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Food Safety Journalism Abridged

What we eat is personal. Not only does it affect our day to day health/wellness/life in a matter of a few hours, but also is a very real representation of how we interact with each other and our families as a friend or caretaker. This is one of the reasons why I care about food safety, but it’s also why everyone cares about food safety in some way or another. With the great impact our food has on our health and our lives, we pay it a lot of attention.

Food journalism is huge, and occasionally takes a detour into food safety because it’s important, but also because fear sells. Often these stories follow Betteridge’s law of headlines, which is a fun truism that states “Any headline that asks a question can be answered by the word no.” The food safety journalism equivalent I often find is that any article that discusses a new danger in your food often ends in a caveat generalized as “although no direct link between this and [condition] has yet been observed…”.

Because I write this blog, my family often asks me how much stock to put into each new food safety/toxin/diet article that comes out. The answer normally is “we should be looking at that, but don’t freak out”, along with an explanation of the good and bad science that happened almost irrelevantly to the writing of the article. I thought it might be fun to keep a running page of these articles as they enter the mainstream, and pick out the relevant bits mentioned above so that folks can quickly share the “but don’t worry about it” quotes with their families who are being bombarded by scary headlines.


Are Banned Drugs in Your Meat?

Consumer Reports – 8/29/18

Article/author’s conclusion on safety:

“CR’s food safety experts don’t think that the concerns raised in this investigation mean you should give up or necessarily cut back on meat. The findings are too uncertain and the potential risks still unknown.”


Water: Tap, Bottled & Microplastics OR Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Global Drinking Water OR Plus Plastic – Microplastics found in Global Bottled Water

ORB Media – 9/2017 and 3/2018

Article/author’s conclusion on safety:

“While it’s clear we are consuming plastic, what this means for human health is unknown. However, given the ubiquity of plastic in our environment, it demands further research to establish the source and prevalence of microplastics in water as well as its impact on humans.”

““Based on current knowledge, which is very fragmentary and incomplete, there is little health concern,” Wagner said. “The human body is well-adapted to dealing with non-digestible particles.””

“The first studies into the health effects of microscopic plastics on humans are only just now beginning; there’s no telling when governments might establish a safe threshold. Even farther away are studies of human exposure to nano-scale plastic particles, plastic measured in the millionths of a millimeter.”

““The research on human health is in its infancy,” said Lincoln Fok, an environmental scientist at the Education University of Hong Kong.”

““We have enough data from looking at wildlife and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife” to be concerned, said Mason, chair of the department of geology and environmental science at the State University of New York in Fredonia. “If it’s impacting them, then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?””

““What we don’t know is what implication that might have for human health.””

““It’s not just that you’re exposed to plastic,” Mason said. “From the moment a child is born nowadays, it’s already been exposed to 300 synthetic chemicals. Any human health effects that you’re going to experience as you get older, to tease out what the ultimate source of those was — there’s no way to tease it out.””


Heavy Metals in Baby Food: What You Need to Know

Consumer Reports – 8/16/18

Article/author’s conclusion on safety:

“While those results are worrisome, parents who have been feeding these foods to their children don’t need to panic, says James Dickerson, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Consumer Reports. He notes that consuming these foods doesn’t guarantee that a child will develop health problems, but that it may simply increase that risk. And whether problems develop depends on a host of factors, including genetics and exposure to other sources of heavy metals, such as from lead paint or contaminated water.”


Some Tuna Can Carry Up to 36 Times the Toxic Chemicals of Others. Here’s Why

NPR – 8/9/17

Article/author’s conclusion on safety:

“Most of the tuna analyzed would be considered safe under current EPA/FDA joint consumption advice, but there were concerns…It’s good to know most are safe to eat, but we need to make more information available so people can make their own choices…”The study suggests the potential need to institute recommendations to limit some fish consumption, but they’re making that assumption based on an idea that a consumer would be eating that one type of fish exclusively and exceeding the already recommended amount,” says Gavin Gibbons, a spokesperson with the National Fisheries Institute… “The seafood industry is doing a much better job than they did several years ago, but as technology evolves, traceability will be the answer, not just for IUU and fraud, but for social issue and pollutants.””



Cleaning a Dirty Sponge Only Helps Its Worst Bacteria, Study Says

The New York Times – 8/4/17

Article/author’s conclusion on safety:

“And among those taking advantage of these amenities, the scientists found, was a microbe called Moraxella osloensis. It is widespread in nature and lives on the human skin. It can cause infections in people with weak immune systems, although the risk posed by the bacteria found in sponges is hard to assess.”


NSF “Germiest Places” Studies

NSF International – 2006-2013

Article/author’s conclusion on safety:

“Germs are a reality of everyday life and despite our best efforts, there is no way to avoid them completely. While not all bacteria are harmful, some (such as Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella) can pose a health risk to humans, and they’re more frequently found on common household and school items than one would think. NSF has conducted several surveys to help identify where germs lurk in our environment. Learn more about these studies and steps you can take to reduce your exposure to germs.”


EWG’s Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce (A.K.A. the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists)

Environmental Working Group – Released Annually from 2004-Today

Article/author’s conclusion on safety:

“Our goal is to show a range of different measures of pesticide contamination to account for uncertainties in the science. All categories were treated equally. The likelihood that a person would eat multiple pesticides on a single food was given the same weight as amounts of the pesticide detected and the percent of the crop on which any pesticides were found.

The Shopper’s Guide is not built on a complex assessment of pesticide risks but instead reflects the overall pesticide loads of common fruits and vegetables. This approach best captures the uncertainties about the risks and consequences of pesticide exposure. Since researchers are constantly developing new insights into how pesticides act on living organisms, no one can say that concentrations of pesticides assumed to be safe today are, in fact, harmless.

The Shopper’s Guide aims to give consumers the confidence that by following EWG’s advice, they can buy foods with fewer types of pesticides and lower overall concentrations of pesticide residues.”


Nearly 500 Ways to Make a Yoga Mat Sandwich

Environmental Working Group – 2/27/2014

Article/author’s conclusion on safety:

“This synthetic additive has been largely overlooked because it is not known to be toxic to people in the concentration approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration – 45 parts per million. According to the World Health Organization, workers handling large volumes have reported respiratory symptoms and skin sensitization, but ADA has not undergone extensive testing of its potential to harm human health.

In the early 1990s, ADA became the preferred dough conditioner of many American commercial bakers as a result of California’s Proposition 65, which went into effect in 1987. This law required California authorities to list certain chemicals in food as “possibly dangerous to human health.” Potassium bromate, then a common dough conditioner, was found to be carcinogenic in test animals and made the Prop 65 list in 1991. ADA was widely adopted as a safer substitute.”



How Plastic in the Ocean is Contaminating Your Seafood

NPR – 12/13/2013

Article/author’s conclusion on safety:

“Even so, the consensus in the public health community still seems to be that the benefits of eating fish — because of their omega-3 fatty acids, among other assets — exceed the potential risks. And many researchers advocating for Americans to increase their fish consumption argue that the levels of dioxins, PCBs and other toxic chemicals in fish are generally too low to be of concern.”