Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Britain and Germany checking soft drinks for benzene

Since I first found out about the FDA/soft drink manufacturers private agreement regarding benzene in soft drinks, I've been following the story. More new hits the headlines, this time in the UK. Food safety authorities where unaware of the potential problems that mixing ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate together in a soft drink could lead to benzene formation through the degradation of the benzoate. This news comes to us from BeverageDaily:
Food safety authorities in Britain and Germany are checking soft drinks for benzene after tests suggest a private deal with soft drinks firms in the US, 15 years ago, failed to fix the problem.

Germany's food watchdog, BfR, confirmed it was examining soft drinks containing the common ingredients ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and sodium benzoate (E211).

The UK's Food Standards Agency has followed suit, saying it was looking into the issue and would sort out any problem found. An FSA spokesperson said the body was not aware the two ingredients could react together to form benzene, a known carcinogen.

...The FDA was re-alerted to the issue by independent laboratory tests in New York.

The same lab also found a drink sold in Latin America by a well-known, international soft drinks group that contained benzene at more than six times the 10 parts per billion legal limit for water set by the World Health Organisation.

Soft drinks containing less benzene were recalled across Europe and US in the 1990s.

The New York lab, meanwhile, found two well-known drinks brands available in the UK with benzene at least three times above the country's strict one part per billion limit for drinking water. There is no specific limit for soft drinks.

Soft drinks sold outside the US are considered more at risk due to scant knowledge of the problem.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Benzene Contamination In Some USA Soft Drinks

I read a disturbing news release today regarding a problem that apparently the FDA had been fully aware of 15 years ago -- but never made their findings public.
The FDA was originally alerted in 1990 to the problem of benzene in soft drinks triggered by the preservative sodium benzoate. It never made the findings public, but came to an arrangement with the US soft drinks association that the industry would “get the word out”. - NutraIngredients
Benzene is listed as a poisonous chemical shown to increase the risk of leukaemia and other cancers -- and can be caused by two common ingredients – sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) – which can react together to cause benzene formation.

The FDA knew about the problem as far back as 1990 (from what I can tell by some isolated reports) but they never made their findings public. Instead, according to the news item referenced above, they came to an arrangement with the US soft drinks association that the industry would “get the word out”.
But in recent months, internal documents and private tests have begun to surface, supported by claims from a former chemist for Cadbury Schweppes, who is now keen to blow the whistle on the health risk involved. He and a US lawyer commissioned new tests that have now prompted the FDA to re-open the case.

These independent tests, performed by a laboratory in New York, found benzene levels in a couple of soft drinks two-and-a-half-times and five times above the World Health Organisation limit for drinking water (10 parts per billion).

The FDA now confirms it has found a similar problem in its own follow-up testing. “There were a few isolated products that have elevated levels. We certainly want to make sure there is some reformulation,” said an FDA chemist.
All food additives are regulated by federal authorities and various international organizations to ensure that foods are safe to eat and are accurately labeled. Here in the USA, the FDA has the primary legal responsibility for determining a food additive's safe use.

The FDA must determine - based on the best science available - if there is a reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers when an additive is used as proposed.

If new evidence suggests that a product already in use may be unsafe, or if consumption levels have changed enough to require another look, federal authorities may prohibit its use or conduct further studies to determine if the use can still be considered safe.

How is sodium benzoate used?

According to IPCS, a major market for sodium benzoate is as a preservative in the soft drink industry, as a result of the demand for high-fructose corn syrup in carbonated beverages. Sodium benzoate is also widely used as a preservative in pickles, sauces, and fruit juices. Benzoic acid and sodium benzoate are used as antimicrobial agents in edible coatings.

Sodium benzoate is also used in pharmaceuticals for preservation purposes (up to 1.0% in liquid medicines) and for therapeutic regimens in the treatment of patients with urea cycle enzymopathies.

Possibly the largest use of sodium benzoate, accounting for 30-35% of the total demand (about 15 000 tonnes of benzoic acid), is as an anticorrosive, particularly as an additive to automotive engine antifreeze coolants and in other waterborne systems. In recent years, it has also been used in the formulation of sodium benzoate into plastics such as polypropylene, to improve strength and clarity. Sodium benzoate is also used as a stabilizer in photographic baths/processing.

NutraIngredients - FDA re-opens probe into benzene contamination of soft drinks
FDA - Food Ingredients & Colors

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New Research Initiatives - Common Disease Causes

Press Release - NIEHS News

WASHINGTON - Wed. Feb. 8, 2006 - The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today announced the creation of two new, closely related initiatives to speed up research on the causes of common diseases such as asthma, arthritis and Alzheimer's disease.

One initiative boosts funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a multi-institute effort to identify the genetic and environmental underpinnings of common illnesses. The other initiative launches a public-private partnership between NIH, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) and major pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, especially Pfizer Global Research & Development of New London, Conn.; and Affymetrix Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., to accelerate genome association studies to find the genetic roots of widespread sicknesses.

The genetic analysis component of the two initiatives is highly complementary.

To read the entire release, please see:

To read the Factsheet "New Technology For Detecting Biological Responses to Environmental Factors", please see:

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

UK Alert - High Aflatoxin Levels Found in Spice

In the 1960 more than 100,000 young turkeys on poultry farms in England died in the course of a few months from an apparently new disease that was termed "Turkey X disease". It was soon found that the difficulty was not limited to turkeys. Ducklings and young pheasants were also affected and heavy mortality was experienced.

