Archive for October, 2013

Five frightening food additives and how you can avoid them

Posted by -- October 31, 2013

Forget the haunted hayrides, spooky houses and midnight ghost tours. Want to go somewhere really scary for Halloween? You’ve been there many, many times and while it  may seem all bright and cheery, some genuinely frightening invaders can be found lurking in its corridors — blobs, bugs and brain-eating laboratory creations, all trying to lure you to take them home.

Any guesses as to what I’m talking about?

It’s your local supermarket. And if you think I’m exaggerating, read on:

The blob

The original “Blob,” which made its debut in a 1958 movie, came from outer space and terrorized a small Pennsylvania town by consuming many of its occupants as it grew and defied all efforts to destroy it before it was finally dropped in the Arctic to freeze.

Even though our “blob” is even more devious than the one in the movie (which was described as being “indestructible”), it’s also much easier to get rid of.  But watch out, as many labels will claim the manufacturer has already captured this insidious ingredient and removed it from their foods, when in fact it’s still there.

I’m talking about those creeping, artery-clogging trans fats.

Why is it so important to banish trans fats from your diet? Just consider how rare it is when doctors, scientists and health professionals all agree on something. But such is the case with this heart-stopping additive, whose elimination from our diet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates would save over 7,000 lives a year and prevent more than 20,000 heart attacks.

So why are trans fats out there?  Simple. They’re cheap and easy to use, and increase a product’s shelf life — but in so doing, also reduce the shelf life of many consumers.  But trans fats are also easily recognized — all you have to do is check the ingredient label for any oils described as “partially hydrogenated.” And that even goes for products that claim to be “trans-fat free,” since a labeling loophole allows 0.5 grams of trans fat in a food to be listed as zero.

It came from the corn

Somewhere in a laboratory in the late 1960s a scientist was tinkering with enzyme-catalyzed molecular transformations.  Although earlier attempts at such experiments in the 1950s had failed, by this time science had advanced to the point where a complex procedure was devised to take corn grain, separate the corn starch, and subject it to two such molecular-level transformations.

Success! High fructose corn syrup was born.

At this point, despite growing concerns about its presence,HFCS is lurking in more foods than could ever have been imagined over 40 years ago, and your only protection against this laboratory creation is to read ingredient labels and reject all foods containing it, since many researchers consider it the culprit in an  epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Its reputation caused the corn refiners to try to change the name of this worrisome concoction to the sweeter “corn sugar” — but the FDA wouldn’t allow it to be disguised in this fashion, so it’s still recognizable from its name on the ingredient label.

The ooze

Imagine huge bins of chicken skeletons. Most of the meat has been stripped from them, heads cut off, many with necks and some skin still attached.  The chicken remains are then placed in a giant  machine that crushes and separates bone from tissue and emits a “paste-like” red ooze.

If that sounds like the opening scene in a horror flick, it’s not, but rather the manufacturing process for the base ingredient in numerous processed foods such as chicken or turkey “franks,” pizzas, deli meats and canned pasta and meat items. Don’t look for “ooze” on the label though. It has a slightly friendlier name it goes by –  mechanically separated chicken or turkey.

Beetle juice (and other yucky things)

If creepy crawlers gross you out, then you might not want to hear what could very well be in some of your favorite processed foods.

A Food and Drug Administration rule that might ‘bug’ you allows the crushed bodies of small, scaly bugs called cochineal to be deliberately added to many red-hued foods and beverages, such as Dannon yogurt, to give them a pretty rosy color.

To avoid having beetles in your yogurt, or grapefruit juice, or candy, again be advised to check ingredient labels for cochineal or carmine.

Bugs and bug parts, rodent hair, rat poop and maggots are some of the other yucky “extras” that could be in your spices, jelly, canned tomato and mushroom products, to name a few. The FDA considers such unintended additives “unavoidable” and says it cost too much to process food without these “defects.” But don’t worry, there are limits to how many a product can contain. For example, only four rodent hairs are allowed in 100 grams of apple butter. Feel better now?

For the other gross ingredients it’s a bit trickier, as you have no way to really know if any of those permitted yucky things are in your food. What we can say is certainly not all foods or spices contain these unwanted extras, so it’s possible that higher quality brands conduct food processing in a more sanitary way. And stay away from canned mushrooms. That product is allowed to have up to 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams.

Brain eaters

Just as brain-eating monsters are a sci-fi favorite, brain-destroying additives are loved by scores of  food manufacturers.

Such invaders include the “flavor enhancer” monosodium glutamate (and other disguised forms of processed free glutamic acid), and the artificial sweetener aspartame, all known as “excitotoxins,” meaning they can literally excite brain cells to death.

Although aspartame can be found in numerous healthy-sounding foods, such as yogurt, juice drinks and snack bars, it has never been proven to be safe to consume. Over 40 years ago, studies connected it to brain tumors in rodents and grand mal seizures in rhesus monkeys. Despite that, it hit the marketplace with the FDA’s blessings and has been added to all types of food ever since.

Free glutamic acid is another instance where the FDA has been presented with enough evidence to limit, or at the very least label a harmful ingredient’s presence in processed foods, but has refused to act. While monosodium glutamate is a familiar name to consumers, and required to be listed on an ingredient label, there are many forms of “hidden” MSG appear bearing other names, such as autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed protein, waiting to eat unsuspecting brain cells (especially in kids, whose defenses against such dietary demons aren’t quite developed).

Your only protection against these toxic monsters in processed food is to know what to look for and on the label and avoid, including words like “hydrolyzed” and “caseinate.”

So there they are — a rogues’ gallery of fearsome food ingredients that are about as scary as anything you’ll find at a Halloween party — and a whole lot more dangerous.

An old familiar brand tops our ‘bad food pyramid’

Posted by -- October 29, 2013

Over the last two years I’ve acquired quite a pile of really bad food items — products, in my opinion, that aren’t fit for human consumption. Of all these brand name snacks, cans, drinks and frozen items that have taken over my kitchen and cupboards, we’ve selected one brand that has surfaced at the top of the heap of bad foods.

