- Over the past season and a half of “Food Wars,” we’ve found some interesting chemicals in some of the foods and food processes.
- We’ve created a compilation of these moments for Harry and Joe to react to.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Harry Kersh: From Yellow No. 5 to BHT, here are all the most shocking chemicals we’ve found in fast-food chains in the UK and the US. This is “Food Wars.”
Joe Avella: Over the past season and a half of “Food Wars,” we’ve found some interesting, dare I say shocking chemicals in some of the foods and food processes.
Harry: We’ve created this compilation of these moments, and Joe and I are going to react to them now. Sure, we may not be food scientists, food experts, scientists, or really anything, but we do have these fancy lab coats, which I think gives us some credibility.
Joe: I got mine at Party City!
Harry: Fantastic! Let’s dive in.
Joe: You know, the only difference is that our pepperoni contains beef. Also preservatives beutohydrolatehydrolazinase and beautohadalidblahbityblah. BHA and BHT. I can’t pronounce them. They’re bad.
Harry: It turns out that BHA and BHT are actually subject to restrictions in the European Union and can’t be added to foods such as pepperoni. This might be because studies have shown that BHA can cause tumors in rats and it’s therefore reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen in humans.
Joe: You have no idea how much we spent on those dancing rats. I mean, what doesn’t cause tumors in rats, right? I feel like rats are always getting cancer anyway. And they don’t say the portions. Are they eating human-size portions of BHA and BHT? Then, yeah, of course they’re getting cancer. Oh, well. I’m gonna die doing what I love. Eating banned chemicals. Put it in my obituary!
Harry: We reached out to Domino’s to get some clarity on the pepperoni situation. We got our info from their ingredients webpage. However, when we checked with them, they told us that their information was incorrect and they’ve updated it since to say that BHA and BHT have now been removed from the pepperoni. I think this happened at some point during 2018, they couldn’t say exactly when, but, Joe, it sounds like you’re OK after all.
Joe: Gotta say, my hair game is pretty strong in this one. I know it has nothing to do with chemicals, but my stuff was just [clicks tongue]. My hair’s locked in on this one, buddy.
Harry: I loved BHA and BHT because this was kind of the first episode of “Food Wars” where we found a chemical that actually was kind of banned and very dangerous and didn’t appear in the UK.
I’m gonna be straight up. The European Union sounds kind of like a buzzkill, right? Is that what Brexit was all about? “We want BHA and BHT in our food. We’re outta here.”
Joe: And in the US, our doughnut is made up of enriched wheat flour, [fast-forward noise] and BHT. Ah, yes! Our old friend BHT, aka butylated hydroxytoluene? It is banned in the European Union. The International Agency for Research on Cancer suggests — might I say strongly suggests — “there is sufficient evidence” that BHT causes tumor growth in lab animals. I’ll tell you straight up, those doughnuts could be made of dead cancer rats, I’d still eat them. They’re that good. Who cares what’s in these doughnuts? Also, according to WebMD, BHT is also used to treat genital herpes. That’s right. I want you to think about that every time you bite into a Krispy Kreme. Genital herpes. And every time you get genital herpes, I want you to think of Krispy Kreme. I want those two things together in your mind for the rest of your life. You are welcome.
Joe: Tricalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate. That last guy, diammonium phosphate, aka DAP. Not the sequel to “WAP.” What does that stand for? It is also used as a fertilizer and as a fire retardant. So, when we have the next wildfire outbreaks in this state, ’cause it definitely will happen, we’re gonna start dropping Krispy Kremes on those wildfires. Problem solved! One thing we need to note about the US Taco Bell menu is that items like the Baja Blast and the Doritos Tacos Locos, I think the shells have an ingredient called Yellow No. 5. Yellow No. 5 is not in the UK. Of course it’s in the US. In the UK, you usually find Yellow 5 referred to as tartrazine. It’s on a list of six chemicals which, when added to food, must contain the following warning: “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
Harry: Tartrazine is a fascinating one because it’s in so many places in America and basically nowhere here. But, honestly, like, in things like the Baja Blast, I don’t think that’s what’s causing the hyperactivity. I think it’s the million tons of sugar that they add.
