There are many issues when it comes to the safety, not only cleanliness or the nutritional value, of the foods we eat. It not just about reading labels either. It is important to understand these topics so you can make the best decision regarding the type and quality of the foods you eat. There is also a lot of information about food quality and safety on the “Important topics involving FOOD, EATING & HEALTH“ page on my site.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
WASHING FRUITS and VEGETABLES
Although washing your food is extremely important, to assume that washing is a cure all may be naïve since some pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are injected directly into plants or even their root systems. This incorporates the chemicals into the actual flesh of the food, not just the skin, and thus can’t be washed away. Even some topically sprayed chemicals are designed to penetrate through the skin. This is why buying organic is still the best way to go. That having been said, you still need to wash what you have, organic or not. Even many organic products will be contaminated with bacteria and viruses as well as chemicals, mostly from cross contamination from adjacent non-organic fields, environmental pollution and/or handling.
Just water rinsing alone will remove about 75% of the topical chemicals. Brushing them with a vegetable brush helps as well. Some “recipes” call for soaking fruits or vegetables with salt or baking soda (usually a tsp of either) or vinegar (a tablespoon) for 10-20 minutes followed by a thorough water rinse. Some porous fruits like berries can incorporate the vinegar into the taste so this may not be practical.
Organically grown fruits and vegetables are definitely healthier, tastier and more nutritious than their conventionally grown counterparts, however, they are not perfect. Organic farmers are allowed to use some, almost exclusively non-synthetic, products to control pests and weeds. The difference is in synthetic vs non-synthetic and the number of products approved for use. 25 non-synthetic products for organic farmers vs more than 300 synthetic chemicals for conventional farmers. In some rare instances, organic farmers are allowed to use some chemicals under specific, controlled situations. There are also some unscrupulous farmers who will pay crop duster pilots under the table to do undocumented passes over their crops. They basically lie about how clean their products are. In addition, some antibiotics are permitted. Specifically with apples and pears, there is a devastating infection called Fire Blight which can destroy a crop in only one season. To prevent this, farmers are allowed to use certain antibiotics against this disease and can still claim the USDA Organic label. Another reason to wash all, even organic, produce.
Even with completely honest organic farmers, if their farms are located close to conventional farms, there is always some degree of cross contamination. Many chemical residues have been isolated on organic produce although levels are only a fraction of what is identified on conventionally grown produce. Assume that “organic” simply means 80% cleaner than conventional.
Although organic is still much better than conventionally produced products, the label doesn’t mean it’s 100% clean and safe. Some agricultural areas have been so contaminated over the years with pesticides and weed killers that 75% of water, rain and even air samples have measurable glyphosate (active ingredient in Roundup) in them. That means that the rain falling on organic crops or the water supply used to water them is contaminated, transferring those chemicals onto the plants and crops. Some samples of organic food have shown close to 20% of the levels of chemical residues on them as those found on conventional crops. In addition, all food is mostly handled and packaged by humans. Organic does not mean E. Coli and virus free! The answer is WASH ALL PRODUCE.
ALL that having been said, organic foods grown in healthy soil are covered with healthy, beneficial bacteria including those which produce Vitamin B12. When you wash produce too thoroughly, you eliminate these healthy gut promoting microbes. If you are pretty confident about the source of your food and that it is clean, certainly rinse but don’t go overboard with scrubbing. That’s another reason to go organic, chemical free and local.
PEELING. DON’T DO IT! The skins of many fruits and vegetables have a completely different nutrient profile than the flesh. In many varieties like carrots, grapes and apples, the skins are actually better for you than the flesh. There are many fruits and vegetables whose peels are also healthful like kiwi’s, potatoes, lemons, beets, as well as herbs like ginger and turmeric. Even banana peels have nutrients. Don’t obsess about peeling. Clean and brush the food but don’t overdo it. There are also healthy microbes on the plants. Closely related to peeling is removing the white pulp of many fruits like oranges, grapefruit or vegetables like peppers and tomatoes. DON’T remove these. They are edible and packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients as well, again, in many cases to a greater degree than the flesh. Lastly, the stems and leaves of many plants are also a surprising source of nutrients. These include things like beet greens and even carrot tops.
WASHING GRAINS. Most grains, especially if bought in bulk, should be at least rinsed. Bulk beans and grains like quinoa may contain dirt and/or little pebbles. Rinsing and soaking is especially important with rice because of arsenic contamination. One serving of rice can contain as much arsenic as is considered dangerous in an entire year of exposure. Even USDA organic rice is not safe, especially if grown in the southern states or Texas. Brown has significantly more arsenic than white rice. You can reduce arsenic levels however by soaking the rice, discarding the water and cooking the rice in a 5:1 ratio of water to rice and discarding the water. As rice softens and the kernels open, the arsenic is released and ends up in the water. If you cook using package directions with exact water to rice ratios, all the water is re-absorbed into the rice, along with the arsenic. Ideally, you would want to soak for up to 48 hours (not very practical) but at least a few hours. Cooking in a pressure cooker like and Instantpot also improves arsenic elimination.
WAX. Artificial fruit wax, are used first to preserve the produce, delaying shrinkage and spoilage and secondly, to make them more attractive to consumers. Although some waxes are made from made from sugar cane, beeswax, carnauba, and resins, some are made from petroleum-based compounds. Obviously these are not healthy to eat. Organically grown fruits and vegetables do not contain synthetic (petroleum-based) wax coatings. They might contain less harmful forms of wax coatings however. Non-organic waxes also contain fungicides to inhibit mold growth. Waxes also control fruit respiration to delay ripening, protects from bruising while the fruit travels, and includes tints and glossy shellac to enhance a fruit’s appearance. Commercial coatings extend the life of a fruit so it can be picked, packed, shipped, and sold weeks or months after it left the tree, while still looking good in the process.
“Chicken soup used to be recommended to treat the flu. Now it gives you the flu!” Jay Leno
FOOD-BORNE ILLNESSES and ZOONOTIC DISEASES
All food-borne diseases are known as zoonotic infections which are those that transmitted from animals to humans. Most of the major lethal worldwide pandemics and infectious diseases we got from animals, primarily because of our domestication and butchering practices. Some examples are:
- HIV – a retrovirus which we first became exposed to by eating infected chimpanzee meat. The first documented case actually dates back to 1908 in Cameroon.
- Tuberculosis (TB) – originally from goats and cattle, specifically milk and meat.
- Cowpox – cows
- Smallpox – camels and cattle in general
- Influenza (the Flu) – Pigs and Birds like ducks and chickens.
- Whooping cough – Pigs and Dogs
- Swine Flu – Pigs and birds.
- Bovine Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease)
- Covid-19 – a “corona virus” named after it’s surface spike proteins which look like parts of a crown, came from bats.
- SARS and MERS – exotic animal trade via bats.
- Ebola – also a virus whose host is the bat. It was probably transmitted to local food supplies through their feces.
- Leprosy – water buffalo
- Typhoid – chickens
- Mad Cow (Jacob Creutzfeldt) Disease – obviously cows and it developed when we started feeding them their own species, essentially turning them into carnivores and cannibals. It is cause by a non-living and indestructible microbe called a prion.
Although many of these diseases are dormant or not bothersome to the host animal, they can be lethal in humans. in fact, almost every pandemic we have faced, including the Covid-19 (SRS-2) pandemic, is associated with a zoonotic infection. Click here for more information about pandemics and animals. The term “vaccine” comes from the word “vacca” which means cow. The first vaccines were developed in cattle to treat smallpox.
Zoonotic diseases are transmitted through a variety of microbes including:
- Bacteria – the most common, including Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria and E. Coli
- Viruses – Hepatitis A, Ebola, Rabies, West Nile virus
- Fungi – Ringworm, Trichinosis
- Parasites – especially in fish – Toxoplasmosis (60 million Americans are chronically infected with toxoplasma gondii alone and don’t know it because the y are asymptomatic)
- Prions – these are non-living protein particles which cannot be destroyed through cooking, freezing or even irradiating! It causes Mad Cow Disease (BSE – Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy).
They can be transmitted through a number of mechanisms and many, like the flu or tuberculosis can be transmitted through multiple ways like:
- Air (breathing, sneezing, coughing…)
- Secretions (blood, saliva, urine, stool, spinal fluid, semen, breast milk…)
- Direct contact with live animals or their contaminated parts.
- Vectors. Transporting mechanisms like mosquitoes which transmit malaria.
- FOOD! This is solely through surface contamination from animal sources.
Food-borne diseases are caused by consuming food infected with one of the above microbes. There are over 250 different identified food-borne diseases however, the USDA routinely only tests for 4 which are drug resistant. These include Salmonella, E. Coli, Campylobacter and Listeria. There are approximately 75 million cases in the US annually causing over 350,000 hospitalizations and over 5000 deaths. Most serious infections occur in young kids, older people, immunocompromised people like those on chemotherapy, on immune modulating medications like for arthritis or those with HIV. They can also occur in otherwise healthy people who get significant load of microbes. The microbes or their toxins get ingested and wreak havoc on the GI tract usually causing bloating, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and my other subsequent problems.