How, you might ask, with so many to choose from did this product line get selected? I’ll get to that in a minute. But first I need some help in figuring out what to do with this non-consumable collection of poor nutrition “foods” with some downright scary additives.

I certainly couldn’t donate the pile to the local food bank. Giving away food that we’ve been telling folks not to eat to those in need seems just plain wrong. So what to do with it? Toss it? Sent it back to the manufacturer? Reader suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Please send a note or post a suggestion at the Food Identity Theft Facebook page.

The ‘bad brand’ prize

There are a lot of bad ingredient-foods out there, but we thought a fair scoring system to pick one should be similar to that used in a beauty pageant, with our categories being;

  • the ‘beauty’ of its appeal to children;
  • a ‘talent’ for using bad ingredients across an entire product line, and
  • a product’s ‘personality’ — the various tricks and schticks it uses to appeal to consumers.

And the winner is…Chef Boyardee from ConAgra Foods

Chef Boyardee was in fact a real person and a very accomplished chef. At the age of 17 he landed a job at the plush Plaza Hotel in New York City and later went on to found one of the most popular Italian restaurants in Cleveland. Ettore “Hector” Boiardi has also been credited with the invention of “to go” restaurant foods. But this was back in the early 1920s, when high fructose corn syrup and the lineup of other synthetic ingredients that now comprise and compromise his namesake line were still many years away from being invented in laboratories somewhere.

ConAgra Foods, which purchased the brand in 2000, claims “his legacy of quality ingredients is in every bowl.” But seriously, ConAgra, are we to believe that Hector would have considered ingredients such as mechanically separated chicken, high fructose corn syrup, soy protein concentrate and yeast extract to be “quality” ones? I think not.

Some of the Chef Boyardee products that helped the brand win this dubious distinction are:

JUMBO Spaghetti & Meatballs:
Like all the rest of the Chef Boyardee lineup, the label says there is “good stuff inside.” In label-reading reality, however, you can find four sources of “hidden” MSG, as well as mechanically separated chicken and high fructose corn syrup. Another one of the selling points on the can is about the meatballs, which apparently are twice the size of the ones in the original product.

Of course, when you’re using mechanically separated chicken, which goes for approximately ten cents a pound, yeah, you can make those meatballs a lot bigger. If you missed the blog about this queasy ingredient that we dubbed “chicken ooze,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture describes mechanically separated poultry (MSP) as “a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.”

Whole Grain Lasagna:
Aimed directly at parents looking for a quick and easy kid meal, this product makes a big point of being “whole grain,” with the “taste kids love!” The can also promises “no preservatives or MSG,” but again you’ll find free glutamic acid in the form of “yeast extract” and “textured vegetable protein.” (For a comprehensive overview of ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid, the chemical in monosodium glutamate that causes reactions, look here).

Then there’s the HFCS, which seems to be a favorite ingredient of ConAgra. Making a big marketing deal out of removing the laboratory sweetener/preservative from its Hunt’s Ketchup several years ago, it quietly slipped it back in last year. So is the HFCS used as a sweetener? A preservative? Only ConAgra or a food scientist would know for sure.

Mini dinosaurs with meatballs:
Obviously designed with kids in mind, this is another can containing chicken “ooze,” HFCS, and more hidden MSG.

While giant food processing company ConAgra makes numerous other products with questionable ingredients, many which have been called-out in previous Food Identity Theft blogs, it’s the Chef Boyardee line that takes the top prize in the bad food pyramid award.

Any ideas out there for what brand should be chosen runner-up?

The FDA as consumer adversary rather than advocate

Posted by -- October 24, 2013

Author James Gormley signing a copy of his book.

By Bill Bonvie

In the more than two years since the Food Identity Theft blog was launched, it has offered numerous examples of how our food supply has been corrupted, adulterated and defiled by a whole variety of  awful additives, including synthetic sweeteners, pernicious preservatives and neurotoxic flavor enhancers that have been implicated in health problems ranging from obesity and diabetes to cancer to heart disease to Alzheimer’s.  But the question invariably raised by such revelations is: why has all this been allowed to happen when we have a regulatory agency — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — set up for the specific purpose of guarding against such flagrant fraud and abuse?

The answer can be found in a new book entitled Health at Gunpoint: The FDA’s Silent War Against Health Freedom by James J. Gormley, an award-winning journalist and editor who has had over two decades of experience reporting on health and nutrition issues and serves as senior policy adviser and vice president of Citizens for Health. (Purchase the book at by clicking here.)

If the book title sounds a tad exaggerated, it really isn’t, since Gormley offers a number of examples of how the FDA has indeed used the force of arms to back up its actions against companies that have run afoul of is edicts.  As the author points out, however, such “raids” have not been aimed at protecting the public from dangerous contaminants, but rather at removing from the marketplace various products, such as vitamins and supplements, that did not conform to the FDA’s ideas of what should and shouldn’t be available to American consumers. In one particularly outrageous case, a squad of nine FDA agents, 11 U.S. marshals and eight state police staged an 11-hour raid on an Oregon-based vitamin company in 1990 for the “crime” of offering to mail customers reprints of articles about the benefits of CoQ10 — a naturally occurring enzyme whose use is widely heralded today by both alternative and conventional practitioners.

While Gormley devotes one of the book’s six chapters to what’s been done to our food supply under FDA oversight, the broader picture he provides is of an agency that has strayed so far from the ideals on which it was founded that its original leader, consumer champion Dr. Harvey Wiley, disowned it a year before his death in 1930 in a treatise entitled The History of a Crime Against the Food Law:  The Amazing Story of the National Food and Drugs Law Intended to Protect the Health of the People, Perverted to Protect Adulteration of Food and Drugs.

