Two food industry ‘secrets’ of getting less for your money

Posted by
November 21, 2013

For over two years now, ever since I posted a blog about misleading “fresh” tomato product labels, I have been receiving email from a variety of tomato supply companies in China. Apparently picking up my email address from some type of search hitting on any mention of “tomato sauce,” they all go pretty much like the last one I received:

Dear purchasing manager,

Have a nice day!

We are SHANDONG SAIKEER INDUSTRY CO., LTD., a specialized manufacturer of tomato sauce. Our products are well known in their good quality and competitive price.

If you want to cooperate with us, please contact me at any time.

Best regards, Bess,
Sales manager

All these emails got me wondering how much of the tomato products we buy in the U.S. come from China. The big producers I thought were Italy, and of course California, but, as it turns out, China is making significant headway in producing and exporting a vegetable that the Chinese themselves “shun,” according to an article on China’s booming tomato business in Slate.

But the real news I uncovered is not just another story about how many of our food products are now coming from China, but rather about what is currently troubling those Chinese tomato growers — a new food additive that has tomato producers everywhere seeing, well, red. But the real loser here, as always, is the consumer.

Giving the consumer less, and the manufacturer more – as in more money

My original “tomato” story was about false and misleading labels on tomato sauce products that call them “fresh,” when in fact they are made from reconstituted industrial tomato concentrate. But after learning about this new food additive, that claim sounds almost legit.

This new ingredient I’m referring to is the brainchild of Tate & Lyle, the agribusiness giant based in the UK, probably well-known by readers of this blog for another one of their products – high fructose corn syrup –  as well as its membership in the Corn Refiners Association.

As you’ve probably surmised, Tate & Lyle is really into corn, and at the beginning of this month, they issued a press release about a new and wonderful way to pump yet more corn-based ingredients into the food supply so as to dilute whatever the actual “food” is that a product is supposed to contain.

The additive in question is called PULPIZ Pulp Extender, described as  a “modified starch” that gives “exceptional pulp like texture…in formulations with low tomato paste content.”

PULPIZ will enable food manufacturers to replace up to “at least” 25 percent of the actual tomato paste  in a food product, something a company spokesman says will give them “the ability to do more with less…”

Now we’re not talking about the sprinkling of starch a cook might add to thicken a sauce, but a replacement of “at least” one quarter of the actual food product — a sort of Hamburger Helper for pasta sauce and other products.

Not only is this “extender” a new way to rip off unsuspecting consumers, but it also significantly reduces the nutritional value of the food to which it is added. Research has shown that tomatoes, which are high in antioxidants such as  lycopene, have even higher antioxidant levels when heated.

Geez, it’s not like we’re talking about truffles here — this is tomato paste! Just how much could it cost a company to make a product that contains 100 percent of it?

How about a fish “extender?”

While we’re on the topic of getting less than you think you’re getting, how about some STPP added to your seafood?

Tripolyphosphate, or STPP,  is used as a “soak” for raw fish and shellfish to keep it looking fresher longer, and as an added bonus, the longer fish is soaked in it, the more water it absorbs, and the more it weighs when you go to buy it. Another case of “less is more.”

Some of the more commonly STPP-soaked seafood, according to Food & Water Watch, includes “flaky” varieties, such as hake or sole, and shellfish, including scallops and shrimp.

Food & Water Watch suggests that you ask your fish market or store if they sell “dry” shellfish (“wet” meaning the product was STPP soaked), something they say you should also inquire about in restaurants. Not just because STPP jacks up the price, but because it’s also a registered pesticide and possible neurotoxin.

Bon Appetit!