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Do You Wash Your Produce? Why?

washing produce, e. coliIn his June 11, 2011 column for Newsmax Health (www.newsmaxhealth.com), Dr. Russell Blaylock, noted neurosurgeon and lecturer, admonished his readers to pay careful attention to the washing of their produce, especially in light of the recent outbreak of deadly E.coli in Europe, where more than 4,000 people were afflicted, and more than a few dozen died. None of us can tell where our food has been before it hit the home refrigerator. Not only E. coli, but also other strains of pathogenic bacteria can lurk in our foods. The steps we take to ensure food safety after we get it home from the store or the garden market makes all the difference in the world.

Dr. Blaylock states that, “Eating raw, contaminated food appears to be the culprit in the recent outbreak in Europe.” He cites two main reasons: the use of human waste as fertilizer and the failure of people to wash their produce before eating. He adds that the problem is rampant because, “People assume…that the government is looking out for their safety.” Although the FDA website reminds people to wash biocides off their produce, there are no public reminders of the biological menaces that might accompany those chemicals. Because kidney failure is one of the dangers of E.coli poisoning, Dr. Blaylock tells of using magnesium as a counter measure in his own case of food poisoning, keeping in mind that “magnesium protects the kidneys and can protect against vascular collapse associated with gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli.”

How many times has that lemon slice in the water your waiter brought you fallen to the floor?  How many people touched it before you got it?  Who handled it from orchard to the packing house to the grocery store to the restaurant?  Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli could have come from any pair of dirty hands, whether organically or conventionally grown. We need the produce, but not the bacteria, pesticides and bugs that might be attached.

E. coli normally inhabits the intestines of humans and animals. There are a few different strains, but some are dangerous.  Bloody diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and vomiting are some of the symptoms of food poisoning. But some are worse. Among them is hemolytic uremic syndrome, where blood cells shrivel and die and kidneys fail to function in severe cases, usually among the old and the very young.

Washing produce is not really a big production. Start by keeping all work surfaces and cutting tools clean. Wash hands before preparing produce and meats, and always after handling animal products. Keep all fruits and vegetables away from raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.  If you wash produce too far ahead of the meal and keep it in the fridge too long, it might spoil before you get to eat it.  Foods with rinds or peels can harbor bacteria. Before you cut the cantaloupe or orange, and before you peel the banana, wash it. If you feel better about using a cleaning agent, try mixing hydrogen peroxide 50-50 with water, although 30-70 will probably suffice. In truth, those commercial preparations are no better than this, and are not much better than plain water.  Dump the outer leaves of lettuces and cabbages, and rinse the rest.  Get a salad spinner to dry leaves so the dressing will adhere.  Firm produce, like potatoes and apples, can withstand a brushing under running water.

When it comes to chemical contamination, some foods are worse than others, according to the Environmental Working Group.  The most heavily sprayed foods include apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines and grapes, bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce, and kale and collards.  The least are onions, corn, pineapples, avocadoes, asparagus, peas, mangoes, eggplants, cantaloupes, kiwi, cabbages, watermelons, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, and mushrooms.

They might look gorgeous on the outside, but who knows what they’re really like…just as with people.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Food Safety: Packed Lunch

Food Safety and Packed LunchThe featured abstract, from the respected journal, Pediatrics, explores the condition of packed lunches at a pre-school.  There is no reason to think that other school environments are any different.  Despite a parent’s best efforts at keeping a child’s lunch from spoiling and causing food-related illnesses, such incidents still occur because of inattentive food handling at school.  Malevolence is not usually a factor.

The University of Texas initiated a study into the conditions at schools that can lead to food-borne pathogenic illnesses, and found that temperature control is the prime concern.  Ninety percent of kids’ packed lunches reach unsafe zones. Even with multiple ice packs, “…the majority of lunch items…were at unsafe temperatures.”  As is the case with all health-related measures, “Education of parents and the public must be focused on methods of packing lunches that allow the food to remain in the safe temperature zone to prevent foodborne illnesses.”
(Almansour. 2011)

The “danger zone” for foods lies between 40° F. and 140° F.  Therefore, foods kept outside the “zone” are subject to the growth of pathogenic micro-organisms, whether at school, on a picnic, in the backyard, or in the kitchen.  A mantra that has been embraced long ago is that food should not be kept out of refrigeration longer than two hours.  Luncheon meats, smoked meats, and other cured comestibles are not an exception.  If the ambient temperature is higher than 90° F., the limit is one hour.  Unless the classroom has a refrigerator, this is practically impossible to do at school.  Note that the insulated bags we use to pack our kids’ lunches can rebound inside a refrigerator and prevent the cold from getting to the food.