Nor is it just the FDA’s “shameful record” of caving in to the demands of agribusiness and Big Pharma that’s covered in Health at Gunpoint.  The agency’s follies are also presented within a fascinating historical and global context that will give you a much better understanding of the lamentable socioeconomic and sanitary conditions that led to its creation, the diverse health and wellness movements and forms of alternative healing to which they also gave rise, the longstanding campaign by conventional medicine to suppress any and all such competition, and how the regulatory process here in the U.S. compares to — and is influenced by — international initiatives such as Codex.

The maneuver that got HFCS on the market

One example of the latter is provided in an inset on “Codex and Big Industry ” which explains how  Big Corn overcame the FDA’s initial reluctance to approve high fructose corn syrup by managing to get a green light for its use as an additive from the Codex Commission, which is considered the “international voice of food standards.”  As a result, the author points out, HFCS “has become ubiquitous in the food supply and Americans, especially children, have become less healthy.”

Also discussed are the effects of a globalized food culture, which has brought about the destruction of sustainable agriculture in many locales, and resulted in a large number of people being both overfed and undernourished due to the widespread depletion of nutrients in soil used for growing crops, as well as an increased threat of  food contamination.

Despite the FDA’s giving in to so many of industry’s demands, however (due in large measure, not surprisingly, to the corruption of officials with promises of private sector jobs, to say nothing of political influence), aroused consumers have occasionally succeeded in exerting enough pressure on both the agency and on lawmakers to protect their rights — and their health. While we recently saw how this can work in the FDA’s denial of the corn refiners’ attempt to reclassify HFCS as “corn sugar” perhaps the best example was the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994.

To give you a better idea of the key role this landmark legislation has played in safeguarding the rights of the American public, the author has devoted an entire chapter to “The Canada Example” — the sorry saga of how the availability of vitamin and herbal supplements largely dried up in our northern neighbor after its official health agency decided to impose the same kinds of restrictions on these traditional remedies and preventatives as it does on pharmaceuticals.  Not only were thousands of items removed from the shelves of health food stores and innovation stifled, but U.S. supplement makers stopped exporting their products to Canada to avoid prohibitive costs of meeting criteria, despite the popularity of these products with health-conscious Canadian consumers.

In fact, as Gormley shows us, before the passage of DSHEA, such commodities faced a similar fate in the U.S. at the hands of pro-pharmaceutical regulators at the FDA,and even today, are regularly threatened with stringent restraints (and that’s not to mention the adverse publicity given to any warning issued about a supplement, even while FDA-approved drugs kill tens of thousands of people and cause adverse reactions in millions more every year).

With a wealth of information packed into a half dozen chapters and a number of insets, Health at Gunpoint presents a strong case for consumer awareness of developments that might jeopardize our rights to buy healthy, nutritious food and whatever supplements we feel are best suited to  our individual needs — or even our right to know about such matters.

And speaking of the right to know, here’s something you may not have known (I certainly didn’t until I read this book) — that an apparent cure for cancer, consisting of a tea brewed from various herbs, was known to Indians in Canada. In chapter 5, you’ll find the story of how this formula was passed on to a nurse, whose aunt recovered from terminal stomach cancer after being administered it,  and who subsequently went on to work with her aunt’s doctor and other physicians to give it other cancer patients with similar results, only to be persecuted and prosecuted by the authorities for her efforts.  However, one individual who successfully used it to rid himself of cancer — and proclaimed it a cure for the disease after spending a decade researching it — was none other than the personal physician for President Kennedy.

This is the kind of stuff  all of us really ought to know about — as is the matter of how we go about protecting ourselves from our protectors. Which is why you really ought to order a copy of this book.

All the news on ‘chicken ooze’, including food products where it’s used

Posted by -- October 22, 2013


Mechanically separated chicken, or “chicken ooze” as we call it here at Food Identity Theft, has turned up in a surprising number of major brand-name foods, many designed especially to be consumed by kids. As promised last week, we’ve listed a number of product names at the end of this blog.

But in our quest to find out more about this revolting-sounding ingredient, described by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as: “…a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue,” we’ve learned a lot more about chicken ooze than anyone would want to know. Facebook viewers have also raised some good questions about this icky stuff as well.

So if you’re interested in knowing more, read on…

Not your grandmother’s chicken soup

Some readers on Facebook said they didn’t mind the idea of “bones and giblets” and thought that it sounded similar to the way chicken soup is made, also asking if chicken ooze is treated with a pathogen-killing additive, as is “pink slime.”

First off, chicken soup this ain’t. Mechanically separated poultry, or MSP, is basically the recycled result of waste material from poultry production. The bones on the mostly meat-stripped carcass (called the frame or cage), including skin, along with any still-attached feathers, necks, and remaining organs, is run through a high-pressure crushing machine in order to extract every last penny of profit. If a chicken or turkey “frame” does not go into this bone-crushing, extraction machine, it is sent to the rendering plant.

In essence, MSP is nothing more than a cheap “extender” that costs around 10 cents a pound. It’s also considered a high-risk ingredient for salmonella and other pathogens that can cause food-borne illnesses.

As to whether it’s treated with a chemical to sanitize it as is its “pink slime” counterpart, the answer is  quite possibly. That appears to be up to the plant processing the chicken ooze.

What we can tell you is that the majority of chicken produced in the U.S. is so “dirty” that it’s routinely submerged in a chlorine “bath” in an attempt to reduce salmonella, and that other antimicrobial sprays and dips can be used during processing as well. According to a Mark Bittman piece in The New York Times, Sweden can produce chicken with no salmonella. “Are they that much smarter than us?” he asks.

Despite all of the chemicals applied during poultry production to reduce pathogens, an expert on the topic was quoted in an industry trade publication as saying that samples of mechanically separated chicken and turkey will test positive for salmonella up to 90 percent of the time!

Where is the USDA in all of this?

Some readers seemed to think that as long as chicken ooze is okay with government regulators, then it’s fine to eat, and one in particular (who sounded a whole lot like a representative of the chicken processing industry) stated that it was in fact “safe.”

The USDA’s handling of the problem of contaminated poultry has long involved a rather interesting “do something/do nothing” approach.

