starts on May 15. In 2019, it will start on May 5. To be culturally sensitive to this changing holiday, it’s a good idea to keep track of when it will fall each year.

Observant Muslims fast during the day during the whole month of Ramadan. Before dawn, Muslims eat a meal called suhoor, and they break their fast after dusk with a meal called iftar. Be aware, if any colleagues or employees are observing Ramadan, that it would be insensitive to offer them lunch or snacks during the day.

Iftar is often a social meal. While specific food customs differ around the globe, iftar often involves a gathering in the home or a location central to the community. Want to try some Ramadan treats? The Kitchn suggests the following tasty treats from around the world:

  • Dahi vadey: Lentil dumplings that are soaked in a spicy yogurt sauce (India)
  • Haleem: A slow-cooked stew of meat, bulgur wheat, and lentils (Middle East, India, Pakistan, and Central Asia)
  • Chicken 65: Spicy, bite-sized pieces of chicken that are marinated and deep-fried (India)
  • Ramazan Kebabi: A dish made with lamb, onions, yogurt, and pita bread (Turkey)
  • Ful medammes: Fava beans cooked with garlic and spread on bread (North Africa)
  • Paomo: A bread and mutton soup (China)
  • Chapatis: Unleavened flatbread that is rolled up with vegetables and meats (India and Pakistan)
  • Fattoush: A salad made of vegetables and pita bread (Lebanon and Arab countries)
  • Konafah: A pastry made with phyllo dough and cheese (Middle East)
  • Kolak: A fruit dessert made with palm sugar, coconut milk, and pandanus leaf. Fruits, such as jackfruit or banana, or mung beans are added (Indonesia).

In our increasingly globalized world, it’s more important than ever to be respectful of all traditions, and USConnect is glad to help.

Diversity in the Workplace: Observing Lent

February 14 in 2018 was not only Valentine’s Day, but it was also Ash Wednesday, the day in the Christian tradition that signals the beginning of Lent. Representing the 40 days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness, Lent is the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday that is a time of reflection, prayer, and sacrifice: sacrifice that many Christians observe by eliminating meat for the duration of Lent, especially on Fridays.

Observing Lent

From a food-service perspective, it’s important to provide a greater variety of non-meat options during Lent. In particular, many observant Christians eat significantly more fish during Lent than any other time in the year. According to Gordon Food Service:

  • 26 percent of consumers say they observe Lent.
  • 20 percent of adults say they eat more seafood during Lent.
  • 41 percent say they eat fish instead of meat on Fridays.
  • Seafood sales can surge more than 20 percent during Lent.
  • On Fridays, seafood sales can surge up to 50 percent (as compared to non-Lent Fridays).

Lent is actually responsible for one of McDonald’s most iconic menu items: the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. The Filet-O-Fish was the 1962 brainchild of an early McDonald’s franchisee, Lou Groen, in Cincinnati who saw sales plummet during Lent in an area that was 87 percent Catholic at the time. Despite McDonald’s founder Roy Kroc’s misgivings, Groen introduced the Filet-O-Fish on Good Friday, and it was an instant hit. The Filet-O-Fish remains a Lent menu special to this day, with many people dubbing this the “Filet-O-Fish season.”

To increase your Lenten offerings, fried fish and shrimp are always popular choices. However, since many people are also seeking a more healthful diet, it’s a good idea to offer some baked, steamed, and grilled options as well. Services like USConnect’s fresh food vending or Bistro To Go!™ micro markets offer choices like tuna sandwiches or wraps, smoked salmon, or shrimp salad. Options like these can help people stay healthy and observe Lent at the same time.

Setting up a Workplace Wellness Challenge

Get Fit As A Team!

Uh-oh! With the holidays lurking around the corner and the cold weather making people want to hunker down and eat comfort food, it can be especially difficult to focus on nutrition and fitness. HR departments can make a big difference by creating a health and fitness challenge to help keep employees focused on staying healthy during the holidays. Read on for some tips and tricks for setting up a wellness challenge that works.

Workplace Wellness Challenge

What is a workplace wellness challenge? It’s a fun, community-oriented activity where colleagues compete against each other in a friendly contest. It’s a way to hold each other accountable toward a shared goal of better health, and it can provide that extra boost to help people stay motivated—especially during the holiday season.