Although plants can become contaminated, the original source of the illness-causing microbes are animals, usually from their waste, which gets into irrigation waters or is used as fertilizer. Don’t blame the plants. Blame the contamination from the animals. This includes human animals since, as gross and unbelievable as it sounds, it is legal to use human waste to fertilize conventional crops! This is called “bio-waste” and includes material from hospitals, chock full of bio-hazardous stuff like human blood, feces urine and all the chemicals like drugs and even formaldehyde. The VAST majority of food-borne illnesses are from animal products, not plants.
The most common food-borne infection worldwide is not caused by salmonella (which is #2) but by a bacterium known as campylobacter. It lives in the intestinal tract of healthy birds, including chicken which is the #1 source of these infections. 88% of poultry overall in supermarkets are contaminated with this bug and organic chickens are actually more frequently affected. A study looking at broiler chickens from a variety of supermarkets revealed that 81% of the meat was contaminated with campylobacter, 15% with salmonella and 13% with both!
The second most common food-borne illness is caused by salmonella which resides in most birds, reptiles and mammals as well. It causes 40,000 deaths a year worldwide. #3 is E. Coli, specifically the strain E.Coli 0157-H7 and the main source of contamination is their waste. The flesh itself can be contaminated or it can become contaminated during processing.
Part of the problem is that many meats are processed and mixed together. All the mixing combines all the microbes, as well as other chemical contaminants together affecting ALL the material.
- Butchered chickens are often bathed en mass in a single ice bath leading to near 100% contamination.
- Ground beef and eggs are mixed together so a single burger or restaurant omelet might contain meat or eggs from hundreds of animals.
- Because each cow produces milk with slightly different macro-nutrient amounts, milk is mixed in huge vats so a glass of milk or piece of cheese may contain milk pooled from 100’s of cows.
Tuberculosis. Although thought of as a respiratory condition which kills 2 million people annually, TB was first transmitted to humans through milk from cows! TB was identified in the 18,000 year-old bison carcass. Its been around for a while but was not transmitted to us until we started domesticating them.
Anthrax is another bacterial infection that can be transmitted through a variety of routes from cattle as well as sheep and goats. Ingestion is the first. Inhalation is the second and it can actually get absorbed trans-cutaneously. Almost all cases of anthrax are linked to animals. Veterinarians, slaughterhouse and food processing plant workers and animal herders are most commonly affected through either direct infected animal contact or occupational exposure through contact with infected products, such as in Wool-Sorters Disease. It can also be food-born through contaminated meat or even milk. Respiratory anthrax is usually fatal. Ingestion is still lethal but most people just get really sick but survive.
Every year, the government tests thousands of meat samples for the presence of 4 strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria; Salmonella, E. Coli, Campylobacter and Listeria. Despite the fact that 100k Americans are sickened by this bug a year, Yersinia Enterocolitica is not one of them. Pigs are the main reservoir of this pathogen. 100% of yersinia infections in humans are caused by pork. 65% of pigs in the US are contaminated with this microbe and 90% of those are resistant to at least one antibiotic. Most infections just cause a mild food poisoning event with cramping, bloating and diarrhea, sometimes bloody diarrhea. Symptoms however can masquerade as appendicitis leading to unnecessary surgery. Long term consequences of infection include chronic inflammation of the kidneys, eyes, heart and joints. Within a year of yersinia infection, victims are 47x the risk of developing autoimmune arthritis. The bacteria is also linked to autoimmune thyroid disease, specifically Grave’s disease. The confinement of the pigs on hog farms is the major contributor to pig infections and the spread of this resistant bug, which do not harm or impact the pigs at all. Packing them in however increases profits! The amount of room for a 200-300 lb. pig is 2 feet by 3 feet! The costs of crowded confinement are passed on to the thousands of Americans sickened by these infections, estimated to cost $250 million annually. European pigs raised using organic and more humane methods have 50x less infection than American pigs. Gestation crates for pregnant pigs are banned in Europe. Not in the US. Closer contact and the stress of living under these conditions increases the infection rate. Sows then pass the microbe along to her piglets.
Yersinia from pork ranks only 16th in terms of the greatest in food-born disease burdens in the US. The worst in terms of societal costs and years of lives lost is poultry-born campylobacter bacteria which contaminates at least 38% of chicken breasts. Then comes the toxoplasma brain parasite from pork. Third is salmonella, again from poultry followed by E. Coli from a variety of sources, most commonly beef and unpasteurized dairy.
HOW TO PREVENT FOOD BORNE ILLNESSES:
- With food outbreaks, follow the government guidelines.
- Keep your kitchen, cutting surfaces and utensils clean. You can use some bleach or a more natural way is to use vinegar or lemon juice.
- WASH YOUR HANDS. Don’t cook food after changing a baby’s diaper, changing the cats litter box or going to the bathroom.
- Don’t eat animal products. By far, the VAST majority of food-borne illnesses come from eating meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
- If you do choose to eat animal products, make sure they are cooked. Although not all toxins, like endotoxin, or microbes, like prions, are destroyed by cooking and you will still get sick, the majority of food-borne illnesses will be prevented by adequate cooking. Just remember that cooking animal products at high heat, like frying or barbecuing, generate many carcinogenic compounds. Be careful of commonly eaten raw foods such as:
- Raw milk
- Under-cooked eggs (soft boiled)
- Wash your produce. Just plain water and brushing will get rid of most contaminants but you can also soak the produce in some baking soda and/or vinegar for a few minutes. Also, some of the outer leaves of salad can be discarded. See the section above for more details about washing produce.
- Buy local. Although not guaranteed to be clean, when food travels shorter distances, there is less potential for contamination. Also, small scale production is much safer. PLUS, the food is fresher and better.
- Grow your own food and avoid manure. If you use manure, make sure it is composted and organic.
Although vaccinations and genetic changes have resulted in good control of various diseases, the ONLY ones we have been able to cure, are the diseases which exclusively occur in humans. An example is smallpox. Otherwise, all the other infectious diseases come from animals and are in some cases controllable, but not curable.
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. David Quammen.
Some of the following in formation is repeated from above, but a simple discussion of food poisoning is important to repeat and reinforce. Food poisoning, also called food-borne illness, is illness caused by eating food which is contaminated by some kind of microbe which our bodies can’t deal with. Infectious organisms, including bacteria, viruses and parasites, or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning. They can contaminate food at any point of processing or production. Contamination can also occur at home if food is incorrectly handled or not fully cooked.
Food poisoning symptoms often include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Most often, food poisoning is mild and resolves without treatment but some people need to go to the hospital and in some cases, can develop serious, even life-threatening complications. Symptoms can start within hours of eating contaminated food or can take days or even weeks. In most cases, symptoms last for a few hours or days but again, in more serious situation, problems can persist for weeks to months, even causing permanent organ problems and even failure.
SYMPTOMS. Food poisoning symptoms vary with the source of contamination. Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms:
- Watery or bloody diarrhea
- Abdominal pain and cramps
If you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, seek medical attention ASAP:
- Frequent episodes of vomiting and inability to keep liquids down
- Bloody vomit or stools
- Diarrhea for more than three days
- Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
- An oral temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
- Signs or symptoms of dehydration which include excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness
- Neurological symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms
CAUSES. The microbes which cause food contamination ultimately come from those which are in or on the animal sources or contamination from animal sources. Plants do not generate these microbes but can get contaminated from improper handling, contaminated water either above or below ground, the use of contaminated fertilizers.
Contamination of food can happen at any point of production: growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparing. Cross-contamination, the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another, is often the cause. This is especially troublesome for raw, ready-to-eat foods, such as salads or other produce. Because these foods aren’t cooked, harmful organisms aren’t destroyed before eating and can cause food poisoning.
Many bacterial, viral or parasitic agents cause food poisoning but all come from animal sources. The following show some of the possible contaminants, when you might start to feel symptoms and common ways the organism is spread.
- CAMPYLOBACTER (2-5 days). Meat and poultry. Contamination occurs during processing if animal feces contact meat surfaces. This commonly occurs when internal organs are cut open which contaminate the meat and preparation surfaces. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and contaminated water.
- CLOSTRIDIUM BOTULINUM (12-72 hours). This microbe creates a toxin which causes botulism. Home-canned foods with low acidity, improperly canned commercial foods, smoked or salted fish, potatoes baked in aluminum foil, and other foods kept at warm temperatures for too long.
- CLOSTRIDIUM PERFRINGENS (8-16 hours). Meats, stews and gravies. Commonly spread when serving leftover dishes not heated enough or if they were chilled too slowly.
- ESCHERICHIA COLI (E. coli) (1-8 days). Beef contaminated with feces during slaughter. Spread mainly by under-cooked ground beef. Other sources include unpasteurized milk and apple cider, alfalfa sprouts (contaminated by water or fertilizer), and contaminated water.
- GIARDIA LAMBLIA (1-2 weeks). Raw, ready-to-eat produce and contaminated water.
- HEPATITIS A (28 days). Raw, ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water.