Since 1996, the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has required poultry plants to put in place a monitoring program called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). The goal of this plan, done in conjunction with FSIS inspectors, is to address the different areas of “hazards” in a facility and take the necessary steps to reduce them.

This year, for the first time, mechanically separated poultry will become part of the required sampling done for salmonella contamination. But don’t think that this will keep contaminated chicken ooze off the market. If a plant “fails” its sample testing, it will merely be asked to clean up its act, with more samples to be taken at a later date.

Also, salmonella is not considered an “adulterant,” meaning known contaminated poultry can continue to wind its way through the marketplace quite legally. On top of that, any mechanically separated chicken or turkey destined for “ready-to-eat” products (such as Chef Boyardee Mini ABC’s & 123’s) are exempt from this federally required pathogen testing.

Chicken ooze cheat sheet

With over two billion pounds of mechanically separated chicken being produced yearly (800 million pounds of which are exported, mostly to Mexico), here are some of the yucky facts we’ve learned about this “ooze”:

  • Mechanically separated chicken or turkey (called MSP) is also sold to restaurants, schools and institutions to cook up in their own dishes. In fact, Perdue Foodservice offers frozen tubes of “turkey ooze” for sale to such places said to be “great for burgers, meatballs or sauces.”
  • Like high fructose corn syrup, you can’t buy mechanically separated poultry in the supermarket. It’s an ingredient that’s either incorporated into store-bought products or available exclusively for restaurant or institutional use.
  • It’s a cheap ingredient that sells for around 10 cents a pound.
  • If poultry carcasses don’t turn into MSP, they are considered a waste product and sent to the rendering plant.
  • MSP contains an unknown amount of bone marrow.
  • It’s “allowed” to contain up to one percent “bone solids.” Processors are allowed to maintain “voluntary” records of bone particle size.
  • It can contain levels of fluoride, a toxic substance, that could possibly have health implications in infants and young children. (the FSIS at one time proposed a restriction on MSP in baby food for that reason, which was later rescinded.)
  • It may include what’s called “immature sex glands,” as well as feather particles and hair.
  • Nearly all fast food chains, which are generally not regarded as providers of the highest quality food, make a very big point of not using MSP in their products.
  • MSP is considered by industry experts to be a very high risk product for salmonella contamination.
  • The food industry would prefer if you didn’t know any of this.

Where you’ll find it:
Some of the  products that contain mechanically separated poultry include:

  • Chef Boyardee Mini ABC’s & 123’s  (The can says there is “good stuff inside”)!
  • Chef Boyardee Jumbo Spaghetti & Meatballs
  • Hormel Chili Turkey (Mechanically separated chicken is the very first ingredient)
  • Oscar Mayer Classic Turkey Franks (Mechanically separated turkey is the first ingredient)
  • Oscar Mayer Bologna
  • Banquet Brown ‘N Serve Turkey Sausage Links
  • Weight Watcher’s Smart Ones English Muffin Sandwich Turkey Sausage
  • Foster Farms Chicken Franks (Chicken ooze is the first ingredient. It should be noted that Foster Farms is in the midst of a long-running salmonella outbreak, several strains of which are said to be drug-resistant, involving its raw chicken products that have reportedly sickened over 18,000 people since 2012.)
  • Libby’s Vienna Sausage (Like the franks, chicken ooze is the number one ingredient.)
  • Lunchables Uploaded
  • Oscar Mayer Pickle & Pimiento Loaf (Again, chicken ooze is first on the ingredient list.)
  • Slim Jim Smoked Snack Stick
  • Totino’s Pizza Rolls
  • Totino’s Party Pizza Triple Meat
  • Foster Farm’s Corn Dogs
  • Foster Farms Deli Meats (Chicken ooze is the first ingredient in the chicken bologna.)

If you have any products you would like us to add to this list, take a photo that includes the ingredients and share it with us at our Facebook page.

‘Chicken ooze’ can turn up where you’d least expect to find it

Posted by -- October 17, 2013

Last spring the revelation of “pink slime,” (or, “boneless lean beef trimmings,” as the industry calls it) filled the network newscasts and social media sites. And the fact that this disagreeable sounding ingredient, which is treated with ammonia hydroxide to kill pathogens, was dished up to school kids via the federal school lunch program was the pink icing on the cake.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last year that schools participating in this federally-subsidized school meal program will be allowed to opt out of using the pink stuff, and both McDonald’s and Burger King agreed to go slime free, which seemed to quiet the issue down. But it turns out that pink slime has a counterpart in chicken and turkey. If you didn’t know about it, then you’ve probably never heard of mechanically separated poultry (MSP), or as Food Identity Theft has dubbed it, “chicken ooze.”

I first mentioned “chicken ooze” in last week’s blog, finding it in a can of Chef Boyardee Pasta for kids. As you can imagine, many people who read that wanted to know more. So here’s the story, and we warn you, it’s not a pretty one:

Mechanically separated poultry is produced by taking the carcass (bones and all) of a chicken or turkey after most of the meat has been hand-removed, and processing it through a giant machine that crushes and separates bone, and mixes and filters what remains, creating a “paste-like” ingredient used in untold numbers of processed foods, including deli meats, frankfurters, and even baby food. MSP in fact, can be used “in the formulation of any poultry or meat food product.”

Now as you may have already guessed, this ooze-like substance that exits the giant crushing machine contains a bit more than just a “blend of soft tissue,” as the USDA refers to it. Exactly what it contains,  how much, and just what this ingredient should be called on food labels, cooked up a rather big regulatory stew over 18 years ago.

MSP has been in the food supply since 1969, at first, simply called chicken or turkey. In 1982, mechanically separated red meat products were required to be labeled as such, causing such a big rift between meat and poultry producers that Bob Evans Farms filed a lawsuit in 1993 claiming that it wasn’t fair to have to label mechanically separated beef when MSP got away with just being called “chicken” or “turkey.” After all, meat processors lamented at the time, ‘what consumer would knowingly buy a meat product containing ground-up bone’?

