Chemical Contamination in Food

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

We can't live without food, but whether manmade, natural, or from within the food itself, chemical contaminants in our food are almost unavoidable. This lesson goes over some examples of these contaminants.

Contamination with BPA

You've surely heard of BPA, right? It stands for bisphenol A, which is a chemical found in plastics. Even some metal can may be lined with BPA. It has been linked to numerous health issues, including negative health effects on the brain, blood pressure, and prostate. BPA can leech into food and water from plastic bottles and plastic containers.

BPA is found in plastic bottles just like this one.

BPA is famous, but you're about to learn about some lesser known chemical contaminants that may be found in food and the trouble they may cause. Let's head on over to a local barbecue to learn about this.

Acrylamide, Benzene, Furan, & Perchlorate

Jack is hosting the barbecue where he is frying up some fries and roasting some ham. Well, high-temperature cooking, such as this, may produce a chemical called acrylamide straight from the sugars that are already in your food. Some evidence suggest that this may cause cancer when consumed in high amounts.

Cancer, specifically leukemia, may also be caused by another chemical that may be found in food or drinks, called benzene. Benzene is a hydrocarbon that can also lead to stomach pain and convulsions. The soda cans Jack has improperly stored prior to his guest's arrivals are a potential source of this benzene. That's because some types of soda exposed to sunlight on a hot day may form benzene from vitamin C and certain preservatives that make up the ingredients.

Mary has come over to Jack's BBQ party and brought over some canned food. Besides the risk of getting respiratory failure as a result of Clostridium botulinum toxicity (a kind of bacterium), canned food can be the source of furan. Furan can form in food as it's heated while being canned. It is heated to prevent the growth of bacteria, like Clostridium botulinum. Furan is linked to cancer, at least in experimental animals.

Not all chemicals, like acrylamide, benzene, and furan, are linked to cancer of course. Another guest at the party, Bob, asks Jack for some tap water. Perchlorate is a chemical compound that may be found in drinking water. In high amounts, perchlorate can disrupt the proper function of the thyroid gland. It may lead to lower than normal levels of thyroid hormone in the body.

Toxic Elements and Pesticides

That's not all though. Bob is drinking water that is loaded with other toxic chemical elements as well. This includes lead, arsenic, mercury, and high quantities of copper. Some of the contamination found in Bob's tap-water is manmade, such as from industrial run-off or piping. However, some of these chemical elements may be found naturally in the soil that water runs through. They are all dangerous. For instance, mercury can seriously damage the kidneys and nervous system.

Jill knows about this and decides to avoid all the fried, canned, and roasted food. She also avoids the soda and tap water. Instead, she decides to eat an apple since it provides some juice and some carbs at the same time. A perfect meal, right? Well, sort of.

Many fruits and vegetables contain pesticides, which are chemicals that kill pests like insects. What's the risk from this? To those that work with these pesticides, it may include nausea, neurological conditions, and cancer. To those of us who eat and wash our food properly, there is little risk of long-term health effects but some studies suggest long term exposure to even small amounts of these chemicals may be harmful.

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