- LISTERIA (9-48 hours). Hot dogs, luncheon meats, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, and unwashed raw produce. Can be spread through contaminated soil and water.
- NOROVIRUSES (Norwalk-like viruses) (12-48 hours). Raw, ready-to-eat produce and shellfish from contaminated water.
- ROTAVIRUS (1-3 days). Raw, ready-to-eat produce. Can be spread by an infected food handler.
- SALMONELLA (1-3 days). Raw or contaminated meat, poultry, milk, or egg yolks. Survives inadequate cooking. Can spread by knives, cutting surfaces or infected food handlers.
- SHIGELLA (24-48 hours). Seafood and raw, ready-to-eat produce. Can be spread by an infected food handler.
- STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS (1-6 hours). Meats and prepared salads, cream sauces, and cream-filled pastries. Can be spread by hand contact, coughing and sneezing.
- VIBRIO VULNIFICUS (1-7 days). Raw oysters and raw or under-cooked mussels, clams, and whole scallops. Can be spread through contaminated seawater.
There is a common theme here. Contamination comes either from a microbe from an animal, or through spread by an infected/contaminated food handler.
The most common serious complication of food poisoning is dehydration, a severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals. If you’re a healthy adult and drink enough to replace fluids you lose from vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration shouldn’t be a problem.
Infants, older adults and people with suppressed immune systems or chronic illnesses may become severely dehydrated when they lose more fluids than they can replace. In that case, they may need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids. In extreme cases, dehydration can be fatal.
To prevent food poisoning at home:
- Wash your hands, utensils and food surfaces often. Wash your hands well with warm, soapy water before and after handling or preparing food. Use hot, soapy water to wash utensils, cutting boards and other surfaces you use.
- Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. When shopping, preparing food or storing food, keep raw meat, poultry, fish and shellfish away from other foods. This prevents cross-contamination.
- Cook foods to a safe temperature. The best way to tell if foods are cooked to a safe temperature is to use a food thermometer. You can kill harmful organisms in most foods by cooking them to the right temperature. Cook ground beef to 160 F (71.1 C); steaks, roasts and chops, such as lamb, pork and veal, to at least 145 F (62.8 C). Cook chicken and turkey to 165 F (73.9 C). Make sure fish and shellfish are cooked thoroughly.
- Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods promptly, within two hours of purchasing or preparing them. If the room temperature is above 90 F (32.2 C), refrigerate perishable foods within one hour.
- Defrost food safely. Don’t thaw food at room temperature. The safest way to thaw food is to defrost it in the refrigerator. If you microwave frozen food using the “defrost” or “50 percent power” setting, be sure to cook it immediately.
- Throw it out when in doubt. If you aren’t sure if a food has been prepared, served or stored safely, discard it. Food left at room temperature too long may contain bacteria or toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking. Don’t taste food that you’re unsure about, just throw it out. Even if it looks and smells fine, it may not be safe to eat. HOWEVER, food waste is one of the biggest sources of global warming for a variety of reasons and constitutes the largest component of garbage dumps. Minimize waste by only buying what you need and be aware of the fact that “best-by” dates are not absolute rules. They are often even used in order for consumers to buy more of their products.
Food poisoning is especially serious and potentially life-threatening for young children, pregnant women and their fetuses, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. These individuals should take extra precautions by avoiding the following foods:
- Raw or rare meat and poultry.
- Raw or under-cooked fish or shellfish, including oysters, clams, mussels and scallops.
- Raw or under-cooked eggs or foods that may contain them, such as cookie dough and homemade ice cream.
- Raw sprouts, such as alfalfa, bean, clover and radish sprouts. These are always contaminated from an outside source however.
- Unpasteurized juices and ciders.
- Unpasteurized milk and milk products.
- Soft cheeses, such as feta, Brie and Camembert; blue-veined cheese; and unpasteurized cheese.
- Refrigerated pates and meat spreads.
- Uncooked hot dogs, luncheon meats and deli meats.
Food poisoning is often diagnosed based on a detailed history, including how long you’ve been sick, your symptoms and specific foods you’ve eaten. Your doctor will also perform a physical exam, looking for signs of dehydration. Depending on your symptoms and health history, sometimes blood tests, stool cultures or examination for parasites is done, to identify the cause and confirm the diagnosis.
In many cases, the cause of food poisoning can’t be identified.
TREATMENT. Treatment for food poisoning typically depends on the source of the illness, if known, and the severity of your symptoms. For most people, the illness resolves without treatment within a few days, though some types of food poisoning may last longer. Treatment may include:
- Replacement of lost fluids. Although usually oral administration is enough, if you can’t keep anything down or are severely dehydrated, intravenous fluids may be necessary.
- Antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you have certain kinds of bacterial food poisoning and your symptoms are severe. Food poisoning caused by listeria needs to be treated with intravenous antibiotics during hospitalization. Antibiotics will not help food poisoning caused by viruses. Antibiotics may actually worsen symptoms in certain kinds of viral or bacterial food poisoning. Talk to your doctor about your options.
- Imodium (loperamide). This slows down the gut and can help with diarrhea but should only be taken if there is no blood or significant dehydration.
- Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate). This essentially coats and soothes the stomach and intestinal lining. it also reduces some of the acids relieving symptoms.
HORMONES IN MEAT and DAIRY
Hormones are naturally occurring in all animal products. In fact, dairy, even dairy which comes from “happy”, grass fed, chemical-free cows, has more than 60 different kinds of hormones. Growth hormones like Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IgF 1), as well as various forms of sex hormones like estrogen. In addition to the naturally occurring hormones in meat, 6 hormones are commonly used in cattle to increase the amount of meat they grow and to do so at a much faster rate. These are injected or, more commonly, implanted behind the ears in pellets:
- 3 are naturally occurring, but additional hormones are added:
- 3 are synthetic:
- Melengestrol acetate
- Trenbolone acetate
- A 7th hormone Zearalenone, a relative of Zeranol, is generated by a fungus contaminating the feed, but it does end up in the meat and ends up in us. It has also been found in popcorn, contaminated by the same fungus in the corn.
An additional hormone used in the dairy industry is somatotropin. This genetically engineered growth hormone increases milk production but injections of this cause mastitis, inflammation/infections of the udder. This is usually treated with antibiotics. Banned in many countries like Canada,, the EU, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, it is still used in the US. Mastitis is so common that there is actually an “allowable” amount of pus cells in milk.
ZERANOL (Ralgro) is a potent synthetic estrogen which is fed to all conventionally grown livestock in the US and only cattle in Canada. It is the most potent growth hormone found in all food and its influence on estrogen is 100,000 times greater than BPA. In the lab, exposing normal breast cells to the substance for only 21 days causes them to transform into breast cancer cells. It is so frequently used that 100% of meat from conventionally raised beef, which accounts for 94% and some grass-fed beef as well since it’s allowed to be used with them also, is tainted. Only organically raised (and USDA Labelled) meat is free of this horrible chemical.
After a study was done in Italy revealing that Zeranol was the main contributor to abnormal breast tissue growth in both boys and girls, it, along with ALL other growth-promoting drugs, were banned in Europe. In 1989, they also banned all beef imports from Canada and the US and this ban still stands today because we continue to insist on using it!
In the US, a study of 163 girls, aged 9 and 10, identified zeranol in the urine of 78% of them. 100% of those girls ate meat the night before! None of the girls whose urine was negative for zeranol ate meat the night before. In addition, 55% of the girls, again the meat eaters, contained zearalenon. This is related to zeranol and is generated by a fungus contaminating the animal feed, but it does end up in the meat and ends up in us. It has also been found in popcorn, contaminated by the same fungus in the corn.
All of them were meat eaters, all had early menstruation and all were shorter than the girls who ate the least or no meat.
In the Boston-area Nurses Health Study, there was a 35% increased risk of premenopausal cancer if they regularly ate meat as kids and teenagers.
In 2019, Japanese researchers, concerned about rising levels of hormone-related cancers in both men and women, looked into the hormones in beef imported from the US. They noted an increase in the following cancers, just in the last 25 years (ever since they started importing our beef):
- 4x increase in breast and ovarian cancers
- 8x increase in endometrial cancer
- 10x increase in prostate cancer
- they also noted dramatic increases in acne, hair loss and infertility.
Cattle from the US are regularly implanted with not only estrogen-releasing implants, but testosterone-releasing ones as well. Estrogen increases milk production and testosterone bulks up the muscle (the meat). The cattle industry insists that there is no contamination of the meat since the ears are removed during slaughter but this is not what the Japanese researchers found. Compared with Japanese cattle, in whom hormones are illegal to use, American cattle had 600% higher levels of estrogen.
As far as the testosterone in meat is concerned, this is the same principle as weight lifters and body builders use. Anabolic (growth) steroids increase muscle mass. The amount of steroids in meat however has been found to be high enough to cause false-positive banned substance testing in otherwise clean athletes who eat meat.
There are over 60 different hormones in milk! And those are just the naturally occurring ones. Why so many hormones? Because it is breast milk from a cow meant to grow the baby cow into an adult! Duh!! Dairy labeled “hormone-free” still contains naturally occurring hormones like estrogen and growth hormones which can fluctuate greatly depending on the pregnant state or lactation state of the cow (as much as 17 times).
