Fishtell: Revolutionizing Fish Freshness Assessment with K-Value Technology

In a world where people are increasingly cautious about their diets and about the food they eat, particularly when it comes to consuming fish, ensuring freshness is key. However, conventional methods of assessing freshness are often inadequate, leaving both consumers and retailers vulnerable to the risks of dealing with subpar products. That’s why we’re introducing Fishtell—a pioneering initiative dedicated to transforming how we gauge the freshness of fish, with a special emphasis on the critical K-value parameter.

The K value, an indicator of freshness in fish, holds immense importance for consumers and retailers. As fish ages, biochemical changes occur within its flesh, leading to alterations in various compounds. Among these changes, the ratio of inosine and hypoxanthine to the total quantity of ATP and its related substances becomes increasingly significant. This ratio, known as the K value, serves as a reliable index for assessing fish freshness.

Traditionally, assessing fish freshness relied on subjective sensory methods or costly, time-consuming lab analyses. However, these methods are prone to inaccuracies, often resulting in discrepancies in freshness evaluation. This is where Fishtell steps in, offering an innovative solution that combines portable intelligent Near-InfraRed (NIR) spectroscopic sensors with Artificial Intelligence (AI) data analytics.

By harnessing this advanced technology, Fishtell enables real-time, accurate, and cost-effective evaluation of fish freshness. By quantifying key parameters like the K value and pH, Fishtell provides valuable insights into fish freshness, empowering consumers and retailers to make informed decisions.

For consumers, Fishtell ensures confidence in the quality of the fish they purchase. Whether selecting a certain fish for a family dinner or sourcing ingredients for a restaurant, knowing that the fish is fresh and of high quality is essential. Fishtell’s ability to deliver real-time freshness assessments enhances consumer trust, leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty.

Similarly, for retailers, Fishtell offers a competitive edge in the marketplace. With consumers becoming increasingly discerning about food quality and safety, being able to guarantee the freshness of their seafood products sets retailers apart. By leveraging Fishtell’s technology, retailers can uphold rigorous standards, mitigate the risk of selling stale or inferior products, and ultimately enhance their reputation and profitability.

Moreover, Fishtell’s impact extends beyond individual consumers and retailers. By promoting transparency and safety within the seafood industry, Fishtell contributes to the overarching goal of fostering collaborations and promoting best practices across the fish industry. Through partnerships with stakeholders and the support of initiatives like the TITAN Food Safety Pilot group, Fishtell paves the way for a more sustainable and resilient seafood supply chain.

Fishtell’s innovative approach to fish freshness assessment, particularly focusing on the K value parameter, represents a significant advancement in the seafood industry. By providing accurate, real-time evaluations, Fishtell empowers consumers to make informed choices and enables retailers to uphold quality standards. With its potential to transform the way we perceive and ensure fish freshness, Fishtell emerges as a game-changer in the quest for safer, more transparent seafood.


International Journal of Food Microbiology – “Use of K-value determination for quality assessment of fish”

Food Control – “Evaluation of fish freshness quality by K-value based on e-nose response and microbiological analysis”

Food Chemistry – “The use of K-values to assess the quality of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.)”

Allura Acrylamide Atrazine

What do Allura Red, acrylamide, and atrazine have in common? (Aside from alliteration, of course). These three compounds are among the most prevalent within their class of chemicals and have gone under the consumer radar for years. Allura Red is the most popular red food dye; acrylamide can be found in the most popular carbohydrate-rich foods we consume; and atrazine is among the most popular pesticides used in corn crops—itself an incredibly widespread food. Today TellSpec is finally bringing these baddies into the light.

Allura Red AC, otherwise known as Red 40, is the most commonly used red food dye. Derived from petroleum, Allura Red is an azo dye that contains benzidene, a human and animal carcinogen. While studies of toxicity in animals have shown negative effects primarily at very high intake, case reports of human health effects differ somewhat. Indeed recent studies have suggested that consumption of artificial dyes, including Allura Red, in combination with benzoates, a type of preservative, can lead to hyperactive behaviour in children. Now this sounds like a fairly far-fetched concern, however given the prevalence of Allura Red in processed foods–processed foods which are likely to contain benzoate preservatives. Notably, sodium benzoate is used in acidic foods like salad dressings, soft drinks, fruit juice, and jam–all of which are prime targets for a dash of Allura to punch up the Red. Interestingly, Allura Red’s usage is discouraged in Europe and outright banned in certain countries, such as Denmark, Belgium, France, and Switzerland. It is also forbidden from use in animal feed due to concerns over its potential to interact with genetic material.

