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What is REALLY in your food?

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Pink Slime in processed meats has recently made headlines across the country. In an in-depth investigation on The Doctors television show airing Monday 2/27/12, called What’s REALLY in Your Food?, the docs shared that a chemical found in lice shampoo also shows up in our food and that chickens destine for our dinner table are dipped in chlorine.

Are you concerned about what ingredients are turning up in our food supply? Should you be concerned?

In the past year, media attention generated, in part by Jamie Oliver, star of Food Revolution and Naked Chef , exposed that fast food giants such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King have particpated in the practice of adding a concoction of discarded meat parts mixed with chemicals to their burgers, affectionately dubbed “Pink Slime”.

These mega producers of fast food meat products have each said recently that they will, or have already, discontinued “pink slime” as an additive in their foods. 

What’s the harm of discarded meat parts and pink slime? 

Chef Oliver stated in an April, 2011 episode of Food Revolution, “in this form [the discarded beef parts] are inedible…This is not fit for human consumption.”

He goes on to say that the FDA allows these discarded parts to be used in food production after it’s been treated with chemicals to kill the bacteria that’s inherently present. We’re talking about the big bugs like salmonella and e. coli. 

Pink slime is treated with a chemical called ammonium hydroxide, more commonly known as a floor cleaner. The FDA says ammonium hydroxide safe as a food additive.

Companies do not have to list ammonium hydroxide on food labels because the FDA deems it as part of a process and not an ingredient, according to Oliver. 

How much is too much? We American’s eat millions upon millions of burgers each year – fast food and supermarket purchased included. A whopping 70% of meat consumed each year contains beef treated with up to 15% ammonium hydroxide. Pink slime treated meat also ends up in school lunches. 

Chef Rocco DiSpirito, a guest on Monday’s episode of The Doctors, says the discarded meat bits are discarded for a reason, they should be thrown away. 

Dr. Jim Sears, on The Doctors panel, showed a picture of a 12-year-old fast food hamburger that was still in tact, without mold, without any discoloration. Dr. Sears has kept the burger for over a decade to illustrate in his lectures that processed food is not real food. The burger looked much like this photo of another 12-year-old burger taken in 2008, that has made it’s way around the cyber-verse.

Can you tell the difference between a day-old fast food burger and a 12-year-old burger? Neither could anyone else. This is one of the side-effects of chemical additives in our food: the food lasts forever, well, at least 12 years and counting. 

To make a point, Dr. Travis Stork, ER physician and lead doctor on The Doctors, brought out a bowl of raw ground beef and added an ammonia-based floor cleaner. Within a few seconds, the doctors and Chef DiSpirito were overcome with coughing from exposure to the ammonia fumes. The offending marinading meat was escorted off the stage. 

And what about the chickens dipped in chlorine? That’s right, chlorine. According to Dr. Stork, the average American eats 80 pounds of chicken each year totaling about $70 billion dollars in chicken sales! There’s about 8 pounds in my freezer right now.

Chicken is considered a good source of healthy protein. Would the word healthy still be applied if the chlorine content was taken into consideration? 

What is the purpose of the chlorine bath? After plucking, slaughtered chickens are placed in a cold bath of chlorine to cool as well as to kill bacteria and prevent cross-contamination of bacteria. Dr. Stork explained that four major poultry producers admitted, off-camera, to using chlorine on their chickens. 

A little chlorine isn’t going to hurt, in small quantities, right? That’s the idea but in practice, is this process increasing food safety? The Doctors explained that a swimming pool will contain between 1 and 3 parts per million (ppm) of chlorine but a chicken can be bathed in 20 to 50ppm of chlorine. 

To test the theory that chlorine will kill the most common bacteria chicken processors are fighting, salmonella, The Doctors infected a raw chicken with salmonella and placed the contaminated chicken in a cold bath treated with 20ppm chlorine along with non-infected chickens. All the birds were tested after their soak.

The lab results showed that salmonella was found on all of the birds. Another experiment was conducted using a chlorine bath of 50ppm which did kill the salmonella. 

The Doctors showed a feature of Mary’s Organic Chicken, a family-owned company that pasture raises their chickens and air-cools instead of using the industry standard cold chlorine bath. Mary’s chickens may be hard to come by in Denver-Metro but you can ask your local supermarket or natural foods store to recommend an organic chicken brand. Mary’s brand of organic turkey’s are available in Colorado for Thanksgiving.

Several stores in the Metro area carry Boulder Natural Meats and Organic Prairie brands of chicken, as well as other brands, which do not utilize chlorine in processing. 

Now for dessert. American eat billions pounds of ice cream each year. Chemicals can also be found in one of our favorite guilty pleasures. Vanilla is still the favorite all-American ice cream flavor but flavor from real vanilla beans is expensive.

Instead of the real deal, companies will turn to a cheaper alternative, an artificial vanilla flavor called piperonal. Piperonal is also an ingredient in lice killing shampoo, according to The Doctors.

