Whenever someone talks about the “good old days,” they may reminisce about riding their bikes without helmets or playing outside until it grew dark. But because a bunch of these same people cracked their heads, we now have laws to protect us.
So, too, with foods that have proved harmful thanks to our old friend science. Well, for the most part anyway. Here are seven troublesome ingredients, some that used to be allowed in our food, and some very controversial ones that still are.
1. Cocaine In Coca-Cola
Yes, the Class A substance was a huge part of why people found the original Coca-Cola formula so invigorating. But the wine in the original concoction probably didn’t hurt either, especially when you consider that alcohol doubles the efficiency (and toxicity) of cocaine in the liver.
Invented by Jon Pemberton, the original recipe was a way to ween himself off morphine – so, pick your poison, I guess. The only reason he dropped the wine was to skirt the law in dry counties while that sweet, sweet booger sugar stayed in the drink until 1929. It kind of puts all those concerns about caffeine and high-fructose corn syrup into perspective, huh?
2. Olestra in Lay’s
Seen as a breakthrough in fat substitutes, Olestra – the no-fat, no-cholesterol substance – was a huge part of the WOW Chips rebranding effort by Frito-Lay. It’s flavor, however, had nothing to do with why Americans couldn’t stomach Olestra products.
Olestra caused steatorrhea (an excess of fat in your stool) and led to abdominal cramping and loose bowel movements. Sadly, there are many countries (including the U.S.) that haven’t forbidden the use of Olestra, and the only reason you no longer see Lay’s Light on grocery shelves is because sales have declined. But, don’t worry, you can still acquire everyone’s favorite laxative/potato chip online!
3. Red Dye No. 2
FD&C Red No. 2 was one of the most commonly used food colorings, found in everything from lipstick to sausage casings. But in 1971, a Soviet study found a link between the dye and cancer, which was confirmed by an FDA study released in 1976.
Widespread pandemonium ensued, and consumers refused to buy any scarlet-colored products. As a result, M&M’s removed red candies from their production (despite never using the carcinogenic No. 2 dye) and replaced them with orange candies. The red variant was reintroduced to much fanfare a decade later following a successful “Bring Back Red” campaign.
What you may not know is that currently, one traditional red dye, known as carmine or cochineal extract comes from the female cochineal bug. That’s right, it’s ground up bug.
4. McDonald’s Pink Slime
As the saying goes – if you like sausage, don’t ever learn how it gets made. The same could be said of McDonald’s burgers and nuggets and, at the time of a 2012 ABC News expose, around 70% of the ground beef produced in America.
The report focused its attention on lean finely textured beef (LFTB)—centrifuged beef scraps melted into an ooze and then treated with ammonium hydroxide as a disinfectant. The “Pink Slime” was certainly gross to look at, and the ammonia used to “bleach” the meat trimmings was a cause for alarm.
Amid these rising health concerns, McDonald’s removed pink slime from their patties, though LFTB continues to get used in 5-10% of U.S. beef products.
5. Arsenic In Chicken Feed
Believe it or not (sarcasm aside, please believe it), the chemical element typically used as a pesticide and insecticide was used in pig and chicken feed to help prevent infectious disease in livestock.
Alpharma (a subsidiary of Pfizer) voluntarily halted production of the arsenic-related drug roxarsone when inorganic (i.e. carcinogenic) levels of arsenic got detected in poultry flesh. Sadly, the company still produces nitarsone for use in turkey feed, though it has not conclusively been linked to dangerous arsenic levels.
Under the brand names NutriSweet and Equal, the ever-controversial artificial sweetener aspartame has found it’s way into over 6,000 products around the world – and with that have come allegations of its potential carcinogenic and toxic qualities.
The only proven adverse effects, however, are among people with phenylketonuria, who can’t break down the excess phenylalanine from aspartame, potentially to the point that it becomes toxic to the human brain. The controversy surrounding aspartame has led many companies and consumers to jump ship to the three-times-as-sweet sucralose (Splenda) as their preferred sugar substitute.
7. Horse Meat In Burger King Burgers
For many countries around the world, eating horse meat is no big deal. But when you’re slinging beef to Britons, you’d better make sure you’re serving the real deal. While horse meat in and of itself is edible, it is a taboo food in many Western cultures, and the scandal raised questions about the traceability of the food production line.
For instance, if sporting horses got used, the horse painkiller phenylbutazone could get introduced into diets and inhibit white blood cell production or cause aplastic anemia for unsuspecting consumers.
The scandal hit international fast food company Burger King the hardest, and the company is still recovering their image in the U.K. despite breaking ties with several meat providers in 2013.