The processed food industry (PFI) is mentioned frequently on this site and it is never complimentary. We’re now going to take a closer look at this monument to corporate greed and corruption and, in the process, show quite clearly just what a horror story the PFI really is.
It is no exaggeration to say that much of the food they con us into buying is, quite literally, nothing less than poison. This ranges in level of severity from merely making us feel a bit poorly to actually killing us. In-between, these foods cause diseases and conditions that ruin millions of people’s lives.
Bereft of conscience, morality and lacking any scruples whatsoever, the PFI exists purely to make money – nothing else concerns it. Shockingly, the PFI’s lies, deceit and complete disregard for its customers is all condoned by the very laws and lawmakers that are supposed to protect them.
Given their way of doing business is sharp practice at best, and totally illegal at worst, you may well wonder how the big corporations that comprise the processed food industry manage to deceive their customers and disregard the laws that exist to protect those customers.
Secrecy is their main strategy. Very few people have any conception, either of what’s in the processed food they eat, or of the ways the industry ensures they don’t. Which is just the way the PFI like it. Make enquiries, as we have, and you hit a brick wall every time. Truly, this industry could be the blueprint for a country’s secret service!
After a number of requests for interviews with various food corporations had been brusquely refused, we managed to trick our way into one by offering fake credentials. However, even though they thought they were talking with one of their own, we found they were still very guarded in what they said. What answers you do get from these people are phrased in bland corporate speak that gives away as little as possible.
Ask them what’s in a particular product and they simply refuse to tell you – commercial confidentiality is the usual excuse, i.e. we don’t want our competitors to know. Ask to look around one of their factories and you’ll get the old health and safety excuse, i.e. factories are dangerous places.
In reality, it’s neither competition or our health they’re worried about – their only concern is preventing the public from finding out what they’re doing. Take a look at the websites of these companies and you will quickly see that there is nothing remotely informative or illuminating. There’ll be plenty of press releases, advertizing, company statistics and so on, but no hard facts about what goes into their products.
Another favorite strategy is deception. Often, it doesn’t take long for the public to become aware of suspect additives – E numbers being a typical example. Social media and the Internet ensure these suspicions spread quickly and sales of the product in question drop as a result. The PFI’s solution is to just replace the additive with something virtually identical but with a different name – one that sounds reassuringly healthy. We’ll see more on this tactic later.
When necessary, the PFI resorts to the oldest strategy of all – corruption. Most countries have food standards bodies and agencies to ensure the public is protected from food companies selling dangerous products. Having no intention of being dictated to by anyone, however, the PFI has two ways of dealing with these bodies.
The first is to have their own people on them and thus rig things in their favor. The second is to use their corporate power and financial muscle to simply buy their way out of trouble when necessary. This same method is also used to bribe government officials at the highest levels. Nothing is beyond them!
We’re now going to take a more detailed look at the processed food industry by examining the seven sub-industries of which it is essentially comprised. Each of them handles a specific element of processed food production.
Modern-day processed food is mass-produced by huge corporations operating out of factories that are every bit as industrial and mechanized as, say, a car factory. The production process is similar as well. They buy the ingredients (often unrecognizable as food) and then turn them into something that looks, feels, smells and tastes enough like food to fool the public.
These ingredients are supplied by smaller food companies that work in much the same way as the corporations they supply. Some provide the base ingredients for products, usually by taking healthy whole foods and processing much of the color, taste, texture and smell out of them. They do this because uniformity is key in the processed food industry – every one of a batch of products has to be exactly the same. Needless to say, the food’s nutrient value is largely refined out as well.
Other companies specialize in additives that put the color, taste, texture and smell back into the sludge the industrialized processing produces. These supply manufacturers are essentially an industry within an industry. And it’s one that the general public knows virtually nothing about and will rarely, if ever, come into contact with. They market their products to the big corporations by means of food trade exhibitions that are strictly invitation only – the general public are not welcome.
This paranoid need for secrecy from all sides of the industry is as instructive as anything with regard to the quality and safety of the food they produce and sell.
Virtually all supermarkets these days have ‘in-store bakeries’. Walk past one and you will see rows of crisp looking loaves and smell the enticing aroma of newly baked bread. At the rear, you’ll see large stainless steel ovens and staff busily taking out the freshly baked loaves and putting them on the shelves – it’s all very convincing.
However, it’s a setup and the customers are being conned. What they’re actually buying is bread made somewhere else and which has then been frozen – probably for months. The supermarket shoves it in an oven, warms it up and then presents it to the customer as freshly made bread – it’s actually just the opposite!
