April 11, 2012
By Martinne Geller
New York, Apr. 4, 2012 (Reuters) — Surprise rippled across America last month as a new wave of consumers discovered that hamburgers often contained ammonia-treated beef, or what critics dub “pink slime”.
What they may not have known is that ammonia – often associated with cleaning products – was cleared by U.S. health officials nearly 40 years ago and is used in making many foods, including cheese. Related compounds have a role in baked goods and chocolate products.
Using small amounts of ammonia to make food is not unusual to those expert in high-tech food production. Now that little known world is coming under increasing pressure from concerned consumers who want to know more about what they are eating.
“I think we’re seeing a sea change today in consumers’ concerns about the presence of ingredients in foods, and this is just one example,” said Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety.
Ammonia, known for its noxious odor, became a hot topic last month with the uproar over what the meat industry calls “finely textured beef” and what a former U.S. government scientist first called “pink slime”.
Used as a filler for ground beef, it is made from fatty trimmings that are more susceptible to contamination than other cuts of beef, and are therefore sprayed with ammonium hydroxide – ammonia mixed with water – to remove pathogens such as salmonella and E.coli.
After critics highlighted the product on social media websites and showed unappetizing photos on television, calling it “pink slime,” the nation’s leading fast-food chains and supermarkets spurned the product, even though U.S. public health officials deem it safe to eat. Hundreds of U.S. school districts also demanded it be removed from school lunch programs.
One producer, Beef Products Inc, has since idled three factories. Another, AFA Foods, filed for bankruptcy protection.
The outrage, which many experts say has been fueled by the term “pink slime,” seems more about the unsavoriness of the product rather than its safety.
“This is not a health issue,” said Bill Marler, a prominent food safety lawyer. “This is an ‘I’m grossed out by this’ issue.”
Still, critics of so-called “Big Food” point out that while “pink slime” and the ammonia in it may not be harmful, consumer shock over their presence points to a wider issue.
“The food supply is full of all sorts of chemical additives that people don’t know about,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and president of industry watchdog consulting firm Eat Drink Politics.
NOT AS BAD AS IT SOUNDS?
The meat industry has been trying to raise awareness of other foods that contain ammonia, in response to what it has characterized as an unfair attack on a safe and healthy product.
For example, ammonia compounds are used as leavening agents in baked goods and as an acidity controller in cheese and sometimes chocolate.
“Ammonia’s not an unusual product to find added to food,” Gary Acuff, director of Texas A&M University’s Center for Food Safety, told a recent press conference hosted by Beef Products Inc. “We use ammonia in all kinds of foods in the food industry.”
Kraft Foods Inc is one company that uses very small amounts of ammonium compounds in some of its products, which include Cadbury chocolate, Chips Ahoy cookies and Velveeta cheese.
“Sometimes ingredient names sound more complicated than they are,” said Kraft spokeswoman Angela Wiggins. She also pointed out that ammonia, made up of nitrogen and hydrogen, occurs naturally in plants, animals, water, air and in some foods, including milk.
Wiggins said that in turning milk to cheese, a tiny amount of ammonium hydroxide is added to a starter dairy culture to reduce the culture’s acidity and encourage cheese cultures to grow.
“It is somewhat similar to activating yeast for dough by adding warm water, sugar and salt to create the proper environment for yeast growth,” Wiggins said.
In the case of ammonium phosphate, used as a leavening agent in baking, she said the heat during baking causes the gas to evaporate so no ammonia is left in the product. “It is quite similar to adding wine to a sauce and cooking away the alcohol.”
DON’T ALWAYS COUNT ON LABELS
Compounds such as ammonium hydroxide, ammonium phosphate and ammonium chloride are considered safe in small amounts.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted ammonium hydroxide status as a GRAS, or Generally Recognized as Safe, substance in 1974.
Ammonium hydroxide is also an acceptable ingredient under the conditions of “good manufacturing practices” in dozens of foods, from soft drinks to soups to canned vegetables, according to the General Standards for Food Additives set forth by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a group funded by the World Health Organization and the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.
A trip to the grocery store revealed ammonium chloride – a salt – present in Wonder Bread and Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli, made by ConAgra Foods. Ammonium phosphate, another type of salt, is listed on Chips Ahoy cookies.
But ammonium hydroxide, the chemical often used to sanitize the “pink slime,” was harder to find.
That is because it is often considered a “processing aid,” which is not required by U.S. regulators to be included on food labels.
“If it helps facilitate a process, it’s not required and (if) it’s used at a percent less than 1 percent, it doesn’t have to be declared on the label,” said Roger Clemens, president of the Institute of Food Technologists and chief scientific officer of E.T. Horn Co, a private chemical and ingredient company.
He said ammonia in food is now being used less than before, as replacement products gain popularity.
When asked if their products were made with ammonium hydroxide, Sara Lee Corp, Hormel Foods, Kellogg and ConAgra said they were not.
Hershey said it uses “natural cocoa” in most of its chocolates, but in the few products that use “alkalized cocoa,” it uses potassium carbonate, not ammonium hydroxide.
General Mills said the company does not discuss its production processes. Campbell Soup Co did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Learn More at News Daily
As promised on last week’s radio show, here is a helpful guide and information on how to check your pH from my good friends at Morter HealthSystem.
In scientific circles, pH stands for “potential of Hydrogen,” but as far as your body is concerned you could say it’s your “potential for Health!” By understanding how the pH levels of your body fluids affect your health, you will be able to take a look at your current level of health and, therefore, know if the choices you are making will be health enhancing or disease producing. That’s important because it means you can change your choices and change your health. The acidity or alkalinity of your body is measured in terms of pH. On a scale from 0 to 14, the more acid a solution, the lower the pH number, and the more alkaline, the higher the number.