Most workplace challenges have users self-report their activities or results, as regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prevent companies from requiring this kind of information. However, wellness challenges work best when participants want to join, not when they’re forced to, so the regulations shouldn’t impact the success of the challenge.

Challenges can tackle any aspect of nutrition and fitness—from avoiding snacks to walking up the stairs every day. Technology can help with organization, communication, and tracking: for instance, people who use fitness trackers can easily connect and compare number of steps or miles covered. People who use the USConnectMe app can easily get access to nutritional data for all the food they purchase, making it easier to track data for calories, fat, protein, fiber, and important nutrients.

Challenges are also a good way to bond with coworkers while promoting a healthy lifestyle. Try organizing monthly healthy potluck lunches or group activities like walking around the building several times a day. Challenges can last a week, a month, or even longer. You may even hold a “pop-up” challenge for one day, challenging co-workers to go a whole day without eating any added sugar (for instance).

The point of wellness challenges is to have fun and stay healthy, not to win a large monetary prize. However, it’s nice to offer an incentive whenever possible. Team t-shirts are a great reminder of the group goal, and gift cards for healthy activities or food are always welcome. For more information, check out these resources from the Society for Human Resource Management, and start your challenge!

Is BPA-Free the Way to Be?

Look at any food packaging, especially in the foodservice industry, and you’re likely to see a lot of plastic. There are many good reasons for the prevalence of plastics; plastics carry bpa-freemuch less weight than aluminum or glass, and plastic packaging can prevent up to 1.7 pounds of food waste for each pound of plastics.

However, plastic packaging brings some significant chemical impacts.  Among these, some of the most troubling come from a class of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors which influence the endocrine system and alter hormonal functions. Cheap, lightweight, and shatterproof, Bisphenol A (BPA) used to be one of the most commonly used plastics for food packaging, appearing in everything from plastic pouches to water bottles to the linings of some canned food. Unfortunately, BPA is one of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals; in 2008, the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction found that there is “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.”

The US Food and Drug Administration still classifies BPA as safe at its current human exposure level. Nonetheless, pressure from consumers and consumer protection groups has spurred food storage companies to drastically reduce their use of the chemical. This is particularly true for products aimed at infants and young children, like infant formula packaging, baby bottles, and toddler sippy cups, but even many general use products now carry the label “BPA-Free.” In the foodservice industry, both Rubbermaid and Cambro offer BPA-free options.

Unfortunately, just replacing BPA does not appear to have solved the problem of endocrine-disrupting chemicals leaching into food. Scientists currently focus on chemicals having estrogenic activity—activity that mimics, increases, or decreases the body’s naturally-occurring estrogen with synthetic hormones. So while eliminating BPA is a good start and can help raise employee awareness of the dangers of chemical contamination, it is not a panacea. Study after study shows that most plastic products leach estrogenic chemicals into the food and drinks we consume.

Some simple steps can further reduce risks, both for foodservice companies and the customers they serve. Keeping plastics away from heat—boiling water, microwaves, and sunlight—is crucial, as heat accelerates the leaching process. In foodservice kitchens, make sure to heat food only in glass or metal containers, and in office kitchens, offer alternatives for employees to heat their own food. Keep bottled water out of hot cars and sunlight, and educate employees about the potential dangers of keeping food or liquid in plastic for too long.  As always, knowledge is power!

 

 

HR Focus: Virtual Fitness

What is the participation rate for your wellness program? Unless your company is one of the rare ones with over 65 percent involvement, technology may help to engage more employees. Specifically, virtual fitness training may provide the convenience and cost-effectiveness that has been missing until now.

The Convenience of Virtual Fitness

Fitness training is one of the many activities that has changed with the advent of the internet. Whereas meeting with a trainer once necessitated physically going to a gym or fitness studio, the internet has enabled real-time audio and video communication between trainers and clients. Virtual trainers work remotely with their clients, creating customized workouts and providing encouragement and guidance.