Another commonly occurring hormone in dairy in particular is 5 Alpha P. 5alpha-Pregnane-3,20-dione (5alpha P for short), is another potent sex hormone found in dairy. Just to be clear, dairy contains sex hormones like estrogen, estrone and 5alpha-P and growth hormones like IgF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1). Both are not good to have additional amounts in your body.
5alpha P plays a significant role in producing testosterone. It is also a significant player in acne development. Some recent studies have linked acne to hormone-related cancers like breast and prostate. To be clear, acne does not cause cancer. Because of the strong link off hormones to acne as well as hormonal cancers, basically acne is visible marker for excess hormones and cellular growth.
In breast cancer specifically, 5alpha-p induces estrogen receptors on breast cancer cells to be more sensitive to estrogen, which fuels their growth.
EXPIRATION DATE CONFUSION
There is much more about this on my Environment page however FOOD WASTE is a tremendous problem, accounting for upwards of 20% of all greenhouse gasses. We throw out 50% of produce and 26% of meat. Consumers account for 40% of food waste overall and 80% of the meat. A major source of food waste is in our own homes and through our behaviors. There are many causes of this waste but 20% of individual food waste is caused by confusion over expiration date labels. This is not just a household issue, but one which affects restaurants, but to a lesser degree. Labels such as “Sell by”, “Best Before” and “Use by” are completely unregulated and most cases have nothing to do with spoiling or safety. They are provided by companies as suggestion as to when the food may be at its “peak quality” NOT when it is no longer safe to eat. Just because an item is past its “best by” date does not mean it is bad and rather than just throwing it out over misplaced concerns over spoilage, use your common sense. Literally your senses. Smell, taste and appearance. If it’s moldy, smells bad, is under pressure or has a sour taste, compost it (don’t just throw it out). If not, it’s most likely fine. Storage and temperature are the keys to keeping food safe and increasing their longevity. Keep your fridge below 40 degrees or below. Keep in appropriate containers, preferably glass or stainless steel rather than plastic which leaches chemicals. Things which should be in a sealed container, keep them sealed. If they need ventilation, use porous or paper bags. Use your fridge compartments appropriately. That’s why they are there.
This is a full report co-sponsored by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic about the problems with the food labeling system and its impact on the environment: The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America
By the way, expiry dates on most products, including medications, don’t really mean anything. At worst, the medications might lose a bit of potency but they don’t go “bad”. Antibiotics lose the most potency but if you have antibiotics laying around the house, shame on you for not taking your medications appropriately or shame on the health care professional for unnecessarily prescribing it to you! If your prescribed medications are expiring, you are not taking them appropriately.
IRRADIATION OF FOOD
While many people have no idea what irradiation refers to, it’s actually a commonly practiced way of pasteurizing (sterilizing) food around the globe where bacteria and pathogens are huge problems. Whereas pasteurizing milk involves heating, it, along with many other foods, can be exposed to radiation to achieve the same effect.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), food irradiation is the “application of ionizing radiation to food” and is said to “improve the safety and extend the shelf life of foods by reducing or eliminating microorganisms and insects.” Basically, to make food safe, companies must process it to a state of cleanliness using ionizing radiation.
With that said, irradiated food is not a replacement for proper food handling practices by producers, processors, and consumers. This means that, even though the food item has been pasteurized via irradiation, it can still become contaminated with disease-causing organisms after irradiation if the food is not stored, handled, or cooked appropriately.
To begin, radiation exists in two forms, ionizing and non-ionizing. When it comes to irradiating food, ionizing radiation is used. It’s a form of energy that acts by removing electrons from atoms and molecules of materials that include air, water, and living tissue. This form of energy is used in x-rays, which penetrate our body and reveal pictures of our bones by removing electrons from atoms and molecules in the matter through which they pass. After a certain amount of exposure, this type of radiation can produce skin or tissue damage. With that said, ionizing radiation exists in both nature, cosmic, solar, terrestrial, and buildings, and is man-made like x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, fluoroscopy, and in nuclear medicine procedures like cardiac and brain angiography and thyroid scans. The FDA has approved this type of pasteurization with promises that the changes made by irradiation are so minimal that it is not easy to tell if a food has been irradiated. They insist that irradiation does not make foods radioactive, compromise nutritional quality, or noticeably change the taste, texture, or appearance of food.
Food irradiation can be done using three different types of ionizing radiation:
- gamma rays, emitted from radioactive forms of the element cobalt or of the element cesium,
- X-rays, produced by reflecting a high-energy stream of electrons off a target substance (usually one of the heavy metals) into food and
- electron beams, a stream of high-energy electrons propelled from an electron accelerator into food.
Food irradiation is meant to keep us safe in a world of mass-produced food where cleanliness is incredibly hard to guarantee. This type of pasteurization was developed to benefit the consumer and has been approved for safety by not only the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but also the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, approving irradiation just allows the companies to make up for unhygienic practices to begin with.
PROS. The FDA lays out the case for pasteurization via irradiation with a list of benefits for both the consumer and the producer.
- Prevents food-borne illnesses by effectively eliminating organisms that cause food-borne illness, including Salmonella and E. coli.
- It is also a highly effective form of preservation, reducing spoilage and decomposition and increasing shelf life.
- It controls insects on imported fruits, destroys imported insects and reduces the need for other pest-control practices that may harm the fruit.
- It also delays the sprouting and ripening of foods, increasing the longevity of the food product.
- It is also a useful form of sterilization. While thermal (heat processed) sterilization has been found to have many potential problems such as reducing the nutritional content of food and has been found to be ineffective against certain types of bacteria, irradiated sterilization (non-thermal processing) is considered an effective method that does not cause any deterioration of quality. Sterilized foods can be stored for years without refrigeration and are widely used in hospitals for patients with severely impaired immune systems. It’s important to note that foods that are sterilized by irradiation are exposed to substantially higher levels of treatment.
CONS. While there are quite a few benefits to irradiating food, there are also a few downsides.
- Even though irradiation leaves macronutrients as well as minerals unaffected, the vitamin content of irradiated food is diminished. In particular, thiamine, vitamin E and C are reduced or even eliminated through irradiation.
- Another concern is in regards to microbial strains of harmful bacteria. If there are insufficient amounts of radiation, there is the possibility of mutations among microbial strains, which potentially could create even more dangerous strains of bacteria. This similar to what happens when you don;t complete a course of antibiotics for a legitimate
- It’s also possible that long-term use of irradiation may “cause bacteria and microbes to adapt, becoming resistant to the radiation and harder to kill.
As mentioned earlier, irradiation is not a substitute for safe handling practices. Just because a food is labeled as irradiated does not mean that it is safe to eat. Plus, irradiated food can be more expensive, due to the upfront costs of a food irradiation facility. You may be paying a higher price for a pasteurized food that has been handled and packed in unsanitary conditions.
Per FDA guidelines, companies must identify their product as irradiated, which is outlined in the next section. With that said, it’s important to know the most popularly irradiated foods, therefore you immediately know what to look out for. Although dairy and juices are most well known for being irradiated, other animal products are also irradiated like:
- eggs, and
Many plant-based food groups are also irradiated. Here are a few of the most commonly irradiated plant-based food groups:
- Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
- Lettuce and Spinach
- Seeds for Sprouting (e.g., for alfalfa sprouts)
- Spices and Seasonings
A large amount of the foods in your local grocery store have been irradiated, which means it may be difficult to completely cut out irradiated food. Also, after reviewing the information, you may have decided that there’s simply no need to cut out irradiated food.
No matter where you land on the irradiated food consumption spectrum, it’s good to know if a food has been irradiated or not. The FDA requires that foods that have been irradiated must be labeled with the international symbol for radiation referred to as Radura. If you see this on a package, then the food has been irradiated. Companies must also include a statement notifying consumers of irradiation such as “Treated with/by radiation.” In addition, the PLU label found on most fruit and vegetables can also be clue. In the same way that a 4 digit number means it is grown non-organically and a 5 digit number starting with 9 means it was grown organically, a 5 digit number starting with 3 means it has been irradiated.
What about bulk food bins of nuts, seeds, and grains? How about those bulk fruits and veggies? If your grocer is responsible and compliant, then they will have irradiated foods either individually labeled or have a label next to the sale container indicating if the bulk food item has been irradiated.
With all of these labeling practices, it’s important to note that the FDA does not require that individual ingredients in multi-ingredient foods (e.g. spices) be labeled, which means if you are trying to avoid very certain irradiated ingredients, this may be difficult to do with packaged foods.