It’s not just bread either. All dough-based foods such as cakes, doughnuts, pastries, croissants, etc, that are presented as being fresh, are given the same treatment. Most high street bakeries and delicatessens work in exactly the same way. Furthermore, because these products have been manufactured with no intention of being sold immediately, they are also adulterated with the usual array of chemical preservatives.
Continue your walk around the supermarket and you will come across the fresh fish counter. Here, you will see all manner of fish species enticingly laid out on beds of ice. As with the ‘bakery’, the setup is designed to create the impression of freshness – in this case that of freshly caught fish. Once again, though, it’s a con.
If you’re very lucky, you may get some fish that actually is fresh. The reality though, is you’re much more likely to end up with something that is days old – and maybe even on the point of going rotten.
A recent article in a British newspaper described how a reporter observed fish from several English supermarkets being tested. Of the twelve samples, four failed to meet even the minimum level of acceptability (ten days since being caught). Basically, they were on the verge of rotting. Six were on the borderline. Shockingly, only two samples out of the twelve were found to score above it.
As we have just seen, whether the food they sell is fresh or not is immaterial to the PFI. Their only concern is that the food looks fresh and appetizing – it’s a matter of perception. If it doesn’t look good, people won’t buy it.
However, the tricky bit for them is that not only does it have to look good, it has to stay looking good – and for as long as possible. This is where we encounter food preservatives. As with all additives, these are substances that either contain chemical compounds not found in natural foods, are chemically enhanced or are produced by chemical processes.
Their sole purpose is to keep food looking good long after it shouldn’t do – a function that is of prime importance to the PFI. The actual quality of the food is secondary – nutritionally, it’s of no importance to them whatsoever.
The ‘edible film’ con is another deception. This is a chemical substance that coats food with an edible film that is invisible, odorless and tasteless. The purpose of the film is to keep the food looking fresh and it works by keeping air away from it. The person eating the food has no idea they are eating something that could well be weeks old, nor that they are also eating a laboratory-inspired chemical cocktail.
Yet another technique employed by the PFI in its eternal quest for ‘perceived freshness’ is the use of enzymes. This is potentially quite scary stuff as it employs genetic modification techniques. While nobody can say it is dangerous with any degree of certainty, nor can anyone say it isn’t? Do you want to be the one who finds out?
What these techniques (and others still in the pipeline) do is blur the boundaries. Nobody in their right mind would eat a chicken more than a couple of days old. The processed food industry, however, has no trouble in getting us to eat chicken that is much older because we perceive it as being fresh.
If the perceived freshness of a product ranks number one on the PFI’s scale of importance, flavor runs it a close second. Having conned a customer into buying something that looks good, it then has to taste fairly good as well. If it doesn’t, a repeat sale isn’t likely.
The positively brutal techniques employed in industrial food processing – heat, centrifugation, deodorizing, sterilization and pasteurization to name just some – inevitably results in loss of taste. So it has to be put back into the soggy, tasteless gunk that comes out the other side of the production line.
To this end, there is a range of additives known as flavorings – currently, there are some three thousand of them. They aren’t there just to add flavor, however. The manufacturing process can impart unpleasant smells and flavors of its own, often from chemical solvents and contaminants such as heavy metals. To deal with these, dual-role flavorings have come into being – not only do they provide the desired flavor, they also mask unwanted ones.
Another reason flavorings are so important to the PFI is that they are a lot cheaper than the real thing. For example, an orange flavoring additive costs much less than real oranges. For the PFI therefore, the use of flavoring additives is a no-brainer. The consumer, though, may see it rather differently. No matter how hard their makers try, it’s a fact that no artificial flavoring will ever taste as good as the real thing.
Older people who have been brought up with unprocessed food, and so have a benchmark, will immediately taste the difference between lemon squash made with lemons and artificially flavored lemon squash. Younger people, most of whom have never tried the real thing, won’t.
More important than the unnatural taste left by these flavoring additives, however, is the fact that many of them are positively dangerous to our health. For example, solvents such as butane and propane are used in many food production processes, and it is a fact that some remain in the finished product. The PFI’s stance on this is that the amounts involved are so minute that they pose no risk to our health. If that’s true, how do they explain away the fact that workers in factories producing potato chips, pretzels and the like, have a much increased risk of respiratory diseases due to inhaling the flavoring additives. This being the case, what do they do to us when we eat them?