The court agreed with Bob Evans, and told the USDA to fix the labeling problem.

In 1995, after much debate, hand-wringing and comments from industry and consumers the USDA issued a final rule stating that MSP would have to be declared as such on an ingredient label. Industry was definitely not pleased with the decision, complaining that over 5,000 food products would require relabeling, representing a cost to manufacturers of over ten million dollars.

The ‘extras’

Along with the labeling requirement, the USDA also set limits on bone “particle size.” That’s right, not all bone fragments are filtered out of the giant machine. But not to worry, the rules prohibit MSP from containing more then one percent “bone solids,” and there can be no bone particles larger than two millimeters. Poultry processors are also allowed to “voluntarily maintain records of bone solids content…and particle size.”

But bone fragments aren’t the only concern. As it happens, MSP might also contain:

  • Bone marrow, which is high in cholesterol. The USDA said in its 1995 notice that information “on the actual amount of marrow in poultry bones is lacking.”
  • Chicken and turkey skin, which can also include feather particles and hair.
  • Scraps of lung tissue. While lungs are required to be removed from poultry, not being considered an “edible” part of the bird, many who commented on the final rule had concerns that lung tissue could be present in the finished MSP product.
  • Kidneys, which are OK, according to the USDA, as “the presence of kidneys in young poultry does not pose a health or safety concern.”
  • Sex glands, or immature sex glands to be exact, as mature reproductive organs cannot be present as “part of the carcasses.” But don’t fret over this as you enjoy a deli-meat sandwich, because according to the USDA, at the young age that most broiler hens are “marketed,” as they kindly word it, “the sex glands are merely a thin membrane covering over undefined tissue…”

Like its pink slime counterpart, it’s not surprising that chicken ooze would be an ingredient in, say, chicken nuggets (although McDonald’s says it no longer uses it in its Chicken McNuggets).  But when it turns up in a product like Chef Boyardee Pasta for kids it’s anyone’s guess what other processed foods it will be found in.

So be sure to stay tuned for next week’s blog where we will be listing all the products we’ve found containing “chicken ooze” so far.

Beware of the mini-monsters in your kids’ trick-or-treat bags!

Posted by -- October 15, 2013

Even if you’re usually a conscientious, ingredient-reading food shopper, you need to be especially wary of Halloween and the witches’ brew of abominable additives that can sneak inside your house under cover of darkness.

Listed below are some common Halloween candies that should be removed from your trick-or-treaters’ bags as soon as they come in the door. Yes, there will be whining and complaining, but no kid should be consuming the kind of horrific stuff some of these seemingly inoffensive goodies harbor.

Goetz’s Cow Tales; Hershey’s Whatchmacallit; Wrigley’s Lifesavers:

Topping the list of noxious ingredients in this trio of  “treats” is high fructose corn syrup or HFCS, the laboratory-created sweetener that took first place honors in our Read Your Labels campaign this year, and for good reason.

The scientific rap sheet on HFCS is getting longer all time.  High fructose consumption in general, and HFCS in particular, have recently been linked to a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes – especially for kids. The additive has also been identified in studies as contributing to weight gain and obesity; hampering brain function and increasing levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. Most recently, obesity expert and pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert H. Lustig stated in an affidavit for a case against the manufacturers of HFCS that the additive is a “significant factor” in bringing about type 2 diabetes, does damage to the intestinal lining, creates liver insulin resistance and blocks the “leptin signal” that tells you when you’ve had enough to eat.

Peter Paul Almond Joy; Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews:

Don’t be “tricked” by  the “zero trans fats” listing on the nutrition label of these candies, because what lurks inside is partially hydrogenated oils (also found in the Cow Tails and Whatchamacallit bar), the primary dietary source of artery-clogging trans fat. It’s an ingredient that all health professionals and experts agree poses a major cardiovascular threat, both by decreasing “good” HDL cholesterol and increasing the “bad” LDL variety.

Wrigley’s Skittles; Mars M&M’s; Just Born’s Mike and Ike

What all three of these confections have in common are their own ‘costumes’ consisting of artificial colors, and lots of them. The Skittles alone contain ten different fake hues, which are made from coal tar and petroleum extracts. These additives are widely acknowledged to cause hyperactivity in some children, which is why since 2010 European regulatory officials have required products containing these unnatural coloring agents to contain a warning label saying that consumption “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

Wrigley’s Orbit for kids

This “sugarfree gum” sure sounds like something any health-conscious mom might approve of, since it claims to “help protect teeth.” But it’s actually a brain-eating mini-monster in disguise, since it contains aspartame, one of a class of chemicals known as  ‘excitotoxins” that are actually capable of exciting certain brain cells to death – especially in kids whose blood-brain barrier isn’t fully developed. Since aspartame’s shady approval in 1981 by a political appointee at the Food and Drug Administration, thousands upon thousands of health-related complaints about it have been lodged with the agency ranging from migraines to dizziness to vision problems. Now that’s really scary!

Nestle’s Raisinets

They may be called “chocolate covered sunshine” on the box, but the real thing coating this movie-theater favorite is the “confectioner’s glaze” which is obtained from a chemical called “shellac” secreted by the female lac bug (also found in the Mike and Ike product). This ingredient also goes by the name pharmaceutical, resinous, food and natural “glaze.”

If the word “shellac” sound familiar to you, that’s because this resin is one and the same as the substance used to coat furniture, as well as being an ingredient in nail polish.

Of course, if you are a regular label reader, you’ve no doubt seen these same ghastly concoctions added to lots of other processed foods, from soup to bread – many of which are are marketed as being good for us. And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re not apt to be fooled by such claims. But Halloween is the one time of year that, despite all your customary precautions, your kids can wind up gobbling these invisible goblins if you don’t watch out!