PLASTICS AND FOOD
Although plastics have revolutionized how we live, they have no place in eating, drinking, cooking and food preparation or even food and beverage storage. Plastics contain various chemicals which leach into what they contain. This tends to happen more when you cook or reheat in them however even dry storage leads to some contamination. Of particular concern are harmful compounds such BPA and BPS which are known as “endocrine disruptors” or endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Bisphenol A, or BPA is a compound originally developed in the 1930’s as a mimetic estrogen (estrogen imitator) to treat women with low levels of estrogen because of menopause or other conditions leading to low estrogen levels. It was never used for that purpose however. BPA was also fed to livestock to fatten them up. It was discovered that when altered, BPA actually formed a resilient polycarbonate plastic, now used in almost all plastics as well as liners of most food storage containers like bags and cans. It is well known that it still maintains it’s estrogen mimetic properties and is now more commonly called a hormone disruptor. It has numerous dangerous effects on the body including causing cancer, autoimmune diseases and it should be avoided as much as possible.
One of the significant hormonal effects has to do with their impact on weight and obesity. They are also called “obeisogens” since they cause weight gain.
These chemicals imitate our natural hormones, especially estrogen, and stimulate cell receptors leading to greater risk of various diseases from simple acne to cancer formation in addition to disrupting various hormonal pathways.
- You should NEVER cook, reheat or microwave in plastic since this poses the greatest contamination risk. The amount of leaching of plastics increases by 55x, even if a water bottle sits in the sun and heats up.
- Do not let Saran Wrap contact your food. You are better off using silicone covers or glass or ceramic plates. You can also use reusable beeswax wraps.
- Do not drink beverages from plastic containers. Who know how long they have been sitting on a truck and under what conditions. The ALL leach chemicals. Use glass or stainless steel reusable containers.
- If you do uses, do not refill them. In addition, they are incredibly wasteful and contaminate the environment.
- Cans, including all beverage cans like beer and soda cans, are often lined with plastics especially BPA. The definitely contaminate the foods they contain. Although some think that acidic foods like tomatoes leach more chemicals, this is not true. All foods become equally contaminated. BPA-free cans are often lined with other versions of plastics including BPS, which has not only been shown to have the same hormonal effects, but has also shown to be present up to 40% higher levels than BPS. An then there is also BPF. Tritan, used in such water containers as Nalgene and Contugo, has also been shown to disrupt hormonal function in humans. It’s better to buy in bulk or fresh and cook things yourself. Avoid Styrofoam plates or cups. Bring your own portable ceramic or stainless steel coffee or beverage cup. Take away coffee cups are often lined with plastic or wax.
- Studies show that food just wrapped in plastic transfers some of chemicals to the food. This includes packaged foods, meat and even vegetables.
- Food packaging also contains BPA which transfers to the foods they contain.
- 99% of human BPA contamination comes from food and beverages.
There are plenty of glass or stainless steel storage options which are healthier and more environmentally friendly.
The is a whole section on microplastic on my environment page (click here) but in a nutshell, we have used, and continue to use, so much plastic that it is now in everything we eat. Microplastics are found in things like fish, shellfish, alcohol, tap and bottled water, and even the air we breathe. Microplastics have been identified even in the remotest parts of our planet. It’s estimated that the average person in the U.S. is consuming more than 70,000 microplastic particles per year and even more for those who drink only bottled water instead of tap.
“Better Living Through Chemistry” was the DuPont slogan for over 50 years.
When the FDA was given authority over food additives in 1958, there were already 800 additives being used. Today there are well over 10,000 and continuing to grow by about 100 a year. To review, test and monitor this number of chemicals is an impossible task. They essentially rely on the industry to self-regulate. All a food company is required to do is hire their own experts to review the drugs and claim “reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists that the substance is not harmful under the intended conditions of use”. If the manufacturer deems it “GRAS”, or “generally recognized as safe”, it’s apparently good enough for the FDA and they are allowed to put the additive in their food products. Many additives have been identified which have been added to foods without even going through even this unacceptably loose process.
90% of a foods flavor can be attributed to its smell so it is no surprise that the synthetic food additive industry grew out of the perfume industry. Food additives are substances added to food to preserve flavor, enhance its taste, appearance, texture or other qualities. Some natural additives have been used for centuries. An example includes preserving food by pickling (with vinegar) or salting. With the development of processed foods in the second half of the twentieth century, many more additives have been introduced, of both natural and artificial origin. Food additives also include substances that may be introduced to food indirectly (called “indirect additives”) in the manufacturing process, through packaging, or during storage or transport. As mentioned above, there are over 10,000 known, untested yet FDA “approved” chemicals known to be added to our foods and the list grows by at least 100 per year. The European Union has banned many of these chemicals including all artificial food dyes which are linked to ADHD and many other health issues. Our own companies continue to use them because they are cheaper, more addicting and they are allowed to do so by our own government. The three most commonly used food additives are:
- MSG. Mono Sodium Glutamate is the synthetically produced form of glutamate, naturally found in kombu, a type of seaweed, and used for thousands of years by the Japanese. The synthetic form is toxic and is added to a lot more than just Chinese Food. “Natural Flavoring” or “Spices” probably means MSG.
- Trans Fats. The CDC estimates that this extremely unhealthy fat is alone responsible for 50,000 fatal heart attacks a year. Not only does it raise bad cholesterol, it lowers good cholesterol. No other food does that! Sadly, the FDA allows companies to label their foods as containing 0% trans fat as long as the amount is less than 0.5mg per serving. They are also allowed to manipulate serving size to take advantage of this loophole. So you could be eating something you think has no trans fat meanwhile in reality , a normal serving might have a lot of trans fat in it.
- Artificial Sweeteners. See below for more on this poison.
There are a few different categories of additives.
PESTICIDES and HERBICIDES. There is a lot written on the site about the ill effects these have on our health so I won’t go into too much detail here but, since they are so ubiquitous in all of our foods, they should be considered an additive.
FOOD DYES. These are banned in most of the rest of the world. They are made from petroleum and coal tar. They are linked to a variety of issues including ADHD and have even been shown to be linked to simple temper tantrums. It takes about 50 mg of these chemicals to induce temper tantrums and your standard meal of Kraft Mac N’ Cheese (which had yellow #5 and #6), orange soda and Skittles for desert has well over 100 mg. Some of the dyes still used in the US include:
- Red No. 3 (Erythrosine): A cherry-red coloring commonly used in cherries, candy, popsicles and cake-decorating gels. Despite being definitively linked to cancer, it is still used. In 1990, the FDA banned the use of red #3 in topical applications because of this cancer link but still allows it’s use in foods, medicines and supplements. Red #1 was banned in 1961, #2 in 1976 and more recently #4, all because of cancer concerns. The food and drug industries have fought and won more than 23 times to continue to allow is use. It’s a known thyroid disrupter and causes ADHD.
- Red No. 40 (Allura Red): A dark red dye that is used in sports drinks, candy, condiments and cereals.
- Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine): A lemon-yellow dye that is found in candy, soft drinks, chips, popcorn and cereals.
- Yellow No. 6 (Sunset Yellow): An orange-yellow dye that is used in candy, sauces, baked goods and preserved fruits.
- Blue No. 1 (Brilliant Blue): A greenish-blue dye used in ice cream, canned peas, packaged soups, popsicles and icings.
- Blue No. 2 (Indigo Carmine): A royal blue dye found in candy, ice cream, cereal and snacks.
CARAMEL COLORING. The most commonly used coloring agent overall. This stuff is poison. There are 4 classes of caramel coloring. A Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte has 2 different kinds. One dose in the syrup and one in the whipped cream. The one used by Starbucks (class 4) is manufactured by heating ammonia and sulfites under pressure which creates many known carcinogenic compounds including a particularly nasty one, 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), linked to developing lung cancer and leukemia. This is a link to an article about caramel coloring: Article bout Caramel Coloring
NATURAL and ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS. Before the development of artificial flavors, the more flavorful a food was, the more nutritious it probably was. Now, food “technology” has distorted this relationship. The difference between the terms “natural” and “artificial” is vague and often indistinguishable. In the Environmental Working Group‘s Food Scores database of over 80,000 foods, “natural flavor” is the fourth most common ingredient listed on labels. The only ingredients that outrank it are salt, water and sugar. There is rarely anything “natural” about them. They are all manufactured in labs and consist of chemicals that lead to a specific taste profile. Added flavoring, both natural and artificial, could contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients. They often have solvents and preservatives making up 80 to 90% of the volume. Jiffy Blueberry Muffin mix for example lists “artificial blueberries” as one of its ingredients. This consists of Blue #2, Blue #1 and Red #40 dyes along with partially hydrogenated oil (another name for trans fats!). There is nothing even remotely close to actual blueberries in it. Natural smoke, peppermint, vanilla… probably all chemicals.
Late in 2018, the FDA banned the use of 7 artificial flavors from food products. These include: Benzophenone, Ethyl Acrylate, Eugenyl Methyl Ether, Myrcene, Pulegone and Styrene. Why were such chemicals in our foods to begin with? This ban only occurred because they were sued and petitions with over 300,000 signatures were submitted. Although this is a positive thing, the companies have 2 years to comply and they do NOT have to reveal which of their products contain these carcinogenic compounds! So for the next 2 years, you may be unknowingly consuming banded cancer causing chemicals that are banned but the companies get away scot free because of a loophole. Nice. Seven is a good start, we just need to get the other 10,000 chemicals banned as well. Or, you can just not eat processed food. Which do you think is easier?