Then we have sugar, the most common flavoring additive of all. This substance has been the cause of more health issues than any other and yet the PFI puts it into everything. Just one of the many reasons they do so is in response to the current ‘fat is bad’ mantra. Jolted into action by falling sales, the PFI has had to drastically cut the amount of fat in its products. And as most of the flavor in food comes from the fat, they have had to find something to replace it with. The old standby of sugar is their chosen option. However, as they were already using plenty of it, this has resulted in virtually all processed food being positively rammed with the stuff.
For example, one can of soup can contain five teaspoons of sugar, a can of soda up to nine teaspoons, a bottle of cooking sauce up to ten teaspoons. It’s also the reason that foods marketed as being ‘low fat’ and ‘healthy’ are often anything but. The problem with this high intake of sugar (particularly the refined fructose favored by the PFI) is the fact that our livers have a limited capacity to absorb and use it. We can actually only metabolize about six teaspoons of sugar per day – anything over and above is turned into fat. When you consider that the average westerner consumes about twenty teaspoons a day (and rising), the reason for the current obesity epidemic becomes clear.
As we have pointed out repeatedly, excess weight leads to a number of chronic illnesses, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia. The PFI is well aware of all this but couldn’t care less.
A particularly underhand trick they use is to put caffeine and salt in soda drinks. Caffeine is a diuretic that makes us urinate, and salt makes us thirsty – the two, in combination, keep us feeling unnaturally thirsty and so needing to buy more. To hide the taste of the salt, the PFI turns to its old standby – sugar – copious amounts of it! They also go to enormous lengths to conceal the amount of sugar they use. The simplest is just giving it a different name – there are over sixty alternative names for sugar!
Another method takes advantage of the fact that ingredients are listed by weight on the packaging with the main ingredients listed first. This means that the more of something there is in a food, the higher up on the list it appears. To make their products appear more healthy, they use small amounts of three or four different types of sugar in them so that they appear down the list. These small amounts add up to a large amount, though!
Another attribute that’s extremely important to the PFI is texture. The food must not only look and taste good, it must feel good as well. This is as important a factor as any in convincing people that what they’re eating is proper food. Unfortunately for the PFI, the processing procedures churn out food that is totally lacking in this respect.
Once again, food additives come to the rescue; one of the main ones here being starch. Cheap, tasteless, odor-free, a neutral-white in color and bulky, starch has little nutritional content and so offers virtually nothing to the consumer.
To the PFI, however, it is quite literally worth its weight in gold due to the myriad uses to which it can be put. It gives texture and bulk to bread, it adds crunch to biscuits, it makes potato chips crispy, it adds creaminess to mayonnaise, plus a hundred and one other things.
Needless to say this isn’t a simple starch, such as the cornflour commonly used in households up and down the land. No, the PFI have their own versions, called ‘modified starches’, and they bear little resemblance to the household variety. Production methods for these starches include treatment with chemicals, enzymes, acid and even electrical charging.
Predictably, the PFI claims modified starches are safe to eat but, given the fact they refuse to give exact details of how they make them, these claims have to be regarded with a degree of suspicion. However, regardless of whether they are safe to eat or not, it is indisputable that these modified starches cheat the customer. This is because the PFI uses them as a substitute for more expensive ingredients, such as oils, eggs, cheese and butter.
This reduces their costs considerably which wouldn’t be so bad if some of it was passed on to the consumer. Needless to say, it never is. Furthermore, these modified starches, processed as they are, are totally devoid of any nutritional content. So, in far too many cases, consumers are getting little or nothing for their money.
A final kick-in-the-teeth is the fact that starch has a high carbohydrate content. This means that not only is food that contains it low in nutrients, it’s high in calories. So, being a main ingredient in virtually all processed food, starch contributes highly to the obesity levels that are rocketing all over the world.
We now come to another of the PFI’s favourite additives – water, and for the same reasons. This liquid is cheap and is also an ideal bulking agent for making food portions look bigger than they actually are. This is very handy with expensive foods like meat and seafood.
However, there is an inherent problem with getting meat and fish to absorb water. With meat that has been minced, such as burgers, sausages and meatballs, it’s easy enough. But with solid pieces – ham, steak, chicken breasts, prawns, etc, special equipment is required. This is a machine through which the meat is passed and which pierces the meat with rows of fine needles that inject water into its tissues.
