After reading this article you will learn about:- 1. Meaning of Food Pollution 2. Risks of Food Pollution 3. Economic-Adulteration.
Meaning of Food Pollution:
Food pollution means the presence in food or associated with food of toxic chemicals (elements or compounds) and/or biological contaminants which are not naturally present in food or are above their natural background levels (for those chemicals which are naturally found in some foods).
This may affect each of us by causing mild to severe food-illnesses or, even worse, contributing or causing the development of serious health problems such as hormonal and metabolism problems, or even various types of cancer.
Nervous system problems may also be induced by food polluted with certain pesticides. Additionally, in rare cases when highly polluted food is consumed, serious food poisoning or death may occur almost immediately. In average, more than 70 million cases of food-borne illnesses occur in U.S. every year resulting in approx. 5,000 deaths per year!
The causes of food pollution are many. Basically, any pollutant that comes in contact with food has the potential to pollute the food. Various vegetables may get contaminated with toxic bacterial strains (from irrigation water, groundwater, or soil) which may only be destroyed by processing the polluted food at high temperatures.
As for the toxic chemicals, they may get into the food causing food pollution in a variety of situations including:
i. Growing of food (e.g., crops, fruits, vegetables) in polluted soils, solid wastes (e.g., mine tailings) or areas with polluted groundwater;
ii. Irrigation of grown food (e.g., vegetables, fruits, crops) with polluted water;
iii. Growing of food (e.g., crops, fruits, vegetables) in areas with polluted air;
iv. Agricultural treatments with pesticides, insecticides, and/or herbicides;
v. Agricultural application of sewage sludge and/or polluted fertilizers (which contain ash from power plants);
vi. Agricultural application of sewage sludge and/or polluted fertilizers (which contain ash from power plants);
vii. Consumption of polluted water and/or food by animals (fish or other animals);
viii. Food processing, packaging, and handling; and
ix. Propagation and concentration of pollutants through the food chain.
The fact that plants (vegetables, crops, or trees) become contaminated with the pollutants from the environment is based on the ability of plants to extract environmental pollutants along with water and nutrients through their roots. In the case of air pollutants, those usually enters plan also through roots after being first deposed on the ground with precipitation water.
This is why some plants (non-edible species) are actually used to remediate low to moderately polluted soil by extracting pollutants from soils (an innovative remediation called phytoremediation).
Risks of Food Pollution:
Food pollution risks depend on a variety of factors, including:
i. Type of Pollutant:
While any pollutant present in food may pose a health risk, the pollutants that are persistent and bio-accumulative are those that pose the higher risks because they may accumulate in food over time resulting in concentrations much higher than in a surrounding environment (e.g., accumulation of persistent chemicals such as organomercurial compounds or PCBs in fish).
Hormones in food may also pose serious risks that are still uncertain. For example, contamination of caw milk with an artificial hormone (rBGH) used to increase milk production may be linked to some types of cancers in humans. Thus, a safe alternative is to avoid, if possible consumption of food with hormones.
ii. Type of Food:
Fish are more dangerous than other food due to their potential exposure to a higher variety of contaminants and the accumulation and concentration of certain compounds in fish. Also any bird or animal consuming polluted fish may become contaminated itself and thus transmit the pollution further through the food chain.
iii. Each Individual Person’s Health:
Children, elder people, as well as pregnant women are usually more sensitive to food pollution. So are people with chronic food diseases or illnesses, for which food pollution risks are higher. However, healthy individuals may also develop food-poisoning diseases and anyone may be at risk
Economic-Adulteration of Food:
A food is adulterated if it omits a valuable constituent or substitutes another substance, in whole or in part, for a valuable constituent (for instance, olive oil diluted with tea tree oil); conceals damage or inferiority in any manner (such as fresh fruit with food coloring on its surface to conceal defects); or any substance has been added to it or packed with it to increase its bulk or weight, reduce its quality or strength, or make it appear bigger or of greater value than it is (for example, scallops to which water has been added to make them heavier).
According to the many causes of food pollution, the sources of pollution in food are various. They include various chemicals and/or microorganisms that get into contact with food during growing, processing, or packaging stages. Basically, any existent environmental pollutant may get one way or another into our food. Thus, any of the sources polluting air, water, and soil may also become sources for food pollution.
Water Pollution & Food:
Food and water are tightly connected in the fact that water pollution may reflect in the food grown in areas with contaminated water or irrigated with contaminated water. In general, irrigation water is not subjected to the same scrutiny and standards that apply to tap water. Thus, the risk of polluting the food exists. For home grown food try to use tap water for irrigation and also test the quality of garden soil.
Poisonous or Deleterious Substances:
Generally, if a food contains a poisonous or deleterious substance that may render it injurious to health, it is adulterated. For example, apple cider contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 and Brie cheese contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes are adulterated.
If a food contains a poisonous substance in excess of a tolerance, regulatory limit, or action level, mixing it with “clean” food to reduce the level of contamination is not allowed. The deliberate mixing of adulterated food with good food renders the finished product adulterated.
Filth and Foreign Matter:
Filth and extraneous material include any objectionable substances in foods, such as foreign matter (for example, glass, metal, plastic, wood, stones, sand, cigarette butts), undesirable parts of the raw plant material (such as stems, pits in pitted olives, pieces of shell in canned oysters), and filth (namely, mold, rot, insect and rodent parts, excreta, decomposition.
Microbiological Contamination and Adulteration:
The fact that a food is contaminated with pathogens (harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, or protozoa) may, or may not, render it adulterated. Generally, for ready-to-eat foods, the presence of pathogens will render the food adulterated.
For example, the presence of Salmonella on fresh fruits or vegetables or in ready-to-eat meat or poultry products (such as luncheon meats) will render those products adulterated.
For meat and poultry products, which are regulated by USDA, the rules are more complicated. Ready-to-eat meat and poultry products contaminated with pathogens, such as Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes, are adulterated.
For raw meat or poultry products, the presence of pathogens will not always render a product adulterated (because raw meat and poultry products are intended to be cooked and proper cooking should kill pathogens). Raw poultry contaminated with Salmonella is not adulterated.