Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Salmonella in peanut butter. Awful, right? Mercury in high fructose corn syrup. Troubling, right? What I find more troubling is that companies and regulators may have information about these issues long before the public learns about them and long before anything is done to correct them.

It is shocking and inconceivable that the company responsible for the current Salmonella outbreak in peanut products knew about the contamination long before any actions were taken. Salmonella is deadly, yet Peanut Corp. allowed the contamination to pass unreported and unresolved until death and illness brought it to light:
Michael Rogers, director of the division of filed investigations at the F.D.A., said that the inspectional team found records showing that on at least 12 occasions between 2007 and 2008, the company’s own tests of its product “identified some type of salmonella and released a product after it was retested, in some cases by a different laboratory.”

Mr. Rogers said the positive test results should have led the company to take actions to eliminate the contamination. “It’s significant because, at the point at which salmonella was identified, it shouldn’t be there, based on the manufacturing process that’s designed to mitigate salmonella, actually eliminate it.”

The firm took no steps to clean its plant after the test results alerted the company to the contamination, and the inspection team found problems with the plant’s routine cleaning procedures as well, Mr. Rogers said.

Without putting too fine a point on it, it is reasonable to say this: the people who knew this and chose not to report it have the blood of at least 8 people on their hands.

And from one processed-food issue to another, the week also brought the revelation that studies conducted since 2005 have discovered trace amounts of mercury in high fructose corn syrup:
In the first study, published in current issue of Environmental Health, researchers found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS.

And in the second study, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a non-profit watchdog group, found that nearly one in three of 55 brand-name foods contained mercury. The chemical was found most commonly in HFCS-containing dairy products, dressings and condiments.

Products affected included "Coca-Cola, Yoplait strawberry yogurt, Nutri-Grain strawberry cereal bars, and Smucker's strawberry jelly. The top offender on their list was Quaker Oatmeal To Go." (source and additional links) While such findings don't surprise me given the industrialization of our food production, what worries me is the fact that the research has been showing this for more than three years.

From melamine to this, how many more instances have yet to be publicized (or found) of dangerous contamination in our food stream?

At this rate, Banana will never get to eat a school-supplied lunch again. Come to think of it... she never does.



Daddytypes does a good job of tossing water on potential hysteria over the mercury/HFCS issue. In particular, he correctly points out that a lax FDA under the Bush administration can't necessarily be faulted for not pursuing this; it simply wasn't something they were looking into. He also rightly points out that the potential contamination from tuna is much, much higher.

The sad part is that we probably have to assume a certain amount of contamination in almost anything produced in the maze of food processing and preparation. The contamination could be from chemicals included in refining processes or ingredients; carcinogenic residue from cooking utensils; corrupted ingredients; unhealthy additives; and so much more. And as long as our food production complex remains built on (first) business principles and (second) mass industrialization, and as long as these remain a thousand times more important than quality or healthfulness, we will continue to see problems like these.