Home Page
Consumers' Section

E-mail this page   Printable View

Foodborne Chemicals: Overview

Chemicals and chemical reactions are a central part of everyday life: Acids are essential for digestion, chemicals maintain a balanced pH in the blood, photosynthesis occurs in plants, and, of course, industry uses many chemical reactions to produce modern foods and products. However, more and more potentially toxic chemicals are becoming concentrated in our environment due to the continued and rapid industrialization of many parts of the world.

Byproducts of manufacturing, such as heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and finished products, such as antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, batteries, fuels, and electronic equipment, can be potential toxins. Ground and surface waters used for drinking and fishing, soil used for agriculture purposes, and farmed animals raised with various chemical products all have potential effects on human health.

Many toxic chemicals are concentrated in fatty animal tissues (including fish liver and kidneys) or produced during cooking. Certain fish species are common sources of toxic exposures. This is of particular importance for women before and during their childbearing years and for pregnant and lactating women. It should be said that, despite the presence of some toxic chemicals in breast milk, the benefits of breast–feeding outweigh the possible risks to the baby.

Organic produce is increasingly available. Nonorganically produced fruits and vegetables can be washed thoroughly with warm water and a soft brush to reduce pesticide residues. Certain fruits and vegetables, such as apples, berries, tomatoes, and grapes, tend to carry larger pesticide residues. 

Household pesticides, if used at all, should be carefully stored. When they are used, family members and domestic animals should be protected from exposure for the period of time specified in the product instructions.


Foodborne Chemicals: Antibiotics, Heterocyclic Amines, and Nitrates >>