Wednesday, December 15, 2010

History of Food Additive

History of Food Additive
Before the Civil War, people raised most of what they ate and processed it themselves and food additives were limited mostly to home grown colorings and substances needed for preservation in storage vegetable and fruit juices, salt, spices, smoke.

Our system of food supply changed after the Civil War. Thousands of rural people flocked to the cities to work in factories, they now needed food grown and preserved by someone else. Manufacturers of food products sprang up almost everywhere.

Food purity as such was not a major consideration. Cheap and handy methods of preserving foods were important to profits and scientific knowledge of food chemistry was practically nonexistent.

Dangerous adulteration of foods was commonplace. Chemicals to keep products looking good until they reached the consumer or just to hide the small and look of spoilage were used without much restraint.

The problem of food additives became acute. Supplying the rapid growing urban population required constantly expanding facilities and speed of production took precedence over both quaintly and safety.

For example, copper sulphate, a powerful emetic also known as blue vitriol, was added to canned vegetables to give them that fresh, green look; and salicylic acid, borax and formaldehyde were used generously - and carelessly.

Food and drug protection became an operating function of the Federal Government under the strong leadership of one man. Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, chief chemist for the US Department of Agriculture in Washington DC, announced publicly that the American people were being steadily poisoned by the dangerous chemicals that were being added to food with reckless abandon.

To dramatize the problem and to learn more about the reactions of the human body to ingestion of these chemicals, he formed , in 1902, what became known as “Dr. Wiley’s Poison squad.” Twelve young healthy men, recruited from the Department of Agriculture, pledge to eat nothing except what Dr. Wiley prescribed.

Over a period five years, Poison Squad members were fed measured doses of many kinds of commonly –used food additives. Dr. Wiley was not only concerned about determining the affects of these additives he was also interested in stirring up the public about the need for a pure food law.

The efforts of Dr, Wiley and the publication of the book The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, which told of the fifth accompanying the production of meat and meat products, were powerful, moving forces that helped persuade Congress to pass the Food and Drug Act 1906 as well as the Meat Inspection Act of the same year.

In 1927, the Food, Drug and Insecticide Administration, later to be named the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was created.
History of Food Additive
Further reading: Modern History of Food Additives
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