Rice is a dietary staple, especially those of certain cultures. A variety of baby foods and formulas contain arsenic, which can be harm young children because of their underdeveloped brains and bodies. High-end organic formulas and baby foods contain high levels of arsenic. Developed humans are also affected. Levels of arsenic in rice have been linked to the genetic damage in humans and can increase the risk of cancer. Arsenic mixes into organic or inorganic compounds by seeping into water supplies, traveling through the wind, or spreading through industrial use.
Evidence of Harm
There have been multiple health outbreaks in areas including Bangladesh and Antofagasta. These outbreaks have been led to arsenic contaminated wells which people use for drinking water. Those exposed to the drinking water in Antofagasta had higher rates of bladder and lung cancer. Arsenic caused many deaths among Antofagastans age 30 and older. Arsenic is one of the most toxic substances and has caused health effects.
The Rice Connection
Andrew Meharg was studying the environmental effects of arsenic in Bangladesh when a student noted that rice was being irrigated with vast quantities of arsenic-contaminated water. Rice is a dietary staple. It is used for rice flour, malt, bran, pasta, noodles, breakfast cereals, cereal bars, crackers, rice cakes and more. Rice plants took up inorganic arsenic from water and soil with dismaying efficiency: at 10 times the rate of other grains.
Health Food Surprise
In 2008, Meharg reported that arsenic in baby rice cereal sold in the U.K. exceeded safety levels set for drinking water by both the U.S. and the European Union. The Dartmouth researchers realized that all kinds of baby formulas and foods contained rice; many were thickened with rice starch. Although the teams initial tests found barely a trace of arsenic in baby formula and pureed baby food, later tests showed that two organic toddler formulas contained up to 60 ppb of arsenic (adjusted for dilution) six times the EPA safety limit for water. Labels on the formula canisters told why: They were sweetened with organic brown rice syrup, considered a healthy alternative to corn syrup. And while brown rice syrup is rare in baby foods, it is common in crackers, cereals, snack bars, energy bars and many products marketed as health foods.
The Risks of Imported Food
Almost 15 percent of foods consumed in the U.S. come from outside the country. penetration from overseas is so vast and complex that a single product might contain ingredients from multiple countries, a fact you would never discern from labeling on the food itself. Its risky. Every food factory in the U.S. is supposed to undergo rigorous inspection. Once imported foods reach our shores, they enter the distribution chain with little fanfare and scrutiny; some argue they are barely vetted at all. Instead, by and large, problems come to light when Americans get sick. Part of the problem is the lack of resources we ourselves direct to food from abroad: The FDA has a minuscule team of some 1,500 inspectors devoted to food imports, a workforce too small to screen more than a tiny fraction of the food that arrives at U.S. ports each year for microbial pathogens or other disease-causing contaminants
Underwater Robots Patrol the Red Tide of Harmful Algal Blooms
Concentrations of algae in our oceans and lakes have long bloomed naturally, but climate change and fertilizer runoff from farms have exacerbated the situation in recent years. The outcome: algal blooms so massive that ecosystems turn into dead zones, resource-poor realms inhospitable to other life. The most dangerous of the blooms, called harmful algal blooms, or HABs, are often reddish in color, leading observers to call them red tides.
The dangers are as ominous as the name. Some of the algae, or phytoplankton, manufacture saxitoxin, a poison so devastating it is the underlying cause of paralytic shellfish poisoning, an often-lethal reaction to shellfish that are storing toxic algal cells. This January, two people in Malaysia died after eating cockles tainted with the stuff. Other phytoplankton produce domoic acid, a neurotoxin that kills people, birds and marine mammals snacking on contaminated fish and shellfish.
. The fight against red tides may be taking place one algal and shellfish species at a time. Elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, researchers are testing ways to protect clams from contamination by treating them with the amino acid cysteine, which blocks toxins from binding to clam tissue.