Joe: As a medical professional, you’re not going to Taco Bell because you were concerned about what’s going in your body, you’re going to Taco Bell ’cause you don’t care what’s going in or out of your body, apparently. In some cases, it causes itching and hives in people who eat it. Disgusting. [laughs] Itching and hives? Yep! That’s fine. I feel most people who eat that food already had itching and hive issues anyway, so if it’s not coming from the Taco Bell, it’s coming from, I don’t know, sleeping on unwashed bedsheets. Hey, I ate it growing up, and I’m perfectly fine. I should note that I have a full head of gray hair and I just turned 23. What’s up?
Harry: There are a few things to watch out for on the menu at Five Guys.
Yeah, like the hot dogs.
Harry: For example, the pickles in the US. In the US, the pickles contain a food coloring called Yellow 5, or tartrazine. If this is added to foods in the European Union — My hair looks stupid in the Five Guys episode. Why did nobody warn me?
Harry: There is one thing to look out for on the menu. If you’re in the US and you get a salad, the croutons contain azodicarbonamide, or ADA. This is a substance that’s usually used to make vinyl foam plastics, which form things like yoga mats. It’s actually been banned from use in food in the UK since the 1990s.
Joe: So, this is my comment on the yoga-mat thing. It’s always something. Even when we’re trying to be healthy, our salad has yoga-mat plastic in it. It’s ridiculous. Like, why do our croutons have plastic in them? Just get regular croutons without plastic. It doesn’t make any sense. Oh, my God, I want Pizza Hut so bad right now. I know it’s weird to stick up for a chemical, but I want to point out that to my understanding — again, I’ve done no research on this — it’s not like they’re making the yoga mats and then taking the chemicals out of the yoga mats. If you imagine the chemical, like, one truckload goes to the yoga-mat factory, and the other truckload goes to Pizza Hut. I’m assuming, right? Or are they recycling yoga mats? If they’re doing that, then never mind. That’s really gross.
Joe: The only ingredient in the US Chipotle that gave me a bit of pause was something called gypsum. Gypsum’s also known as calcium sulfate hydrate. Right? OK. And Chipotle uses that in their tofu process when they separate the chunks from the liquid. Gypsum is also found in drywall, chalk, and shampoo. Of course it is. Now, does the gypsum stay in the tofu or is it just used for the separating purposes? I don’t care. I’m never getting tofu from Chipotle. Don’t worry about gypsum. It’s fine. You know how they have those billboards for — Yeah, yeah yeah yeah! Like, just this. And then next to it is: “Gypsum. Don’t worry about it. You’re fine.” [laughs]
Harry: One piece of information you can get from the UK’s FAQ page is that the plant-based Great Imitator wrap might not actually be as plant-based as it seems. The baste and the tortilla wrap used both contain shellac. Now, shellac is also sometimes called confectioner’s glaze, and it’s a natural polymer that’s used to give things a waxy finish and to trap in moisture.
Harry: Love the shirt I wore in the Nando’s episode. What’s your favorite Harry shirt so far? Leave a comment below.
Harry: But where does shellac actually come from? Well, it’s actually secreted by female lac beetles onto trees in India and Thailand. This means it’s technically an animal product, and although it can be gathered without harming the beetles, this is hard to achieve in practice. Not nice. Shellac was one which popped out to me when I was reading the ingredients list just because the usual context I’ve heard it in is, like, gel nails. So as soon as I kind of knew that that wasn’t that, I wanted to do some more research into it. And it turns out it’s a beetle thing. Who knew?
Harry: However, after combing through their ingredients list in the UK and the US, we did find one or two things to look out for. For example, caramel color. It’s used in a range of Pret products, from the dressing that they put on their salads to the caramel syrups, which they put into their drinks.
Irene: Well, in the US, you’ll find caramel color in the salted caramel hot chocolate and the salted caramel latte, which I drink.
Harry: Caramel color is worth pointing out because it’s on the state of California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals which are known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.
Irene: Ooh, reproductive toxicity. That’s fun. Um. [laughs] See, I was scared, but the good news is there’s only two types of caramel color, classes III and IV, that contained the chemical that’s to blame for this, 4-MEL. The bad news is that class IV caramel color does appear on the menu in the UK. While there is some evidence to suggest that the amounts currently in our food are pretty safe, the state of California banning it isn’t a great look. Meanwhile, at a federal level, the FDA still says that there is “no reason to believe that there are any immediate or short-term health risks presented by 4-MEI at the levels expected in food.” So, kind of up to you.
