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Ingredients Manufacturers are Adding to Your Food Without Your Knowledge

food and health, US Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Oz

Recently news reports have Americans squirming because of the new knowledge that our foods contain ingredients such as “pink slime” and crushed red beetles. But unfortunately, every day we eat foods that have hidden ingredients that could turn your stomach. Dr. Mehmet Oz recently asked Bruce Bradley, a food insider who spent 15 years in the food industry, to discuss some of these food components.

Do you eat canned mushrooms? Did you know that it may contain disintegrated maggots? The US Food and Drug Administration, as part of the Code of Federal Regulations, establishes maximum allowable levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods for human use that present no health hazard. These are listed in the “Defect Levels Handbook.” The FDA allows for up to 20 maggots in each 3 ½ ounce can.

Of course that isn’t the only contaminant that the FDA lists as a possibly additive in your foods. Canned or frozen asparagus is allowed to contain a certain percentage of beetle eggs and/or sacs. Frozen broccoli and Brussels sprouts may contain aphids. Citrus fruit juices and canned tomato sauce may contain fruit fly eggs.

Considering that there are many countries in the world that actually make meals from insects, such as Thailand, Mexico, China, and Brazil, this may not bother you at all. But how about rodent hair? Fruit and vegetable harvests could have been contaminated with animal hair, as well as the manufacturing equipment that the foods are processed on. Apple Butter, for example, is allowed by the FDA to contain a maximum of an average of 4 rodent hairs per 100 grams.

These types of “defects” are allowed because "it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects."

So those are the unavoidable ingredients we might consume in a day. However, there are some disturbing ingredients that are avoidable, if you know what to look for.

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Recently news sources highlighted an ingredient in Starbucks Strawberries & Creme Frappuccinos. Cochineal extract is a red coloring made by crushing the cochineal bug, or Dactylopius coccus. Starbucks has since announced that it will change to a tomato-based dye, but don’t think for a minute that the coffee beverage is the only food that cochineal is used in. Also named carmine or carminic acid (E120 in Europe), this dye is also used in pork sausage, pies, dried fish and shrimp, candies, pills, jams, cosmetics, and maraschino cherries.

Another extensively used flavoring ingredient is castoreum, a bitter, orange-brown and raspberry flavorings and once used as a vanilla flavoring (although the Vegetarian Resource Group has recently contacted several companies about the ingredient, which they say is no longer used in food for humans.) Unfortunately, castoreum does not have to be listed by name. It is considered a “natural flavor” and may only be listed as such on the label. To know for sure, you would need to contact the food manufacturer.

McDonald’s has again recently been the subject of food scandal for its inclusion of “pink slime” or ammonium-hydroxide treated meats in its burgers. “Finely Textured Beef”, as it is also known, is made of trimmings and scraps from the packinghouse cutting process and is used as a filler for up to 15% of the total volume in ground beef products. It may also be included in low-fat hot dogs, lunch meats, beef sticks, pepperoni, frozen entrees, and canned foods.

The fast food giant has announced that it has eliminated the use of pink slime and Beef Products International (BPI) is closing several of its manufacturing plants because of public outcry.

But did you know that when eating at McDonald’s you may be eating duck feathers? L-cysteine is a non-essential amino acid added to many baked goods (such as McDonald’s apple pies) as a dough conditioner in order to speed industrial processing. It used to be extracted from human hair left on barbershop floors, but is now mostly obtained from duck feathers, chicken feathers, and cow horns.

If this news disturbs you, the best method to reduce your intake of most of these types of ingredients is to ditch the use of processed foods and move to a whole more natural diet. For tomato sauce, an easy and healthful Dr. Oz recipe has only four ingredients: 4 lbs tomatoes, ¼ cup olive oil, 4 garlic cloves, and 2 medium onions. You may still eat the occasional bug, but limiting the amount of synthesized ingredients you eat is an easy way to avoid some of the most disturbing ingredients.

Resources Include:
The Dr. Oz Show
CBS News
LA Times
Vegetarian Resource Group