Misnomer Labeling: “Evaporated Cane Juice”

Today’s consumers are concerned with the dietary and nutritional value of their foods. They  want to know the sources of the ingredients in their food,  if the ingredients are organic or GMO (genetically modified organisms), natural or synthetic, and how those ingredients compare to other alternatives. So manufacturer’s find the best way to appeal to buyers, and to compete with other products on the market. One way in which they do this is by using terms that agree with consumer ethos like “healthy” and “natural”. Consumers need to be careful not to be confused or misled by clever labeling tactics. For example, “gluten-free” is sometimes placed on items that are inherently gluten-free or on which the gluten-free status is irrelevant. As such, the use of “Evaporated Cane Juice” as an ingredient name has been controversial for some time now. There have even been lawsuit’s againts Wholefoods and Chobani  because of it.  Continue reading

From Disease to Weapon: The story of Anthrax

I initially meant to write an article on anthrax over a week ago; good thing I waited. Anthrax has recently been in the news again; not once but twice. The first situation was when a Maryland lab discovered that it had been mistakenly sent live anthrax samples through commercial mail from an Army biodefense facility in Utah. The samples were sent to several labs across the United States  working to develop a new diagnostic test for anthrax (normally only inactivated anthrax is used for research). Samples were also sent to South Korea, and now since further investigation it has been revealed that  live samples of anthrax may have also been sent to the United Kingdom and Australia several years ago. The second and most recent incident comes just this week (June 9th) when a 50-year-old man robbed a Chase bank while claiming to have anthrax. He detained by police who recovered a jar in his truck containing a substance that he says is a protein powder and not anthrax. Samples from the jar have been sent for testing.

What is Anthrax

Bacillus Anthracis is a gram-positive (thick peptidoglycan layer), bacilli (rod-shaped), spore-forming bacterium. It is virulent and causes a highly contagious disease. All warm-blooded animals are capable of contracting anthrax, but it is not known to be transmitted person-to-person. B. Anthracis is also a facultative anaerobic bacteria, meaning that it normally uses oxygen for respiration, but can survive in environments where there is no oxygen. Continue reading

Water to Wine : Arsenic contamination

Toxic wine lawsuit

In recent news, 24 California wineries are being sued for selling arsenic laden wines. According to the news reports, 3 independent laboratories were asked to test over a thousand wines, of which over 80 were shown to contain elevated levels of arsenic. In some cases arsenic concentrations were as high as five times the maximum allowed concentration permissible in drinking water. Drinking water is being used as the standard because the United States does not have any legislation regulating the arsenic content of wine. You might be wondering, why wine producers would knowingly sell wine containing arsenic, whether they put the arsenic in the wine, and how this might affect your future wine consumption endeavors. Before you throw your bottles (or boxes for the matter) of wine down the drain lets explore this situation further.

What is  Arsenic?

Arsenic is a metalloid naturally found in the earths crust. Inorganic and organic forms are released from the environment by anthropogenic use – by peoarsenicple during production of metal alloys, microelectronics, and agriculture. Historically it has been used in fertilizers, in pesticides, in medicines, and in the preservation of wood (like pentachlorophenol ). Worldwide Arsenic exposure is a major environmental and occupational public health issue.

How Arsenic Gets into Wine.

In actuality Arsenic is usually present in wine. This is a direct result of the use of arsenic containing pesticides for grape production. As a result of this use arsenic is present in  soil and  water; contaminating fruits and ground water. The World Health Organization established as a guideline, the maximum concentration of arsenic in drinking water; 10 micrograms per liter.  The major component of arsenic is wine in the inorganic form, which happens to be more toxic than the organic form, however the arsenic content of wine is generally low ( < 10 ppb). Interestingly enough arsenic is also present in beer.

Wine made from grapes that have ripened on the vine longer have a higher amount of arsenic. This makes sense because they have been allowed to take up more arsenic from the soil and water they are grown in. In  addition, the acidity of soil or of wine itself keeps arsenic stable.  Prolonged fermentation during the production of wine could however decrease the presence of arsenic in the final product due to volatilization and sedimentation. Essentially, the fermentation process allows for arsenic to be transformed into other arsenic species that may be less harmful, and easier to remove.

Arsenic toxicity


The amount of arsenic present in wine is  not enough to be immediately toxic. In other words it won’t result in death, however it will result in the excess intake of the element in wine drinkers. The most common routes of exposure to arsenic are oral (drinking water and food ) and inhalation (arsine gas).

The U.S. EPA (environmental protection agency) classifies arsenic as the number one carcinogen. Chronic exposure is known to cause cancers of the skin, lung, bladder, kidney, and liver. It also predisposed humans to the development of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pulmonary diseases, and neurological impairment. Hallmarks of chronic arsenic toxicity are skin lesions; hyperpigmentation and keratosis.

Arsenic can be detected in the urine, and is a good indicator of exposure within 1-2 days of ingestion. Fingernails and hair can be used to detect acute (sudden large doses) exposure to arsenic up to 6 to 12 months after exposure.  The only treatment for acute arsenic toxicity is to treat the symptoms. Chelation therapy is limited in its ability as it may reduce the amount of arsenic in the body, but it won’t undo the harm that is already done.


