A Secret Ingredient to the Tomato Sauce

Posted by R.K. Gella

Most Americans are back to eating peanut butter, tomatoes are ordered up in salads and sandwiches without a suspecting thought, and spinach, it graces menus unabashed and bluntly.  Besides wasn’t that E. coli mishap like forever ago?

Actually it wasn’t – only 2 ½ years ago if your counting, and that’s not to mention the salmonella outbreak in 2007 – and though spinach farmers have been able to move forward, as has the tomato industry and eventually the peanut butter manufacturers, what hasn’t been grappled with until recently is an updated public examination of our food stock and policies.

President Obama ordered a review of the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month following the Peanut Corp. of America knowingly shipping out tainted products from a plant in Georgia that sickened 500 people.

As it turned out the processors knew the plant was indeed contaminated with salmonella since 2007.

So how did this slip by inspectors?  In NY Times this week, an op-ed contributor, E.J. Levy, discussed the unsavory (to the fullest exacerbation of the word) policies utilized by the FDA via their booklet “The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans”, in which a percentage of “natural food contaminants” are explicitly condoned.

Among the booklet’s list of allowable defects are “insect filth,” “rodent filth” (both hair and excreta pellets), “mold,” “insects,” “mammalian excreta,” “rot,” “insects and larvae” (which is to say, maggots), “insects and mites,” “insects and insect eggs,” “drosophila fly,” “sand and grit,” “parasites,” “mildew” and “foreign matter” (which includes “objectionable” items like “sticks, stones, burlap bagging, cigarette butts, etc.”).

According to Levy’s survey of the booklet, tomato juice and paste were mostly prone to fly eggs and larvae, while the kraut on your dog could lead you to ingest up to 50 thrips per serving.

It makes you wonder if the protein intake on the nutrition label is calibrated appropriately.

Peanut butter — that culinary cause célèbre — may contain approximately 145 bug parts for an 18-ounce jar; or five or more rodent hairs for that same jar; or more than 125 milligrams of grit.

Levy also points out while the FDA considers these items solely “aesthetic” and “offensive to the senses”, with no outward harm posed to the consumer, the book hangs its policies on a hook of economics, stating that it is “impractical to grow, harvest or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects.”

To read the FDA booklet in its entirety click here.

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