Whereas Allura’s status as an additive is fairly recent, acrylamide is something that has, as far as we know, been present in food for as long as we’ve been heating our carbohydrate sources–but it is only now coming under scrutiny. Acrylamide is a naturally occurring chemical that develops when high-starch foods meet high-heat (above 248oF or 120oC) cooking (though it is also present in less starchy foods like coffee and high fructose corn syrup.) Baking, frying, grilling, and roasting are associated with the greatest level of acrylamide production, whereas boiling and microwaving starches appears not to generate the compound. Generally speaking, the more browned the starch, the greater its acrylamide content. Something to consider when reaching for another slice of bread, with it’s golden crust, let alone tossing it into the toaster. So why are we focusing now on something that’s been around for ages? Because acrylamide has been classified as probably carcinogenic to humans; high intake has shown neurotoxic effects in humans, including cognitive impairment, muscle weakness, and loss of motor control; and the compound can cross the placenta to interact with the fetus–and maternal acrylamide intake has been associated with low birth weight and poor fetal growth, both of which are predictors for later health risks.

We can see Allura by its distinctive colour, and the golden hue and cooking method gives us a clue about acrylamide, but atrazine is undetectable to the ill-equipped consumer. Atrazine is an herbicide and pesticide, used in a great variety of crops to prevent weed growth. In fact it is reported to be one of the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the US (and Australia… the European Union has banned it entirely) and one of the most common pesticide contaminants of drinking water. What crops are the prime targets and of most relevance to consumers? Sugarcane, canola, and corn–and what processed foods don’t contain sugar, vegetable oils, and corn in some form, be that starch or syrup? Of course atrazine would be present in trace amounts, but awareness is important when we consider the health effects. Atrazine is an endocrine disruptor: it inhibits testosterone production in male rats; it disrupts communication between the brain and ovaries in female rats, likewise interfering with hormone production; and it leads to hermaphroditism in frogs. Atrazine alters thyroid function and levels of corticosteroid hormones–even at the low concentrations expected in ground water. Atrazine exposure has been linked in humans to increased risk of low birth weight and premature birth and impaired fetal development, including malformation of the genitals. Atrazine is also carcinogenic, having induced a variety of types of tumors (including a link to ovarian cancer) in rodent studies, and possibly obesogenic, having been associated with increased body mass and insulin resistance.

So what can the consumer do to avoid these chemicals? For Allura Red, read your labels and accept a duller colour to your food. For acrylamide, while it is important to recall that this compound has always been around, being moderate in one’s consumption of starchy foods (particularly ones best served baked, roasted, or toasted) is an option. For atrazine, invisible that it is, short of lobbying our governments to change their stance on their favourite helper in the corn field, consumers must unfailingly choose organic and settle for uncertainty regarding trace amounts throughout the food stream.


Food and Chemical Toxicology
Food and Chemical Toxicology 2
The New Yorker
Environmental Health Perspectives
The Lancet
Food Additives & Contaminants
The UK Food Guide
Food Standards Agency
Environmental Health Perspectives 2
Environmental Health Perspectives 3
Environmental Health Perspectives 4
European Commission Institute for Health and Consumer Protection
Reproductive Toxicology
Toxicology and Sciences
Toxicology and Industrial Health
Environmental Research
Public Health Reports
Toxicology in Vitro
American Journal of Medical Genetics
Annual Review of Public Health
Environmental Health Perspectives 5

What are Endocrine (Hormone) Disruptors?

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the hormones in our bodies. These chemicals are capable of increasing and decreasing hormone production, mimicking hormones, changing hormones from one type into another, and interfering with hormone signaling (Crisp, 1998). Through these various mechanisms, endocrine disruptors have been linked to adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. Being both natural and man-made, these chemicals can be found in a wide range of everyday products, including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides (NIEHS, 2014). Given their ubiquitous presence in everyday goods, it is important that consumers are aware of the risks of these products and have the tools to avoid them. By using Tellspec’s revolutionary smartphone app and the Tellspecopedia consumers will have the ability to quickly scan their food products and receive up-to-date information on items such as endocrine disruptors.

One Example of an endocrine (hormone) disruptor: BPA

What is BPA

BPA is the building block of polycarbonate plastic and is also used in the manufacture of epoxy resins. This endocrine disruptor is found in many common consumer products such as plastic food containers, plastic food packaging and canned food items lined with epoxy resin (Beronius, 2010). Not only found in food items, BPA is also present in compact discs, impact-resistant safety equipment, medical devices, water supply pipes, dental sealants (NIEHS, 2014) and store receipts (Liao, 2011). Though BPA is generally not present in food itself, plastic containers and epoxy lined cans slowly leech BPA into food over time. This leeching effect speeds up with the age and temperature of the container and also with the liquidity of the food item. Therefore, older plastic containers heated to high temperatures containing liquid products are the quickest at leeching BPA (NIEHS, 2014).