The "mysterious" disease outbreaks were eventually traced to toxin contaminated animal feed. Speculations made during 1960 regarding the nature of the toxin suggested that it might be of fungal origin. Eventually, the toxin-producing fungus was identified as Aspergillus flavus (1961) and the toxin was given the name Aflatoxin by virtue of its origin (A.flavis--> Afla).

A spice powder in the UK -- Suya Pepper Spiced Khebab Powder -- has been discovered to contain excessive levels of aflatoxins.

It is distributed in the United Kingdom and is manufactured in Ghana. The UK's Food Standards Authority (FSA) has now issued a food alert.

Suya Pepper Spiced Khebab Powder is believed to be sold in large and small plastic containers with a yellow lid and a red/yellow label. The wording 'Active SUYA PEPPER Spiced Khebab Powder' is boldly written on the label but there is no date marking or batch code.

Despite enquiries by local authorities in London, distributor Marduro has not provided full distribution details, although distribution is believed to be restricted to the London area. This product appears to be distributed through direct van sales, where retailers who sell African or African-Caribbean food products are the main clients.

Local authority enforcement officers have been told that if any of these products are found during routine inspections, they should ensure that they are withdrawn from sale and destroyed.

Sources and Resources:
FoodQualityNews - Excessive aflatoxin levels found in UK spice
Cornell University - AFLATOXINS : Occurrence and Health Risks
FDA Bad Bug Book - Aflatoxins
FAO Corporate Document Repositroy - The significance of mycotoxins
Environmental Health Perspectives - Case-Control Study of an Acute Aflatoxicosis Outbreak, Kenya, 2004
Aspergillus flavus genomics (pdf): gateway to human and animal health, food safety, and crop resistance to diseases

Monday, February 06, 2006

Dirty Dozen Contaminated Fruits and Vegetables

More and more studies have been confirming the importance of increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet. However, an area that hasn't had much press is the amount of pesticides you could be exposing yourself to.

An EWG simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets shows that people can lower their pesticide exposure by 90 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead, according to a FoodNews Report Card.
"Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose a person to nearly 20 pesticides per day, on average. Eating the 12 least contaminated will expose a person to a fraction over 2 pesticides per day."

12 Fruits and Vegetables on the "Most-Contaminated" List

Listed in order, from most to least contaminated:

1. peaches
2. strawberries
3. apples
4. spinach
5. nectarines
6. celery
7. pears
8. cherries
9. potatoes
10. bell peppers
11. red raspberries
12. imported grapes

FoodNews recommends you "buy organic" for items on the above list to avoid/reduce pesticide exposure.

Keywords: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 02, 2006

American Heart Association on Blood Pressure

Combining an overall healthy diet with weight loss, a lower salt and higher potassium intake can prevent and treat hypertension, according to a new American Heart Association scientific statement, published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The statement also encourages people to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and if they drink alcohol, limit intake to moderate levels.

Hypertension, defined as having a systolic and diastolic BP greater than 140 and 90 mmHg, affects about 600 million people worldwide and is associated with over seven million deaths. Estimates indicate 27 per cent of the US adult population is hypertensive.

A great deal of emphasis has been placed on weight -- or more precisely, being overweight -- in recent years. And yet, I personally know of several people who were placed on BP medications that lived very healthy lifestyles, including diet, regular exercise, little or no alcohol consumption and ideal weight for their age. They've since managed to reduce and/or eliminate their need for meds through some very simple -- yet consistent -- dietary changes.

(Check out the ideal weight calculator and/or BMI Chart through this link for approximate ideal weight estimates for men and women.)

But an interesting point in the AHA statement may explain why such apparently healthy people may end up having BP problems...

Quote: "The key message is simple, as a person ages, blood pressure rises. While an individual's blood pressure may be normal now, 90 percent of Americans over 50 years of age have a lifetime risk of high blood pressure. Americans should take action before being diagnosed with hypertension."

For excellent information, useful tools and additional information, be sure to visit the AHA blood pressure website.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Omega-6 FA Link To Cancer

The latest research from San Francisco VA Medical Center builds on earlier findings, revealing that Omega-6 fatty acids trigger a "biochemical cascade" by turning on a gene signaling pathway that leads directly to tumor growth.

"Around 60 years ago, the dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the US was one to two. Today, the ratio is 25 to one. Over that same 60 years, the incidence of prostate cancer in the US has increased steadily," say the authors of a new study linking Omega-6 fatty acids to prostrate cancer.

"After we added omega-6 fatty acids to the growth medium in the dish, and only omega-6, we observed that tumors grew twice as fast as those without omega-6," said Hughes-Fulford, Dr Millie Hughes-Fulford, director of the Laboratory of Cell Growth at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC).

"Investigating the reasons for this rapid growth, we discovered that the omega-6 was turning on a dozen inflammatory genes that are known to be important in cancer. We then asked what was turning on those genes, and found that omega-6 fatty acids actually turn on a signal pathway called PI3-kinase that is known to be a key player in cancer," she added.

Read the full story here.