Pick up your favorite snack food and look at the ingredients list. You
probably don’t know what half those things are or at least where they came from.
The range of ingredients in your food might disgust and surprise you.
If you have reasons you can’t eat something because of religion, allergies,
restrictions because of personal beliefs such as vegetarianism, or if you want to
find out what all those weird ingredients are in your food, read on for a
glimpse at 15 disgusting ones you’ve probably already eaten.
15) Saltwater Injections
Who expects saltwater in their chicken or turkey? You expect your meats to be
pretty much natural when we buy them whole, just minus feathers and some organs.
You don’t expect your whole chicken — the one you bought instead of going out
for fast food — to be loaded with sodium.
Guess again. Unless you’re specifically buying organic chicken — and
sometimes you even need to limit it to a local farmer — your whole bird is
loaded with saltwater. It can make up
more than 1/5 of the bird’s weight. That’s right, you just paid a few extra
dollars for saltwater.
Brine-Injected Meat Containing 40 Percent Salt Water
Saltwater is injected into the bird or pieces of poultry (thighs or breasts,
not so much wings) to plump them and make them look more attractive. Without
those injections, raw pieces of meat generally look flat and less appealing.
Appetizing or not, if you’re looking to avoid or limit sodium, you should try
for organic or all-natural poultry, preferably bought from a local farmer you
can discuss things like saltwater injections with before buying. It might cost a
little more, but it’s worth it to avoid the sodium overload of the injections
plus seasonings. If you have to buy the regular bird — and we sympathize; that’s
what we usually do when we plan to cook — rinse it thoroughly to get as much
saltwater out as possible. When you’re seasoning it, use a light hand with the
salt. That should help.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
decided in 2002 and again in 2004 that carbon monoxide is a safe food additive.
That’s right -- the stuff that comes out of your tailpipe or burns off from your
gas stove can be in your food.
It’s mainly used in prepackaged meats that are put straight into the meat
case, rather than having anything to do with your store’s butcher. It maintains
the fresh look of meat and fish so that they don’t fade or brown. It doesn’t
change anything itself, but rather it fixes itself to myoglobin to prevent it from
losing its redness. That means it’s not a dye, which is a good thing. But it
still means that carbon monoxide, which you probably have a detector for in your
house, is in your meat and fish.
Believe it or not, the carbon monoxide itself isn’t the problem. The real
issue is that the color doesn’t change at all, and so you can’t easily tell if
the meat is going bad. Once it’s under plastic there’s no telling if it’s still
quality meat or fish, or if it’s beginning to decompose. Producers claim there
will be other signs that the meat is turning, but do you really want to risk it?
Shellac is a glaze taken from the resin-like, hardened
material secreted by the lac insect. It’s kind of like taking honey from bees.
So that sounds normal, right?
Reread it for a second, resin-like. Do you really want a resin in your food?
Shellac is also used in, well, shellacking and lacquering — applying a product
made from this same secretion to wood to give it a shining appearance. And about
a quarter of the unrefined stuff is made up of “insect debris” and other
India is the largest shellac producer in the world, it makes over eighteen
thousand metric tons of the unrefined version of the stuff every year. Most of
it is exported to Egypt, Europe and the United States, where it’s used to coat
fruits and vegetables so they shine and are more visually appealing and as a
major component of confectioner’s glaze, the coating on candy that makes it
shiny and appealing. Shellac is the only thing left after the other components
of confectioner’s glaze evaporate off during the manufacturing process. Shellac
is even used to coat coffee beans.
Now, the FDA says shellac is “generally recognized as safe.” That doesn’t
mean it’s appealing though, does it? If you want to avoid it on fruits and
vegetables, scrub them hard to get that shine off, even if they’re organic.
You’re probably safe if you’re shopping at the farmer’s market, but ask to be
sure if shellac grosses you out.
The first thing you probably thought when you saw that we’re listing viruses
as something that you’re probably finding in your food was that they’ll make you
sick. Fortunately, they’re not that kind of virus. Those can still pop up, but
they’re not intentional. The intentional ones are bacteriophages, viruses that
infect bacteria and kill them.
Digital Composite of a Virus
They can be used as
antibiotic alternatives in food. That actually sounds kind of awesome, doesn’t
it? No one wants antibiotics in their food that promote the creation of superbugs like MRSA.
That being said, who actually wants to think about any kind of viruses in their food?
