This section is from the book "Practical Dietetics With Special Reference To Diet In Disease", by William Gilman Thompson. Also available from Amazon: Practical Dietetics with Special Reference to Diet in Disease.
Food adulteration consists of: 1. The addition of deleterious substances. 2. Fraudulent substitution of cheaper articles of food or the sale of food not as fresh or good as it is represented.
A. J. Wedderburn, in a report to the United States Department of Agriculture, makes the statement that of all food products sold in this country, 15 per cent is adulterated, but only 2 per cent is deleterious.
With the exception of milk and alcoholic beverages, the adulteration of foods in the United States is of comparatively little importance from any harmful influence it may have upon health. Its moral are often worse than its physical aspects.
In this country almost all food products are so abundant and cheap that adulteration would be too expensive, and it offers small temptation to unscrupulous dealers. There are, however, certain articles of diet which form exceptions to this statement, although the adulteration is more often merely fraudulent than a menace to health. These articles are included in the following table of examinations made in a single State (Kentucky) by the Agricultural Experiment Station. Forty per cent of all samples taken were found adulterated.
Kind and Number of Samples collected from June 13, 1898, to December
Not found adulterated.
Catsups, pickles, etc
Jellies, preserves, etc
Milk (sweet and buttermilk)
Pepper, spices, etc
Sweet cider and grape juice
Soda (cooking soda)
Sirups, honey, and sugar
At the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, 41½ per cent of 574 samples of spices were found adulterated, and over 25 per cent of coffee samples were adulterated (1899).
The object of adulteration of food - namely, to cheapen cost of production - is attained by (a) increasing the bulk, (b) altering the appearance, and (c) giving false strength.
In many States stringent laws have been enacted against all adulteration of food products, beverages, and drugs, but the ingenuity of manufacturers and dealers in evading them necessitates the constant vigilance of the experts of health boards.
Among the common adulterations may be mentioned the following: Isinglass adulterated with gelatin; wheat flour with bran or cowpeas; powdered sugar with barium sulphate; mustard with flour and turmeric or corn-meal to the extent of 90 per cent; " essences" of peppermint, cinnamon, etc., with poisonous wood alcohol; distilled coloured vinegar sold as cider vinegar; pickles adulterated" with iron and copper (Massachusetts State Board of Health Reports); oleomargarine sold as butter; ground spices are adulterated with cocoanut shells, rice, flour and ashes (Ohio Dairy and Food Commission); water, sugar and tartaric acid are sold as lemonade.
Candies are adulterated with terra alba, kaolin, and various pigments, and the different chewing gums, gum drops, etc., are largely made with petroleum-paraffin products.
Most of the maple sugar sold is made from glucose, and maple sirup is also derived from other sugars and artificially flavoured with extract of hickory bark (Wiley).
Cotton-seed oil is often sold as olive oil.
Nearly half the liquid honey sold is adulterated with glucose.
Coffee is very extensively adulterated with sugar, caramel, pea meal, chicory, and saccharin extracts. Coffee berries are artificially made in moulds out of mixtures of starch, molasses, or caramel, chicory, etc. Baking powder is often adulterated.
Prof. R. H. Chittenden, as a result of elaborate investigations made with a view to determine the effect upon digestion of borax and boric acid when added, as they often are, to preserve foods, concludes that "borax and boric acid, when present in moderate quantities, can have little or no deleterious effect upon the more important chemical processes of digestion. On the contrary, it would appear that the presence of these agents may, in some cases at least, even accelerate the normal digestive processes of the alimentary tract".