That special sauce in your fast-food is industrial chemicals

People who reported eating fast food in the last 24 hours had elevated levels of some industrial chemicals in their bodies, according to a new analysis of data from federal nutrition surveys.

The study is the first broad look at how fast food may expose the public to certain chemicals, called phthalates, that are used to make plastics more flexible and durable. The chemicals, which don’t occur in nature, are common in cosmetics, soap, food packaging, flooring, window blinds, and other consumer products.

The Centers for Disease Control says “phthalate exposure is widespread in the U.S. population.”

Though the health consequences of encountering these substances aren’t fully known, scientists have increasingly focused on their effects on health and development, particularly for pregnant women and children. Research in rats has shown that they can disrupt the male reproductive system, and there’s evidence for similar effects in humans.

The latest research suggests that fast food is a significant source of the chemicals, which may leach into food from machinery used in processing or packaging, or from gloves worn by workers…

No contradiction between protective gear required for folks working with this crap – but, it’s OK to stuff it into your gullet?

Ami Zota and colleagues from George Washington University analyzed data from almost 9,000 people who participated in federal nutrition surveys between 2003 and 2010. Participants answered detailed questions about what they ate in the last 24 hours and gave urine samples that were analyzed for byproducts that indicated the presence of three chemicals. The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

For two of the three substances Zota examined — phthalates designated as DEHP and DiNP — there was a significant relationship between fast-food intake and exposure. People who ate more fast food had more evidence of phthalates in their urine. The third chemical they measured was Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is commonly used to line aluminum cans. That wasn’t significantly correlated with fast-food intake.

…The American Chemistry Council says that they’ve been thoroughly studied and “phthalates used in commercial products do not pose a risk to human health at typical exposure levels.” The Environmental Protection Agency, in a 2012 Phthalates Action Plan, notes that it is “concerned about phthalates because of their toxicity and the evidence of pervasive human and environmental exposure to them.”

Japan banned vinyl gloves in food preparation over concerns about DEHP, and the European Union has limited the use of the chemicals in food products and toys. Some phthalates, including DEHP, were restricted in children’s toys in the U.S. by a 2008 law.

Zota said that for people interested in reducing their exposure, “common-sense approaches will take you a long way. Eat organic when you can. If you can’t still, try to eat fresh vegetables,” she said. “Try to eat low on the food chain.”

Perfectly reasonable – even aside from this latest entry-level study. We buy most of our food from two chains with a reputation and tradition of healthful food, organic and conventional. Once in a while they get bagged with dangerous crap. As often from organic providers as not.

Fortunately, they also have administrative systems in place that I consider pretty good at catching problem incidents, vendors who screw up.

Frankly, I’m amazed at how long I have been around given some of the chemical crap I confronted in industrial settings years ago. Corporate owners literally got away with murder before ordinary citizens made enough noise to nudge our elected representatives into earning their keep.

Guess who’s picking up the tab for the wedding of Mr. Burger & Ms. King


Burger King is paying the expenses and providing gifts for the wedding of an Illinois couple with an interesting connection to the fast food restaurant chain. Joel Burger and Ashley King accepted the company’s proposal…

The couple has been known as Burger-King since they were in the fifth grade together, in New Berlin near Springfield.

The couple announced their engagement this spring with a photo next to the sign at a local Burger King restaurant. Although a woman’s name usually comes first in an engagement announcement, they decided to flip their names.

A Burger King spokesman says the company felt an overwhelming urge to help the happy couple celebrate their upcoming marriage.


Someone’s actually been paying attention – fast-food calorie consumption declines in the United States

Americans say they’re filling up less on fast food and pizza, according to a U.S. survey.

Adults consumed an average of 11.3 percent of their daily calories from fast food in 2007-2010, a drop from 12.8 percent in 2003-2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said in a report today. The largest proportion of fast food calories consumed was among obese people, the survey shows.

While researchers couldn’t say why adults were eating less fast food, the decline coincides with a leveling off in the prevalence of obesity, according to January reports from the CDC…

The percentage of daily calories from fast food decreased with age, with adults age 60 and over consuming the least at 6 percent, according to the report. The percentage rose as weight status increased.

The percentage didn’t differ significantly between men and women, according to the report.

No significant differences were found between non-Hispanic whites and Hispanic adults, the CDC said. However, among adults age 20 and over, consumption was higher among non-Hispanic black adults than non-Hispanic white and Hispanic adults.

No difference was observed by income status in the percentage of calories eaten from fast food. However, in the youngest age group — those 20 to 39 — consumption dropped significantly with increasing income level.

In a separate study…the CDC found calorie intake of all food among youths age 2 through 19 fell between the 1999-2000 period and 2009-2010…

The share of calories from saturated fat, 11 percent to 12 percent, was still more than the 10 percent recommended in U.S. dietary guidelines, according to the report.