They’re mainly found in meat products, where the bacteria could easily harm
humans. Vegetarians, you’re safe from this one — unless your snack has a lurking
meat product hidden in the ingredients. You might want to look up all the listed
Isinglass is, put simply, dried fish bladders. On the one hand, it’s awesome
that there are uses for every part of the fish. On the other hand…fish bladders.
Isinglass is used in beer, including
Guinness. It basically grabs onto all the randomly floating particles and yeast
cells in the beer and pulls them out while the beer is still in the cask. The
isinglass then settles to the bottom of the cask and can fairly easily be
Isinglass- Dried Fish Bladders
Some might still be in your glass of Guinness. Beer will naturally
clear if left alone, but isinglass speeds up the process. It’s also used to
clarify wine, especially kosher wine, as long as the isinglass isn’t derived
from Beluga sturgeon. There are vegetarian alternatives out there; if you want
to avoid isinglass, contact the drink manufacturer to find out if they use
isinglass or a different kind of finings, such as Irish moss.
And we’re back to bugs. Carmine is also known as cochineal; it may be labeled as
either on the package. Carmine is, put simply, crushed dried beetles boiled in
water. It’s used in a range of things
from beverages to candy to makeup to paint. It’s up to you if you want to eat a
paint ingredient with your candy.
Crushing and Making Carmine (Cochineal)
You might want to be careful about it because in
recent years, the FDA has required explicit labeling of carmine and cochineal in
food because it’s caused violent allergic reactions in some people. If you have
a reaction to a red-dyed food product, whether yogurt, juice, or candy, you
should see if you can get an allergy test specifically for cochineal or carmine.
In the meantime, check the label of the product. If it contains boiled
beetles—we mean, carmine or cochineal—check all future labels and avoid the dye
until you’re sure about whether or not it caused your reaction. It’s also known
as Natural Red 4, E120, C.I. 75470, or Crimson Lake, just to give you more to
remember to check out.
9) Propylene Glycol
Food grade or pharmaceutical grade
propylene glycol is “the ideal carrier of a large variety of flavors”. Reading
between the lines, it’s used in a whole lot of food. It’s considered safe, even
though it’s used in antifreeze and is something you probably shouldn’t let your
cat eat. In human food, it acts as a carrier of flavor and color in food and
drinks, as well as a solvent, thickener, stabilizer and clarifier. It’s in food
ranging from beer to salad dressing to candy. The good news is that it really
does take a lot of propylene glycol to cause any problems for humans. In fact,
it’s easily converted by the body into pyruvic acid. Pyruvic acid is then converted to
energy to acetic acid which is dealt with through ethanol metabolism. This
acid which is the same thing that builds up in your muscles when you exercise, and that’s
used in digestion. Propionaldehyde is the byproduct of lactic acid which is the potentially hazardous
element of propylene glycol. For the propionaldehyde to be a problem, though, you’d have to consume incredible
quantities of it or use it inappropriately, like by shooting it up. Since we’re
pretty sure you’re not doing that, you should be fine.
Ammonia is in your food.
Stop and read that again. At least, it is if you’re not a vegan — and even
then, if you’re not assiduous, it might slip in. Ammonia was first approved for use in food nearly forty years ago. You’ve
probably heard about its use in “pink slime”, which we’ll get into later
(doesn’t it just have the most appetizing name?), but what else is it in? And
Ammonia is a component of cleaning products, of course. You were probably
told not to drink it as a child—not that you would have, given that smell. You
might not know, however, that it’s also used as a component of bread leaveners
(the things that make bread soft and fluffy), though it theoretically all cooks
off as the bread bakes. It’s used to control the acidity of cheese, since it’s
highly basic. It might even turn up for the same purpose in chocolate. Ammonia
naturally occurs in milk, but there just feels like a difference between a
natural occurrence and an addition, doesn’t there? It’s in many, many products,
ranging from soup to soft drinks to canned vegetables to salami to peanut
butter. You might not find it on the label even if it is present. The
government considers it a “processing agent”, and it doesn’t have to be labeled.
It still doesn't need to be labeled even after a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
that in eight studied foods, one serving was enough to cause problems for
patients with cirrhosis. The only way around this one is to press for more
stringent labeling requirements. In the meantime, if you don’t want to take in
ammonia, read labels carefully and hope.
7) Silicon Dioxide
Silicon dioxide is the scientific name for sand. Yeah, that’s right. There’s
sand in your food, and not because you’re taking a day off at the beach. An
article in the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition said that silicas
such as silicon dioxide have a wide range of uses in products, including
managing the viscosity of paint and in corrosion-resistant coatings, as well as
in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. In food, it’s mostly used as an anti-caking
agent (you know how wet sand doesn’t really compact unless there’s a whole lot
of pressure? That’s the idea here). It shows up in seasonings, powdered coffee
creamers, and powdered mixes for cakes or brownies. The article says there
are other potential uses that have not been employed because of, among other
things, a controversial view regarding their toxicological properties.