‘Stealthy enemy’ still lurks in many seemingly healthy products

Posted by -- October 10, 2013

In her comprehensive article, Obesity in kids: How America cultivated a new generation, author Faye Flam gives us a look into the wavering trends in childhood nutrition, from the fear of malnutrition that persisted from the beginning of the century up to the introduction of the national school lunch program in the late 1940s to profit-making innovations that turned school cafeterias into mini fast food restaurants in the 1970s. However, “the widespread alarm about childhood obesity is a relatively recent phenomenon…” she writes.

One of the more recent “threats” to kids’ fitness and health, Flam reports, was a “stealthy enemy created in a government laboratory in Japan” during the 1970s – high fructose corn syrup.

Consumers didn’t realize what a “bad deal health-wise” HFCS was, says Flam, as portions got bigger and food prices didn’t, but mostly because health warnings were focused on the danger of fats.

While this widespread “anti-fat campaign” took center stage, HFCS slowly crept into scores of processed foods, with most consumers never even being aware of the change. So pervasive did it become that even now, with many studies having identified it as a culprit in obesity and various health problems, and resultant widespread concern about its use, HFCS has remained an ingredient in any number of food products.

In past blogs, we’ve “named names” of a variety of items where it persists. Here are a few more of the sneaky places (including several products geared to kids) in which this “stealthy enemy” still turns up (along with other undesirable additives):

Birds Eye Steamfresh Chef’s Favorites Rigatoni & Vegetables

Vegetables? They’ve got to be kidding. Of all the places we’ve seen HFCS used, this has got to be the most uncalled for. Is no form of food safe from this additive anymore?

Aunt Nellie’s Red Cabbage

Here’s yet another supposed “healthy food” that’s been sabotaged with HFCS. (And there’s even more HFCS in this product than water, being that it’s the second ingredient after cabbage.)

Smucker’s Uncrustables Whole Wheat Peanut Butter & Grape Spread sandwich

This product is another example of “health food” identity theft. If you only judged the contents by the package copy, you would think this is a great, kid-friendly, nutritious item. Buzz words on the box include “whole wheat” and “reduced sugar,” and it carries the both the logo of the United States Olympic Team and the Whole Grains Council’s seal of whole grain goodness. (Curiously the HFCS in this product is in the bread, not the “grape spread,” which actually contains sugar.)

Pillsbury Toaster Strudel Pastries

While there are several warnings on the package about safe toasting practices and that the pastry will be hot when out of the toaster, perhaps a more truthful warning would be about the ingredients, which include HFCS, hydrogenated palm oil, four preservatives, two artificial colors and artificial flavor. And the blueberries pictured on the front of the package? They comprise two percent “or less” of the ingredients.

Chef Boyardee Mini ABC’s & 123’s

This is perhaps one of the more deviously labeled products we’ve come across. First there’s the outside of the can, which touts “NO artificial preservatives, and “good stuff inside,” and goes on to talk about protein, vegetables, vitamins and minerals. The ingredients list, however, paints a far less healthy (and appetizing) picture.

Along with the HFCS and soy protein concentrate – an additive that contains free glutamic acid (hidden MSG) — the piece de resistance of the product is “mechanically separated chicken.” Now what, you might ask, could this delectable ingredient be? Here’s how the U.S. Department of Agriculture describes it:  “Mechanically separated poultry (MSP) is a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.” Enough said.

So once again, we see graphic examples of how processed food manufacturers try to mislead us by creating a ‘healthy image’ for distinctly unhealthy products – and how the only way we can keep from literally swallowing the disguised junk food they’re really selling is to read the fine print used to list the actual ingredients.

Chain restaurants best avoided by ‘healthy’ eaters

Posted by -- October 8, 2013

While we don’t typically cover restaurant fare at Food Identity Theft, a recently published study on so-called “healthy” food options at restaurant chains discloses the same disconnect between nutrition “facts” and the actual ingredients that consumers face in the supermarket.

The study, published last week in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, revealed that despite a lot of industry talk about new and improved menu items –  and no, I’m not referring to the Burger King “Satisfries” which don’t count on any level of “improved” fast food – choices at big U.S. chains haven’t changed all that much.

Among the conclusions of the study are that despite what consumers are hearing from the restaurant industry, it’s pretty much a “misleading perception” that restaurant choices are becoming “healthier.”

But what the study focused on, sodium and calories (which it said have only dropped a smidgen, and in some cases increased) shouldn’t really be what a “healthy” meal is judged by. Sure, calories and sodium count, but those are by no means the markers that make food “healthy.” In fact, some of the worst processed foods you’ll find in the supermarket boast about being “low sodium” or “low calorie.”

Why doesn’t anyone talk about the ingredients?

The National Restaurant Association director of nutrition commented for the Los Angeles Times report on the study by maintaining that restaurant chains are making progress and have committed to lowering calories and sodium, but that such changes take time. All this focus on calorie counts, however, sure steers the conversation away from the actual ingredients in most restaurant meals  — which is a good deal for the industry, because what ‘chain chow’ typically consists of is really, really bad.

A good example is Panera Bread, voted number one by Health magazine as America’s top ten “healthiest” fast- food restaurant. Health said that the restaurant “wowed” its judges with choices that “make it easy for everyone to choose healthy.”

But after jumping through numerous hoops on the Panera website, I finally discovered a place to find out what, exactly, its food is made from. Here are two examples:

  • “All Natural Bistro Onion” with croutons: This concoction contains over 40 ingredients (I got tired of counting them all) including several sources of free glutamic acid (hidden MSG), artificial flavor, dough conditioners, the great unknown of “natural flavorings,” margarine, and some “animal enzymes” for the vegetarian to enjoy.
  • Baked Potato Soup: This item contained more sources of hidden MSG than I have ever seen in any one processed food, and that didn’t even include the several additions of “natural flavorings,” which typically are another source of unlabeled free glutamic acid. Add to that some nitrates from the bacon and you’ve got one amazing bowl of awful-additive soup.