What can you do to avoid BPA?

Do you want this chemical imitating estrogen in your body? If not, choose fresh or dried foods instead of products canned in tin or plastic. If you cannot avoid the use of some canned or plastic items, be aware that the FDA considers BPA to be safe and does not require producers to label their merchandise as containing BPA or as BPA free (FDA, 2013). Therefore, to avoid unlabelled BPA-containing plastic, do not use plastics marked with a “PC,” for polycarbonate, or with recycling label #7 (FDA, 2013). In addition, check your tupperware manufacturers for their policies on BPA. If their products contain BPA, discontinue their use and seek out BPA-free tupperware. Though this may seem like a lot of work, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to keeping synthetic hormones out of your body.

Health Concerns

Studies have linked BPA to:

1.Breast cancer
BPA leads to an increased risk for development of breast tumors and has been shown to make cancer cells more aggressive.

2.Reproductive problems
BPA has been shown to reduce semen quality in men and lower estradiol levels and oocyte retrieval in women undergoing IVF.

3.Lowers sex drive
BPA increases the risk of reduced sexual desire, erectile difficulty, ejaculation difficulty and reduced satisfaction with sex life in men.

4.Birth defects
BPA has been linked to poor genital development in baby boys born to mothers exposed to high levels of BPA.

5.Heart disease
BPA increases the risk of myocardial infarction and coronary heart disease.

BPA accelerates fat-cell differentiation, disrupt pancreatic functioning, and causes insulin resistance, leading to obesity.

No Safe Levels of BPA

Given all of the negative effects seen from BPA exposure, what does this mean for the average consumer? Can we get away with a little exposure here and there? BPA expert Laura N. Vandenberg, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow of regenerative biology at Tufts University, says no, we cannot. She states that there are no safe levels of BPA due to how it affects hormone function in the body. At low doses BPA can actually be more harmful than at high doses (Vandenberg, 2012), and unfortunately, over 90% of Americans have relatively low doses of BPA in their bodies (Bienkowski, 2014). Therefore, in order to avoid BPA exposure it is imperative that consumers are knowledgeable of how their food is processed and packaged-information that Tellspec is proud to offer.

Fish Fraud

Fighting mislabeling and fish fraud with science-based systems

In 2016, global per capita fish consumption hit 20kg for the first time. In 2019, the trend had not stopped and consumption reached 20.9kg, setting a new record.

For the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the increase in per capita consumption of fish is the result of the development of aquaculture and of a general reduction of waste: in the 60s, 67% of fish was eaten by humans (the rest went to the animals), while today we eat almost 90% of it.

Although many marine species are still overfished and therefore at risk, the fact that fish consumption is increasing at a global scale and that a good part of it comes from aquaculture, must certainly be taken as good news: fish has a more sustainable footprint of livestock farms, that is for sure. On the other hand, the increased demand for fish, exposes the sector to fraudulent activities aimed to maximize profits to the detriment of consumers.

The numbers of fish fraud

In a report published by FAO, the fishing and aquaculture industries were recognized as especially vulnerable to food fraud. Fish fraud – which involves mislabeling, fish substitution, fraudulent increase in fish weight – occurs along the entire supply chain.

The most common type of fraud is certainly fish mislabeling, which favors the practice of substituting some fish species with less valuable ones.

According to studies, in Europe, out of a total of 283 fish samples collected in 180 retail outlets of 23 countries, 26% of the samples were mislabeled and 31% of the outlets sold mislabeled fish.

Other studies found that in the US as many as 33% of the 1,215 samples taken in 21 union states were mislabeled; 44% of the outlets actually sold one species of fish instead of another.

A research, aimed at integrating the results of more than 200 articles on fish fraud in 55 countries, has revealed that an average of 20% of all fish sold in retail and in restaurants is mislabeled. When put in relation with the global increase in fish consumption, these numbers provide a good idea of ​​the extent of the problem and the risks associated to it.

The immediate consequence of fish fraud is consumer deceiving. However, the effects on public health should not be underestimated: public health is at risk when, for example, toxic species replace non-toxic ones or when fish coming from polluted waterways is passed off as marine. The impacts of food fraud include loss of consumer confidence in both the food industry and in the effectiveness of government food control programs.