Why are all these chemicals turning up in our food supply? The truth is, they have been there for a long time. Consumers want affordable food and manufacturers have answered that demand by producing low-cost foods with low-cost ingredients. The end result is the use of inexpensive additives and artificial ingredients to mimic the real thing but with a lower price tag. 

What can a concerned shopper do? The Doctors have several options. 

  • Read labels: choose foods with fewer ingredients. More than 5 ingredients on the label could be a clue that there are unfavorable ingredients in the mix.
  • Choose organic chicken and buy the whole bird: organic meats cost more but cut that cost by buying the whole bird. When I buy a whole bird it can feed our family for several days. First as a roasted chicken with vegetables then as a hearty soup made from boiling the carcass like grandma used to do.
  • Buy locally produced meats: local meats do not travel far and may contain fewer additives.
  • A chicken naturally has 50-75mg of sodium. If the package lists more sodium than the bird was likely bathed in chlorine then pumped with sodium, and possibly artifical ingredients, to improve the flavor.
  • Make your own ice cream with the Instant Strawberry Soft Serve recipe from Rocco DiSpirito. The ingredients are natural and basic and include frozen berries along with a little agave and stevia for sweeteners. Click here to see Rocco DiSpirito’s recipe for this simple, healthy dessert.

Dr. Stork wanted to make it very clear that he and his fellow doctors were not trying to say that our food supply is not safe or that these additives are unsafe. He encouraged viewers to read food labels and make choices based on what makes most sense for them. Knowing a little terminology as well as understanding available options can lead you to make the best choice for your family. 

The Doctors provided a link on their website to the Center for Science in the Public Interest which lists food additives to avoid and provides several in-depth reports of health concerns associated with additives. Click here to view the list.


Are you concerned about the quality and safety of foods you provide your family? Does this, or other recent stories, inspire you to make different choices when it comes to buying food? Does this information make a difference in whether your child buys a school lunch or brings a bagged lunch?



Heather Ruch
Author: Heather Ruch

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson March 1, 2012

    Enlightening and disturbing at the same time. Thanks for including this research!

    • comment avatar Heather Ruch March 1, 2012

      It certainly gives you something to think about!

  • comment avatar Rich March 1, 2012

    These shows do a small part to inform us, but mostly just try to get ratings by sensationalizing things that most of us know very little about. When put to a fact check, jamie oliver and the doctors get VERY, VERY low marks. Here’s just one example:

    • comment avatar Heather Ruch March 1, 2012

      Thanks for your comment and link, Rich. I agree that the TV shows do sensationalize or dramaticize the information they provide and yes all TV shows strive to achieve high ratings.

      Reading through the information in the link, I understand MeatMythCrushers point and the link actaully states the same information from The Doctors and Jamie Oliver: Ammonium hydroxide is deemed safe as an additive by the FDA and it’s used in food to kill harmful bacteria and increase food safety.

      Sure ammonium hydroxide and ammonia may be naturally occuring however I, personally, don’t want it added to my food. There are many things that are naturally occuring in our enviornment but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best choices to eat or to support the health of our bodies.

      I was disappointed that MeatMythCrushers didn’t address the point that the meat used in these processes are those the butchers and chefs discard because they have deemed them part uneatable – bits of intestines and sinew just to name a few. The butcher pays to have the discards hauled away and then large manufacturers pay to use the discards in human food. The manufacturer processes and adds ingredients to make the meat palletable.

      The point The Doctors and Jamie Oliver are trying to make is that chemicals are being added to our food in an attempt to lower the cost of ingredients but that may not be desirable. Both are encouraging viewers to be aware of the products they are purchasing by reading the food labels and understand that some products will have chemicals and others don’t.

      Knowing which products may contain undesirable chemicals allows comsumers to make their own choices.

  • comment avatar Julie Rogers March 1, 2012

    I don’t believe that parents should panic when they read article’s like this, but as a parent I do try to feed my kids as much organic and “whole foods” as possible. I don’t think doing so will hurt them in any way, and it may even help them!

  • comment avatar kia March 1, 2012

    Know your food sources as best as you can. My family belongs to a local dairy co-op (Windsor Dairy) that also has great quality meats aat our pick-up site. It is pricey but we do not eat meat that often and when we do it is in small quantities. We go for as little processing and tampering as possible and the trade-off for higher quality meats means we are very judicious in how we use it.

  • comment avatar Kagey March 1, 2012

    Much of what goes into our food is there because we discovered that we got sick without it. I am in favor of continuing to find practices and ingredients that allow us to use fewer chemicals, but I don’t freak out at the fact of them being there. I am more disturbed by practices that seem to assume “more is always okay” and rather than clean up our practices to avoid more chemicals, we just dump more in to cover our tracks when we use unclean practices.

    Also- the words like “chemical” and “natural” are so nebulous. We could call citric acid a chemical, or we can note that it is basically lemon juice. Digitalis is naturally occurring in the flower foxglove, but it is also a deadly poison. I am far more concerned about what the chemical/substance/whatever does once I ingest it. Don’t try to scare me by saying it is also in floor cleaner – I use lemon juice to clean lots of things. Tell me what it does inside me…

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