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Found in our food: How to know what's inside what you eat

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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

How much do you know about what you eat? Did you know that almost all foods are filled with some sort of chemicals? And there is growing concern about some of those chemicals and why the FDA allows them in our food.

When you visit the typical grocery store, you immediately notice colorful fruits and vegetables along with aisles and aisles of food. What you may not notice are the chemicals.

Dr. Judith Boateng, a food toxicologist and instructor at Alabama A&M, said there's a good reason why. She said sometimes when the food is processed; the color changes so they will have to enhance the color and your eyes will be drawn to that food. Then you perceive it as being fresh and wholesome.

But some watchdog groups are saying that seemingly wholesome food is anything but. More and more they are raising concerns about additives allowed in foods in the U.S. that are banned in Europe.

Among them, the coloring agents commonly found in cake, candy, macaroni and cheese, medicines, sport drinks, soda, and cheese; synthetic hormones found in milk and dairy products; potassium bromate found in rolls, wraps, flatbread, and bread crumbs; Olestra found in fat-free potato chips; even arsenic commonly found in poultry to promote growth and to boost pigmentation. All of these are all allowed in the U.S. and banned overseas.

Why? Dr. Boateng said the answer comes down to too many cooks in the kitchen.

Dr. Boateng said the FDA is looking at a different aspect of the food system, the USDA, the CDC and the EPA overlook certain aspects of our food. So just think about all the different agencies trying to regulate our food. It kind of makes it complicated.

Complicated and crippling when it comes to any agency trying to take action because of something called GRAS. GRAS stands for "generally regarded as safe."

Dr. Boateng said it creates a massive loophole in our regulations that allows manufacturers to bypass certain laws, for example some manufacturers can say this ingredient is safe perhaps based on some test that they have done. That ingredient has been approved by some scientist, so if they have the ingredient labeled as GRAS then they can bypass FDA approval and add it to the food.

With a little bit of digging, we found hundreds of ingredients on the FDA web site, more than 700 that fall into the GRAS category. Dr. Boateng said in the U.S., it is a time consuming process to test them all.

"It's not just one test, you have to do short term tests, long term tests, look at the carcinogenic properties and that takes years," she explained.

It's a much different scenario in Europe.

"We are two different countries," she said. "In Europe they have one agency overlooking the regulatory system over there so it makes it easier for them."

Easier for them, and tougher for us as consumers. Before you give up hope, there are some simple steps you can take to make sure what you put in your body isn't something other countries won't allow their citizens to eat.

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