Tackling the problem

Fish fraud is a complex issue that requires the strengthening of control policies and the development of effective science-based tools and systems that can ensure the fish traceability and authenticity.

The fight against fraudulent practices in the fishing sector has entered the agenda of many political decision-makers. In Europe, EIT Food promoted a project aimed at developing an end-to-end electronic system for the analysis and traceability of fish along each step of the supply chain. Through a portable NIR spectrometer, it is now possible to perform non-destructive analysis in order to classify the species and provide information on the composition of the fish, measuring parameters such as fat, protein, humidity and spoilage. The system, which is based on an AI engine running in the cloud, is also able to measure the amount of water present in the fish and thus determine if fraudulent practices have been carried out or if the fish has been frozen.

The system integrates the analysis allowing the traceability of fish up to the origin. The information is recorded and protected via blockchain so as to provide an additional tool for the control and prevention of mislabeling.

Tackling fish fraud will not be an easy task. While the problem has been investigated in developed countries, there is a lack of information about fish fraud in developing countries. As policy makers started to include a science-based approach to the question, the fish supply chain also need to integrate its control systems to take account of risks of fraud. The goal is to ensure the quality of food on the market and give consumers the opportunity to make informed and more sustainable choices, ultimately gaining their trust again.


Artificial Colours Part 2

The food industry has a long history with food dyes, both synthetic and nature-derived. They are widely used because humans eat with their eyes. It’s important, however, to question and evaluate the safety of these synthetic food dyes. There are examples of food dyes widely used for years, then banned due to negative health effects, such as Orange 1. Today TellSpec is sharing the research on six synthetic food dyes possibly present in your food; with the exception of Orange 1, these are dyes that are currently approved as safe for use in noted nations.


Tartrazine is a synthetic yellow dye. Permitted in US, carries a warning in the UK and EU due to its effects seen in children. Frequently associated with food intolerance, linked to hyperactivity, aggression, irritability in children. Can act as hormonal disruptor by activating human estrogen receptors. Contains benzidene, a human carcinogen. Found in: soft drinks, pasta, chips, popcorn, candy, sauces.

Other names: FD&C Yellow 5, E102, C.I. 19140, Acid Yellow 23, Food Yellow 4


Sunset Yellow FCF is a synthetic, yellow azo dye derived from petroleum. Voluntarily removed from food in the UK following consumer pressure. Considered safe in low amounts. Elevated intake in animals associated with enlargement of gastrointestinal and reproductive organs and diarrhea. Contains benzidene, a human carcinogen. Found in: cheeses, confectionery, marmalades, jams, baked goods, instant noodles, soft drinks, lemon gelatin, cake decorations.

Other names: Orange Yellow S, FD&C Yellow 6, C.I. 15985, E110


Quinoline yellow is a synthetic, green-yellow dye. Banned in US, Australia, Norway. Voluntarily removed from food in UK following consumer pressure. EU permits it but lowered allowable intake by 20-fold in 2009. In combination with sodium benzoate (common preservative, particularly in soft drinks), associated with hyperactivity in children. Reports of rashes and allergic reactions common. In animal studies with very high intake, has effects on white blood cell count and weight during pregnancy. Found in: soft drinks, jellies, caramels, processed seafood, caviar, liquors, juices, candies.

Other names: Quinoline Yellow WS, Food Yellow 13, D&C Yellow No. 10, Acid yellow 3, Quinidine Yellow KT, Japan Yellow 203, Lemon Yellow ZN 3, C.I. 47005


Fast Green FCF is a synthetic green dye. Banned from use in the EU; permitted in the US, though it is the least used food dye. In high doses in animals, associated with various cancers, impaired bone marrow function, changes in composition of blood. In cell-based studies, causes changes to chromosomes of DNA and interferes with function of neurons of the brain. Found in: sports drinks, sauces and dips, chewing gum, processed vegetables.

Other names: Food green 3, FD&C Green No. 3, E143, Green 1724, Solid Green FCF, and C.I. 42053

Brilliant Blue FCF is a synthetic, blue dye derived from petroleum. Long-term toxicity studies in animals have found it safe. At site of injection in rats, cancerous growths seen. Recently associated with negative health effects when given to patients in compromised health, particularly when given via feeding tube to hospital patients. FDA endorses its removal from healthcare settings. Found in: ice cream, liqueurs, popsicles, canned vegetables, candies, dairy products.
Other names: FD&C Blue No.1, Acid Blue 9, D&C Blue No. 4, Alzen Food Blue No. 1, Atracid, Blue FG, Erioglaucine, Eriosky blue, Patent Blue AR, Xylene Blue VSG, C.I. 42090


Indigotine is a synthetic, blue dye derived from coal tar. Approved for use in US and EU. In studies of rats, injection of high dose over an extended period of time impaired growth, caused cancerous growths, and in some animals caused immediate convulsive death. In pigs, altered blood composition and impaired liver function. Found in: cheeses, yogurt, frozen desserts, fruit purees and fillings, processed seafood.