Of course, Mom or Dad has to start with clean ingredients prepared on a clean surface, using clean hands and clean implements.  The CDC holds that only 3% of food contamination can be attributed to the farm.  The other 97% occurs between there and the kitchen.  (Alliance for Food and Farmng.  2010)  Including an ice source is imperative if you know the lunch will be kept at room temperature, such as within a middle-school locker, where teachers have found last month’s French fries after the mephitis rendered the neighboring crowd semi-conscious.  If the timing can be figured out, it’s O.K. to freeze those items that can be frozen without compromising their sensory quality.  Dressings like mayonnaise, and delicate items like tomatoes, are not in this group.  Peanut butter and jelly, and whole fruits and vegetables need not be cold.

If salad ingredients are part of the repast, especially lettuce, it’s vital that they be kept below 39° F. or so, lest they start to show a significant decline in visual quality as well as in safety.  However, even if it looks good, lettuce can harbor and encourage proliferation of E. coli, a dastardly micro-organism with a reputation worse than Blackbeard’s. By the way, this bacterium can thrive even on the pre-washed, ready-to-eat greens you bring directly home from the supermarket.  (Luo. 2010)  Wash them anyway. Plain water works, but a 50-50 mix with hydrogen peroxide can set the mind at ease. Peroxide reverts to plain water after exposure to light and air. That’s why it comes in an opaque brown bottle.

Smaller amounts of food in shallow containers are easiest to handle. You really don’t want to be sorting leftovers after they’ve been on the bus ride home.  Getting the containers back is another story.

References

Pediatrics 2011; 128; peds.2010-2885
Published online August 8, 2011 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-2885)
Temperature of Foods Sent by Parents of Preschool-aged Children
Fawaz D. Almansour, MS, Sara J. Sweitzer, PhD, RD, LD, Allison A. Magness, BS, Eric E. Calloway, BS, Michael R. McAllaster, BS, Cynthia R. Roberts-Gray, PhD, Deanna M. Hoelscher, PhD, RD, LD, CNS, Margaret E. Briley, PhD, RD, LD

J Food Sci. 2010 Sep;75(7):M390-7.
Effect of storage temperature and duration on the behavior of Escherichia coli O157:H7 on packaged fresh-cut salad containing romaine and iceberg lettuce.
Luo Y, He Q, McEvoy JL.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Hot Dog!

Processed MeatsAre we knowingly jeopardizing our collective lives? Common more to developed countries, colon cancer is the third most frequently diagnosed form of the disease. The risk in the United States is about 7%, but is based on certain factors: family history, colon polyps, and age among them. At the 2009 All-Star Game, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) posted a 48-feet-wide billboard on the highway near Busch Stadium in St. Louis proclaiming the causative nature of the lowly hot dog in colorectal disease. Why? Because processed meats have been convincingly linked to colorectal cancer.

The physicians hoped to persuade the baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, to put a warning label on hot dogs, similar to that on cigarette packs.  In fact, the billboard portrayed a handful of franks posed inside a cigarette pack, which was labeled, “Unlucky Strike.”  Krista Haynes, a dietitian for the PCRM’s Cancer project, stated that, “Baseball stadiums need to be frank about the cancer risk posed by hot dogs and other processed meats,” adding that, “Like cigarettes, hot dogs should come with a warning label that helps baseball fans and other consumers understand the health risks.”
(http://www.pcrm.org/search/?cid=1686)

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council projected that more than 21 million hot dogs would be sold at ball games that year.  Two years earlier, the American Institute for Cancer Research published a report showing that just one 2-ounce serving of processed meat ingested daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 21%.

