Thursday, June 25, 2009

So Just Where IS the Corn?

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, corn slips through the cracks of our glass bubbles and into our diets. And despite our best detective work, we're hard put to track down just where that corn slipped in.

Did the ingredients of some normal dietary staple change? A new supplier for the cereal grain? Did our vitamin supplier switch the source of something? Was it that whiff of popcorn that we raced past at the mall? Did we remember to scrutinize each new package for the dreaded words "New and improved"? (Which most of us by now have learned means "Now fortified with CORN")

Of course, when the inevitable "corning" occurs, it's important to scrutinize labels and contact suspect companies. After determining that the spices are safe, no ingredients now come with their own "hypoallergenic" corny contents, and that there just isn't any noticable change in the ingredient lists, it's time to think outside the box.

Like the Corn Growers. Who stepped outside the box, looked at it and said "Ah, ha!"

Sometimes, it's possible for corn to be in the package itself. In fact, with the increasing awareness of environmental responsibility and a strong consumer desire for "green" packaging, plastic derived from corn starches is becoming a very popular choice for producers.

NatureWorks has been hard at work developing disposable food packaging that is "safe" for the environment. Basically, corn sugars are isolated and fermented to create a durable, but compostable, plastic resin that can be used for anything from deli trays to coffee cups. It can be heat sealed, and withstand significant temerature changes. And, of course, it's made from everyone's favorite hypo-allergenic (not) corn.

Whether these new packages are really a problem for corn allergic individuals will remain a mystery to the medical industry until studies, good studies, are done. And unfortunately, since funding for studies that will help to understand and define corn allergies and reactions in general is lacking, my hopes aren't especially high. The benefits of environmentally friendly, renewable resources sound very tempting. Except that I, personally, am acquainted with the threats that lie within the supply.

So watch out...and then next time that you get "corned" from mysterious sources, check the water bottle, the meat tray, the cheese wrap and the produce baskets. For us, that enviro-friendly decal is about as friendly as a Jolly Roger flag.


maubs said...

NatureWorks is one of the scariest companies on the planet for us corn-allergic people. They're trying to sneak corn into everything! I honestly wonder how long I'll be able to live in this country with the corn-tamination of everyday items.

AllergicRDH said...

"For us, that enviro-friendly decal is about as friendly as a Jolly Roger flag."

Having had a reaction and trip to the Emergency room after using bio-degradeable corn plastic tableware and my inhaler that contained corn ethanol, I'm feeling very un-enviro-friendly this week. Why are these companies allowed to make products without labeling the potential allergens?

Andrea said...

My 2 year old has been corn allergic for most of her life, but we had a terrible experience this past week when she was hospitalized, and was exposed to corn via safe broth, warmed in a Sysco cup, now made eco-friendly by being made with corn. It sent her into a terrible reaction, and knocked her immune system even further down. I'm doing as much research as I can, this weekend, to try and find out what other companies have changed their packaging recently. It's scary how corn-centric our world is!

kc said...

NatureWorks has excellent PR people, geniuses, in fact. They claim that it is environmentally friendly even though it takes thousands of barrels of foreign oil to grow this corn they are using. Isn't this reminiscent of the whole ethanol loophole debacle? Using tons of petroleum products to grow an "alternative" fuel source (that is only cheap because it is subsidized) is no way to help the environment. It is short-sighted and ridiculous.

This "biodegradable" packaging can only be composted in industrial, temperature-controlled compost facilities of which there are none right now. Also, it is unclear exactly how they would separate this toxic mess from the other plastics to be recycled. One corn container can ruin an entire batch of recycled plastic.

Despite all these problems, these corny containers are already on the market. I suspect unless people start dropping dead instantly with the package clasped in their cold hands, they will remain on the market.