Other names: FD&C Blue No. 2, Indigo carmine, E132, 5,5′-indigodisulfonic acid sodium salt

Artificial Colours Part 1

The food industry has a long history with food dyes, both synthetic and nature-derived. They are widely used because humans eat with their eyes. It’s important, however, to question and evaluate the safety of these synthetic food dyes. There are examples of food dyes widely used for years, then banned due to negative health effects, such as Orange 1. Today TellSpec is sharing the research on five synthetic food dyes possibly present in your food; with the exception of Orange 1, these are dyes that are currently approved as safe for use in noted nations.


Amaranth is a dark red to purple, synthetic azo dye derived from petroleum. Banned from use in US in 1976; banned in Austria, Russia, Norway. Allowed in UK, France, Italy. Carcinogenic and reproductive health effects in rats. Human gut bacteria can alter it to produce toxic byproducts. Found in: glace cherries, caviar, ice cream, fruit fillings, boxed cake mixes.

Other names: FD&C Red No. 2, E123, C.I. Food Red 9, Acid Red 27, Azorubin S, or C.I. 16185

Erythrosine is a synthetic cherry-pink dye. Second least common in US where Allura Red is favored. Heavily used in Europe where Allura Red is discouraged or banned. High doses associated with cancer, impaired liver function, body weight changes in animals. Considered safe in low doses. May interfere with white blood cells, may cause hyperactivity in children, associated with negative effects in asthmatic patients. Found in: candied fruit, processed meat, red pistachios, cake-decorating gels, chewing gum.

Other names: FD&C Red No. 3, E127, Food Red 14, C.I. Acid Red 51, C.I. 45430


Allura Red is a synthetic, orange-red azo dye derived from petroleum. Most commonly used red dye in the US, discouraged from use in EU, banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Switzerland. Considered safe in low doses, animal studies of high doses showed no significant effects. In combination with benzoates (common preservatives), may cause hyperactivity in children. Contains human carcinogen benzidene. Found in: soft drinks, fruit juices, frozen desserts, processed seafood, candies, fruit fillings.

Other names: FD&C Red 40, E129, Allura Red, Food Red 17, C.I. 16035


Citrus Red is a synthetic orange-yellow dye. Permitted with restrictions in the US. Used only to colour the rind of non-organic Florida oranges that haven’t developed a rich enough colour, usually early in the harvest season. In mice, increased mortality and liver damage was seen within weeks with a diet containing 0.1% Citrus Red. In mice injected with the dye, tumors appeared more often and were more severe compared to controls. Classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans by the International Association for Research on Cancer.

Other names: Citrus Red No. 2, , E121, C.I. Solvent Red 80, C.I. 12156


Orange 1 is a synthetic orange dye derived from coal tar. It was one of the original seven dyes approved for use in the US in 1906. It was banned in 1956, after extensive use in candies and popcorn, following reports of children becoming ill. Studies in adults found that eating twelve hard candies at the time was sufficient to cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms; studies in animals showed effects ranging from weight loss to death. This event, which occurred in 1950, was the first to prompt the FDA to reinvestigate the safety of their approved dyes. No longer in use.

Other names: FD&C Orange No. 1, Acid Orange 20, Orange I

Facing the effects of fungicides in our food

Fungicides are any chemical compounds, naturally occurring or synthesized, or biological organisms that are used to kill or prevent or inhibit the growth of fungi and fungal spores. Fungi include yeast, molds, and mushroom. These organisms can damage crops, infect livestock, and produce toxic compounds. Because of this risk to agriculture, a great number of fungicides exist to combat the huge diversity of fungi foes. TellSpec today will be examining three: Triclosan, Vinclozolin, and Thiabendazole. These cumbersome words describe potentially dangerous compounds.