To add salt to the wound—if not to the hot dog—the PCRM filed lawsuits in New Jersey against Nathan’s, Kraft/Oscar Meyer, Sara Lee and other processors for failing to warn consumers that hot dogs increase the risk of colon cancer.

Hot dogs were probably chosen because of their ubiquity.  Colorectal cancer is not the only disease linked to processed meats.  So, too, are pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers.  In past years, conventional medicine blamed the saturated fat content of processed meats for risk of disease, but it ignored what are probably worse offenders:  toxins in the fats and, more importantly, additives.

Fats accumulate whatever toxins to which they have been exposed over the lifetime of an animal…or person.  Considering that a cow eats tons of grass in its lifetime, it collects and concentrates toxicants that fell in the rainfall, were sprayed on crops ten miles away (or farther), or that showed up in its man-made supplemental feed.  Heavy metals, pesticides, and even PCB’s have been found in meat, and not just from cattle.

The additives in processed meats include substances that are identified as being carcinogenic, especially the nitrites.  The stuff that meat packers put into sausages and hot dogs makes a list much too detailed to be addressed in this epistle, so attention will be put on what is most likely to cause colorectal cancer.  This does not necessarily apply to red meat—meat from four legs—that is unprocessed.

Nitrites and nitrates historically came into use as naturally occurring contaminants in salt.  People found that meats cured with these contaminants tasted better than meats without them.  After they were identified, nitrites and nitrates (synthetic, of course) were added on purpose.  Both can be toxic, and have to be used carefully.  Natural nitrites come from the breakdown of plant material, particularly from root crops and leaves.  Celery provides a natural source, and is deemed safer than the man-made material, which is cheaper.   Besides adding flavor, they act as antioxidants to prevent rancidity, and they stop bacteria from taking residence in your canned ham.  Think botulism.  Nitrates are not as effective as their cousins until they are broken down into nitrites by micro-organisms.  The problems surface when nitrites form nitrosamines in the digestive system and get into the bloodstream to raise havoc with internal organs.  The government tried to ban this ingredient in the 1970’s, but succumbed to the pressures of the meat industry, which cried that there was no alternative.

Proteins naturally break down into amines and they will mate with nitrites under the right conditions to make nitrosamines.  Such exists in the environs of human stomach acid.  The high cooking temperatures of frying can enhance the formation of nitrosamines.  Ascorbic acid, aka vitamin C, controls the production of this compound, and has been added to some processed meats for a few years.  Canadian cancer scientists discovered that adding salt to processed meats at the table further intensifies the carcinogenic nature of the initial product.  In this case, the list of affected organs expands to include the stomach, bladder, kidneys, and blood (leukemia).  (Hu. 2011)  The possibility of stroke and coronary heart disease are other additions.  (Micha. 2010)

Though it seems that simple red meat is blameless, its cooking process makes a difference.  High-temperature cooking and excessive charring, especially in well-done meats from the grill, add to the burden of cancer risk.  (Sinha. 1999)  This means that nitrite-laden hot dogs need to escape the charring that many people find alluring.

Hot dogs and most other sausage-type meats are normally gray, just like fresh kielbasa or Italian sausage.  People associate the color of their food with quality, red in the case of hot dogs. Nitrates are color fixers besides color enhancers.  Since the USDA and other agencies seem more interested in promoting the interests of industry than the health of the public, we are responsible for assuming our own safety strategies.  Taking vitamin C, and maybe even vitamin E, prior to a nitrite meal is a protective strategy that prevents the formation of nitrosamines.  (Tannenbaum. 1989)  (Tannenbaum and Wishnok. 1991)

References

http://www.pcrm.org/search/?cid=1686
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.  Aug. 2009
Hot Dogs Strike Out at All-Star Game and in New Jersey

Eur J Cancer Prev. 2011 Mar;20(2):132-9.
Salt, processed meat and the risk of cancer.
Hu J, La Vecchia C, Morrison H, Negri E, Mery L;
Canadian Cancer Registries Epidemiology Research Group.
Collaborators (8)Paulse B, Dewar R, Dryer D, Kreiger N, Whittaker H, Robson D, Fincham S, Le N.

Int J Vitam Nutr Res Suppl. 1989;30:109-13.
Preventive action of vitamin C on nitrosamine formation.
Tannenbaum SR.

Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 Jan;53(1 Suppl):247S-250S.
Inhibition of nitrosamine formation by ascorbic acid.
Tannenbaum SR, Wishnok JS, Leaf CD.
SourceMassachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139.

Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2010 Jul;3(7):852-64. Epub 2010 Jun 8.
Meat processing and colon carcinogenesis: cooked, nitrite-treated, and oxidized high-heme cured meat promotes mucin-depleted foci in rats.
Santarelli RL, Vendeuvre JL, Naud N, Taché S, Guéraud F, Viau M, Genot C, Corpet DE, Pierre FH.
SourceUniversité de Toulouse, ENVT, INRA, UMR Xénobiotiques, France.

Circulation. 2010; 121: 2271-2283
Expand+Epidemiology and Prevention
Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus  A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Renata Micha, RD, PhD; Sarah K. Wallace, BA; Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

BHT In My Cereal?

cereal-bagCan there be too much of a good thing? Drinking too much water can dilute the electrolytes in the body and short circuit the wiring.  It’s called water intoxication, and can lead to death.  Though eating too much candy might not cause a person to die, the resultant stomach distress might bring on the wish to expire early.  If there can be too much of a good thing, can there also be too little of a bad thing, meaning how much of a toxin can I consume before the symptoms show up or I keel over? Such is the case with some food additives. If enough people pronounce a falsehood as fact, does that make it true merely by the sheer number of proponents? Let’s talk about BHT and you decide whether it’s good or bad.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene is a horrendous sounding name.  Its presence lets us to keep a box of cereal in the cabinet for weeks at a time, and allows the product to withstand its protracted journey from maker to kitchen.  Its absence, on the other hand, yields a noxious aroma akin to a week-old dishrag that really needs a bath.  The culprit?  Rancid fats.  But what does BHT do to people?

BHT and its relative, BHA, have been used extensively as antioxidants for decades.  BHT was patented in 1947.  Since then it has become the most prevalent and approved antioxidant in the world.  The FDA, disbelieved by many consumers, approved BHT as an additive to foods and food packaging in 1954.  BHT is a phenol derivative that slows the rate of oxidation.  Oxygen prefers BHT to the fats in our foods.  The public gets upset when it learns that a material used to make non-foods appears in their victuals.  Yes, it is true that BHT is used in the manufacture of tires, some plastics and diesel fuel.   But it does what it is supposed to do without adverse effects.  It’s even been certified Kosher by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and also certified Halal by the Islamic Food Nutrition Council of America.

Toxicology studies that added BHT to animal feed found that adverse effects were dose-dependent.  Amounts of BHT in excess of 526 mg/kg/day resulted in pleural and peritoneal hemorrhage in laboratory rats. (Takahashi.  1978) A human consumes in the neighborhood of 0.1 mg/kg/day of BHT.  Research shows that 500 times this amount yields no injurious effects.  (Branen.  1975)  This study added that 7 ounces of BHT per pound of body weight would result in pathological, enzyme, and lipid alterations that may be causative of certain cancers.  (Ibid.)

Some scientific research deals with topics and events that are way out there, seeming to have no bearing on real health issues.  (Gee, if I swallow a handful of number eight woodscrews and drink a cup of WD-40, will the screws still rust?)  There’s a similarly inane study in which lab animals were given more than four ounces of BHT per pound of body weight a day for three days, combined with a healthy dose of E.coli bacteria to learn of adverse effects on the liver.  What do you think happened?  The conclusion was that there is risk of liver damage with high-dose BHT in the presence of pathogenic bacteria.  (Engin. 2011)  This makes you wonder whose dime is in the phone booth.

