On the part of the housekeeper there should be a knowledge of materials, and ability to make simple tests, while for such tests as imply technical chemical knowledge material should be sent to the board of health or other experts. Most of all, skill in interpreting labels should be cultivated. A bottle purporting to be vanilla and labelled PURE VANILLA, on the face of it is not vanilla, though it may not necessarily be a less wholesome article.
The second kind of materials that we have classed as adulterants - the coloring matters, are used generally to satisfy a popular demand. Everyone knows that fresh butter is seldom of the bright yellow color of that on the market, yet few people would purchase an uncolored butter. Because in June, under the best conditions, butter is yellow, we have come to regard that as the only desirable thing. The manufacturer of a certain brand of cheese a few years ago made an attempt to put an uncolored product on the market, though he had formerly used coloring. To his surprise, he could not sell his cheese. The public, accustomed to a deep orange color in that brand, said the white cheese was not "so rich," that it was made of skim milk instead of cream, and refused to accept it.
As soon as the purchasing public has a different standard of values the manufacturer will cease to color his products. He will be content to offer properly canned tomatoes, even though the color is not as brilliant as that of the fresh fruit, and will put upon the market a catsup more attractive though less bright than the modern product. He will devise methods of canning peas and beans that will change their color as little as possible, but will not "green" them to deceive a credulous public. At the same time, the dishonest manufacturer will have less opportunity to conceal the inferiority of poor goods by the addition of color.
Color is also used frankly to beautify articles, as in the case of candy, and this seems legitimate when the colors are harmless, and the coloring is delicate. In this case, as in that of other uses of it, the question arises as to the possible harmful effects of the colors used. Of late the so-called coal tar dyes have been frequently employed, and perhaps because of their name much anethema has been directed against them. As a matter of fact, most of the coal tar dyes used are perfectly harmless, with absolutely no physiological effect. They are so strong in coloring power that a very minute amount is all that is necessary to give the desired result. Some of the coal tar dyes are poisonous, and should not be used, though again the fact that so small an amount is required to produce the effect is a protection. Some vegetable dyes are also poison, as well as some of the mineral dyes used before the coal tar products were available, and both of these classes have less coloring power, and so must be used in larger quantities.
That the confectioners are not all "monsters of greed" "reeking" with the desire to make money at the cost of the health and lives of an unsuspecting public, is shown by the fact that long lists of harmless and harmful colors have been made by the National Confectioners' Association, and that the same association has offered resolutions for dealers in confectioners' colors as well for manufacturers of candies, urging only the legitimate use of non-poisonous cobors. Legislation and public opinion should unite in forbidding the use of any harmful coloring even in minute quantities, and careful investigation should be made and lists of safe colors presented. An educated public will see no beauty in crude and vivid colors and will demand only the most delicate shades in candies and similar products, and this will mean less coloring of any kind.
As to the use of preservatives in food, there is an honest difference of opinion among experts. It is contended by many that in proper amounts and under proper regulation they are a desirable safe-guard, since they keep in a fresh and wholesome condition foods that would otherwise deteriorate. The amounts necessary are so small that they would seem presumably to have no effect on the users. On the other hand, the user may not be a healthy adult, but an infant or an invalid, presenting quite a different problem. In most cases a little more care would keep the food in proper condition without the resort to doubtful means.