Sand is in Your Food - Yes, Sand!
Yeah, there’s an ingredient in your food that has controversy over whether or
not it’s toxic for you. It’s also naturally found in plant-based foods, but
that’s not exactly the same as intentional additions when scientists don’t agree
on whether or not it’s toxic to ingest much of it, especially since we do need
small amounts of silicon dioxide. In fact, it’s referred to as a trace mineral
in nutrition. Bottom line is we need about 20-30 milligrams daily. We don’t
know if more than that presents a problem, and it’s added to our food anyway
without trying to figure that sort of information out.
Antibiotics are routinely fed to animals to promote growth and it’s been going on for years. It’s recently reached
public awareness, and there’s a lot of debate around their use. Meat producers say
it cuts down on animal illnesses and promotes growth so that meat is cheaper
(read: so they rake in more profits). Scientists say the use of
antibiotics in animals promotes the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,
especially since antibiotics are already overused by humans.
certain of why the low levels of antibiotics fed to animals promote growth, but
they also can’t know for sure just how much the meat industry feeds animals;
it’s not published, and there’s not a lot of regulation. Microbiologists say
that a person might become ill from eating improperly cooked meat. The
illness won’t respond to the usual antibiotics because they’ve been so overused
in animals that the bacteria are resistant to it. Scientists hypothesize that if
antibiotics are continued to be used in excess, years from now there will be all
sorts of new superbugs that many doctors and researches fear we may not be able
to synthesize cures fast enough to keep up with them.
The result could be a worldwide pandemic where millions, if not hundreds of
millions of people could perish from communicable diseases. Something similar gave rise to MRSA
where people overused antibiotics for too many things, including viral
infections, and now there’s a superbug that’s difficult to control without
For just this reason, Canada and many countries in the
European Union have banned sub-therapeutic antibiotic use in animals. The United
States has yet to follow in their footsteps, despite the fact that the World
Health Organization has definite concerns regarding antibiotic resistance from
just this use.
5) Pink Slime
The meat industry calls it “lean finely textured beef”. The public, media,
and even food scientists call it pink slime. So what is it really?
Pink slime is a processed beef product that separates fat from beef trimmings
using heat, and then adds ammonia or citric acid to kill the bacteria before the
slime is added to ground beef and beef-based processed meats. Sounds really
appetizing, right? The idea is that it helps reduce the fat content in those
products while using up trimmings that would otherwise go to waste, such as
sinew, cartilage, and connective tissue.
Preparing Ground Beef - Use of Pink Slime in Meat
Pink slime came into public consciousness in March 2012, thanks to an ABC
News series of reports. They claimed that approximately seventy percent of all
ground beef sold in United States supermarkets at the time contained pink slime.
It was originally used in pet food and cooking oil and later approved for
limited human consumption. The products that contained pink slime used it as
filler at a rate of no more than about 25 percent. In ground beef, it can be
used as up to 15 percent of the product without further labeling. Public outcry
led to it being pulled from school lunches and most ground beef and other beef
products. One company has since applied for bankruptcy and another has shut down
4) Ammonium Sulfate
One of the results on the first page of a search for “ammonium sulfate food”
brings up a student page from the University of Wyoming, in a discussion about
fertilizer. And yet, this is in our food.
Ammonium sulfate is an inorganic ammonia salt. We know we discussed ammonia
up as number eight, but we feel the fertilizer one deserves a little extra
attention. A Food and Chemical Toxicology article discusses the chronic toxicity
and carcinogenicity of ammonium sulfate administered to rats as part of their
diet, using dietary percentages ranging from 0 percent to 3 percent over two
years. According to the study, use of ammonium sulfate significantly increased
the weight of both male and female rat kidneys and livers in the 3 percent
group. It did not find a carcinogenic effect at any level of use, fortunately,
and to have any negative effects on the rats, ammonium sulfate had to make up at
least 6/10 of a percent of their diet, or 256 to 284 milligrams of food per
kilogram of body weight per day. You’d have to eat an awful lot of fertilizer to
get that effect. The Food and Drug Administration also categorizes it as
“generally recognized as safe,” and the European Union classifies it as an
That doesn’t make it less disgusting, however. Just because ammonium sulfate
is safe according to that one study and some governments doesn’t mean you want
to eat fertilizer. It’s most often used to assist leavening in bread products;
it provides nitrogen to yeast. Maybe that’s the secret to fixing your flat
bread: just add a little fertilizer and you’re set. (We’re joking. Don’t do
this. If you do, we are not responsible.) It’s already used in flour to help
regulate acidity, so unless you start buying organic, it might be hard to avoid.