The World Health Organization (WHO) asked its expert committee on food additives to evaluate the intake of BHT in ten participating countries in 1999.  After identifying certain foods as major contributors to overall intake, the committee agreed that 0.3 mg/kg of body weight a day is tolerable. (WHO, Geneva. 1999)  It is interesting to note that more BHT is allowable in the United States than in the other countries.  This might be explained by the fact that packaging materials are also treated with BHT, and that these plastics and waxed papers may carry as much as 7.8 mg/kg.  (Xiong. 2011)

That BHT has antioxidant properties was acknowledged by Korean researchers when they determined that, according to the National Health and Nutrition Survey, first conducted in 1971 and regularly afterward, one hundred thirty-three foods in twelve categories actually held significantly less BHT than the maximum limits. (Suh. 2005)  For most of these foods, less than 0.008 mg/kg was consumed.  Not to be outdone, Dutch scientists sought a connection between BHT intake and gastric cancers, studying a group of more than 120 thousand individuals, starting in 1986.  This longitudinal study examined BHT foods that included mayonnaise, cooking fats and oils, creamy salad dressings, and dried soups.  Via food frequency questionnaire, it was ascertained that the average intake of BHT was 351 micrograms a day total, not per pound or kilogram.  No association with gastric cancer was observed.  Oddly, an inverse association was found.  (Botterweck. 2000)

Around the time Christopher Columbus was floating in the Atlantic and Caribbean, a Swiss physician named Paracelsus, the first guy to call zinc, zinc, who is also known as the father of toxicology, was attributed with the dictum, “The dose makes the poison.”  His intended meaning was that a substance considered toxic may be harmless in small doses and that, conversely, an ordinarily harmless substance may be toxic in large doses—like water.  Such may be the case with BHT.

BHT was lauded as being protective against atherosclerosis in work performed in Sweden in the early 1990’s, where BHT was added to a 1% cholesterol diet in rabbits, whose digestive prowess parallels humans’.  Although lipid profiles were elevated, atherosclerotic involvement was considerably lower in the BHT rabbits than in those not receiving the substance in the same diet.  These investigators concluded that the antioxidant character of BHT prevented unwelcomed cardiac influences, although modulation of monocyte adhesion may be a factor.  (Björkhem. 1991)  Further study along this line, using a similar dietary protocol, discovered that LDL from other BHT-fed rabbits was less sensitive to oxidation than LDL from rabbits whose diets lacked BHT.
(Freyschuss. 2001)  It is accepted that oxidized LDL is the cause of ischemic heart disease.

What about cancer?  Pathologists at New York Medical College assessed BHT as a food additive in meta-analyses that inferred no cancer hazard at levels commonly used in food processing and manufacturing.  (Williams. 1999)  Laboratory animals that were purposely exposed to carcinogenic substances, notably aflatoxins that cause liver cancer, were spared from disease when administered BHT at doses of 1.5 mg/kg total over a period of twenty weeks (about 25 micrograms/kg, 3 x a week).  (Williams. 1986)  Other substances used to model liver carcinogenesis were almost completely neutralized in the presence of BHT, as reported in a study performed more than three decades ago.  (Ulland. 1973)

The dermatological use of BHT, as in cosmetics and other topically administered products, tells a somewhat different story in laboratory animals, since BHT is absorbed through the skin.  Stomach acid and digestive fluids appear to attenuate any pathogenic activity of the chemical.  Although the mechanism has not been completely explained, acute doses of BHT, as much as 1.0 g/kg, have caused some renal and hepatic damage in lab rats.  That is not to say that the same thing will happen to a human, since people are not likely to have exposure to such concentrated amounts.  (Lanigan. 2002)

For the time being, it looks like your cereal is off the hook.  There is one lingering question, though.  If natural vitamin E, as d-alpha-tocopherol, can do the same thing as BHT, why isn’t it being used?  It must be the money.

References

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    O. Takahashi, K. Hiraga
    Dose-response study of hemorrhagic death by dietary butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) in male rats
    Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.  Volume 43, Issue 2, February 1978, Pages 399-406

    A.L. Branen
    Toxicology and biochemistry of Butylated Hydroxyanisole and  Butylated Hydroxytoluene
    J Am Oil Chem Soc. 1975, Feb.; 52(2): 59-63

    Engin AB, Bukan N, Kurukahvecioglu O, Memis L, Engin A.
    Effect of butylated hydroxytoluene (E321) pretreatment versus l-arginine on liver injury after sub-lethal dose of endotoxin administration.
    Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2011 Nov;32(3):457-64. Epub 2011 Sep 10.

    WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
    INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMME ON CHEMICAL SAFETY

    World Health Organization, Geneva, 1999
    IPCS - International Programme on Chemical Safety
    EVALUATION OF NATIONAL INTAKE ASSESSMENTS OF
     BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE (BHT)
    http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v042je24.htm 
      Xiong Z, Wang L, Li N, Yu Y, Jia X
    Determination of antioxidant residues in polymer food package using gas chromatography.
    Se Pu. 2011 Mar;29(3):273-6.

    Suh HJ, Chung MS, Cho YH, Kim JW, Kim DH, Han KW, Kim CJ.
    Estimated daily intakes of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and tert-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) antioxidants in Korea.
    Food Addit Contam. 2005 Dec;22(12):1176-88

    Botterweck AA, Verhagen H, Goldbohm RA, Kleinjans J, van den Brandt PA.
    Intake of butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene and stomach cancer risk: results from analyses in the Netherlands Cohort Study.
    Food Chem Toxicol. 2000 Jul;38(7):599-605.

    Björkhem I, Henriksson-Freyschuss A, Breuer O, Diczfalusy U, Berglund L, Henriksson P.
    The antioxidant butylated hydroxytoluene protects against atherosclerosis.
    Arterioscler Thromb. 1991 Jan-Feb;11(1):15-22.

    Freyschuss A, Al-Schurbaji A, Björkhem I, Babiker A, Diczfalusy U, Berglund L, Henriksson P.
    On the anti-atherogenic effect of the antioxidant BHT in cholesterol-fed rabbits: inverse relation between serum triglycerides and atheromatous lesions.
    Biochim Biophys Acta. 2001 Dec 30;1534(2-3):129-38.

    G.M Williams, M.J Iatropoulos, J Whysner
    Safety Assessment of Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene as Antioxidant Food Additives
    Food and Chemical Toxicology.  Vol 37, Iss 9-10, Sep-Oct 1999, Pages 1027-1038

    Williams GM, Tanaka T, Maeura Y.
    Dose-related inhibition of aflatoxin B1 induced hepatocarcinogenesis by the phenolic antioxidants, butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene.
    Carcinogenesis. 1986 Jul;7(7):1043-50.

    B.M. Ulland, J.H. Weisburger†, R.S. Yamamoto, Elizabeth K. Weisburger
    Antioxidants and carcinogenesis: butylated hydroxytoluene, but not diphenyl-p-phenylenediamine, inhibits cancer induction by N-2-fluorenylacetamide and by N-hydroxy-N-2-fluorenylacetamide in rats*
    Food and Cosmetics Toxicology.  Volume 11, Issue 2, 1973, Pages 199-207

    Lanigan RS, Yamarik TA.
    Int J Toxicol. 2002;21 Suppl 2:19-94.
    Final report on the safety assessment of BHT(1).

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

Food Coloring And Behavior

food-coloringListen to a lie long enough and you’ll start to accept it as the truth. Didn’t the tobacco industry use images of physicians and athletes to sell cigarettes back in the last century? Babe Ruth hawked White Owl cigars and Raleigh cigarettes. William Bendix sold Chesterfield. The highly-trusted and unquestionably credible FDA had a meeting last March to discuss the properties of artificial food colorings and evaluate their relationship to hyperactivity in children. Based on their review of the published data, “FDA concludes that a causal relationship between exposure to color additives and hyperactivity in children in the general population has not been established.” For certain susceptible children, however, they admit their condition “may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives.”

The toxicity potential of synthetic food additives is hard to pin down. Just because a single substance demonstrates no harmful effects doesn’t explain what happens when it’s combined with another “harmless” substance.  Many foods contain more than one colorant. An example of single-substance safety is ammonia. Used with adequate ventilation it’s a relatively harmless cleaner unless abused.  The same for chlorine bleach.  But mix the two and you get a toxic gas, hydrazine, used to make rocket fuel.  That’ll clean the scum off the shower walls!   With the amount of adverse publicity about artificial colorings, you’d think the makers would look for something more natural, like beets.

