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Food villain of the week

Posted by Devra First  January 29, 2009 12:22 PM

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Who should take the title?

On the one hand, there's the FDA.

The Washington Post's story about high fructose corn syrup containing mercury swept the Internet: In Environmental Health, researchers revealed mercury was detectable in nine out of 20 samples of commercial HFCS; separately, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy discovered nearly one in three of 55 brand-name foods tested contained mercury.

Coke adds life. And HFCS -- about 17 teaspoons per 20 ounce bottle.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Some HFCS is made with caustic soda (a.k.a. sodium hydroxide or lye) produced in plants using outdated mercury technology. It wasn't recognized that the mercury could contaminate the caustic soda -- until, according to the Institute for Ag and Trade Policy, "the lead author of the Environmental Health study, a longtime environmental investigator of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), thought to look into it."

Continues the institute: "What she found was that possible mercury contamination of these food chemicals was not common knowledge within the food industry ... Through this public scientist’s initiative, the FDA learned that commercial HFCS was contaminated with mercury. The agency has apparently done nothing to inform consumers of this fact, however, or to help change industry practice."

So, pretty evil.

But then there's Peanut Corp. of America, which, it turns out, not only gave America salmonella poisoning but did it knowingly. According to USA Today, the company shipped products in 2007 and 2008 after internal tests found bacterial contamination, a violation of food safety regulations.

Really and truly evil.

The Peanut Corp. of America plant in Blakely, Ga. (AP Photo/Elliott Minor)

Let's call it a tie.

About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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