Foodborne UTIs: Direct From the Birds
Bacteria have evolved to resist numerous antibiotics. When those treatment-resistant microbes infect humans, we are left with the specter of incurable disease. One trend shows the problem in microcosm: a worrisome surge of antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infections, or UTIs. Considered common bacterial infections, UTIs are traditionally isolated events treated with amoxicillin, ampicillin and other antimicrobial drugs. But new resistant strains of E. coli have now been linked to outbreaks of foodborne UTIs, or FUTIs. Apparently antibiotics promote growth in poultry by helping them to maintain healthier digestive systems But overuse has promoted the growth of stronger E. coli as well. By some estimates, more than 75 percent of poultry is contaminated with E. coli, much of it resistant to antibiotic drugs. Handling the bacteria-ridden food could spread E. coli to the urinary tract. He is working on a study to see whether E. coli strains found in grocery stores in a given area genetically match E. coli causing local UTIs. Confirmation would prove that UTIs are coming from the birds.
The Trouble With Plastics
bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in some can linings and hard plastics. BPA has been linked to anxiety, obesity and prostate and breast cancers. the Swiss Official Food Control Authority which held that food contamination from packaging could be a hundred times as high as contamination from chemicals found in pesticides or environmental pollutants. Researchers from the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Mass., studied 20 people who switched from canned and plastic-stored foods to fresh items for three days. According to the studys results. the subjects BPA levels dropped by 66 percent. Several physiological indicators of another plastics ingredient, phthalates, dropped by more than 50 percent. When the test subjects went back to their normal diets, BPA levels shot back up. It was a very clean demonstration that a majority of BPA exposure is from food packaging, says lead author Ruthann Rudel.
Honey’s Sticky Mess
Bee-assisted pollination helps produce about 30 percent of our food, but bees have fallen on hard times, posing a serious threat to food security. According to the USDA, weve lost 3.5 million colonies to parasites, disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure since the late 1940s, when bee colonies were 5 million to 6 million strong.A widespread and poorly understood cause of die-off is called (CCD), marked by unusually high bee losses (up to 90 percent per hive) in which worker bees vanish. Bacteria and trace amounts of heavy metals and PCBs, once used to manufacture electrical equipment, have also been found in honey. The same is true of antibiotics, which beekeepers use to protect hives against infections that are also suspected as a cause of the bees demise.
Big Data for Outbreak Sleuths
When a Salmonella Montevideo outbreak swept across 44 states several years ago, sickening hundreds, investigators hit a wall. They ran patients through some 300 questions about their eating habits, asking them to recall all the food consumed over the course of weeks. The big break came only after investigators realized that many of the afflicted had shopped at a national warehouse grocery store chain. With the victims permission and the stores cooperation, they quickly identified a particular brand of salami more specifically, the red and black pepper coating it as the common source. A recall was quickly instated.Outbreak sleuths also tap big data through DNA analysis. Indeed, the current backbone of CDC foodborne-illness investigations is its PulseNet laboratory network, which stores the DNA fingerprints of half a million bacterial samples from food, humans and the environment. By comparing microbial fingerprints, investigators can track outbreaks. The networks international arm collects data from almost 80 countries.
Consuming Fear: Add a Grain of Salt
Organic, factory farmed, genetically modified, high-fat, non-fat, refined, raw, vegetarian, gluten-free, local, imported these are the food choices many of us now have the luxury of making every day. Less under our control is the legacy of environmental pollution and the unforeseen consequences of industry, including rice products containing trace levels of arsenic, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, mercury-laced fish and plastic containers leaching poorly understood toxins. Increasingly sophisticated detection methods provide new insight into food risks and a better means of targeting contamination. Chemical and biological dangers in food are nothing new. And risky or not, we all still need to eat. The most cautious among us might eschew fish, avoid imports and cook food so relentlessly that no bacteria remain. the solution: eat balanced, low-fat meals and avoid obvious pitfalls like unwashed produce and uncooked meat. Eating lean meats, in addition to being heart-healthy, lessens exposure to organic pollutants, which tend to accumulate in fatty tissues. A varied diet also reduces exposure to any single contaminant. The CDCs Robert Tauxe suggests keeping your refrigerator below 40 degrees, to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, and avoiding cross-contamination when handling raw meat.