How’s that for a pleasant surprise?

Now, we need to learn which lessons have been working best, what’s getting through – and keep it up.

Hamburger machine churns out custom burgers at industrial speed

No Green Card

Hamburgers are a multi-billion dollar business, and while fast food chains have got the process down to an efficient production line process, making them is still labor intensive with armies of burger flippers and sandwich assemblers. In a move that could put millions of teenagers around the world out of their first job, Momentum Machines is creating a hamburger-making machine that churns out made-to-order burgers at industrial speeds and aims to use it in its own chain of restaurants.

According to Momentum Machines, making burgers costs $9 billion a year in wages in the United States alone. The company points out that a machine that could make burgers with minimum human intervention would not only provide huge savings in labor costs, but would also reduce preparation space with a burger kitchen replaced by a much smaller and cheaper stainless-steel box.

This self-contained, automatic device sees raw ingredients go in one end and the completed custom-made burgers come out the other at the rate of up to 400 per hour. The machine stamps out the patties, uses what the company says are “gourmet cooking techniques never before used in a fast food restaurant,” applies the toppings (which are cut only after ordering to ensure freshness), and even bags the burgers.

Momentum will open its first restaurant, real soon now. They say their machine can pay pay for itself in less than a year.

Mayor’s ban on trans-fats paying off for New York City

A five-year-old ban on the use of trans fats in New York City restaurants has sharply reduced the consumption of these unhealthy fats among fast-food customers…

In 2007, the New York City Board of Health, spurred on by the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, adopted a regulation that forced restaurants to all but eliminate the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and spreads, the main sources of trans fats in the U.S. diet.

The ban appears to have had the intended effect. A new analysis of thousands of lunch receipts, collected at fast-food chains before and after the ban went into effect, estimates that the average trans fat content of customers’ meals has dropped by 2.5 grams, from about 3 grams to 0.5 grams.

Additionally, the proportion of meals containing less than 0.5 grams — an amount generally considered negligible — increased from 32% to 59% between 2007 and 2009.

“For consumers, the transition was seamless. Most New Yorkers didn’t even notice,” says Christine Curtis, a coauthor of the study and the director of the city’s Nutrition Strategy Program. “And now we know that it has really made a difference…”

RTFA for details of the study, how it has helped the general health and heart health of NewYorkers.

Politicians outside the city will continue to focus on the whines, no doubt. Especially those stalwarts who are in the pocket of crap food manufacturers. The fight for a healthier diet ain’t any easier than the fight against smoking, folks.

Biodegradable fast food containers made from waste straw

Not only are polystyrene fast food containers usually not recyclable, but they also take eons to break down in a landfill, can emit harmful compounds, and require petroleum to create. Using paper is one alternative, but Hong Kong-based company Innovasians is now offering another – 100% biodegradable containers made from waste straw left over after wheat harvesting.

The straw used in the process comes from China, and would otherwise be burnt. The technology itself is Canadian. Although the production process is confidential, the finished containers are composed of 60% straw, and 40% … well, something else. Not only are they biodegradable, but they are also reportedly non-toxic, microwavable, dishwasher-safe (and thus reusable), and stable at temperatures from -40 to 260ºC. No petroleum-based materials are used in their production, nor are any toxins released into the environment.

The containers are currently in use by three Asian clients, although additional buyers are being sought. There’s no word on how the cost of the straw-based containers compares to that of other materials.

Tell us the cost, folks. Though the economies of scale are easily realizable in products which only need to start production cycles with a small number of shapes.

And the color is grotty.

Shock and amazement! Fast food is saltier in the U.S.

It’s no secret that fast-food fare like burgers, french fries, and fried chicken tends to be high in sodium. According to a new study, however, American fast-food customers may be getting a larger dose of sodium than their counterparts in other countries — even if they order the exact same items off the menu.

In the study, published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers analyzed the posted nutritional information for more than 2,000 items sold in multiple countries by the world’s six largest fast-food chains: Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Subway.

Overall, the researchers found, fast food tended to be saltier in the United States than in the other countries included in the study: Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, and the UK. What’s more, the sodium content of the same menu items at the same chains varied by country, sometimes widely…

In some cases the difference was dramatic. The Chicken McNuggets sold in the United States contained 2.5 times more sodium than the McNuggets sold in the UK. Likewise, the sodium content of a Subway club sandwich was more than twice as high in the United States as it was in France…

…Joy Dubost, Ph.D., director of nutrition for the National Restaurant Association…then wastes space coming up with reasons why the study should be followed by another study.

Although they can’t pinpoint the reasons for the sodium disparities, Norm Campbell and his colleagues say the study findings show that limitations in food-processing technology are not a barrier to providing lower-sodium products, as the food industry has claimed.