Triclosan (TCS) is perhaps the most innocent of our three, at first glance, and its problematic nature is not immediately apparent. It is a halogenated phenol, or organochlorine, compound that is not highly regulated but is widely used. It is an antimicrobial though it has, of course, antifungal properties, that is found across North America, Europe, and Asia in everything from disinfectants and detergents to toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant. Evidently, though it is used in agriculture, residue on food is perhaps not the most likely source of consumption. Triclosan is indeed approved for use that leads to human consumption, and has been described as not likely to cause any adverse health effects in children or adults who use products as intended. This, however, is where the issue appears to lie, as TCS is not only intentionally part of a variety of products but is also a compound that makes its way into wastewater and the water treatment system in significant quantities. This has raised concerns of negative ecological effects on certain fish and is believed to contribute to antibiotic resistance. Furthermore, this source can lead to exposure to TCS above the levels studied when establishing its safety. Additionally, TCS has been found in human plasma and breast milk and has been implicated as an endocrine disruptor. All of these are concerns that were not part of the original evidence for safety and widespread use, which has pushed its re-review date by the FDA up by ten years.

Vinclozolin is a less widespread foe. In the US its use is approved only for canola crops and residual levels are permitted only in canola, livestock that have been fed canola, and wine grapes. However, vinclozolin has historically been used in the US to treat berries, lettuce, and wine grapes; different countries have different regulations against it; and a significant amount of North American produce is imported and residues may persist. Vinclozolin and its metabolites can have carcinogenic and antiandrogenic effects, where androgens are the male steroid hormones such as testosterone. This can affect development and function of sex organs and hormone systems, fertility, as well as circulating levels of sex hormones. In studies of mice, vinclozolin was able to bind to receptors, leading to masculinization of females and feminization of males. Furthermore vinclozolin shows transgenerational effects: the offspring of mothers exposed to vinclozolin can show physical damage (aside from poor organ development) and behavioural abnormalities.

Finally thiabendazole. Thiabendazole is approved for use in a variety of crops in a variety of methods: as a pre-planting treatment for soybean, wheat, and sweet potatoes; on growing mushrooms; and as a post-harvest dip or spray for citrus, apples, pears, bananas, mangos, papaya, plantain, carrots, avocados, peas, and potatoes. This spray is typically applied at the same time as wax coating of the produce occurs. It is approved in the US but not in the EU, Australia, or New Zealand. In animal studies, thiabendazole is carcinogenic and damaging to normal liver and thyroid function. Thiabendazole is assessed as safe to humans at the levels expected from a typical diet (and residue levels are, as a standard, restricted to levels well below those which cause negative effects in studies). However thiabendazole may be present not only in the aforementioned crops but also flour, rice, meat, meat byproducts, milk, poultry, and eggs.

So what is there to do? Fungicide residues are extremely difficult to avoid, as they can persist in soil and water. Organic produce and crops do not permit use of synthetic fungicides, and so are a good place to start. Shopping at local Farmers’ Markets offers the chance to ask the grower how they raise their crops and livestock. Choosing unwaxed produce and peeling fruits and vegetables can avoid some residues. Beyond that, staying informed and advocating, as is your right as a consumer, for greater safety evaluation and regulation of these compounds’ presence in your food.

Journal of Applied Toxicology
Informa Healthcare

European Food Safety Authority
General and Comparative Endocrinology
Nature Reviews: Endocrinology
Critical Review in Toxicology

Food Standards Agency
Australian Government ComLaw

Talking Trans Fats

Trans fat. By this time, surely a pair of words that brings up thoughts of ill health, negative effects, and disease. Research within the past decades has brought to light the risks associated with intake of trans fats, to the point where labelling has become mandatory and many institutions have called for outright bans of trans fat. Today TellSpec will be discussing what trans fats are, exactly; what health effects are associated with intake; where they are found; and a brief discussion of artificial vs natural trans fats.

What is a trans fat? The word trans refers to the actual configuration of the fatty acid. Molecules of fat contain fatty acids, chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms; the arrangement and number of these atoms is what makes for different fatty acids. A trans fat contains one or more double bonds in trans geometric configuration—a technical description, but essentially it means that the fatty acid is straight. A straight fatty acid will align more closely with another straight fatty acid, meaning that that fat will be more solid at room temperature. So we can see why shelf-stable foods tend to contain more trans fats—manufacturers want fats that will stay solid at room temperature and have a longer shelf-life.


Hydrogenation is a term commonly linked to trans fats. Hydrogenated fats are straight-chained and solid at room temperature. Compared to butter, a solidified vegetable oi is much cheaper and less likely to go rancid. It is important to note that a hydrogenated fat is not the same as a trans fat—ideally a hydrogenated fat has been fully hydrogenated, that is, saturated with hydrogen atoms, so no carbon double bonds are present. As mentioned, trans fats have one or more double bonds. However, artificial trans fats are a commonly produced during the hydrogenation process; therefore hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as ingredients will typically introduce trans fats into the product.
This is obviously a fairly technical description, but what does this all mean to the consumer?

