Americans have been eating preserved foods since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Meat, an important source of protein, was dried, cured, smoked and salted to keep it from spoiling on long voyages. Other foods were pickled in brine to last the winter. Salt, sugar and vinegar continue to be used as preservatives to this day.
How Chemicals Entered the American Food Chain
With the modern era came processes that left many preserved foods colorless, tasteless and unappetizing. To stay profitable, food companies introduced mass production, processed foods, and chemical preservatives and additives. Soon, American diets were being laced with dyes, sulfur dioxide, sodium benzoate, nitrites, sulfites and heavy doses of sodium. Fast food burst upon the American scene in the early 1900s with the formation of the first burger chain, White Castle. Quick, convenient and cheap, fast food was also made of low-quality ingredients. To boost sales, company chemists got busy inventing chemical additives that improved taste and texture without slowing down production and service.
The result of that corporate strategy is the staggering size of the American fast food industry, the largest in the world, which churns out more processed food each day. The consequences of a diet high in fast foods can be seen in the rising rate of diabetes and obesity in younger and younger people. Evidence of heart disease is being seen in kids as young as ten years old.
The Many Uses of Dimethylsiloxane
That same strategy is how dimethylsiloxane got into American food. Dimethylsiloxane, also called dimethicone, is a viscous liquid in the silicone family of chemicals. It can be manufactured in different concentrations: thin and pourable, like vegetable oil, or thick and rubbery, like Silly Putty. In fact, it’s a main ingredient of Silly Putty, and the key ingredient that keeps it moist and elastic. This chemical can be found in many consumer products. Shampoos, conditioners, cosmetics, soaps and cleaning products are only a few examples. It’s a key ingredient in antiflatulent drugs. It’s also an industrial lubricant.
Only in America would we put this stuff in food, and we’ve been doing it for decades. Dimethylsiloxane is used by the fast food industry as an antifoaming agent, not as a preservative. It is added to the oil in deep fryers to keep them from foaming up when a new basket of fries or nuggets is lowered in. It’s also used as an emulsifier to keep food from coagulating or sticking in clumps when it shouldn’t. Dimethylsiloxane is used by the food industry in table salt, where it keeps crystals from clumping. It’s also used in gelatin, for the same reason.
FDA Guidelines for Dimethylsiloxane in Food
FDA guidelines regarding the use of dimethylsiloxane are fairly strict. Regulations allow no more than 10 parts per million in a finished food product, such as french fries or bread sticks, and no more than 250 parts per million in salt and gelatin. Oddly, dimethylsiloxane requires its own preservative. It’s formaldehyde, one of the most toxic chemicals ever invented and a known human carcinogen. Fortunately, the FDA regulates formaldehyde content so that it’s never more than one percent of the dimethylsiloxane used.
The effects of this chemical on humans are not yet fully understood, as no long term human studies have been made. Extensive animal testing of dimethylsiloxane was done by the World Health Organization in 1974, and “safe” levels of human consumption were determined by those tests. Despite these results, dimethylsiloxane is banned as a food additive by many European and Asian countries.
How to Keep Your Diet Silly Putty Free
Avoiding this ingredient in your food is fairly easy if you stop eating processed foods and fried fast foods. You’ll feel healthier and your local economy will benefit if you eat fresh, locally-sourced foods and cook more of your meals at home. In restaurants, ask how fried foods are prepared. If they’re fried in vegetable oil or 100-percent olive oil, they’re tastier and healthier. Try organic sea salt or kosher salt instead of regular table salt for seasoning home-cooked meals. Avoid gelatin, which is not only made from rendered cows and horses, but contains dimethylsiloxane as an emulsifier. Check the list of ingredients in your shampoos, soaps and cosmetics if you don’t want this additive on your skin and hair.
Remember that one of the best things about having a choice is that you can determine what the market sells. If demand for products that contain dimethylsiloxane goes down, companies will eventually stop making those products and start making better ones. In the meantime, information is always your best defense, so keep reading and researching ingredients in the products you buy and consume.