Why not use actual natural flavors? MONEY! It’s much cheaper to use chemicals. As an example, a pound of vanillin, from vanilla beans costs $1200 whereas industry can create the same flavor for $6 a pound.
ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS. There are numerous artificial sweeteners allowed by the FDA. Some of the worst artificial sweeteners are:
- Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet, NatraTaste Blue). It’s 200 times sweeter than sugar.
- Sucralose (Splenda). It’s 600 times sweeter than sugar. It’s 700 times sweeter than sugar.
- Acesulfame K (ACE K, Sunette, Equal Spoonful, Sweet One, Sweet ‘n Safe). 200 times sweeter.
- Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low, Sweet Twin). It’s 500 times sweeter than sugar.
- Xylitol, Sorbitol
Artificial sweeteners are linked with a number of health problems like ADHD, hyperactivity, diabetes and even some rare cancers. They also have been shown to destroy beneficial bacteria which help with fat metabolism. This actually leads to more weight gain, despite the lack of calories. They are found in many foods, some of which might surprise you. Here is a partial list:
- Toothpaste and mouthwash
- Children’s chewable vitamins
- Cough syrup and liquid medicines
- Chewing gum
- No-calorie waters and drinks
- Alcoholic beverages
- Salad dressings
- Frozen yogurt and other frozen deserts
- Baked goods
- Breakfast cereals
- Processed snack foods
- “Lite” or diet fruit juices and beverages
- Prepared meats
EMULSIFIERS. These chemicals stabilize emulsions. They help to keep processed food components mixed together and prevent them from separating. Think of organic vs conventional peanut butter (like Skippy). Organic peanut butter normally contains ONLY peanuts. When you look at it off the shelf, it usually has a layer of oil which separated out from the peanuts. Skippy NEVER separates. Do you think that is healthy? Emulsifiers also help to extend shelf-life. Emulsifiers include compounds like:
- Polysorbate 80
- Xantham Gum
Emulsifiers can alter the gut microbiome and break down the mucus layer covering the intestinal wall, making it more vulnerable. This is particularly true of polysorbate 80 which has been shown to increase gut permeability.
PRESERVATIVES. Food preservatives are chemicals which help extend the shelf life of food in grocery stores but may have a detrimental effect on your health. Preservatives are a good thing for food manufacturers because products can be made, shipped and stored until purchase without going bad, meaning they don’t lose money from spoiled food. Preservatives are also beneficial to you in that you’re not eating food that has begun to decay. These chemical compounds, however, can have may undesirable side effects in your body.
- Nitrates and Nitrites. Sodium nitrate and nitrite are food preservatives often used in meat products. They help to prevent oxidation of meats, keeping them red in color and preventing bacterial growth. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that consumption of nitrates may be linked to an increased risk of cancers, such as leukemia, brain tumors and nasopharyngeal tumors. They may also increase risk for diabetes, diarrhea and respiratory tract infections in children. Ingesting a large amount of these preservatives at one time may cause you to experiences abdominal pain, muscle weakness, bloody stools and fainting. You’ll find nitrates and nitrites in bacon, lunch meat, hot dogs, sausage, smoked fish, ham and corned beef.
- Sulfites. Sulfites are preservatives that prevent discoloration in food. They are found in dried fruit, wine, shrimp and processed potato foods. They also destroy vitamin B-1 content, however, and may cause adverse health impacts. If you are sensitive to sulfites, you may experience skin irritations, hives, flushing, hypotension, abdominal pain, diarrhea and asthmatic breathing after eating them, according to a study published in November 2009 in the journal “Clinical and Experimental Allergy.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to allow the use of sulfites in food, and the preservative appears on the “Generally Recognized as Safe” list.
- Sodium Benzoate. Also known as benzoic acid, this form of salt preservative is used to prevent bacterial growth in foods. In addition to adding salt to your food affecting arterial function and contributing to heart disease, the Center for Science in the Public Interest notes that people who are sensitive to sodium benzoate may experience hives, asthma or allergic reactions after consuming it. When combined with vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, sodium benzoate may pose a small risk of cancer, including leukemia. According to the World Health Organization, animal studies reveal that high doses of the preservative may cause damage to the heart, spleen, liver, kidneys, brain and adrenal glands. But human studies and studies with lower consumption rates are limited. Although sodium benzoate is the most common, it’s certainly not the only one. Here are a few others
- sodium acetate
- sodium ascorbate
- sodium lactate
- sodium nitrate
- sodium nitrite
- sodium phosphate
- sodium propionate
- sodium sulfite
- Sodium Benzoate. Also known as benzoic acid, this form of salt preservative is used to prevent bacterial growth in foods. In addition to adding salt to your food affecting arterial function and contributing to heart disease, the Center for Science in the Public Interest notes that people who are sensitive to sodium benzoate may experience hives, asthma or allergic reactions after consuming it. When combined with vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, sodium benzoate may pose a small risk of cancer, including leukemia. According to the World Health Organization, animal studies reveal that high doses of the preservative may cause damage to the heart, spleen, liver, kidneys, brain and adrenal glands. But human studies and studies with lower consumption rates are limited. Although sodium benzoate is the most common, it’s certainly not the only one. Here are a few others
- Antioxidant Preservatives. Propyl gallate and tert-butylhydroquinone are antioxidant preservatives that help prevent the spoilage of fats and oils. They’re found in processed foods, vegetable oils and meat products. Animal studies reveal that low doses of propyl gallate may increase risk of cancer. Tert-butylhydroquinone increases the incidence of tumors in studies conducted on rats.
- BHA and BHT. These preservatives are used in cereal plastic wrappers and are in various foods including chewing gum. They are banned in Europe and Japan but are freely used in the US.
- Calcium Propionate. This is a mold inhibitor commonly used in various breads and baked goods. It’s known to cause and worsen ADHD in rats.
- TBHQ. This preservative derived from butane causes a variety of physical symptoms, has been linked to ADHD in kids and various cancers in lab animals. It is found various products including Chick Fil’ A chicken sandwiches and Reeces Peanut Butter Cups. It also has been shown to worsen allergic reactions by as much as 10x.
CITRIC ACID is a very common colorless and odorless additive. It’s in EVERYTHING from food, to cleaning products to nutritional supplements and even medications. It is a natural preservative and is also used to add an acidic (sour) taste to foods and beverages. It is found naturally in citrus fruits but also occurs naturally in our bodies as part of the Krebs (citric acid) cycle for energy creation.
Known for its preservative and taste qualities since the 8th century, it was first isolated in 1784 by Carl Wilhelm Scheele from lemon juice. Industrial scale citric acid production from Italian lemons began in the late 1800’s. World War I interrupted this cycle until American food chemist James Currie discovered a process for making citric acid from mold in 1917. The drug company Pfizer started to produce citric acid from molds on a large scale in 1919. Today, the vast majority of citric acid is manufactured in China from mold, primarily Aspergillus niger, and is almost all genetically modified because producing this additive from citrus fruits is too expensive and the demand far exceeds the supply. The fungal components of the genetically modified citric acid is thought to be toxic in some people and have been strongly linked to citric acid. Migraines in particular are affected by this preservative.
Examples of citrus fruits which contain citric acid include: lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits and tangerines. Other fruits like pineapple, berries, cherries and tomatoes also contain citric acid but in lesser amounts. While not naturally occurring, citric acid is also a byproduct of cheese, wine, and sourdough bread production.
Food and beverages use an estimated 70% of manufactured citric acid, pharmaceutical and dietary supplements use 20%, and the remaining 10% goes into cleaning agents.
Although in foods, supplements and medicine, it’s used to alter taste and as a preservative, citric acid is also a useful disinfectant against a variety of bacteria and viruses and is used in most cleaning agents. A test-tube study showed that it may be effective in treating or preventing human norovirus, a leading cause of food-borne illness. It’s also commercially sold as a general disinfectant and cleaning agent for removing soap scum, hard water stains, lime, and rust.
If it’s potent enough to be a disinfectant and lime and rust remover, think of what it is doing to the natural microbial population in your gut!
ASCORBIC ACID (Vitamin C) is also found in many natural sources like citrus fruits but just like citric acid, manufactured versions are cheaper and easier to use in food. It is used primarily as an antioxidant, which can provide multiple benefits to food products. Slowing the oxidation preserves color and freshness. The low pH of ascorbic acid can help prevent microbial growth, thereby preventing spoilage and preserving freshness. For these reasons, ascorbic acid is a popular natural ingredient preservative. It can be used as a preservative in a vast array of food products including bread, cured meats, jams and jellies, and other sauces and spreads. The majority of synthetic ascorbic acid is produced using fermented corn syrup which is imported from China and may or may not have been genetically modified. The corn syrup is then treated with chemical solvents such as acetone, sulfuric acid or sodium hydroxide to extract the ascorbic acid. The evidence for any human health effects is less clear than with citric acid but anything extracted with chemicals or made artificially can’t be good for you.