Trans fats have been investigated heavily in the past few years. Particularly after the fiasco of hydrogenated vegetable oil margarines which contained trans fats being promoted as far healthier than butter with its high saturated fat. This came under fire with the discovery that the trans fats in those early brands of margarine were quite dangerous (as well as recent research that has taken saturated fat down from the position of indisputable villainy.) Most manufacturers have reformulated their spreads to contain minimal or no trans fats, however the nutrition and ingredients labels are the best guide. As far as whether margarine or butter is “superior”, the debate over each one’s pros and cons continues.
Consumption of trans fats is shown to increase risk of coronary heart disease: the ratio of good and bad cholesterols in the bloodstream is negatively skewed, the amount of triglycerides (fats) in the bloodstream is increased, and system-wide inflammation is encouraged. Trans fat intake impacts the body’s ability to utilize essential fatty acids such as Omega 3s. It has been shown to promote obesity and abdominal fat deposition in animals, even when fed the same number of calories as the control. Trans fat intake has also been associated with the development of Type 2 Diabetes, including studies showing abnormally increased insulin levels after eating a trans fat-containing meal. Furthermore, as trans fats are so commonly found in highly processed foods, the health risks associated with such a diet, which is likely high in overall fat, sugar, and sodium, are only compounded by the trans fat.


So where does the consumer look to locate trans fats? Among others: processed snack cakes, frostings, peanut butters, chocolates, candies, fried foods, chips, even bread. Ultimately however, it’s the ingredients label that is your best guide: key words include partially hydrogenated oil and hydrogenated oil. Pay particular notice to partially hydrogenated. Scanning the ingredients list is essential as certain labelling laws regarding trans fat vary. For example, in Canada trans fat labelling is mandatory even below 0.2g per serving. In Australia, the UK, France, and Germany labelling is entirely optional, whereas other countries such as Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland mandate that trans fats may not exceed 2% of the total fat content. In the US, labelling is mandatory, however foods containing less than 0.5g of trans fat per serving can be labelled as trans fat-free. As serving sizes are distorted and even trace trans fats are hazardous, consumers must take initiative.

Finally, trans fats can be found naturally occurring in animal products from ruminants such as cows, specifically meat and dairy. For example, 1 cup of 2% milk contains 0.2g of naturally occurring trans fat. These natural trans fats, rather than those artificially produced through hydrogenation, include vaccenic acid and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is sold as a health supplement and has been promoted as able to aid in reduction of body fat. Vaccenic acid is itself a precursor to CLA and some studies have suggested it to have beneficial health effects. Overall, however, the research, particularly in humans, is limited and governing bodies maintain that all trans fat intake should be kept at a minimum.

Search your food labels for these dirty ingredients!


Trans fats (i.e. hydrogenated vegetable oil) are often artificially produced and can be found in ice cream, shelf-stable pastries, fried foods, cheese and milk. Problematically, those with diets high in consumption of trans fats show decreased cardiovascular health and increased inflammation, obesity, and insulin sensitivity – making it important to avoid consumption of this additive. Many countries have enforced a ban on trans fats; recently California has prohibited their use in restaurants and food establishments.

The Journal of Nutrition
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
The New England Journal of Medicine
Danish Health and Medicines Authority


Potassium bromate is found in bread-flour and flour-containing foods where it is used to treat and improve bread dough. Problematically, potassium bromate is potentially carcinogenic and has been shown to induce DNA mutations in rats. Other studies elucidate the damaging effects of potassium bromate on white blood cells, kidney function and hearing capacity. If bread is not cooked sufficiently, residual potassium bromate may remain. Because of its danger, potassium bromate has been prohibited from food in the EU, Canada, Brazil, and China. Consumers within the United States and other countries allowing the use of potassium bromate should be cautious as to their consumption of this chemical.

Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis
Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery
Environmental Health Perspectives
OEHHA Office of Environment Health Hazard Assessment


Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) contains the atomic element bromine and is used to solubilize citrus oils within soft drinks. In the United States, the use of BVO has been limited to 15ppm although it is currently still used in Mountain Dew, Powerade, and Fanta Orange among other drinks. Excess consumption of BVO notes adverse effects as consumers have reported memory loss, tremors, fatigue, loss of coordination, and headache that were reversed upon removal of bromine from within the body. Avoid BVO consumption whenever possible.

