Saturday, July 5, 2014

So much for "100% beef" . . .

In yet another example of how product labeling is deliberately misleading (if not outright lying), we learn that many foods - particularly fast foods such as burgers, etc. - now contain wood pulp.

The emulsion-stabilizing, cling-improving, anti-caking substance operates under multiple aliases, ranging from powdered cellulose to cellulose powder to methylcellulose to cellulose gum. The entrance of this non-absorbable fiber into fast food ingredients has been stealthy, yet widespread: The compound can now be found in buns, cheeses, sauces, cakes, shakes, rolls, fries, onion rings, smoothies, meats—basically everything.

The cost effectiveness of this filler has pushed many chains to use progressively less chicken in their “chicken” and cream in their “ice cream.” McDonald’s ranks highest on the list with cellulose integrated into 14 of their menu items including their renowned fish fillets, chicken strips and biscuits, with Burger King ranking second on the list with 13 menu items  containing cellulose. Moreover, many cellulose-laden ingredients (such as honey mustard, bbq sauce, and cheese blends) can be found in multiple items throughout the menu making the filler difficult to avoid.

All of these cellulose-based ingredients are non-digestible wood pulp possessing no nutritional value.

There's more at the link.

This illustrates the deceptive nature of advertising.  When a fast food chain claims that their burgers contain "100% Angus beef", they're not lying - but they're not telling you that the beef is only one ingredient in the burger.  The way most people read that claim is to assume that the burger is made of 100% beef and nothing else.  That's not what the claim says.  We're being played for suckers.

This infuriates me.  I'm sick and tired of advertisers' weasel words, making claims that are deliberately vague and ambiguous, then hiding behind legal definitions of words when called on their misleading claims.  They may be factually correct, but they're morally and ethically wrong - at least according to the standards by which I was raised.

The use of 'fillers' such as wood pulp is bad enough, but there's also the problem of outright food fraud.  It's extremely widespread, as this 2013 article from ABC News illustrates.

It's what we expect as shoppers—what's in the food will be displayed on the label.

But a new scientific examination by the non-profit food fraud detectives the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), discovered rising numbers of fake ingredients in products from olive oil to spices to fruit juice.

. . .

USP tells ABC News that liquids and ground foods in general are the easiest to tamper with:

    Olive oil: often diluted with cheaper oils
    Lemon juice: cheapened with water and sugar
    Tea: diluted with fillers like lawn grass or fern leaves
    Spices: like paprika or saffron adulterated with dangerous food colorings that mimic the colors

Milk, honey, coffee and syrup are also listed by the USP as being highly adulterated products.

Also high on the list: seafood. The number one fake being escolar, an oily fish that can cause stomach problems, being mislabeled as white tuna or albacore, frequently found on sushi menus.

. . .

"There's absolutely a public health risk," said John Spink, associate director for the Anti-Counterfeit and Product Protection Program (A-CAPPP) at Michigan State University. "And the key is the people that are unauthorized to handle this product, they are probably not following good manufacturing practices and so there could be contaminates in it."

Again, more at the link - and highly recommended reading.

It's a sad commentary on our society when even the food we buy is suspect . . . just like the 'Nanny State' many expect to regulate such things and protect us from harm.  Proof, once again, that our only real protection is in our own alertness to potential hazards - and our willingness to be proactive in dealing with them.  Michael Krieger reminds us"As the cost of food continues to rise, the cost of not paying attention to what you are eating rises exponentially."



Old NFO said...

The key point is that we HAVE morals and ethics, unlike many today... sigh... And if you DON'T read the labels it's your own damn fault!

Coconut said...

Think if you reread you'll find his issue is that the labels are outright false.

Randy said...

And the government wants to "protect" us by keeping us from buying unprocessed food straight from farmers.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

One wonders what the long term health consequences are of eating this junk.

Graybeard said...

I'm surprised they're not marketing it as containing added fiber. Fiber is cellulose, after all. It's not a bug, it's a feature!

Remember beer with added oat bran?

Timbo said...

A little emotional to call methyl cellulose "wood pulp". That is the raw material. It's the same as calling gelatin " cow hides and bones".

Will said...

In regard to food:
If the price hasn't gone up in the past few years, you can be pretty sure that the maker is playing games with the contents. This could be due to them doing less filtering or cleaning of the product. For instance, the major difference between Quaker Oats oatmeal and the store brands used to be that the house brands had stuff in it that looked like it was plant debris from the processing done after picking. Nowadays, I don't see any difference, so it makes no sense to pay the premium for the big name.

In the same time frame, I have noticed that Costco's food, sold in their snack/sandwich/pizza area, has taken a noticeable drop in taste. Especially the frozen yogurt and the pizza.
I used to rave about the yogurt to the frozen yogurt stores, and suggest that they try to buy it. No more. They have made multiple changes, and it seems every other change has caused the lactose amount to increase, until the next change brings it back down. The lack of taste, and the variable lactose, has lead me to swear off the stuff. I used to stop in for one if I was passing a warehouse in my travels, and quite often bought something from the store, due to wondering around while consuming it.
Their pizza has had similar changes. Now it is greasy, tasteless, and contains more lactose in the cheeses.
Other brands of food sold in the warehouse have gone through similar downgrades in quality. Very disappointing. Same problem in hard goods sold there. I'm debating whether it's worth it to pay for a membership anymore. Been shopping there since the eighties, IIRC. Since before they merged with Price Club, which I preferred. (Had both.)

I would prefer to have the same quality, and pay more for something.

One of the drawbacks to what is going on, is that some (most?) people don't notice the real changes going on, so the extent of the increase in inflation is being hidden from them. I suspect this is beneficial to the regime in power. Might be deliberate. Any thoughts on this?

Peter said...

@Will: I don't think it's a regime-driven thing. I suspect it's just a desperate grasp for profits (a.k.a. 'quarterly results') by any and every available means. Unfortunately, whatever the cause, we lose . . .

sdharms said...

ingredients in food are "food grade" -- they may be non-digestible fiber, but you need that. What do you think canned apples are for apple pie? They are apply byproducts and carrageenan -- seaweed. Why all the concern, I thought we were supposed to eat plants?????