RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Where your food comes from and what's in it has been a growing topic of conversation in recent years. And in 2015, big food companies - or at least many of them - got the message. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us to talk about the big push towards transparency and other trends in food for the year. Good morning.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Hi there, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And the first big change we want to talk about is visible, right on the labels of our food. Those labels are changing because the ingredients are changing.
AUBREY: Right. Big food manufacturers are overhauling and, in many cases, simplifying their ingredient lists. We have seen this all year long. Companies such as Kraft and General Mills are both in the midst of big reformulations. For instance, cereals such as Lucky Charms - remember those brightly colored marshmallows? Well, instead of using, say, yellow dye no. 5, they're transitioning to spice extracts, so things such as turmeric or paprika, to keep those yellow and orange hues but making them from something a little more natural. And restaurants such as Subway and Panera both announced that they're ditching all kinds of ingredients that most of us can't pronounce. The big push here is to make the processed foods and the food at chain restaurants seem a little bit more homemade, a little more artisinal.
MONTAGNE: And Allison, you also did some reporting on another big issue. And that's waste of food.
AUBREY: That's right.
MONTAGNE: How big a problem is it?
AUBREY: Well, it's a big issue. It's estimated that about 133 billion pounds of food is wasted each year. And to give you a visual here, imagine enough food being wasted each year to fill a big skyscraper, like the Sears Tower - now called the Willis Tower - in Chicago 44 times. And this year, the pope and well-known chefs such as Dan Barber and even the Obama administration all tried to raise awareness about this. The federal government has set a goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
MONTAGNE: And how does all that food get wasted? I mean, how challenging is it to make a big change like that, 50 percent?
AUBREY: Sure, well, it's a very distributed problem. I mean, food is lost on farms. Then it's lost during processing and transportation. There's also all the unsold food at supermarkets and also what we toss out. Think of that soggy bag of lettuce in the back of your fridge. You know, we've come to expect this dazzling array of sort of eye candy in the produce aisle, fruits and vegetables that are perfectly shaped and colored. They're blemish-free. Now there are some efforts to sell seconds in the grocery store, sometimes dubbed ugly fruits and vegetables. And these initiatives are good at just raising awareness that, you know, not everything that grows on a farm is perfect.
MONTAGNE: Well, lastly, in terms of the sorts of issues that cropped up in food during 2015, food borne illness. The outbreaks linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill have put this issue in the headlines. What's the story there?
AUBREY: Right. Well, unfortunately, if you are a Chipotle shareholder, there's been a lot of focus on the outbreaks linked to Chipotle, most recently the norovirus outbreak in Boston that sickened a whole bunch of students at Boston College. But what I should point out is that there are literally thousands of outbreaks, usually smaller clusters that we don't hear about, each year. In fact, the CDC says norovirus is the leading - the no. 1 - cause of food borne disease in the U.S. And here's the interesting thing. The vast majority of these outbreaks are caused by infected workers. So hopefully the lesson learned in 2015 is that restaurants need to keep sick workers at home.
MONTAGNE: OK, well, thanks very much.
AUBREY: Thanks, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's food and health correspondent Allison Aubrey.
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