Food Chemistry
The New York Times


Propyl gallate is an antioxidant that prevents the oxidation of foods containing oils and fats. One study conducted in 2009 found that propyl gallate may inhibit the action of estrogen – causing problematic effects by disrupting regulation of the body’s hormone levels. As a result, the study recommends caution in the use of the additive. Consumption of propyl gallate has also been associated with stomach and skin irritability in addition to allergic reactions – making it an important chemical to avoid.

Chemical Research in Toxicology


While BPA (bisphenol-A) is a synthetic compound found in plastic containers, it has been found to leak into the foods and liquids located within. BPA acts similarly to estrogen within the body – binding to the estradiol receptor. Having hormone modulating effects, BPA has been shown to induce harmful concerns in animals – lowering the age of puberty onset, disrupting sexual organ development and increasing the risk of cancer. In addition to this, BPA may also interfere with the thyroid gland – one of the centers of metabolic regulation. As a result, the US FDA has removed BPA from use, but this chemical still remains within Canada and the EU. To avoid harmful side effects, be cautious as to the use and purchase of packaging containing BPA.

CHIMIA International Journal for Chemistry
Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science
Journal of Health Science

Search your food labels for these dirty ingredients!


Artificial sweeteners are ubiquitous and include aspartame, stevia, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium all of which are 200 to 600 times sweeter than traditional sugar. While often considered useful in reducing sugar cravings, hesitate to consume artificial sweeteners as they have been shown to influence and increase appetite – particularly in children. As these additives do not satiate the body’s demand for traditional carbohydrates, unsatisfied consumers search out additional food – causing problematic weight gain. In particular, studies on acesulfame potassium have found that fetal or infant exposure influences a child’s later sweetness preferences. Acesulfame potassium bears carcinogenic, mutagenic, and hormonal effects upon high levels of consumption making it especially essential to avoid.

Europe PubMed Central
European Food Safety Authority
Journal of Ethnopharmacology
Chemical Senses


Manufacturers include artificial colorings in common food products to boost their appeal. However, many of these dyes have been found to be potentially carcinogenic in humans. Citrus Red 2, Fast Green FCF, Indigotine, Sunset Yellow FCF, and Tartrazine are just a few of the names to be avoided. Fast Green FCF, for example, disrupts bone marrow function and interferes with brain tissue DNA in animal studies. Food dyes have also been associated with diarrhea and gastrointestinal enlargement. Tartrazine, in particular, should be avoided as it has been shown to activate estrogen receptors – increasing the possibility of developing breast or uterine cancers. Because of the problems associated with artificial coloring, select dyes have been banned from the UK and even the EU.

Toxicology Data Network
Food and Cosmetics Toxicology
Food and Cosmetics Toxicology 2
The Journal of Pediatrics

Sodium benzoate is a food preservative produced from a reaction of sodium hydroxide with benzoic acid. This chemical inhibits bacterial and fungal development and is often found in salad dressings, carbonated drinks, jams, fruit juices, and condiments. Unfortunately, sodium benzoate has been linked to hyperactive behavior in children. Most problematically, sodium benzoate combines with ascorbic acid to form benzene – a known carcinogen. While foods containing the two chemicals, such as Coca Cola, have been found to have a safe dosage of benzene, heat, light, and shelf life can modulate the amount of benzene formed in food making this additive important to abstain from.



Refined sugars include sucrose, or table sugar, as well as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Excessive intake of these ubiquitously found sugars has been shown to induce metabolic abnormalities including insulin resistance, colorectal cancer, and nutritional deficiency. Sugar intake may also increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Excessive consumption of HCFS should be avoided at all costs as it has been found to induce additional metabolic issues including high blood pressure and can impair leptin – an appetite suppressing hormone. Consumers with a high-fructose diets have been shown to have increased cholesterol levels.

Europe PubMed Central
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
The Journal of Pediatrics
American Heart Association
International Journal of Cancer
Journal of the National Cancer Institute

BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) are food preservatives used for their antioxidant capacities. Addition of BHA and BHT to foods like breakfast cereals, oats, processed meats and ready-to-eat meals prevents spoilage and rancidity of the fats and oils contained within the products. However, the use of BHT and BHA has been associated with increased cancer risk in addition to an increased risk of birth defects. Particularly, animal studies show that these chemicals interact with the liver to impair its function. It has been suspected that these chemicals act as toxicants to several bodily organs resulting in strict regulation of the usage of BHT and BHA by the EU and the Food and Drug Administration. Avoid BHT and BHA consumption whenever possible.

American Oil Chemists’ Society
Food and Chemical Toxicology
Food and Chemical Toxicology