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The services rendered by the Public Analysts of the country during the past seventy years in general and during the past five years in particular in the interests of public health is one of those imponderable national assets whose value to the community cannot be estimated in terms of the pound sterling or the pound avoirdupois. But there they are and the best acknowledgement is to say that a knowledge of what should be the nature, substance, and quality of our foods and drugs is largely based on the impartial and practical findings of the group of experts known generically as Public Analyst. All such reports, like this one for the year 1944, which is under consideration, strongly emphasise by their mere nature the increasing complexity and importance of the examination of foods and drugs under the main a,nd subsidiary acts and regulations. In fact the Public Analyst might, under present conditions, say, mutatis mutandis, with Bacon so great is the accumulation of the statutes and so intricate are they, that the certainty of the law is entirely lost in the heap. We believe that when Bacon wrote there were about two thousand statutes on the books. By this time the number of regulations issued by the Ministry of Food in the interests of public health must have swelled almost to the dimensions of a legal code, but there the comparison ends. Many regulations have been issued as a result of conditions imposed by the War whereby the use of a corresponding number of what were wellknown constituents of foods has been either prohibited or limited in amount. The processing of foods has greatly developed. Many of these foods are produced under the stimulus of trade competition. The Labelling of Food No. 2 Order, 1944, by far the most important of the orders relating to the adulteration of food, requires that the labels of prepacked foods must give the name or registered trade mark and address of the packer or labeller and that the purchaser may have some idea of what he may be buying the quantity of each ingredient must be stated, or if this be not done then the ingredients must be listed in the order of their proportions beginning with the name of the one that occurs in the largest proprotion. The net weight of the food must be stated. Certain exemptions are allowed. Thus milk, fish, fruit, and vegetables preserved otherwise than by canning and bottling and for others whose composition is already controlled by regulation. The Order ensures that the nature of new types of compound food will be known at least in general terms. The Report further says, This Order is a great step forward in the history of food legislation, and will be welcomed by public analysts no less than by consumers, although it will certainly entail a very considerable addition to the analytical work already involved in the examination of foods, and will necessitate in the case of the determination of vitamins, the use of specialised technique and of expensive apparatus. The Order states that if a food contains vitamins or minerals the minimum quantity of these per ounce must be specified on label or in advertisement. The same remarks will, we imagine, apply to the drawing up of food standards. The Ministry of Food is empowered to do this. Food standards have been urgently needed for a long time past and many are now in existence. These are official and binding as will be others as they appear. It will be noticed that they relate for the most part to more or less highly processed foods such as selfraising flour, fruit curd, jam, marmalade, mincemeat, and coffee essence. The absence of official standards has tended to confusion and uncertainty. It may become a case of so many men so many minds, unless the offence be very gross and obvious. The protective foods, fresh milk, eggs, fruit, and vegetables are the most needful especially for the younger members of the community. Unfortunately they are the most costly and unless they be fresh are worse than useless. Milk qualitatively and quantitatively stands first on the list. The report states that the percentage of adulteration, 95, is the highest recorded for the years 1939 to 1944 inclusive. It is pointed out that it must not be assumed from these figures that 95 per cent. of the milk supplied to Birmingham is adulterated as 72 out of the 267 reported against were taken from only 12 vendors whose milk was suspected. The composition of the milk sold in Birmingham compares favourably as regards composition with those of five other towns or counties whose figures are quoted. Incidentally, it may be remarked that the legal limit of 85 per cent. of solidsnotfat and 3 per cent. of fat is a generous minimum, for from the figures given for the average composition of all samples of milk for 1944 it seems that the nonfatty solids amount to 877 per cent. and fat to 365 per cent., while the average composition of all farmers' milks is practically the same. It is unnecessary to elaborate the point further beyond remarking that the figures given show that generally there is no excuse for poor quality milk. Unsafe milk, that is milk containing pathogenic organisms, is another matter. Particulars of prosecutions of five farmers for selling adulterated milk are given. In two of the cases mentioned adulteration, in one case certainly in the other case probably, was due to dishonesty of employees. In another case it seems that 57 gallons of milk represented by six samples contained 5 gallons of added water The milk coolers were found to be in order. The persistent and inexplicable leakiness of that piece of mechanism is frequently put forward as an excuse for the presence of extraneous water in milk. The cows, too, were young and in good condition. Presumably they were yielding milk of normal quality. It will also be remembered that the alleged all too ready response of these animals to slight variations in food or weather is sometimes given as a reason for fat deficiency. With regard to other foods reported against. The low available carbon dioxide content of baking powder, selfraising flour and the like would seem to be due to old stock. The vendor in one case, discovered at the back of the shop, nine packets of old stock. Poor storage conditions or unsatisfactory containers would also seem to be contributory. Other foods, some being of like character to the above named, have attained notoriety by being enriched with eggs, larvae, and mites. Other offences are of wellknown type. We have coffee with 15 per cent. of chicory in one case and about 33 per cent. in another. Orange flavour beverage powder containing, among other things, 134 per cent. of Epsom salts Why The packers would seem to have a penchant for Epsom salts. They had added this purgative before and were now asked to label the package giving the amount of Epsom salts. The only explanation that occurs to the writer is that it was the wish of the packers to rid the system as quickly as possible of the beverage before the other things had time to take an effective hand in the game. Two samples of rice contained an excess of French chalk. This had been used as a polishing agent in an attempt to attract the palate by pleasing the eye. Unfortunately this removes the germ plus vitamin B. This process was practised long before the existence of vitamin B was even suspected and the public has by this time so successfully humbugged itself into the belief that rice not so treated is unfit to eat that it would require another Order of the Ministry to protect the purchaser against himself. Brawn had a most unappetising appearance. It had been dyed a brilliant red and its make uponly 4 per cent. of flesh meatwas such that by no stretch of the imagination could it be called brawn. Yet even the sale of this stuff seems to have been successful. The brilliant red colour possibly doing the trick this time. Honey. In this case the word Honey was printed in large type and underneath emulsified flavour in small type. It consisted of a 2 per cent. solution of gum artificially flavoured of the consistency and appearance of honey. The whole get up was calculated to mislead as to the nature, substance and quality. Tinned soup was described on the label as extra concentrated, and was alleged to make twice the quantity of soup. It was no more concentrated than any other canned soup on the market. A packet of so called stuffing was found to consist almost entirely of bread crumbs. It was described as very old stock. The Ministry of Food insist on 7 per cent. of herbs being included. How very old stock could be even an explanation let alone an excuse we fail to see. In another case that ever useful word improved was used. Improved Parrishes Chemical Food was found not to correspond with British Pharmacopoeia requirements, and further the word improved hardly seemed applicable to a product containing 30 per cent. less of one of the principal constituents than the official article. Then we come to Port Wine. As the result of a complaintregarding the quality of rum and port, wine sold at a licensed housesamples were taken. The rum was found to be genuine. The port, however, consisted of so called British Wine. It seems that the licensee had developed the very unfortunate habit of supplying it when asked for port. The licensee was warned that he must disclose the nature of the drink when selling it. In 1944 5,302 samples were taken in Birmingham under the Food and Drugs Act. 368 of these or 68 per cent. were reported against. Those mentioned above are a few typical instances. Unfortunately no comparison with the rest of England and Wales in this respect is possible, the Ministry of Health having suspended the publication of figures. It is, however, certain that every such report introduces a new act in this comedy of errors with the Public Analyst as chorus.
British Food Journal – Emerald Publishing
Published: Aug 1, 1945
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