Posts Tagged ‘FDA’

Washing Produce

April 18, 2016


The annual produce “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists have been updated, and there are a few changes in rankings. Below are the latest results, and our take on what to do about it to keep you and your family safe from toxins and contamination.

The Dirty Dozen: These are the fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticide contamination, as stated by the Environmental Working Group ( EWG):

  1. Strawberries
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Sweet Bell Peppers
  11. Cherry Tomatoes
  12. Cucumbers

The Clean Fifteen: The following are the groups foods that have the lowest level of pesticide contamination:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Cabbage
  5. Frozen Sweet Peas
  6. Onions
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangos
  9. Papaya
  10. Kiwi
  11. Eggplant
  12. Honeydew Melon
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Cantaloupe
  15. Cauliflower

It is interesting to note that a large portion of the Clean Fifteen are encased in nature’s own packaging which gets peeled and eliminated before consuming.

While the recommendation is to purchase organically grown varieties of the Dirty Dozen, there are also some precautions that can be taken to make the conventional versions safer to eat. These tips are common protocols that should be used on all produce, regardless of the method of farming.

Wash your produce. This may seem like a no-brainer, yet I see people that are sampling unwashed items at the farmer’s markets all the time, and someone once told me that if I wasn’t watching, they wouldn’t bother washing the salad greens at all. Shudder!

Rinse produce under cool running water. Extra sandy items can be soaked in a strainer set into a bowl of water, or a salad spinner, and then rinsed under running water afterwards to rid it of debris. This will help any “sand” settle to the bottom of the bowl, making it easier to rinse off. Harder produce can be brushed with a produce brush to remove excess dirt. While some people add soap, the FDA does not recommend it, citing that it is just adding even more chemicals to the cocktail. A little vinegar or lemon juice has an astringent effect which can aid in the cleaning process naturally. Just be sure to wash the items afterwards to avoid an unpleasant taste.

Be sure to start with clean hands so you don’t end up spreading the bacteria on them to your food.

Even if you are going to peel the produce, wash the outside well before cutting. If there is bacteria or pesticides on the outside, you will draw them through the food on your knife, essentially distributing it throughout the food.  This includes things like lemons and limes, which often get tossed into drinks, rind and all.

Dry it. Gently wipe the produce with a clean towel to dry it and have one more opportunity to wipe off any excess dirt or chemicals.

Avoid bagged salad mixes and commercially cut fruit: Those pre-bagged and pre-cut salads, vegetables and fruit are a great convenience, but with that comes added risk. The more people and machines that touch your food, the more risk of contamination there is. Many food-borne diseases are actually a result of food handling. If you must buy packaged produce, please take extra time to wash it according to the processes outline above.

While rinsing your produce is not a 100% effective in preventing food borne illness, it is the best protection we have to reduce the risks. And in this case, the benefits of eating a plant based diet, and a rainbow of fruit and vegetables drastically out weighs the risks.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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There’s No Such Thing As Zero Calories

February 4, 2015

Lately, every health site seems to have an article about negative calorie foods, or zero calorie foods. It’s the percieved magic bullet to weight loss. Looking at lables can be a bit deceptive. There is a lot of wiggle room here, so let me define what makes something fall into that category.

4665700087_compA negative calorie food implies that your body uses more calories to digest it, than is present in the food itself. According to the Mayo Clinic, your body uses 5-10% of it’s energy to digest food and store it’s nutrients, making this plausable in theory. However, no reputable research supports this concept. The high fiber and water content as well as the low calorie counts of food such as celery, cucumbers and lettuce make them smart choices for those trying to lose weight, whether or not those calories are negated completly.

A zero calorie food could potentially have more than that. The FDA allows manufacturs to state that the food is calorie free if it has less than 5 calories per serving. If you only use one serving, it won’t make much of a difference in your weight, so while mildly deceptive, it’s really no big deal. That is, if you only use one serving.

A woman in Nebraska is suing Parkay spray butter for false advertising claims. It seems that the fat free, calorie free product actually has 832 calories and 93 grams of fat in an 8 oz. container. The woman in question consumed two bottles a week, before realizing something was up.

A 1.2 pound bag of Splenda contains 1,100 teaspoon sized servings. It also contains 2,200 calories per bag, and 96 calories per cup. That’s a lot of nothing, isn’t it?

More importantly, these faux foods are made up of potentially harmful ingredients. Chances are, if you “can’t believe it’s not butter,” it’s because it’s not.

While drowning your diet friendly vegetables in mock butter isn’t that common (is it?) using more than the 5 squirts recommended on the label probably is. And many people I know, use 2 Splenda’s in their coffee or tea, and consume many cups per day.
While these items do have less calories than their counterparts, they have many more reasons to avoid them.