Companies use artificial colors to make their products look pretty.  Foods with vibrant, saturated colors are more appealing than those without.  Hot dogs are naturally gray.  When’s the last time you saw one?  The color of a food tells us that it has value.  Red apples are more valued than green ones.  The natural medicines in foods are colorful.  Beta-carotene is associated with yellow and orange; anthocyanins with red and purple.  Even purple cabbage has its fans.  Some oranges don’t turn that color unless growing conditions are perfect: cool nights, warm days.  Many folks won’t buy green oranges from Florida, so what’s the broker to do?  Spray ‘em orange.  Now the mind is fooled into thinking this orange is healthier than the blotchy one next to it.

Most studies on food additives last for too short a time to render meaningful results.  A comet assay is a sensitive but uncomplicated testing procedure that detects DNA damage at the level of the cell.  Using this procedure, scientists at Japan’s Laboratory of Genotoxicity at Hachinohe National College found that, of the types of food additives, dyes are most genotoxic.  Dose-related DNA damage from commonly-used food dyes was found in the stomach, colon, and bladder of test animals, with colon damage appearing at doses close to the acceptable daily intake.  (Sasaki. 2002) (Tsuda. 2001)

Coal tar and petrochemicals are the main sources of the artificial colors that go into our foods, and these are ultimately dangerous to our health.  It makes little sense to put these into our food supply if we’re not designed to ingest them in the first place.  But selling products and making money are the bottom line.  Without at least a little prior knowledge, the unsuspecting consumer would never know that yellow #5 is cleverly disguised by its chemical name, tartrazine, sometimes called E102.  If mixed with blue #1, called E133, it makes green. Blue #1 may contain aluminum, although potassium and calcium salts are more common.  Most of E133 ends up in the feces, which could be green.  Tartrazine has provoked allergic reactions in sensitive persons, but you never know who that is until it happens, and most of us never make a connection.  (Kashanian. 2011)  To its credit, the FDA will seize products that do not declare the presence of tartrazine, which also is alleged to exacerbate asthma symptoms.  There is a blue #2, but it’s seldom used in foods because it fades at alkali pH.  Its use in snacks and candies may evoke a hyperactivity reaction.

Red #40 is an azo dye, meaning that it contains two nitrogens.  It’s also known as allura red or E129.  Originally made from coal tar, red #40 is now made from petroleum.  Isn’t that a comfort?  Contrary to popular misconception, it is not made from insects.  Carmine is, made from the female cochineal insect, whose body is dried and pulverized or otherwise processed.  From intensive European studies it was concluded that behavioral anomalies in children arise especially when the blues and the reds are combined with benzoate preservatives.  (McCann. 2007)  Red #3 is called erythrosine, E127, and is not that common in the U.S., having been replaced by #40.  Number 3 was found to be a potent inhibitor of a substance that blocks and destroys cancer cells, named tumor necrosis factor.  So, while some research says it may not directly cause cancer, red #3 interferes with the body’s protection against it, while simultaneously showing cytotoxicity, particularly to breast tissue.  (Ganesan. 2011) (Dees. 1997)

Why take the chance when there are natural colorants?  Read the labels.  Sweets and sports drinks, blueberry muffins and cereals with “fruits,” yogurt and canned icing could give you more than you bargained for.  Caramel coloring from sugar, annatto red-orange from achiote, chlorophyll green, turmeric yellow, paprika red, elderberry purple, butterfly pea blue, beet red, and blue from red cabbage are real.

References

http://www.ift.org/knowledge-center/focus-areas/product-development-and-ingredient-innovations/~/media/Knowledge%20Center/Focus%20Areas/ProductDev/ArtificialColors.pdf
Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz PC;  Attorneys at Law;  Suite 400; 1400 Sixteenth Street, NW; Washington, D.C. 20036  www.ofwlaw.com

Sasaki YF, Kawaguchi S, Kamaya A, Ohshita M, Kabasawa K, Iwama K, Taniguchi K, Tsuda S
The comet assay with 8 mouse organs: results with 39 currently used food additives.
Mutat Res. 2002 Aug 26;519(1-2):103-19.

Tsuda S, Murakami M, Matsusaka N, Kano K, Taniguchi K, Sasaki YF.
DNA damage induced by red food dyes orally administered to pregnant and male mice.
Toxicol Sci. 2001 May;61(1):92-9.

Kashanian S, Zeidali SH.
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