Terra Sigillata

More on unsafe food additives

Between melamine and diethylene glycol, most of my attention this past week has been on unsafe food and drug additives in products imported into the US and other countries. Nicholas Zamiska has an article in today’s Wall Street Journal detailing this widespread problem: China, India, and Mexico are the countries that lead the number of refusals of food product imports by the US FDA:

Formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancer, has legitimate uses in adhesives and embalming. But in Indonesia, Sutikno, a 35-year-old tofu maker in south Jakarta who goes by one name, uses it to keep the tofu he sells fresh.

“Formaldehyde is magic. There is no comparison,” he said on a recent afternoon at the market. Last year, he switched briefly to a legal preservative, but his bean curd went bad in less than 24 hours. As for his customers, he doesn’t tell them he uses formaldehyde. “There is no complaint,” Mr. Sutikno said.

Across Asia, small-scale food manufacturers and street vendors often boost profits by using cheap but toxic chemicals as sweeteners, dyes and preservatives. While the most egregious examples generally involve food for local consumption, dangerous additives occasionally end up in foods exported to the U.S. and other Western countries, highlighting the scope of the problems regulators face.

The article is currently subscription only, but these types of WSJ stories often find their way into the free press over the next few days.

The money quote:

“Human ignorance as well as greed knows no bounds,” says Gerald Moy, manager of the World Health Organization’s office that monitors chemicals in the global food supply.

Comments

  1. When I get some time, I’m going to have to dig up one of my old 1800s-era reference books that discusses various alcoholic beverages and the chemicals historically added to each one to enhance flavor, etc. and post about that.

    Zombie tofu, though? That’s a new one.

  2. #2 speedwell
    May 9, 2007

    I love tofu. But it is like milk, not like cheese. It’s stored under the same conditions. They even do the same things to it if they want to make it shelf stable – aseptic packaging in foil boxes and so forth.

    Formaldehyde. (sigh) One man’s health food…

  3. #3 greg
    May 9, 2007

    You can get free access to that Wall Street Journal article with a netpass from http://www.congoo.com

  4. #4 kirsten
    May 9, 2007

    There’s a great article on mo-de-day discussing pre-FDA ginger extract causing paralysis:http://scienceblogs.com/moleculeoftheday/2007/05/triorthocresyl_phosphate_jake.php

    Although I had learned about the diethylene glycol poisoning in school, the “Jake-leg blues” involved many more people and went on for years.

  5. #5 Abel Pharmboy
    May 9, 2007

    Thanks for the heads-up, kirsten. MoTD did a great job on his post about the Jake leg blues.

  6. #6 Molecule of the Day
    May 9, 2007

    Thanks for the kind words guys!

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