Meat treated in this way can be anything up to 50 percent water. Furthermore, this is PFI water we’re talking about – not nice, clean tap water. Known in the trade as brine, this is water that has been treated with chemicals to give it ‘added properties’. This brine is used to provide texture and feel to a range of processed foods, as well as for bulking.
All processed food is packaged. It’s not done for the customers benefit but because it has to be, and for several reasons:
The first is marketing. Look at the picture on a box showing the ready-made meal it contains and you will see a professionally photographed image portraying tender cuts of meat and crisp, perfectly cooked vegetables. When you open the box though, you will almost certainly see something rather different!
Packaging provides another way of extending shelf life. For example, the inside of tin cans are commonly lined with epoxy resins (also used in glues) to stop the metal reacting with the can’s contents. Displayed meats are placed on chemically-treated mats that absorb blood. When used with fruit, these same mats can be supplied treated with fungicides. Clear plastic containers have a chemical coating on the inside to stop them ‘fogging up’.
Thousands, quite literally, of toxic chemicals are used in the packaging of processed foods. These include carbon monoxide, ammonia, paraffin and formaldehyde to name just some. Many are known to be the cause of serious health problems. Just one example of this is a group of chemicals called phthalates. These are used to make the type of plastic found in fast food containers.
A recent study has shown that people who eat this type of food regularly have dangerous levels of phthalates in their body. Take it from us – these chemicals are something you definitely don’t want in your system! When pressed on this issue, the PFI’s response is depressingly familiar. There’s no need to worry, they say, as the quantities of chemicals used are so infinitesimal, they can’t possibly have any ill effects.
As the one at the sharp end, however, you may wonder at the cumulative effects of long-term intake of these substances.
Aware of the growing awareness and dislike of chemical additives, the PFI is continually on the lookout for new ways to deceive the public. A method they have recently begun using is a food packaging system known as Modified Air Packaging (MAP). This works by replacing the air in packaged food with a blend of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
Without going into the details, it keeps food looking much fresher than it actually is – meat stays red, cheese doesn’t go mouldy, etc, etc. The shelf life of food packaged in this way can be doubled – great for the PFI but not so great for the consumer who is buying food that can quite literally be weeks old.
Who on earth wants to be eating three-week old fish? What’s more, as soon as the MAP packaged product is opened, it rapidly assumes the state it would naturally be in at such an age – limp and discolored. It doesn’t matter to the PFI though; it has just made another sale.
For years now, the PFI has relied on additives to give their bland, tasteless base products the flavors, odors and colors destroyed by the industrial processing that produces them. Chemical-based preservatives increase shelf life, while thickeners, binders, emulsifiers, foaming agents, gelling agents, glazing agents and many more, are used to create texture and an appetizing appearance.
The public, meanwhile, has had little or no idea they’ve been doing this. It was only with the introduction of new rules that compelled the PFI to label all a product’s ingredients on the packaging that this changed.
Unable to do so honestly as it would kill sales, they have resorted to deceiving the public with a ploy that has been given the misnomer ‘clean labeling’. This involves replacing all suspicious sounding ingredients on a product’s nutrition information label with ones that sound natural, i.e. not out of a chemistry lab – as indeed many of them are!
An example of clean labeling is an additive called oregano extract. This is commonly added to processed meats such as salami. However, it is not there to provide the meat with a fragrant aroma. It’s there because it’s a very effective preservative that reduces the rate at which the meat goes off. Previously, the manufacturer would have used a less than user-friendly sounding additive, such as butylhydroxyanisole – also known as E300-21. Oregano extract sounds much nicer!
Now you may ask what’s so bad about using oregano as a preservative? – it’s a natural herb after all, with no chemical associations. The answer to this reveals the deception that lies behind the concept of clean labeling. Forget any notion of a nice-smelling fresh herb being sprinkled into the meat. Oregano extract is a powder produced by an industrial process that uses chemical solvents to strip out all the smell and taste (and nutrients) from the oregano. It may sound much more appealing but, in reality, is little better than the chemical preservatives it has replaced.
A product’s label can be used to deceive the public in other ways as well. For example, to persuade them that a product has been made in a traditional manner by using phrases such as ‘free of preservatives’ and ‘additive-free’.
Another ploy is to try and persuade the public that a product is a health food. To this end, phrases such as ‘low-fat’ are used.
The Bottom Line
To sum up, our advice is to be very wary of eating anything that comes out of a packet, can, box or tube; or is served up in a fast food outlet. If you do, you will all too often be eating a concoction largely made up of starch, chemicals, air and water. If you are lucky, you may get something that is slightly nutritious!