“We found multiple examples of low-salt choices, and for the same product across different countries there’s variation in the amount of salt that’s added,” Campbell says. “From that perspective, it would appear that it’s not very challenging to lower the amount of salt in food products.”

“Most of the science says if you reduce salt by 10% it’s completely unnoticeable,” Campbell says. “What we really want is very gradual reductions which don’t affect the consumer base. Consumers enjoy the food and the health of the population improves.”

Getting away with serving crap for a long period of time, saving on the cost of preserving crap fast food – or even just believing the savings are there – is often adequate reason for the beancounters in charge of corporate food retailers to avoid change, responsibility or sensible decision-making.

Republicans and other paid-for politicians say pizza a vegetable

Pissaladière rouge et blanche

Is pizza a vegetable? Maybe not in most homes, but in public school cafeterias it is.

School meals that are subsidized by the government are required to contain a certain minimum of vegetables under current rules, and a serving of pizza that contains at least two tablespoons of tomato sauce meets the veggie requirement. The Obama administration recently sought to change the rule so that only a half-cup of tomato paste or more could be counted as a vegetable — part of their efforts to cut back on the amount of pizza, French fries and other “unhealthy” foods showing up on school lunch trays.

But the food industry and some lawmakers are pushing back. On Monday, Congress released the final version of a spending bill that would block the new tomato-paste rule, essentially keeping pizza in the vegetable category. The bill would also eliminate other changes the U.S. Department of Agriculture had proposed, like increasing whole grains in school meals and limiting the use of starchy vegetables to two servings a week, which would have cut back on the fries served daily at many schools.

As the Associated Press reports…food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes and lobbied Congress….

Piling on to the companies’ opposition, some conservatives argue that the federal government shouldn’t tell children what to eat. In a summary of the bill, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said the changes would “prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and…provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals.” School districts have said some of the USDA proposals go too far and cost too much when budgets are extremely tight.

Which is a crock! Not much different from the days of “states rights” used to protect bigotry. Only this is used to protect the industries paying to keep your friendly neighborhood fat-and-salt laden Congress-critter in office.

As someone who cares specially for the Mediterranean portion of my family who taught me to prepare something more than Haggis – I make a delightful pissaladière along with dozens of variations on pizza from scratch. But, even one covered in onions only counts halfway as vegetable. The crappy nutrition designed by lobbyists from the American fast-food industry is matched in our schools only by the crappy education that satisfies our politicians.

Mom battles germs waiting for kids at fast-food playgrounds

“It’s bad,” Erin M. Carr-Jordan said, swab in hand, as she collected samples from a surface that she would later deliver to a lab for microbial testing. Nearby, a restaurant worker diligently sanitized tabletops and banisters outside the play area, but he did not appear to use his rag and spray bottle inside the children’s maze.

Dr. Carr-Jordan, a child development professor and a mother of four from Chandler, Ariz., has visited dozens of restaurant playgrounds in 11 states in recent months to test them for cleanliness. What the inspections and lab analyses have revealed is the widespread presence of an array of pathogens, from coliform bacteria to staphylococcus, at levels that experts said indicated that restaurants might not be disinfecting their playlands as diligently as they should…

“I’m not shocked or blown out of the water, because this is my business,” said Philip M. Tierno Jr…who surveyed some of Dr. Carr-Jordan’s results. At the same time, Dr. Tierno said, “There are very high counts, and that means these places are not cleaned properly or not cleaned at all.”

Dr. Carr-Jordan’s campaign, which has attracted the attention of the fast-food industry, began in April when she stopped at a McDonald’s near her Phoenix-area home because one of her sons needed to go to the bathroom. On the way out, her children asked if they could play in the children’s park, which McDonald’s calls a PlayPlace. She assented and accompanied her children inside.

What she saw was alarming.

“My kids were going, ‘Yuck!’ ” she recalled of the scene, which she videotaped with her cellphone and posted on YouTube. “It was gross and sticky. There were curse words and gang graffiti. The windows were black. There was matted hair and an abandoned Band-Aid.”

Despite complaints to the manager and several follow-up visits, the play area was not cleaned, she said. So Dr. Carr-Jordan, who has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology but is no expert in microbiology, had samples tested. When the results were analyzed by Legend Technical Services Inc., an environmental testing company, they indicated the presence of potentially harmful bacteria, and she began inspecting and testing the playgrounds at other fast-food restaurants in her neighborhood. Lab results…showed that most were far from clean, she said.

RTFA and learn how Dr. Carr-Jordan has expanded her fast-food vigilante territory, what little response she receives from local authorities – and even less from the Feds. Everyone passes the buck up the political food chain.

She formed a non-profit, Kids Play Safe. And if you care, be prepared to take on the fight on your own – adding other parents, other concerned civilians. You ain’t finding politicians standing in line to help.