Monday, June 22, 2009


Jeff and I still have (very few) holdovers from our days buying "conventional" food in "conventional" supermarkets. I don't mean conventional as the opposite to organic. I mean conventional as in products such as store brand items that have strange ingredients, and name brand products such as Coke or Oreos. More simply put, we still have some food products that go back to before our avid label reading.

Last night I made rice and beans, and was astonished to find the can of Big Y kidney beans contained sugar. Sugar? Really? People need sugar in their beans in order to find them palatable enough to eat? Glad that it at least wasn't corn syrup (or worse, high fructose corn syrup), I cooked the beans anyway and added enough hot sauce to overcome any sweetness that the beans may have retained after vigorous rinsing. (I usually don't rinse beans but I didn't want to eat sweet rice and beans, but spicy rice and beans.)

But then I took another look at the label and saw a preservative: disodium EDTA. I found it initially baffling that something that's already preserved (it's in a can) has other preservatives added to it. I think that people are so accustomed to eating preservatives that we don't stop and think about it. So I decided to consult with Professor Google and I found some interesting facts about disodium EDTA.

First, from Wikipedia: "EDTA is in such widespread use that it has emerged as a persistent organic pollutant." Which is referenced to Environmental Engineering Science, 2006, volume 23, pp. 533-544.

So clearly enough of it is being produced that it is turning into waste that can't be adequately dealt with. That in itself is a bad enough thing to make me never want to eat anything with disodium EDTA in it ever again. But what about toxicity?

I took a look at the Cosmetics Database because their website tends to be a great resource for crazy chemicals. Disodium EDTA is not only used in foods but also in cosmetics. And yes, it shows that some studies have shown effects of neurotoxicity and organ system toxicity at low doses; cancer risk; and developmental risk at high doses. Why would I want to eat that?

Finally I looked at the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). These sheets are kept in laboratories for scientists / engineers / technicians to consult when using chemicals. They state what sort of precautions need to be taken, how to dispose of the product, what its effects are, etc. Granted that this MSDS is for a very high dosage of disodium EDTA at a concentration that you would not find in food, but it is still informative.

To compare with a can of 365 brand (Whole Foods) kidney beans, the 365 brand beans contain kidney beans and water. Eden Organics brand kidney beans contain organic kidney beans, water, kombu seaweed. Doing a cost comparison would also be interesting, but I don't know how much the Big Y beans sold for. I imagine the 365 brand was probably on the order of $1, and the Eden Organics beans are likely closer to $2. But I think it's worth any possible price differential to buy beans that don't have potential neurotoxins inside.

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