Health - Diet & Nutrition
By: - at August 17, 2013

15 Disgusting Ingredients In Your Food

Pick up your favorite snack food and look at the ingredients list. You probably donít 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.

food ingredient label

If you have reasons you canít 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 youíve 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 donít expect your whole chicken ó the one you bought instead of going out for fast food ó to be loaded with sodium.

Guess again. Unless youíre specifically buying organic chicken ó and sometimes you even need to limit it to a local farmer ó your whole bird is loaded with saltwater. It can make up more than 1/5 of the birdís weight. Thatís right, you just paid a few extra dollars for saltwater.

Brine-Injected Meat Containing 40 Percent Salt Water
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 youíre 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 itís worth it to avoid the sodium overload of the injections plus seasonings. If you have to buy the regular bird ó and we sympathize; thatís what we usually do when we plan to cook ó rinse it thoroughly to get as much saltwater out as possible. When youíre seasoning it, use a light hand with the salt. That should help.

14)  Carbon Monoxide
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided in 2002 and again in 2004 that carbon monoxide is a safe food additive. Thatís right -- the stuff that comes out of your tailpipe or burns off from your gas stove can be in your food.

Itís mainly used in prepackaged meats that are put straight into the meat case, rather than having anything to do with your storeís butcher. It maintains the fresh look of meat and fish so that they donít fade or brown. It doesnít change anything itself, but rather it fixes itself to myoglobin to prevent it from losing its redness. That means itís 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.

Warning poster for carbon monoxide

Believe it or not, the carbon monoxide itself isnít the problem. The real issue is that the color doesnít change at all, and so you canít easily tell if the meat is going bad. Once itís under plastic thereís no telling if itís still quality meat or fish, or if itís beginning to decompose. Producers claim there will be other signs that the meat is turning, but do you really want to risk it?

13)  Shellac
Shellac is a glaze taken from the resin-like, hardened material secreted by the lac insect. Itís 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 ó 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 ďinsect debrisĒ and other miscellaneous things.

Shellac Flakes
shellac flakes

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 itís used to coat fruits and vegetables so they shine and are more visually appealing and as a major component of confectionerís glaze, the coating on candy that makes it shiny and appealing. Shellac is the only thing left after the other components of confectionerís glaze evaporate off during the manufacturing process. Shellac is even used to coat coffee beans.

Now, the FDA says shellac is ďgenerally recognized as safe.Ē That doesnít mean itís appealing though, does it? If you want to avoid it on fruits and vegetables, scrub them hard to get that shine off, even if theyíre organic. Youíre probably safe if youíre shopping at the farmerís market, but ask to be sure if shellac grosses you out.

12)  Viruses
The first thing you probably thought when you saw that weíre listing viruses as something that youíre probably finding in your food was that theyíll make you sick. Fortunately, theyíre not that kind of virus. Those can still pop up, but theyíre not intentional. The intentional ones are bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria and kill them.

Digital Composite of a Virus
Digital Composite of a Virus

They can be used as antibiotic alternatives in food. That actually sounds kind of awesome, doesnít 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? Theyíre mainly found in meat products, where the bacteria could easily harm humans. Vegetarians, youíre safe from this one ó unless your snack has a lurking meat product hidden in the ingredients. You might want to look up all the listed ingredients.

11)  Isinglass
Isinglass is, put simply, dried fish bladders. On the one hand, itís awesome that there are uses for every part of the fish. On the other handÖfish 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 removed.

Isinglass- Dried Fish Bladders
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. Itís also used to clarify wine, especially kosher wine, as long as the isinglass isnít 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.

10)  Carmine
And weíre 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. Itís used in a range of things from beverages to candy to makeup to paint. Itís up to you if you want to eat a paint ingredient with your candy.

Crushing and Making Carmine (Cochineal)
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 itís 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 beetlesówe mean, carmine or cochinealócheck all future labels and avoid the dye until youíre sure about whether or not it caused your reaction. Itís 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
Propylene GlycolFood grade or pharmaceutical grade propylene glycol is ďthe ideal carrier of a large variety of flavorsĒ. Reading between the lines, itís used in a whole lot of food. Itís considered safe, even though itís used in antifreeze and is something you probably shouldnít 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. Itís 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, itís 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 creates lactic acid which is the same thing that builds up in your muscles when you exercise, and thatís 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, youíd have to consume incredible quantities of it or use it inappropriately, like by shooting it up. Since weíre pretty sure youíre not doing that, you should be fine.

8)  Ammonia
Ammonia is in your food.

Stop and read that again. At least, it is if youíre not a vegan ó and even then, if youíre not assiduous, it might slip in. Ammonia was first approved for use in food nearly forty years ago. Youíve probably heard about its use in ďpink slimeĒ, which weíll get into later (doesnít it just have the most appetizing name?), but what else is it in? And why?

