CSPI Releases Food Additives Mobile App

"Chemical Cuisine" Database Now on Sale in iTunes App Store, Android Market

April 11, 2011

For years, the Chemical Cuisine glossary of food additives has been one of the most heavily trafficked pages on the Center for Science in the Public Interest's web site. Today the group is launching a mobile application that will bring CSPI's food additive safety ratings directly to iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch.


Chemical Cuisine App"Shopping for groceries was a lot easier when more food came from farms, and not factories," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "And the tens of thousands of packaged foods on supermarket shelves have a bewildering array of chemical food additives, designed to variously enhance the taste, texture, color, or shelf life of the product. We decided to make life a little easier for those who want to satisfy your curiosity about some of the most commonly used food additives—from the convenience of your mobile device."

Happily, most food additives are relatively safe in the amounts they are used, according to CSPI. But the group's scientists have flagged those additives that everybody should avoid, as well as a number of additives most people would do well to cut back on. The app features a randomly selected additive each time it loads—and lets users search for specific additives or browse among categories. Some of the entries may surprise people, including:

POLYGLYCEROL POLYRICINOLEATEPOLYGLYCEROL POLYRICINOLEATE. It certainly sounds scary! It's used in some chocolate candies and margarines. But it's perfectly safe. One would be better off worrying about the saturated and trans fat in foods that contain it.

QUORN/MYCOPROTEINQUORN/MYCOPROTEIN. This is a strange one—and it is more of a food itself (loosely defined) than an additive. A British food company found a tiny fungus growing in a dirt sample, and eventually figured out how to grow it in giant vats and process it until it resembles chicken or other meats. But in some consumers, Quorn products cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and, less often, hives and potentially fatal anaphylactic reactions.

CARAMEL COLORINGCARAMEL COLORING. Finally! A natural ingredient! But not so fast: Much of what goes by this innocent-sounding name is made with ammonia, or sulfites, or both. And the ammonia-sulfite-process caramel colorings used in Coke, Pepsi, and other soft drinks contains two carcinogens, 2- and 4-methylimidazole. CSPI recommends that everyone avoid it.

Chemical Cuisine was researched by CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson, who authored "Eater's Digest: The Consumer Factbook on Food Additives" and holds a Ph.D. from MIT in microbiology. CSPI led efforts to restrict or ban the use of such additives as sodium nitrite, sulfites, olestra, Violet dye 1, and others. A CSPI petition calling on the FDA to ban food dyes spurred the Food and Drug Administration to hold a recent advisory committee meeting on the impact of dyes on children's behavior.


The app, built by the Washington, D.C., technology firm EchoDitto, goes on sale today in the iTunes app store for $0.99.


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