AMERICA vs the WORLD
Some examples of the difference between products made for the American market and those altered for sale abroad include:
- McDonald’s French fries. Fries in Europe have 4 ingredients: potatoes, salt, dextrose (sugar) and oil. The salt is also added only after frying so there is better control over how much salt is added, which is more than half of what is found in US French fries. In the US (home country of McDonald’s), French fries have 19 ingredients including emulsifiers, preservatives, flavorings, sugars… In the US, the chemical lubricant dimethylpolysiloxane is added to the oil as an anti-foaming agent. This is a chemical which is used in Silly Putty and is a known carcinogen and it is preserved in formaldehyde (which is what is put into dead bodies at the mortuary!)McDonald’s by the way has a version of its fast food chain in some European countries that has green signs (rather than the traditional yellow and red). Although this is still largely an attempt to improve their image because of extreme pressures from environmental and food safety groups, they are implementing environmental and social initiatives designed to prove they care. Also, they started initiatives to make the change to more sustainably grown ingredients and more eco-friendly production. If they can do that in foreign countries, why not in the United States where they are from?
- McDonald’s strawberry sundae syrup. In Europe, they use real strawberries. In the US, we use Red #40 dye.
- Fanta Orange Soda is colored with pumpkin and carrot extract. In the US, we use Red #40 mixed with Yellow #6.
- Subway removed a known cancer-causing agent, azodicarbonamide, from its bread. It was used to improve dough stability and maintain bread texture. It is still found in close to 500 food products, from Pillsbury Dinner Rolls to Little Debbie products to Wonder Bread. Subway removed this product “voluntarily” years after it was banned in Europe.
Some US foods are outright banned in Europe and other countries outside the US. These include:
- Rice Krispies. Most of the cereals in US cereal aisles cannot be sold as they are in other countries because they contain the preservative Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT). Both BHT and BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) are banned in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and much of Europe because they are thought to be carcinogenic.
- Kraft Mac and Cheese. The artificial colors yellow 5 and yellow 6 are found in tons of foods in the US, from mac and cheese, to crackers, chips, and even drinks. Foods containing these dyes are banned in Norway and Sweden. In the EU, they must be labeled with the phrase: “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
- US Milk. The EU has banned milk that contains the growth hormone rBGH. Most conventionally raised (non-organic) cows in the US are given this drug. Unless your milk is organic or says “does not contain rBGH” you are drinking milk that would be banned throughout Europe.
- Tyson Chicken. The EU has had a long-standing ban on chicken that has been washed in chlorine. Many chicken companies in the US use chlorinated water baths, rinses, and mists as an antimicrobial treatment. Some chickens are “water chilled,” which means they are submerged in a chlorine bath. Others are “air-chilled” which means they could have been misted with chlorine.
Of the more than 10,000 food additives that are put in our foods, only 43% of them are recognized as GRAS, or “Generally Recognized As Safe” by the FDA. How that is determined is not clear since less than 5% have actually been tested for safety! The average American consumes between 3-5 pounds, including children in who these are even more dangerous because of their smaller proportional weight. Many of these additives are banned in Europe and the rest of the world. One in particular still used in the US is Azodicarbonamide, a compound used in yoga mats and made famous by Subway Subs since it was found to be a component of the breads, making them “fluffier”. If you are caught using this compound in Singapore, there is a $450,000 fine and 15 year jail term!
2 other notorious preservative additives are BHA and BHT, which act as potent antioxidants, preserving foods for longer. Butylated Hydroxy Anisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxy Tolulene are compounds, not only used in lipstick, moisturizers and other cosmetics but they are also used in many processed foods like potato chips, baked goods, cereal, beer and also rubber, petroleum products and wax food packaging. The FDA considers this GRAS but the National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes this as “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen”. Another example of how our own governmental bodies do not communicate and are at odds.
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is a food additive sometimes used to keep citrus flavoring from separating out in sodas, sports drinks and other beverages. It is used as a flame retardant and is known to cause memory loss, nerve damage and skin and mucous membrane irritation. It’s banned as a food additive in Europe but not in the U.S.
Many drugs used in the animal agricultural industry in the US are also banned in Europe. Ractopamine is a feed additive, banned in many countries, to promote leanness in animals raised for their meat. It also increases protein synthesis, increasing muscle mass. As of 2014 the use of ractopamine was banned in 160 countries, including the European Union, China and even Russia while 27 other countries, such as Japan, the United States, South Korea, and New Zealand have deemed meat from livestock fed ractopamine safe for human consumption. It is clearly harmful to animals, causing at least 160,000 deaths annually in pigs. 80% of pigs are fed this chemical. Another example is BVGH, Bovine Growth Hormone, which is still commonly used in the US but banned in the EU since the 1980’s. In fact, imports of beef from the US have been banned in Europe since the 1980’s because of this hormone.
ANTIBIOTICS IN LIVESTOCK and ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE
In 2009 it was estimated that there were 29 million pounds of antibiotics used in America in animals and humans. 24 million of those pounds (83%) were used in livestock to 1) treat but mostly prevent infections because of sick, immuno-suppressed animals living in overcrowded conditions, but more importantly 2) to promote growth. Antibiotics promote growth in animals and they do the same in humans by screwing up our microbiome. 10 years later, in 2019, that number grew to 56 million. In the US alone, we put 38 million lbs into animals as injected/implanted drugs or mostly, as a supplement added into the animal feed. We consume those antibiotics. About 8 million lbs., only 13%, are taken by humans as prescriptions for infections. However, 300 million lbs. are sprayed on our crops and on our lawns annually in the US alone as the weed killer Roundup. Its active ingredient is glyphosate, which is actually patented as an antibiotic and an antifungal, is water based. As a result, it’s in the air we breathe, the rainwater, the groundwater, is contaminated with glyphosate.
These antibiotics DO make their way into our meat. Studies show that that meat in US supermarkets have 4x the amount of antibiotics in them than in meat from Denmark.
Although the medical system overusing and inappropriately using antibiotics is contributing to the problem, the main cause of antibiotic resistance in humans is the overuse in the industrial and animal and agricultural industry. Antibiotic resistance contributes to over 700,000 deaths worldwide. In 2050, experts predict that more people will die from antibiotic resistance than cancer. Today, the World Health Organization states that a pandemic from an antibiotic resistant super-bug is the largest threat to humanity, not global warming. The cost of antibiotic resistance between 2020 and 2050 is estimated to be $124 trillion dollars, more than the entire global economy. In the US alone, the public health costs are $2 billion dollars a year.
How does resistance happen? In a nutshell, when a bug is exposed to antibiotics, bugs may mutate and develop resistance to that antibiotic. If enough of these resistant bacteria build up, it can lead to an infection. The more bugs are exposed to antibiotics, the greater the potential for a resistant form to develop. Resistance to the first antibiotic ever, penicillin, developed only within the first few years of its discovery, primarily because of how rampantly it was used during the World War. It saved a lot of lives, but it also led to super-bugs being formed.
Why is resistance so common now?
- Overuse and inappropriate use in the medical field. The AMA estimates that 70% of the prescribed courses of antibiotics in the US are done so inappropriately and/or unnecessarily. Although a significant issue, it however is just a minor contributor.
- Farmworkers are constantly exposed to these antibiotics by handling the feed, the animals and their manure. Approximately 30% of animal workers are colonized (the bug is constantly on their skin or in their noses) with MRSA, Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, the “flesh eating bacteria”.
- The superbugs can be spread to the crops and groundwater through contaminated feed and manure as well. This groundwater makes it to the drinking water so you are drinking superbugs, not to mention the antibiotics the animals excrete.
- The manure and urine slurry, containing both the antibiotics and the resistant bugs, are spread onto the sil, killing the native soil microbiota. Just to understand, a tablespoon of healthy soil has more microbes than all the microbes we contain in our gut, trillions!. These all die as a result of the chemicals and medications we douse the soil with.
- Drug resistant bacteria can also spread throughout communities by the wind. In one study of communities around a Pennsylvania farm, had a 40% rate of MRSA infection.
Why does the FDA allow the food industry to do this? In 2013, they announced that they wanted drug companies to change the way veterinary antibiotics are sold and labelled. They asked drug companies to remove any indication for weight gain or growth promotion. The antibiotics were only to be prescribed with a veterinarians approval. In theory, the antibiotics would no longer be prescribed for prevention or growth promotion. But here is the catch! The recommendations were completely voluntary! The advice was ignored, not surprising given the fact that the former deputy commissioner for the FDA from 2010-2016, Mike Taylor was the former vice-president of public policy for Monsanto, the company principally responsible for poisoning us for the last 50 years!
There is no question that “modern” medicine is no longer health care, but sick care. We need to focus on preventing and reversing disease by promoting healthful lifestyle changes rather than just prescribing a pill for a symptom or condition. Most important among these health promoting lifestyle changes is improving our diet by limiting or eliminating consumption of animals or animal products as well as processed foods and focus on eating more plants. In addition the horrifically unhealthy way our agrochemical and factory farm systems function need to be changed.
PESTICIDES, HERBICIDES, FUNGICIDES and FERTILIZERS
And then there is what goes on today. A chemical horror show.