Ammonia is a component of cleaning products, of course. You were probably told not to drink it as a childónot that you would have, given that smell. You might not know, however, that itís 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. Itís used to control the acidity of cheese, since itís 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, doesnít there? Itís 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 ďprocessing agentĒ, and it doesnít 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 said 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 donít want to take in ammonia, read labels carefully and hope.

7)  Silicon Dioxide
Silicon dioxide is the scientific name for sand. Yeah, thatís right. Thereís sand in your food, and not because youíre 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, itís mostly used as an anti-caking agent (you know how wet sand doesnít really compact unless thereís a whole lot of pressure? Thatís 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!
Sand is in Your Food - Yes, Sand!

Yeah, thereís an ingredient in your food that has controversy over whether or not itís toxic for you. Itís also naturally found in plant-based foods, but thatís not exactly the same as intentional additions when scientists donít agree on whether or not itís toxic to ingest much of it, especially since we do need small amounts of silicon dioxide. In fact, itís referred to as a trace mineral in nutrition. Bottom line is we need about 20-30 milligrams daily. We donít know if more than that presents a problem, and itís added to our food anyway without trying to figure that sort of information out.

6)  Antibiotics
Antibiotics are routinely fed to animals to promote growth and itís been going on for years. Itís recently reached public awareness, and thereís 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.

Antibiotic Prescription
Antibiotic Prescription

Scientists arenít certain of why the low levels of antibiotics fed to animals promote growth, but they also canít know for sure just how much the meat industry feeds animals; itís not published, and thereís not a lot of regulation. Microbiologists say that a person might become ill from eating improperly cooked meat. The illness wonít respond to the usual antibiotics because theyíve 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.

germ superbug virus

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 thereís a superbug thatís difficult to control without heavy-duty antibiotics.

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 ďlean finely textured beefĒ. 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 Processing
Preparing Ground Beef - Use of Pink Slime in Meat Processing

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 three factories.

4)  Ammonium Sulfate
One of the results on the first page of a search for ďammonium sulfate foodĒ 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. Youíd have to eat an awful lot of fertilizer to get that effect. The Food and Drug Administration also categorizes it as ďgenerally recognized as safe,Ē and the European Union classifies it as an acidity regulator.

Ammonium Sulfate
Ammonium Sulfate

That doesnít make it less disgusting, however. Just because ammonium sulfate is safe according to that one study and some governments doesnít mean you want to eat fertilizer. Itís most often used to assist leavening in bread products; it provides nitrogen to yeast. Maybe thatís the secret to fixing your flat bread: just add a little fertilizer and youíre set. (Weíre joking. Donít do this. If you do, we are not responsible.) Itís already used in flour to help regulate acidity, so unless you start buying organic, it might be hard to avoid. If you donít want it in your food, youíll have to carefully read labels and possibly even call companies to verify itís not in their products.

3)  Castoreum
Castoreum is a ďyellowish, unctuous substance Ö secreted by beavers from castor sacs located in skin cavities between the pelvis and the base of the tailĒ. In other words, itís 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 beaverís anal glands?

Extruded Beaver Anal Glands - Castoreum
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 terriblyóitís what skunks sprayóso apparently itís 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, ďHmm, I wonder what the stuff from the anal glands would taste like.Ē Who does that? More importantly, how do they currently get it? Are beavers dying so we can have strawberry milk?

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 stillóyouíre eating things that have secretions from beaverís rear ends.

2)  Azodicarbonamide
Azodicarbonamide is a long name for a chemical compound known as an ďimproving agentĒ, whatever that means, when itís in food. When itís not in food, itís 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, doesnít it?

According to an article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that assessed the use of azodicarbonamide in flour and flour products, itís 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, itís higher on the outside of the flour product than the inside. This is one of the nastier ones weíve come across for the carcinogenic factor alone; that blows beaver rears out of the metaphorical water.

Large Bags of Azodicarbonamide Used in Bread Making
Large Bags of Azodicarbonamide Used in Bread Making

It does help keep bread softer longer and prevent it from growing mold, so thatís nice; it means you donít have to freeze a loaf and thaw slices as you need them if you donít go through bread fast. However, itís 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 theyíre all ďsynthetic coal tar derivativesĒ, but our objection stands.

Fibre 1 Bars With Tartrazine Included in the List of Ingredients
Fibre 1 Bars With Tartrazine Included in the List of Ingredients

Weíre pretty sure coal tar should have nothing to do with our food, synthetic or otherwise. Itís not like the new versions are much better; theyíre 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? Waterís 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 ó prepared or not, given the evidence of saltwater injections ó before you buy and certainly before you eat. Itís always a good idea to at least be aware of what youíre eating, even if youíre not screening anything out.





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