You can test the pH of a substance by using strips of chemically treated paper. When immersed in the solution, the paper changes color to show the degree of acidity or alkalinity. Simple tests of your saliva and urine, you can do yourself, can give you a good idea of the pH levels of your body.
If you are healthy, both your saliva and urine should register around pH 7 when you first awaken after at least 5 hours of sleep. Urine pH tells you how your body is responding to the food you are eating. Saliva pH tells you how your body has adapted to your thinking and the stresses of your life.
If your urine or saliva pH is too acidic, your body will need alkalizing minerals in order to buffer that acid and survive the caustic effects. Alkalizing minerals are stored in many organs and tissues of the body. The liver is the greatest storehouse of sodium; the bones are the greatest storehouse of calcium. Yet, these storehouses can be emptied if the minerals that are used aren’t replaced. The food you eat determines how well your reserves are replenished.
Fresh fruits and vegetables contribute the usable alkalizing minerals you need to restock your alkaline reserve.
So, when there are enough reserves to buffer the acid produced naturally by cellular activity and by the food you eat, your urine pH and saliva pH will register around 7. Readings of considerably lower or higher pH than 7 usually indicate that your buffering reserves have been depleted and, over time, your body will be forced to accommodate by other means, namely getting those minerals from your bones and organs.
For its immediate survival, if you are seriously deficient in your alkaline reserve your body may have to buffer the acid with its own ammonia.
This will register as alkaline on your test paper when you test your urine, but it isn’t a sign of good health and you are likely not feeling well.
Here’s how you do it:
Using a pH test kit, which I recommend getting from Morter HealthSystem, check the pH of your first morning urine and record it for three days in a row. The results reflect your body’s ability to process your daily protein intake. This is possibly the single most important test you can do to check overall potential for health.
Day 1 _________ 2 __________ 3_________
With the same pH test kit, check the pH of your saliva. Push some saliva forward in your mouth with your tongue and dip the test strip directly into the fluid. Record the results.
Place a Chew CBerry® tablet, which you can purchase from Morter HealthSystem, in your mouth, without chewing the tablet, until it tastes sour. Remove the tablet. If you do not have access to theChew CBerry® tablet right away, you may use a few drops of lemon juice.
Yours in health…
August 20th, 2010
By: Ethan A. Huff
Consumer watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is calling out popular ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s for using artificial and chemically-altered ingredients in its “All Natural” premium ice creams. According to CSPI at least 90 percent of the flavors used in “All Natural” Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are not actually natural.
Some of these ingredients include corn syrup, alkalized cocoa, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, vanillin, maltodextrin and dextrose, all of which involve some type of chemical processing or are simply artificial. Alkalized cocoa, for instance, involves a chemical process that changes cocoa’s natural flavor, texture and chemical structure, as well as eliminates some of its acidity and healthy antioxidant content. And vanillin is just an artificial version of vanilla.
“Ben & Jerry’s sylvan labels notwithstanding, these ingredients come from the factory, not the farm. And slapping an ‘all natural’ label on the products certainly implies that the products are top quality and deserve to fetch a higher price,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. “It’s a stretch to call any of [these ingredients] ‘natural’.”
CSPI has been after Ben & Jerry’s, which is now part of the consumer product conglomerate Unilever, since 2002 over deceptive labeling. After bringing these problems to the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at that time, CSPI has watched the quality of Ben & Jerry’s products get even worse
So now the group is now urging Ben & Jerry’s to clean up its act and fix its deceptive labeling or else face legal charges to be brought before both the FDA and state attorneys general.
September 15, 2009
By Caroline Scott-Thomas
A Wisconsin-based company claims it has developed a method to significantly reduce cranberry acidity without using chemicals or additives, which could lead to low- and no-sugar cranberry products.
Cranberries can cause problems for food manufacturers due to their high acidity, which can interfere with the leavening process in bakery products or leave very tart and bitter flavors. Where cranberries are used, the tartness usually needs to be offset by large amounts of sugar.
Jonathan Smith, president of Alpine Foods and developer of the acidity-reducing technology, told FoodNavigator-USA.com that he has developed a way to tackle this problem, using temperature, pressure, vacuum and quick freeze technology. This process, claims Smith, retains most of the juice, while eliminating much of the acidity.
“I use the cell wall as its own molecular sieve,” explained Smith, who has three patents pending on the technology.
Berry Bits is the first product to use this method, moving away from the company’s established realm of instant quick freeze berries.
Alpine Foods said the low-acid refrigerated or frozen sliced berries can be incorporated into a wide range of food applications, including yogurts, bakery, sauces, ice cream, meats and cheese.
Smith said: “The most promising areas are yogurts and dairy applications like ice creams because you get the flavor without the bite.”
Berry Bits, which can be eaten without extra sweetening, contain about five percent added sugar, which – together with the sugars that occur naturally in cranberries – brings the total up to about 14 percent.
Sweet and savory
However, they do not have to be sweetened at all for some applications. Smith said: “We made use of a jalapeno infusion for a Mexican cranberry pie and to be incorporated into a meat product. We are also getting into the savory as well as the sweet. We can infuse with garlic, or with barbecue sauce…The appeal that I see is that most people are using the sweetened dried cranberries that are about 75 percent sugar. Ours are about 14 percent.”
As for their potential uses in sweet products, Smith said it could be possible to ditch the sugar entirely.
“We could take it out completely,” he said. “We are helping a company make a sugar-free one right now, which is really neat.”
The company currently has production capacity of about 12m pounds a year, although Smith said that if he sold that much, he could quickly expand production.
And there may well be other applications for the technology, including tart cherries and blueberries, although he said that this may be “ten to 20 years down the road”.