Literatus: Sizzles from the gutter-A A +A
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
IN RECENT years, China has been plagued with an array of food safety scandals—toxic infant formula, pesticide-tainted vegetables, exploding watermelons, lean meat powder and pork reconstituted as beef. Lately, the issue has been about gutter oil—used cooking oil scooped out of restaurant drains.
Vomiting from the grossness of it is the least of the dangers it can bring.
It may not be accidental that the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences noticed the high liver cancer rates in China and in nearby parts of Asia.
Waste oil can be contaminated with fungi that produce aflatoxin, a biological poison that increases the risk of liver cancer. And around September last year, the Chinese government had started a crackdown on syndicates that resell gutter oil to consumers.
Aflatoxins were first derived from the fungus Aspergillus flavus. And to date it is among the most carcinogenic substances known to mankind. The United States Food and Drug Administration set the acceptable level of aflatoxin in all food for human consumption at 20 parts per billion. And no animal species is immune to the extreme ill effects of this toxin. Even highly tolerant adult humans can succumb to acute aflatoxicosis (aflatoxin poisoning).
Children are particularly susceptible. Long-term exposure to aflatoxin in food, even at low levels, can result in stunted growth and delayed development. Liver cancer can start to develop as aflatoxin metabolic products penetrate the DNA, causing a mutation in the p53 gene. The p53 gene plays a critical role in preventing DNA mutations from proliferating by initiating apoptosis, or the bursting of those mutated cells.
Other than gutter oil, aflatoxins have been isolated from all major cereal crops around the world, and from diverse sources. Staple commodities to watch out for because they are regularly contaminated with aflatoxins include cassava, chilies, corn, cotton seed, millet, peanuts, rice, sorghum, sunflower seeds, tree nuts, wheat, and certain varieties of spices for human consumption.
In a study in 2006 (published in Food Chemical Toxicology) the team of Peterson and Lampe found some food products that can help protect us from the toxic effect of aflatoxins. It is a regular diet of apiaceous (hollow-stemmed) vegetables. Included in this group are carrots, parsnips, celery, anise and parsley.
George Bernard Shaw had been quoted making this comment: “Everything I eat has been proved by some doctor or other to be a deadly poison and everything I don’t eat has been proved to be indispensable for life.” That’s how thin the line is between poison and a nutritious food can be. So be more careful with what you eat.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 08, 2012.