Bottom line: There’s no such thing as a free ride.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Rice Risks

December 4, 2014


Brown rice is healthier than white rice, right? It contains 67% more vitamin B3,80% more vitamin B1, and 90% more vitamin B6 and 60% more iron before it is milled and polished into white rice. It’s clearly a superior food.

Until now.

In 2012, Consumer Reports tested 60 different types of rice, and found traces of arsenic in all of them. Recently, the publication tested 128 additional samples of rice and rice related products, as well as 114 grains, and found that brown rice contains about 80% more inorganic arsenic than it’s white counterpart.

The tests were run in conjunction with the Food Safety and Sustainability Center and were supplemented by FDA data.

Arsenic is introduced into the soil through the use of pesticides and fertilizers, as well as from natural sources such in the Earth’s crust . The chemical seeps into the outer layers of the grains. Since brown rice retains it’s outer layers, which are stripped away during the refining of white rice, it tends to have a much higher level of arsenic. Surprisingly, organic rices were found to have a similar amount of arsenic as conventional varieties. Brown basmati rice was found to have 1/3 less arsenic than other types.

Good news for the health conscious, especially vegetarians and vegans who count on brown rice as a meal staple: There are many other nutritious grains that are safer.

Amaranth, millet, cornmeal ( grits or polenta ) and buckwheat were found to be almost completely free of arsenic. Trace amounts were found in barley, bulgur and faro.

Some experts advise limiting brown rice consumption to 2 servings (1/4 cup uncooked) per month to avoid toxic levels. The FDA suggests cooking rice in 5 times more water than customary ( the way we cook pasta) which will eliminate some of the arsenic in the cooking process.

We need the FDA to step up and ban farming techniques that expose deadly additives to our healthy foods. In the meantime, it is best to explore other grains and keep rice consumption to a minimum.

photo: glasshouse images

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First Do No Harm

August 20, 2014


The FDA often acknowledges the presence of harmful chemicals in our household products, but does not do anything about them. Case in point:

In 2010, the government agency agreed that triclosan, which is often found in hand soaps and toothpaste can disrupt hormone balance, cause endocrine disorders and could be a contributor to the increasing rates of drug-resistant bacterias. The state of Minnesota has announced a ban on triclosan, effective in 2017.

So why is triclosan one of the active ingredients in Colgate Total toothpaste, something we actually ingest?!

Surely, there are other less toxic and dangerous things that could be used to make toothpaste, than a drug known to cause extreme health issues.

Consumer groups are pressuring big retailers to remove Colgate Total, and other triclosan products from the shelves. More importantly, we should be pressuring the FDA to ban it completely.

Colgate has defended it’s product, stating that there have been more studies done on Total than any other toothpaste in the world and that it is safe to use. Personally, I am not taking any chances. My current tube of Colgate Total is going in the trash, and being replaced by Crest, which doesn’t contain triclosan, or something even purer, like Tom’s of Maine.

Plain old baking soda and water has also been touted as a natural toothpaste replacement, removing stains, tartar and leaving breath fresh. The fluoride in our water supply should be able to do the rest.

We can run marathons, pour buckets of ice water over our heads, and bike until our legs fall off, all in the name of curing diseases that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Banning harmful ingredients, and being transparent with consumers about what is actually in these products may some day make our efforts moot.

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Foods to Shut Down During the Shut Down

October 16, 2013

The government has been shut down for a couple of weeks now, and many of the massive ramifications have yet to be felt.

With most of the Food and Drug Administrations inspectors being deemed “non-essential” our food supply is in grave danger.

While the agency only has enough power in its workforce to inspect 2% of all incoming food from other countries, it still prevents a large amount of unsanitary foods from hitting our supermarkets.

Below are some of the foods experts are most concerned about during this period:



Inspectors often reject shrimp from other countries due to the conditions in which they are farmed. Southeast Asian shrimp farms are akin to overcrowded sewers. The water is not filtered or recycled, and pesticides, additives and antibiotics are often used to prevent the shrimp from dying. The processing plants are filthy, and often very hot, resulting in spoiled food that is then shipped to the USA.

Wild, domestic shrimp from the Gulf Coast is a safer way to go.


Tilapia is a farmed fish that is often rejected by inspectors for reasons similar to those associated with shrimp. In China, tilapia is often fed a diet of untreated animal feces. We say choose something else until the inspectors are back on duty. (Or maybe longer)


Fresh Produce:

About 50% of our fruit, and 20% of our vegetables are imported. With nobody checking the quality and cleanliness, eating these can be risky business. It is best to buy organic, and local during this time if you can. Use a fruit and vegetable wash, or soak in a vinegar and water solution and scrub with a brush to try to get your produce as clean as possible.