The benefits of virtual training are significant:

  • Customized workouts to meet clients’ fitness goals
  • Costs that are drastically reduced from those of in-person fitness training
  • Increased flexibility for clients who can work out at their own pace and in the time and place of their choosing

These benefits are especially important in the realm of wellness programs, where they can increase participation and decrease costs to the company. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that lack of awareness and inconvenience were the two most commonly stated reasons why employees do not participate in available wellness programs, with lack of employer support also playing a strong role. Survey respondents also cited a desire for programs to be personalized to them, not one-size-fits-all.

In many ways, virtual training seems like a panacea for many problems of wellness program participation. However, more HR professionals know that there’s no such thing as a magic bullet. Virtual training programs are only as good as their trainers, and like in the real world, not all trainers are equally qualified. This makes online training especially risky, since meeting virtually could make it easier for trainers to fake their credentials. Also, fitness training might sometimes require in-person communication for trainers to help clients improve their form on certain exercises where poor form might cause injuries. This is especially true for beginners, who are likely to need more in-person support.

If your wellness program numbers need a boost, investigate whether virtual trainers may help your employees take control and improve their health.

 

 

 

HR Focus: Mindfulness at Work

The 1970s had EST(Erhard Seminar Training—described by psychologists as a large group awareness training program).  The 1980s saw the rise of “The Me Generation.” For the current generation, one of the biggest cultural trends is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present, a state of living “in the moment,” and not being distracted by thoughts about the past or future. Although mindfulness is linked to ancient practices like yoga and meditation, it is only in recent decades that scientific studies are tying mindfulness to improved pain management, increased weight loss, enhanced productivity, and a host of other benefits.

In order to reap the benefits of mindfulness, many companies are starting to implement mindfulness training programs. According to a study from the National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments, 22 percent of companies have mindfulness training programs in place, and another 21 percent of companies planned to add such programs in 2017. Although such programs can be costly, the financial benefits of reduced stress and increased productivity could offset those costs very quickly. Companies like General Mills, Google, Harvard, and Apple have used such programs, and their employees report positive impacts like improved decision-making and listening capabilities.

In this digital age, employees are constantly bombarded with requests for their attention and time. And with a post-recession focus on lean business management, companies are having to do more with less, which puts even more demands on each employee. With its focus on … well … focus, mindfulness is a natural tool for reducing stress and increasing productivity in the workplace. It helps employees sort through the clutter and concentrate on what needs to be done. Below are some easy mindfulness strategies to try today:

  • Do one thing at a time, and stick to it until it’s done.
  • Take a five-minute vacation by taking a tour of your senses. What do you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste at this particular moment?
  • Practice “box breathing” (also known as “square breathing”) by breathing in for four seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, breathing out for four seconds, and holding again for four seconds. This calming breathing can soothe the flight-or-fight instinct that stress causes and help you get back to work.

Increasingly, mindfulness is also being used to promote healthy eating. “Mindful eating” is in some ways more concrete than general mindfulness in that it is the opposite of mindless eating: for instance, like working your way through a bag of potato chips while working without really paying attention to either the chips or the work you’re doing. Mindful eating involves some simple steps liked the following:

  • When you eat, focus on eating. Don’t multitask.
  • Concentrate on your food, on the flavors and textures. Think about the journey the food made to get to your plate.
  • Eat when you’re hungry, not according to the clock.
  • Stop eating when you start to feel full, not when your plate is empty.

HR Focus: August Is National Water Quality Month

As summer’s hottest month heats up, the country celebrates National Water Quality Month. This month is a time to educate individuals and companies about steps they can take to protect the country’s sources of fresh water.

national water quality month

State, federal, and local regulations govern the wastewater that companies can dump directly into water supplies. These regulations do not provide perfect protection—witness the 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan river—but they prevent companies from deliberately disposing of their waste products into the water.

The more insidious impact, however, comes from the way that people add chemicals to the water supply without even knowing it. This happens through rainwater runoff, when water from rain storms collects in storm drains, bringing with it all the chemicals on buildings and sidewalks that it has encountered along the way. These storm drains then empty into water supplies—still carrying environmental pollutants.

Cities—and the companies that are located there—generate five times more rainwater runoff than forests or fields. The rain washes pollutants like oil, antifreeze, pet waste, fertilizers, and pesticides right into the water supply. To avoid contributing to poor water quality, follow Clean Water Action’s fact sheet:

  1. Don’t use antibacterial soaps or cleaning products.
  2. Don’t put anything except water down storm drains.
  3. Avoid using pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
  4. Choose nontoxic household products whenever possible.