Harry: Whenever we reach out to someone about something like caramel color, the answer tends to be along the lines of, “Well, you know, at its current level, it’s fine.” Then surely if there’s something which has a dangerous level, then just get rid of it altogether. It can’t make that much of a difference. Come on, guys.
Harry: The one other thing worth pointing out is the difference between the wraps used in the two countries. There’s only one wrap used in the UK, and it’s this one, the kibbled rye wrap. Here’s the ingredients list.
Irene: We also have kibbled rye wraps in the US, and the ingredients list is virtually identical, but we can also get a plain tortilla wrap as part of the falafel and red peppers and Pret’s chicken Parm wraps. The ingredients list for this wrap is a little more alarming. There’s three different gums in here, but it’s actually the fumaric acid you may want to watch out for. It’s an acidity regulator that’s pretty common in tortillas, but the European Union says that while it’s practically nontoxic, long-term exposure is probably toxic to your kidneys due to the results of studies carried out on calves and rats.
Joe: Nice nonanswer. Like, “We’re not saying it’s not, but we’re also not saying that it is.” Long-term effect, kidney damage? I’m not worried about it. Again, Dr. Joe says, “It’s probably fine.” And then, on that billboard, I have a cigarette in my mouth. [producer laughing]
Harry: What we can get is a list of allergens. And it has a couple of fun things to note. For example, there is a significant risk of there being traces of seafood in our banoffee concrete.
Joe: Did he say banana? Banoffee. I’d be more worried about that. What the hell’s a banoffee?
Harry: And there are also sulfites in our chicken bites and in the ShackSauce.
Joe: We may or may not also have shellfish in our ‘Shroom burger, ShackBurger, Shack Stack, and SmokeShack. So, there’s no potential seafood in the UK equivalents of these burgers, so I have no idea why there might be shellfish in ours here in the US. I couldn’t even guess why.
Harry: Still not been explained to me why there is a significant risk that there could be seafood in a milkshake, because obviously that is not something that goes together. I do not want a shrimpy milkshake. No, thank you.
Harry: While we might not have an ingredients list for our bread, we do know that it’s likely to not be perfect. For example, an Irish court recently declared that Subway cannot call its loaves bread due to the high sugar content. Subway uses more than 10% sugar in their flour.
Joe: How about they can’t call their sandwiches sandwiches? ‘Cause they’re too gross. The high-percentage amount of their food tasting bad is the reason it cannot be called sandwiches or edible food.
Harry: So, I actually reached out to Subway about their bread issue, and we did get a response from them. The official Subway line on this is: “Subway’s bread is of course bread. We’ve been baking fresh bread in our stores for more than three decades, and our guests return each day for sandwiches made on bread that smells as good as it tastes.” So, they’re sticking with their guns. Ireland disagrees. Whose side are you on?
Harry: It’s worth pointing out one other FAQ from the UK page, which is that the UK Nando’s have explicitly committed to never using chlorinated chicken from America. Chlorinated chicken’s been in the headlines a lot recently because it’s kind of become the face of differing food standards between the UK and the US. It refers to the process of giving slaughtered chickens a chemical wash before they’re packaged and sent to consumers.
Medha: What do you guys have against our chlorinated chicken? JK. Joking. You’re gonna see. Oh, there’s so many things against our chlorinated chicken. This is done to kill harmful bacteria like salmonella. Even the European Union admits that it’s unlikely to pose any health risk to consumers. But campaigners say that it also allows farmers to cover up lower production standards throughout the chicken-rearing process. The good news is that it’s estimated only 10% of US chicken actually gets treated with chlorine. So it’s not a guarantee that Nando’s chicken in the US will have been through the process. But it’s an interesting example of the different food standards in the UK and the US.
Joe: I’m perfectly fine with that. Right? I’m perfectly fine with that. Yeah, clean the raw chicken. I mean, what would you rather have, salmonella? Get outta here. Like, it’s fine. I have never gotten salmonella. From what I hear, it’s pretty awful. Trust me. I am a diarrhea expert, and it sounds unbearable. Give me a chlorinated dipping sauce with those chicken tenders. I’m perfectly fine with that. I am not fine with risking salmonella. It’s fine. Quit being a baby. That’s my third billboard. [producer laughing]
Joe: [sirens] Cops are coming? You hear that? Oh, s—. I gotta write as many prescriptions as I can before they take it away.
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