Modern chemicals should all be called BIOCIDES, since they kill life at many levels, not just their specific targets. In the 1950’s, farmers lost about 1/3rd of their crops each year due to a variety of causes including pests and weeds. Today, despite the use of over 2,100 varieties of chemicals available, at a cost exceeding $4 billion a year, farmers still lose 1/3rd of their crops! It is a myth that these chemicals have resulted in better yields. The opposite has occurred. The fact is that 70% of the worlds population is still fed by small, peasant farmers. We don’t need chemicals or GMOs. We have used pesticides and weed killers to the point where some of them are now measurable in the air from evaporation, rainwater, human urine and breast milk and 70% of municipal water supplies. Some food product studies have revealed 100% or near 100% contamination with various pesticides known to cause various diseases. A recent study of California wines revealed that 100% were contaminated with glyphosate (the chemical in Roundup). This included organic wines although levels were significantly lower than conventionally produced wines. Glyphosate, the ingredient in Roundup, is the most ubiquitous chemical on the planet. The World Health Organization has categorized glyphosate as category 2A, meaning that it is a probably human carcinogen. One in seven farm workers in the US are poisoned by chemicals used on the farms leading to an estimated 1000 deaths annually. This is a short list of some of the conditions caused by these chemicals:
- ADHD and Autism
- Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)
- Cancer (various blood and solid types)
- Celiac disease and gluten intolerance
- Chronic kidney disease
- Heart disease and Respiratory illnesses
- Inflammatory Bowl Diseases
- Liver disease
- Pregnancy problems (infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths, birth defects)
- Obesity and Hypothyroidism
- Reproductive problems
The US is the most egregious user of chemicals worldwide. In fact, US farmers are still allowed to us more than 72 chemicals banned in the EU as well as many other parts of the world. One such chemical is Paraquat. This chemical is banned every else in the world. In addition to the chronic conditions it is associated with, it causes more than 110 deaths by poisoning annually.
Here is a more detailed list also explaining the direct effect of glyphosate along with the history of the use of chemicals and soil depletion: History of Chemicals, Soil depletion and Disease Risk.
Even foods grown organically can have glyphosate contamination because of how much is in the rain that falls on these crops. It is more important than ever to try to buy products that are as clean as possible. Although some conventionally grown crops have only small amounts of these chemicals on them and a lot of it can be washed away, some still gets into your body. They do not clear so easily and slowly build up. These chemicals have been proven to be carcinogens (cancer causing) and contribute to many diseases but despite that our own USDA continues to allow their use. These chemicals have also been found to cause neurological damage especially in infants and young children. Most European countries banned them many years ago. Our own government condones poisoning its own citizens for the sake of profit (for more on that, see the section on Industry Influence at the bottom of the page).
Foods with highest glyphosate concentration are under the acronym “OWL”:
GMO and PET FOOD. We feed our pets the same garbage we often feed ourselves. Even more! Much of the pet food is basically soy, corn or wheat or products fed those grains. Pet foods have even a greater impact on pets than on humans. Of all domesticated animals, the highest concentration of glyphosate, the ingredient in Roundup, used extensively in GMO and Non-GMO alike, was found in the urine of dogs who had 50x the concentration of glyphosate as humans eating a conventional, non-organic diet. Dogs have the highest cancer rate of all domesticated pets. One veterinarian’s experience is that 70% of the pets with a number of different chronic issues improved or had resolution of symptoms by simply switching to a non-GMO, organic diet.
For more information on pets and contaminated pet food, click here.
DDT. This is one of the most controversial chemical compounds in recent history. Originally developed as an effective insecticide, its potent toxicity is unfortunately not limited to insects. Banned by many countries including the United States, DDT is nonetheless still used both legally and illegally in some places.
What Is DDT? Also known as dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, DDT belongs to a class of pesticides known as organochlorides. It’s a solid, colorless, crystalline, synthetic chemical compound that can’t be dissolved in water. It is however easily dissolved in organic solvents, fats or oils. Because it is fat soluble, DDT can build up in the fatty tissues of animals that are exposed to it. This accumulated build-up is known as bioaccumulation. The EPA describes DDT as a “persistent, bio-accumulative toxin”. Because of this bioaccumulation, DDT remains in the food chain, moving from small animals like crayfish, frogs, and fish into the bodies of animals that eat them. As larger animals eat smaller animals, the DDT builds up. Therefore, DDT levels are often highest in the bodies of animals near the top of the food chain, notably in predatory birds like eagles, hawks, pelicans, condors and other meat-eating birds. It also accumulates in larger mammals like beef and pork partly because they are fed or consume contaminated grains and other feed “meal”, often made from the carcasses of other animals including seafood. Humans are at the top of the food chain in mammals and thus also accumulate the DDT they eat mostly from the animal products we consume. In fact, because DDT it is so fat-soluble, the only way humans can rid themselves of this toxin is through breast milk. This is why today, even almost 50 years after it was banned in the US, everyone, including newborn babies, has DDT in their bodies! It gets passed along when mothers breastfeed their children.
DDT has serious health effects on humans. According to the EPA, DDT can cause liver damage including liver cancer, nervous system damage, congenital disabilities and other reproductive harm.
For more information about DDT, click here. THE HISTORY OF DDT
The modern chemicals used as herbicides and pesticides had their origins as toxic agents produced to kill the enemy during wartime. Physogene, a substrate for many of today’s herbicides and pesticides, was originally developed for use in chemical warfare and was the gas responsible for the majority of deaths due to poison gas in World War 1. Zyklon-B, another modern pesticide, was used by the Nazis to produce cyanide gas which killed millions in the Holocaust gas chambers of Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps.
Melathione and parathione are pesticides which are incredibly toxic. In fact parathione is so lethal that a chemist who inadvertently swallowed an infinitesimal dose equivalent to 0.004 of an oz, died from instantaneous paralysis before he could give himself the antidote.
The pesticide dieldrin, one of the most potent carcinogens ever known, is 5x more poisonous than the more well known DDT when swallowed but 40x more potent when absorbed by the skin. By the time it was banned in 1974, the FDA found it in 96% of all meat, fish and poultry in the US as well as 85% of all dairy products. Sadly, it was also found in 99.5% of all Americans that were tested.
Because of how fat concentrates chemicals, meat contains at least 14x more pesticides than even conventionally, non-organically grown plant foods and dairy contains 5x as much.
The USDA tests only 1 out of every 250 million slaughtered animals for toxic residues and it only tests for 10% of the known toxins known to contaminate the country’s meat supply.
Although we usually link pesticide use with food, the most contaminated crop worldwide is actually cotton which accounts for 25% of worldwide pesticide use. In addition to getting rid of the formaldehyde sprayed onto clothing and bedding to keep moths away during transport, the pesticides are another reason you should always wash your clothing when you first buy it before wearing it. If you think that those chemicals don’t penetrate through the skin, think twice. Organically grown cotton also uses 90% less water to cultivate. Another reason to go organic.
Keep in mind that although chemicals are mostly on the surface of fruits and vegetables, some are actually designed to penetrate through the skin to reach the flesh inside. Some are actually injected into the root system of plants (like strawberries and potatoes) so it is definitely getting into the flesh and can’t be washed or peeled away. Washing helps, especially if you use a baking soda and water soak first, but avoiding them altogether, especially the “Dirty Dozen” listed below is still quite important.
1. Strawberries – a single sample of strawberries had 20 different pesticides.
2. Apples – up to 50 different chemical residues have been identified on conventional apples.
8. Spinach – 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight than any other food on the list.
9. Tomatoes – some samples revealed 35 separate chemicals on one tomato.
10. Sweet bell peppers.
11. Cherry tomatoes.
Hot peppers are also pretty bad at number 13.
To this list we also must add peanuts, potatoes and coffee. These last three have the highest concentration of pesticides of any food.
- COFFEE: one of the most chemically treated food crops on the planet. If they are “shade-grown”, much less chemicals are required but organic is still the best choice.
- POTATOES: they are so contaminated that even after washing AND peeling, 81% of potatoes sampled still had chemical residues on or in them.
- PEANUTS and PEANUT BUTTER: more acres are devoted to growing peanuts in the US than any other fruit, vegetable or nut. More than 99% use conventional growing practices which include a lot of fungicides to treat mold. Most brands of peanut butter also have added high fructose corn syrup. Stick to organic.
For more information about chemicals used on our foods, visit the Environment page.
If you can, choose organic cotton products. Cotton is the most heavily sprayed commercial agricultural product, much more than even soy and wheat. In addition organically grown cotton uses 90% less water to grow than conventional, chemically sprayed cotton.
GMO Seeds. 70% of the seeds sold worldwide are controlled by 3 companies. 1) Bayer (new owners of Monsanto), 2) Dupont and 3) Chem China. All three companies started, and continue to function, primarily as chemical companies and not surprisingly, they also develop and sell the pesticides and herbicides which their seeds/plants are not affected by. Quite a monopoly.
The charts below show the amounts of glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup, found in common foods. The graph below shows at what levels injury to human tissues occurs. It’s all BAD!!