Friday, August 25, 2006

Something Gross In Your Food

EEEEWWWWWW. Blogger isn't letting me download any pictures, (bummer because the color is what I need) so I'll just let you use your imagination. I will never eat pink yogurt again.

Few people know that the food coloring listed as cochineal extract comes from female beetles. Food activists want to spread the word.

When you dig into a strawberry Yoplait yogurt, take a moment to contemplate where the beautiful pink color comes from. Strawberries? Think again. It comes from crushed bugs. Specifically, from the female cochineal beetles and their eggs. And it's not just yogurt. The bugs are also used to give red coloring to Hershey Good & Plenty candies, Tropicana grapefruit juice, and other common foods.

What Companies Do to Improve the Look & Taste of Your Food

You won't find "crushed bugs" on the list of ingredients for any of these foods, however. Companies have a bit of latitude in describing exactly what they put in our food. Many larger companies, such as General Mills, the manufacturer of Yoplait and Pepsi, the maker of Tropicana, identify the dye in their products as either carmine, or cochineal extract. Still, many companies simply list "artificial color" on their ingredients list without giving any details.

Food activists are trying to change disclosure requirements. The Food & Drug Administration has received numerous complaints over the issue and is now in the process of considering a proposal to require color additives like the cochineal extract to be disclosed on the labels of all foods that use them. "Hopefully we'll see something by the end of the year," says Michael Jacobson, executive director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food advocacy group in Washington, D. C.

ALLERGIC REACTIONS. Jacobson says that consumers want to know what they're eating. Some are allergic to bug extract; others are vegetarians. "The food product should indicate that it comes from insects so that vegetarians at least can avoid the product," he says.

Carmine may be the least of food activists' worries. It is known to cause allergic reactions in just a small percentage of the population. Food producers sometimes add much more dangerous chemical additives to make their products look attractive (see, 3/27/06, "Hershey: A Sweeter Bid").

Indeed, who would think that chicken, eggs, and salmon are often artificially enhanced to look more appetizing to consumers? The plump, juicy chicken sitting on the supermarket shelf is likely to have been fed canthaxanthin, a pigment added to chicken feed to enhance poultry's yellow color and make it look palatable. And egg-laying hens are also given a dye along with their feed, making egg yolks vary in color from light yellow all the way to bright orange.

IN THE PINK. Farmers can have their pick from a color chart that goes from the numbers 1 to 15, coinciding with colors from yellow to red. The yellow color comes from xanthophyll and carotenoids in the feed absorbed through the intestine, metabolized, and deposited in the egg yolk. In an article published last year, R. Scott Beyer, a poultry specialist from the Kansas State University, recommended different levels of xanthophylls, depending on what color of yolk is desired. He says 23 mg of xanthophyll per pound of feed results in a "medium orange" color.

Sneaky Supermarket Tricks
The fresh, farm-raised salmon that shoppers buy also get their orange-red hue from eating the chemicals astaxanthin and canthaxanthin. Wild salmon are pink because they eat shrimp-like creatures called krill. But to achieve the same pink color, farmed salmon need chemicals, which are mixed with their feed. In the past couple of years, the European Union significantly reduced the level of such dyes that can be fed to salmon because of concerns that the dyes, at high levels, can affect people's eyesight.

Two years ago, in the U.S., Seattle law firm Smith & Lowney filed two class actions against grocers Kroger and Safeway in Washington and California, contending that they should disclose that their salmon are dyed pink. Both lawsuits got thrown out of court. However, Knoll Lowney, a partner at the law firm, says that the lawsuits raised enough public awareness that many grocers voluntarily use "color added" labels to their salmon.

Still, Lowney says that such dyes are totally unnecessary. "This is a growing problem because the food companies are using more artificial means to enhance the appearance of the product and make it appear like something that it is not," he says. A walk down the grocery aisle for processed food is an eye opener—the bacon and ham get their red tint from sodium ascorbate, an antioxidant and color stabilizer, and the Betty Crocker icing gets its bright white color not from natural cream and egg whites but from titanium dioxide, a mineral that is also used in house paints. Betty Crocker manufacturer General Mills didn't return phone calls seeking comment.


:P fuzzbox said...

I had no idea that they used crushed bugs. That kinda puts a little damper on things.

javajazz said...


Ranger Tom said...

But what about Lark's vomit?

Keshi said...

yukkkkk! thanks for the info sweety.


Autumn Storm said...

Remember when I was just a child and hearing something somewhere about red colouring in sweets and not wanting to eat them thereafter. So much in our food nowadays, we never really know what we are putting in our mouthes. Quite scary really, when one reads (seen articles now and then) about all the different sideaffects certain things used for enhancing can have.

It's Monday - and I can't think of a joke. Well, not one that I can publish here anyway :-). So, I'll just wish you a Happy Monday!

PS Thanks for being so wonderful.

tsduff said...

:P Fuzzbox... a damper!? I'd say it "squashes" all appetite!! gross. Have you ever smelled crushed beetles? I wonder how they manage to leach the taste out of it?

Lisa - yes, exactly!!!

Tom, where do you get Lark's vomit? I don't think they can throw up.

Keshi - just watch out for that pink stuff! My man told me once that pink makes a man weak.... I don't think he was referring to that... :-D

Autumn - I'm so ignorant about food additives... I will usually eat most anything unless informed about why I shouldn't. I was told once that the reason they season Indian food so highly (curries etc.) is because since there was little refrigeration available, the food is perishing, and the spices mask the taste of the spoilage. Well, I like hot spices - just don't like eating bugs.

sister celtic said...

oh terry i'm hurling as i type ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh anyway my dear i eat pina colada so i need to check that out ...i'm going to use this info on my blog thanks for doing this for all of us.. i'll try and send out an e-mail.. i know people will be glad to know...NOT...WELL YEAH MAYBE.. I KNOW YOU DON'T DRINK BUT I LOVE A SHOT OF CUSANO ROJO MEZCAL WITH THE AGAVE WORM IN THE BOTTLE.. I TRY NOT TO LOOK AT IT...GIGGLE. ALL YOUR PHOTO'S AND COMMENTS ON MY BLOG ARE MUCH APPRECIATED.. LOVE ME!

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