Adulterant

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An adulterant is a chemical substance which should not be contained within other substances (e.g. food, beverages, fuels) for legal or other reasons. The addition of adulterants is called adulteration.

The word is appropriate only when the additions are unwanted by the recipient. Otherwise the expression would be food additive. Adulterants when used in illicit drugs are called cutting agents, while deliberate addition of toxic adulterants to food or other products for human consumption is known as poisoning.

Contents

In food and beverages

Examples of adulteration include:

History

Historically, the usage of adulterants has been common in societies with few legal controls on food quality and/or poor/nonexistent monitoring by authorities; sometimes this usage has even extended to exceedingly dangerous chemicals and poisons. In the United Kingdom during the Victorian era, adulterants were quite common; for example, cheeses were sometimes colored with lead. Similar adulteration issues were seen in industry in the United States, until the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. More recently, adulterant use in the People's Republic of China has inspired much public attention. (See: Food safety in the People's Republic of China).

Adulterant usage was first investigated in 1820 by the German chemist Frederick Accum, who identified many toxic metal colorings in food and drink. His work antagonized food suppliers, and he was ultimately discredited by a scandal over his alleged mutilation of Royal Institution library books. The physician Arthur Hill Hassall later conducted extensive studies in the early 1850s, which were published in The Lancet and led to the 1860 Food Adulteration Act and subsequent further legislation.[5]

At the turn of the 20th century, industrialization in the United States saw an uprise in adulteration and this inspired some protest. Accounts of adulteration led the New York Evening Post to parody:

Mary had a little lamb,
And when she saw it sicken,
She shipped it off to Packingtown,
And now it's labeled chicken.[6]

However, even back in the 18th century, people recognized adulteration in food:

"The bread I eat in London is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum and bone ashes, insipid to the taste and destructive to the constitution. The good people are not ignorant of this adulteration; but they prefer it to wholesome bread, because it is whiter than the meal of corn [wheat]. Thus they sacrifice their taste and their health. . . to a most absurd gratification of a misjudged eye; and the miller or the baker is obliged to poison them and their families, in order to live by his profession." - Tobias Smollet, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771)[7]

A history of food poisoning and adulteration is found in the textbook, Death in the Pot: The Impact of Food Poisoning on History.[8]

In drug tests

Adulterants can be also added to urine, in order to interfere with the accuracy of drug tests. These adulterants are often oxidative in nature - hydrogen peroxide and bleach have been used, sometimes with pH-adjusting substances like vinegar or sodium bicarbonate. These can be detected by drug testing labs, but some less expensive tests do not look for them.[citation needed]

Notable incidents of adulteration

See also

References

Further reading

External links