One of the other horrifying parts of the shut down, relative to our food supply is the furlough of those whose jobs are to track foodborne illness outbreaks to identify the source. If there are outbreaks during the shut down (and the recent salmonella infected chicken is a prominent case) they will be harder to control.

Buying local, organic foods from reputable farms is the safest alternative to the uninspected foods in the large supermarkets. Wash all produce carefully, and cook foods thoroughly to kill any possible bacteria. Be sure to wash all cutting boards, surfaces, utensils and your hands in hot soapy water after handling raw foods. Being extra safe is better than being sorry when it comes to food.

photos: Glasshouse Images

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Eliminate a Plastic Bottle a Day to Keep the Doctor Away

January 18, 2010

The US government is finally admitting something that many of us have known for awhile: BPA, a chemical found in plastic and other types of food packaging may be hazardous to your health.

The Food and Drug Administration said on Friday, that it had “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children” and would be studying the chemical in both animals and humans.

Concerns about BPA are based on studies that have been conducted in animals. The FDA has also acknowledged that the chemical seeps into food and baby formula. It seems everyone is exposed to it, beginning in the womb. In a recent study of over 2000 people, 90% of all tested had traces of BPA in their urine, as well as traces in breast milk and the umbilical cord and blood of pregnant women.

The upcoming research will focus on the possible effects of the chemical on behavior, obesity, diabetes, reproductive disorders, cancer, asthma, heart disease and effects that can be passed on generationaly.

While the jury is still out on the actual effects of BPA in humans, we have already started limiting our use of plastics.

You can protect yourself by making some small changes in your day-to-day life:

  • Start drinking filtered water from an aluminum bottle. Not only does this limit your exposure to BPA, it also is better for the environment, and your wallet.
  • Do not drink hot liquids from plastic cups, or plastic coated cups.
  • Never put plastics in the dishwasher, or microwave. The chemicals are released when they come in contact with heat.
  • Avoid any plastics marked on the bottom with the number 7. That particular grade of plastic is made with BPA.
  • The linings of some cans, and other food packaging also contains plastics made with BPAs.
  • Avoiding convenience foods wherever possible, and eating fresh, locally grown foods is always the best choice, both for your health, and the environment. The FDA is now recommending breast-feeding for infants up to 12 months of age to avoid plastic baby bottles and sippy cups which contain BPA.

While giving up conveniences, like plastic containers and children’s products seem like a burden today, if someone told you that you could avoid life threatening diseases for you and your loved ones by eliminating plastic food packaging, would there be any question in your mind?

photo: glasshouse images

Smart Choices?

September 13, 2009

2117900437.JPGA new food labeling program called “Smart Choices” is designed to help shoppers easily identify smarter food and beverage choices.

The green label with a large checkmark is appearing on hundreds of food items, much to the chagrin of many nutritionists.

It is no wonder that obesity and diabetes run rampant in a country where the Food and Drug Administration has deemed sugar laden Froot Loops and Cocoa Krispies healthy grains, and full fat mayonnaise and artificially sweetened Fudgesicles as “smart choices”.

Yet these foods fit within the FDA guidelines of not exceeding the very generous limits of sugar, fat and sodium per serving.

It seems to me that the real healthy choices come in nature’s own packaging. If it made it into a box, chances are pretty strong that it has been processed and refined. Call me crazy, but it would be tough to print check marks on the real “smart choices” such as fresh fruits (even the spelling of Froot has been altered in the cereal version) vegetables, lean meats and seafood. Have you ever tried to hold a live fish, let alone print a check mark on its side?

Once again, industry is preying on the poorly educated consumer, who believe that endorsement from the FDA and approval from the Smart Choices program is helping them make informed and positive choices in the food they buy.

Dr. Eileen T. Kennedy, president of the Smart Choices Board and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, defended the program in the New York Times, stating that “consumers are smart enough to deduce that if it doesn’t have a checkmark, by implication it’s not a “better for you” product.” She cited the example that given the choice between Froot Loops and a donut, the cereal is a better choice. But what about whole grains, such as oatmeal and low fat dairy, such as yoghurt instead? Aren’t they MUCH better for you products? The comparisons are relative. Two bad choices don’t make a good one.

We believe that educating the American public on the benefits of good nutrition and physical exercise is a much more noble and useful deed for our government to indulge in than this misguided labeling effort.

photo: adapted from Glasshouse Images

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