‘Beware of imitations’ warns this family baking company, whose ‘treats’ include a witches’ brew of imitation ingredients

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October 9, 2014



If the presence of pumpkins on doorsteps isn’t enough of a reminder that Halloween is fast approaching, all those packages decorated with pumpkin and goblin graphics on display in your local supermarket certainly should be.

But might the makers of some of those seasonal treats actually be out to trick you into buying little dietary devils in a wholesome “Little Debbie” disguise?

Yes, Virginia, there is a “Little Debbie.” According to the copy on a package of Little Debbie Pumpkin Delights, she’s actually Debbie McKee-Fowler, the granddaughter of the founder of McKee Foods of Collegedale, Tenn. There’s even a Shirley Temple-like photo of her taken in 1963 wearing her straw hat and serving a platter of Swiss rolls as her beaming mother and grandfather look on.

And there’s a homespun message that accompanies that lovely little picture – a letter “From Our Family to Yours” that’s signed by the now mature Little Debbie herself. And here’s how it reads:
“At McKee Foods, our recipe for success has always been to provide the best quality products at a good value. My grandfather began his tradition over 60 years ago and our family has remained true to his vision.”

But here’s where it gets really interesting:

debbiesnacks2“Recently, more imitation products have turned up on grocery shelves.  We hope that you do not confuse them with our products. When you see my picture on a box of snack cakes, you can be sure that our family’s pride and tradition have gone into the baking.”

Now that certainly sounded reassuring to us here at Food Identity Theft. But just to check up on that claim, we took a peek at the adjacent list of ingredients in those Pumpkin Delights, which are described as individually wrapped soft-filled cookies. And we were a bit taken aback — or perhaps aghast would be more like it — at the witches’ brew of additives we found.

Talk about scary!

The very first thing on the list was “enriched bleached flour” – which is not the kind you might associate with the “best quality products.” And then came the second: partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil with TBHQ to preserve flavor.

Yes, you heard right — the artery-clogging source of trans fat that the Food and Drug Administration proposed phasing out after estimating that it causes 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year (although none is listed due to the .5 gram ”trans fat loophole”), with an added petroleum-based preservative thrown in for good measure. In fact, as we reported a few years ago in Chemical-Free Kids: The Organic Sequel, “serious symptoms, such as vomiting, delirium and collapse, have reportedly resulted from consuming just one gram of TBHQ.” (Of course, we hope that those Pumpkin Delights less than that amount).

And, then, further down the list of ingredients, there it is – the high fructose corn syrup. You know, the laboratory sweetener that’s first on our list of additives to be avoided – the one that various studies have linked to the current obesity and diabetes epidemics, as well as to ailments like pancreatic cancer and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

That’s not to say that the ingredients were all bad. There are also things like sugar, pumpkin puree, dairy butter and eggs. But along with the artificial flavors, the combo of harmful additives was enough to make us think we were actually looking at one of those “imitation products.”

And the Pumpkin Delights weren’t the only Little Debbie Halloween-themed items that filled us with dread.

There were also the little Debbie Fall Party Cakes, which, besides the partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil with TBHQ, contain an artificial color (Yellow #6) and aluminum in the form of sodium aluminum phosphate – you know, the toxic metal that’s been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. And the Little Debbie Bat Brownies, with the same PHO-TBHQ combo and sodium aluminum phosphate, along with high fructose corn syrup, caramel color (a suspected carcinogen) and another artificial dye, Red #40, plus artificial flavor. (The package, however, does feature “bat facts” from the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park.)

So here’s a suggestion for Debbie McKee-Fowler. If you really want the company your grandfather founded to be known for the best quality products that won’t be confused with “imitations,” get them to drop the imitation ingredients and only use the real, old-fashioned kind – like sugar, eggs and butter. Then when we see the smiling picture of you as a little girl on the package, we’ll know what’s inside really reflects the “pride and tradition” of your family business – and is something we can recommend to our readers, whether for Halloween or any other occasion.

Which right now, it’s most decidedly not.