On top of its less than stellar soups, the items the company describes as ” whole grain” seem to be, in large part, anything but. The first ingredient in its “whole grain” bread, for instance, is enriched wheat flour, which is not  a whole grain. That is followed by a “grain blend” made up of some whole grains and some whole wheat flour. The trouble with that recipe is that it’s an unknown exactly how much actual whole grain is in the product. I’m sure Panera knows, but they’re not sayin’ on the web site.

Since it’s reported that Americans spend roughly half of their food budget eating out, perhaps it’s time for more attention to be given menu ingredients – information that is often not available at a restaurant, but only at the company website (necessitating ‘on location’ customers to be armed with a smart phone in order to find out). Even when the federal menu labeling law finally kicks in (if it ever does), it, too, will be focused on calories, requiring chains with 20 or more locations to list calorie counts for specific dishes on their menus and menu boards.

The menu labeling rules came out of the 2010 health care law, and have been actively debated by industry ever  since — so much so, in fact, that Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the whole thing “has gotten extremely thorny.”

The rule is also said to require chain restaurants to offer “additional” nutritional information on request, but it’s not clear exactly what that would consist of.

So our advice to you is if you’re a picky eater at home, stick to your principles and don’t just focus on the calorie count when eating out. And steer way clear of that Panera baked potato soup.

‘Takeaways’ and impressions from the Natural Products Expo

Posted by -- October 3, 2013

Returning home from the first-ever Food Identity Theft/Citizens for Health exhibit at the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore (“East” being added so as to not confuse it with the even bigger event held annually in southern California), I carted back more samples of snacks, drinks and other food items then could comfortably fit into an oversized wheelie cart.

At this year’s event, there were over 1,200 exhibitors (and twenty times that number of attendees), all hoping that retailers would carry/order their product, and offering a taste or sample to anyone who lingered more than a millisecond at a booth. Citizens for Health and Food Identity Theft were there mainly to tell everyone about next year’s “Read Your Labels Day,” (April 11, 2014) and the Citizens for Health petition to properly label high fructose corn syrup, which scores of people learned about and signed at the event. (If you haven’t yet read about this petition, you can download it here, and sign it here).

“Natural”? Maybe, maybe not

Although the event has always been called the “Natural” Products Expo, the moniker this year somehow seemed a bit debatable, perhaps because of the number of recent consumer lawsuits over just what the term “natural” means in processed foods and beverages. The Food and Drug Administration has been quite upfront in saying that “natural” is “difficult” to define, and that the agency “…has not developed a definition for the use of the term natural…” But food and beverage manufacturers have, sort of, and they paste the term on a amazing array of products, some quite “natural” ingredient-wise, and many decidedly not so.

All the exhibitors at the show touted their products as “natural” whether the items deserved the definition or not. But as any reader of this blog should know by now, what’s “natural” is frequently just ‘in the eye’ of the manufacturer, and the only real way to know what you’re buying is to read the ingredient label; not the nutrition facts label, not the ad copy on the package or the media advertising. The ingredient list is where the information is at.

That said, here are some ‘takeaways’ from the expo:

The good:

  • Organic has gone totally mainstream, with just about every conceivable product available in an organic variety.
  • Verified and labeled NO GMO ingredients and products should be flooding the marketplace soon, if this year’s Expo is any indication.
  • Source-verification is another area in which manufacturers are bowing to consumer demand.
  • While the huge amount of snack foods presented at the show seems to indicate we are a nation of munchers who no longer have the time or patience for “real” food, many of these snacks were downright good and passed muster on the ingredient label read (see “the finds” for two favorites).
  • Coconut – both the oil and meat – is becoming very popular, which is fine by me. I saw more coconut oil brands represented than I could ever have imagined, erroneously thinking I was part of a small group of consumers who love the oil, both taste and nutrition wise.
  • I couldn’t find a single product that contained high fructose corn syrup!

The bad:

  • The actual ingredients of many products were not easily available to check out. Heck, if I was presenting a food at the Natural Products Expo, I would make its ingredients the first thing people would see. One brand of sweetener called NatVia, which is made in Australia, is described as being “100 percent natural made from natural sources.” But nothing on the packaging I was given has any hint as to what those “natural sources” might be, leaving me to guess whether the small green leaf could indicate it contains stevia.
  • Corn-derived ingredients: while many companies made a big point of steering clear of anything from corn (including several grass-fed animal products such as Maple Hill Creamery), numerous others are utilizing a variety of non-organic corn ingredients, with the most common being the sweetener erythritol, typically the top ingredient in the overwhelming array of stevia and monk fruit-containing products.
  • Many companies that are using soy-derived ingredients, such as soy protein concentrate, could not tell me if the soy they are using was processed using hexane or not. A big disappointment was Food for Life baking company (that makes a favorite bread of mine), which has extended its product line to include a vegan version of chicken nuggets and patties containing both soy protein concentrate and isolate (both labeled non-GMO). While it’s bad enough that these ingredients are a source of free glutamic acid, the fact that no company representative present had any knowledge of the hexane issue was something I found rather disturbing.

The ‘finds’:

  • Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Pie Crust: This new pie-crust mix offers an easy way to make homemade pies with good ingredients in a tasty crust regardless of whether you’re on a gluten-free diet or not.
  • Beanfields Chips: In the sea of snacks at Expo, it was good to find a tasty chip made from simple, Non-GMO Project Verified ingredients that are farmed (and made) in the U.S. from a family-owned company. My favorite was the simple Bean & Rice sea salt chip made from only five ingredients, including the salt.
  • Neat vegetarian “meat”: Neat is among a number of new companies shunning soy in meat substitutes and making use of garbanzo beans and nuts instead. This product contains five ingredients, the top three being pecans, garbanzo beans and organic corn meal. You mix the package with water and eggs (or an egg replacement), and brown “just like ground beef” in a skillet. (Taste test coming).
  • Functional Formularies Whole Foods Meal Replacement: In June I did a blog about the Ensure line of products that contain some pretty awful ingredients. The Functional Formularies Meal Replacement appears to address my concerns about those ingredients, filling the need for a liquid “meal” formula without the addition of brain-damaging excitotoxins, such as are found in Ensure. The product also has an interesting story behind its evolution that you can read at the company web site.
  • BRAD’S Raw Foods Kale Snacks: While I love most vegetables, I must say kale was never top on my list, but BRAD’S Raw Foods has managed to make a kale snack that just about anyone will enjoy. My favorite is the Pina Kale-ada, that is made from organic kale, organic pineapple, organic bananas, organic raw, unsweetened coconut, organic lemon juice and Himalayan sea salt. The company says that the product is gluten-free, vegan, organic and non GMO, and that it is dehydrated “at or below” 115 degrees, which it claims preserves the enzymes and nutrients. The only drawback is the price of $7.99 for a 2.5 ounce container online, however once you’ve tried it, that may not be likely to stop you from buying more.