Sometimes water pollution is visible, like in the case of toxic algal blooms. More often, however, poor water quality is not visible to the naked eye. To make sure your office water supply is safe, check where your water comes from with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s “Surf Your Watershed” tool, and buy a water quality testing kit. These standards from the General Services Administration provide good guidelines on making sure your water supply is safe.

How to Encourage Better Recycling in Your Company

Sustainability Focus: Recycling

Modern materials recycling—converting paper, metal, and plastics into reusable materials—got its start in the 1970s, along with the rise of modern environmentalism. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, and in 1976, Massachusetts received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pilot a curbside collection program for mixed materials collection. By 1992, there were 5,404 curbside recycling programs, and by 2017, these programs—most of which offer single-stream recycling—are nearly ubiquitous in municipal areas.

How to Encourage Better Recycling in Your Company

The aim of recycling programs has always been to recycle more: to divert more waste from landfills. To that end, recycling companies have focused on making it easier to recycle common materials. The accessibility of recycling receptacles makes it just as easy to recycle materials as it is to throw them in a regular trash can (one that sends waste to a landfill rather than a recycling center). Now, the act of recycling paper, metal, and plastic has become a habit for many people.

The EPA recommends that everyone “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” These three commandments are ordered hierarchically; you should first reduce the amount of resources you use—then reuse whatever you can. When all else fails, recycle what you can. Recycling is certainly an important component of being environmentally responsible. However, recycling should not be an end in itself; it should be seen as a means to the end of reusing materials. Running recycling programs is expensive; for-profit materials management companies make their profit by selling the feedstocks—recycled materials—that result from the recycling process.

But the economics of recycling are changing dramatically, especially in the area of plastics. Plastics make up a larger percentage of the waste stream than ever, due to technological advances in the manufacturing process. However, many of these new plastics, especially flexible plastic films and pouches, are not recyclable. They contaminate the waste stream and make it more expensive for materials processors to create high-quality feedstocks. At the same time, global financial trends, like lower oil prices and a slower Chinese economy, are reducing demand for plastic feedstocks. This is creating an economic “perfect storm,” in which recycling companies are having trouble staying in the black.

How can your office recycling program help? Make sure employees understand what is recyclable and what isn’t, especially when it comes to lightweight plastics and films. Provide recycling receptacles with signs showing best practices. Consider adding a composting program if possible. And remember, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!

 

 

Logistics Focus: Sustainable Transportation

When you bite into your sandwich at lunch today, ask yourself: “How far did this food have to travel to get to my desk?” With today’s global logistics, the answer could be more complex than you might think, with some types of food being transported thousands of miles before they are eaten. And consumers—especially millennials—are increasingly concerned with the sustainability of the food they eat.

Sustainable Transportation

Aside from the health benefits associated with sustainable food choices, making food transportation more sustainable can have an impact on the environment and on world hunger. According to The World Bank:

  • Up to 50% of harvest is wasted between farm and fork—the moment we actually consume food.
  • Transport-related emissions account for about 15% of overall greenhouse gas emissions. And 60% of those emissions are coming from road transport.
  • Logistics costs affect small farmers disproportionally (up to 23% of their total costs).

To help companies make their supply chains greener, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the SmartWay program in 2004. The program, which is completely voluntary, has helped its partners save over 7 billion gallons of fuel, lower fuel costs by $24.9 billion, and reduce carbon emissions by 72.8 million metric tons. SmartWay, which is a public-private partnership among the EPA, state and local governments, and the transportation industry, accomplishes several things:

  • It provides a comprehensive and well-recognized system for tracking, documenting, and sharing information about fuel use and freight emissions across supply chains.
  • It helps companies identify and select more efficient freight carriers, transport modes, equipment, and operational strategies to improve supply chain sustainability and lower costs from goods movement.
  • It supports global energy security and offsets environmental risk for companies and countries.
  • It reduces freight transportation-related climate change and air pollutant emissions by accelerating the use of advanced fuel-saving technologies.

Look for the SmartWay logo to know that your food is being transported according to the best available efficiency technology and carbon data.