If you don’t want it in your food, you’ll have to carefully read labels and
possibly even call companies to verify it’s not in their products.
Castoreum is a “yellowish, unctuous
substance … secreted by beavers from castor sacs located in skin cavities
between the pelvis and the base of the tail”. In other words, it’s taken from
their anal glands. That is not to be confused with their anus itself. The glands
are just next to it, hence the name. Still, do you really want to eat a product
that comes from a beaver’s anal glands?
Extruded Beaver Anal Glands - Castoreum
You probably have recently. Not only is castoreum used in the perfume
industry (even though, in cats, dogs, and skunks, secretions from their anal
glands absolutely reek terribly—it’s what skunks spray—so apparently it’s a
different kind of strong odor from beavers), but processed versions of it are
used in food. Most of the time, it enhances strawberry and raspberry flavors in
products ranging from yogurt to iced tea to gelatin to ice cream. Those
raspberry gummies you picked up at the gas station on your last fuel-up? Yeah,
those probably had beaver anal gland secretions in them. What we want to know
is: who killed a beaver, looked at its carcass, and went, “Hmm, I wonder what
the stuff from the anal glands would taste like.” Who does that? More
importantly, how do they currently get it? Are beavers dying so we can have
A report in the International Journal of Toxicology found that castoreum has
resulted in no reports of adverse human reactions, despite its long history of
use in food. It even has a weak antibacterial component. Good for that, but
still—you’re eating things that have secretions from beaver’s rear ends.
Azodicarbonamide is a long name for a chemical compound known as an
“improving agent”, whatever that means, when it’s in food. When it’s not in
food, it’s used in foamed plastics, synthetic leather, and a blowing agent in
the rubber and plastics industries. That really sounds like something that
should be in your food, doesn’t it?
According to an article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
that assessed the use of azodicarbonamide in flour and flour products, it’s used
both as an improving and bleaching agent. When heat is applied, it partially
degrades to semicarbazide, which apparently shows carcinogenic activity and has
been known to cause tumors. When they studied four types of flour products, they
found that the presence of semicarbazide was higher than in flour, and in
particular, it’s higher on the outside of the flour product than the inside.
This is one of the nastier ones we’ve come across for the carcinogenic factor
alone; that blows beaver rears out of the metaphorical water.
Large Bags of Azodicarbonamide Used in Bread Making
It does help keep bread softer longer and prevent it from growing mold, so
that’s nice; it means you don’t have to freeze a loaf and thaw slices as you
need them if you don’t go through bread fast. However, it’s banned in Europe and
Australia because it can cause asthmatic, other respiratory, and skin reactions,
and Singapore will sentence people to jail over using it in food products. All
in all, this is probably one to avoid. You might want to read labels closely or
even call manufacturers to check up on it.
1) Coal Tar Derivatives
Coal tar derivatives are mainly found in food coloring which cites 25 Amazing Facts About Food by Mike Adams and David
Gutierrez. Tartrazine, a coal tar derivative, is also known as E102 or Yellow
#5. Yellow #5 is found in many soft drinks and items artificially colored yellow
or orange, such as some brands of boxed macaroni and cheese and certain
high-caffeine yellow-green sodas. Around half a
dozen food colorings are sourced from coal tar. Technically, now they’re all
“synthetic coal tar derivatives”, but our objection stands.
Fibre 1 Bars With Tartrazine Included in the List of
We’re pretty sure
coal tar should have nothing to do with our food, synthetic or otherwise. It’s
not like the new versions are much better; they’re made by the petrochemical
industry. Most of these synthetic dyes have been linked to hyperactivity in
children much more conclusively than sugar ever has. Some organizations object
to those ties, saying nothing has been proven, but really, is it worth the risk
to give your kid that soft drink? Water’s probably better anyway.
As you can see, there are a multitude of gross products in our food supply.
Some of them just have weird origins, while others are used in non-food
industries regularly, and at least one has been tied to health problems. You
might want to start reading the labels of your food — prepared or not, given the
evidence of saltwater injections — before you buy and certainly before you eat.
It’s always a good idea to at least be aware of what you’re eating, even if
you’re not screening anything out.