California wine producers have rebutted that the lawsuit is egregious and might result in an unnecessary loss of confidence by consumers in wineries. In all honesty, only approximately 6 percent of the wines tested were shown to contain high levels of arsenic. Although the U.S. does not have any laws regulating arsenic levels in wine, the European union does. Wine producers assert that they maintain these guidelines as standards in their production. Also, the wines that are most culpable are cheap wines; like box wines. Buying quality expensive wine will reduce your risk of being exposed to high levels of arsenic, this is likely true, due to longer fermentation (aging), and better processing; such as filtration and removal of pulp. It might be wise for there to be government regulation and monitoring of arsenic levels in wines produced and sold in the United States. The issue of arsenic being present in wine is not unique to American wines, it also occurs in European wines and to a lesser extent; beer. It may be impossible to remove all arsenic from wine and even water for that matter, what is important is that it not be present in quantities that exceed those to which pose no significant harm to human health.

What Ever Happend to Ebola?!

In March of 2014 the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the outbreak of Ebola in Guinea. Subsequently, the disease spread to Guinea’s bordering countries; primarily Sierra Leone and Liberia.  Then it spread to Nigeria and Senegal, and a few cases were imported to Spain and the U.S. by way of missionary work in certain parts of Africa. It was during this spread outside of Africa that mass media coverage became frenzied and Americans flew into a panic. People were calling for closed borders, African immigrants were being ridiculed, heated racial debates surrounding Zmapp arose, and people on a whole were afraid of it hitting their city. Then all of a sudden there was quiet, so what happened to Ebola? Well, nothing happened to it, it’s still there as it’s been for about 4 decades since its first reported outbreak in 1976. Ebola has actually broken out 16 times since, the difference now is that this outbreak is the largest outbreak of Ebola ever. Contrary to popular belief  it is actually the first outbreak of Ebola in West Africa! Never before had it broken out in such populated regions; allowing for it to be more easily spread.

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a virus in the family of Filoviridae along with Marbug virus, that causes Hemorrhagic Fever. The virus leads to hemorrhaging by causing the body to lose the ability for your blood to clot, through multiorgan damage and drop in blood pressure. There are actually several Ebola viruses: Sudan Ebola, Zaire Ebola, Cote D’Ivoire Ebola, and Bundibugyo Ebola.  They are all distinct species of Ebolavirus. The virus got its name from a small river in northwestern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).


In 1976 the first cases of  Ebola were documented in Sudan and DRC (formerly Zaire), regions of Central Africa;  where it is endemic.  Then came Cote D’Ivoire Ebola in 1994; a third species. The latest type of Ebola to emerge was Bundibugyo Ebola in 2007. All of these species of Ebola are known to cause Hemorrhagic fever in humans and non-human primates. There is another Ebola virus called Reston Ebola virus that unlike the others is  not known to infect humans, and originates outside of Africa. Found in the Philippines, Reston Ebola infects monkeys and pigs.  The recent 2014 outbreak was caused by Zaire Ebola, one of the most deadly forms.


Myths and Misunderstanding

Some people mistake Ebola for an airborne disease because of how easily it is transmitted. However, it is can only be contracted through direct contact with an infected person bodily fluid such as blood, saliva, nasal discharge, and even semen.

Since it is spread through bodily fluid, another misconception is that the virus is like HIV; the two viruses are not related in any way. Ebola can kill you in a matter of days to weeks, HIV cannot. HIV is primarily spread through sexual intercourse or must enter your bloodstream (needle-use) in order for you to be infected. Ebola can be transmitted via oral administration, such as eating raw or undercooked meat from bats, which act as a reservoir for the virus.

A major controversy arose after the investigational vaccine ZMAPP was administered to Kent Brantly, MD. Many people feared that the government or pharmaceutical companies were withholding a cure from the general public. After a black man seeking treatment fled to the U.S. died from the infection, some people claimed he was denied the vaccine because of his race, and further erroneous claims came forth that the vaccine only works in caucasians. Three Liberian doctors also received the investigational vaccine, one still died. There are no current preventative or curative medicines against Ebola approved for human use.

What now?

The Majority of victims of this latest Ebola outbreak were in West Africa. As of October 2014, according to WHO 8,914 infections had been documented and  of those 4,447 were fatal. Ebola remains a global public health threat due to lack of treatment and it being a “high-mortality” disease. In previous decades, because outbreaks were rare and confined to remote areas there was little interest by companies to undergo the costly development of a vaccine. However, with increasing and recurring resurgences, the possibility of imported infections, and the potential misuse of the virus as a bioterrorist agent, several pharmaceutical companies are in the early stages of developing a treatment for Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever.  The best method of control is to confine the disease when it presents itself , treat the symptoms and supply supportive care to patients, and educate public health officials and agencies on methods to mitigate the spread of the virus. Isolating infected persons, disinfecting the environment, and using personal protective equipment while treating Ebola cases is what’s recommended by the Center for Disease Control. Ebola continues to pose little threat to Americans.