5 HISTORIC FOOD SCANDALS
SWILL MILK According to an 1860 New York Times story, the date that “swill milk,” milk polluted by cows fed with distillery runoff, got introduced to the New York population was unknown. But the effect was terrible. Babies fed the milk made by malnourished cows often died, and the backlash prompted landmark food safety hearings.
LEADED WINE As Bee Wilson chronicles in her book, Swindled, wine is a term that contains multitudes: it can be infused with fruit or honey or lead. And until the 1800s, although the evils of ingesting lead were known, there was no real effort to stop pouring it into our wine glasses.
THE SEAL OF BREAD These days, one doesn’t hear much about poisonous bread, but securing standard ingredients and measurements for bread was a top priority in the Middle Ages, according to Bee Wilson. Bakers were held accountable by actually making a seal on their loaves, an early form of fraud detection, to prevent someone dumping coarse wheat into supposed refined products. The great Bread Scandal of 1757 involved alum being added and bread fraud persisted, by the the 19th century, people regularly stuffed birch bark and twigs into loaves.
NOT-SO-GREEN-TEA: In an 1851 issue of British medical journal The Lancet, a shocking report was issued about a common beverage: green tea. In what became a scandal, it was found that green tea contained colorings and adulterants that included gunpowder. This scandal had been around for a while, as a counterfeit tea ring was prosecuted in 1818 for selling fake fancy varietals. With help from scientists, new methods were developed for testing the contents of tea.
THE GREAT LOZENGE SCANDAL: The straw that broke the food regulatory back of Britain, according to Bee Wilson, was the Bradford sweets scandal of 1858. The candies were normally made with sugar and gum and some kind of cheap filler — usually plaster but, in this case, the candy man used arsenic. Over 200 people were poisoned — and 20 people died. In 1868, the government passed regulation to keep poisons like arsenic in the hands of chemists.
Source: Mental Floss