As for the expo itself, it should be interesting to see whether it would tighten its criteria for participating products should the term “natural” ever be given a stricter definition as to what it means.

Obesity expert Dr. Robert Lustig: HFCS is ‘a significant factor’ in child’s type 2 diabetes

Posted by -- October 1, 2013

Ten teaspoons of HFCS are in this 20-ounce drink.

Although a civil action filed on behalf of a diabetic teen-age girl against the leading manufacturers of high fructose corn syrup is still at an early stage, significant findings are already coming to light in court documents, including a leading expert’s opinion about just how bad HFCS is for the body, and the degree to which this test-tube sweetener differs from ordinary sugar.

Last week Buffalo, N.Y. attorney J. Michael Hayes, who initiated the lawsuit this past June against agribusiness giant Cargill and five other manufacturers of HFCS, filed a response to the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case that included an extensive affidavit on the health effects of HFCS consumption.  The information it contained came from pediatric endocrinologist Robert H. Lustig, M.D., an eminent expert in the field of obesity, metabolism and disease.

Lustig’s description of the damaging nature of HFCS, including all the side effects caused by that extra jolt of fructose in the sweetener, would be enough to turn anyone who casually attempts to avoid the additive into a confirmed label checker. According to the affidavit, his professional opinion — one expressed “with reasonable medical and scientific certainty” — is that the HFCS that the plaintiff, now 15, has consumed over her lifetime has been “a significant factor in causing and bringing about” her type 2 diabetes.

Lustig states in his affidavit that HFCS is a “totally ‘man-made’” unnatural ingredient, that has “become nearly omnipresent in American foods and beverages” and that “accelerates cellular aging in the human body.”

Lustig also confirms what many consumers have intuitively figured out — that “sucrose (sugar) and HFCS have different metabolic effects,” including those that come from the much higher fructose content of HFCS which can range from 55 to 90 percent, and in the case of crystalline fructose to practically 100 percent. (Sucrose, or natural sugar, by contrast is a 50/50 combination of bound glucose and fructose).

According to Lustig, the metabolic effects of consuming these higher fructose amounts in HFCS contribute to numerous diseases and conditions including:

  • Insulin resistance (which “can and does lead to type 2 diabetes”);
  • Damage to the intestinal lining known as “leaky gut syndrome”;
  • Liver insulin resistance, triggered by the activation of a liver enzyme which “inactivates a key messenger of insulin action…”;
  • Extra insulin released by the pancreas due to liver insulin resistance;
  • Blocking of the “leptin signal” due to high insulin that causes “individuals (to) still feel hungry even though they have eaten.”

Leptin, a hormone that was discovered 11 years after HFCS was granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status by the Food and Drug Administration, is produced by fat cells and communicates with the brain, in effect ‘telling’ the hypothalamus that enough fat has been stored and to basically to ‘stop eating’. When the leptin signal is interfered with, Lustig said in his affidavit, the brain “’thinks’ the body is starving” resulting in increased appetite and the storage and craving of “more energy.”

“The fructose in HFCS,” Lustig says, “…’tricks’ the brain into wanting more food and stimulates excessive and continued consumption.”

The corn refiners’ new and improved HFCS story just for consumers!

Also included in attorney Hayes’ submission to the court are documents showing that in 1997 a lengthy brief submitted by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) as part of an antidumping investigation related to imports of HFCS, clearly state the fact that HFCS and sugar are not “like” products, noting that the “differences in physical characteristics between HFCS and sugar are so striking” that one could not confuse the two in any way.

This is certainly a different tune than the “sugar is sugar” story the CRA presented to consumers in its multimillion-dollar marketing campaign launched several years ago that accompanied its failed FDA petition seeking to change the HFCS name on ingredient labels to “corn sugar.”

And the CRA continues to tell consumers to this day that the two sweeteners are very much alike, with its “Sweet Surprise” website referring to HFCS as “simply a form of sugar made from corn.”  But perhaps the real “surprise” here is how CRA experts can change their stories depending on who the audience is.

One CRA favorite is John S. White, Ph.D., founder of White Technical Research, who is quoted on the corn refiners’ website as saying that HFCS is “not meaningfully different in composition or metabolism” from sugar. However in a 1997 affidavit that is among the plaintiff’s exhibits, White stated that HFCS is “unique” has “functional differences” from sugar, that HFCS “is the result of extensive scientific research…in the field of enzyme-catalyzed molecular transformation,” that the additive reacts differently in various food items and that “it should be clear that sucrose and HFCS are distinctly different products.”

Another important distinction between HFCS and real sugar that consumers are not informed about has to do with the very important aspect of the varying fructose levels in HFCS, which can be up to 90 percent in some formulations.

Research into these highly fluctuating fructose amounts has spurred Citizens for Health to petition the Food and Drug Administration to require that products containing HFCS have the actual amount of fructose specified on the label. (To sign the Citizens for Health petition, go here, to read it, go here).

When I first spoke to attorney Hayes about his case this summer he told me that while this is the first legal action of its kind, it most certainly won’t be the only one. Because the government has been “compromised,” and industry is making too much money to change any HFCS labeling regarding the addition of “warning labels,” he maintained the “only choice is litigation.”

And that, he said, “is what we’re doing.”

Linda Bonvie