Breaking bread with friends and family is a sacred tradition. Soon, many families will break bread to honor a year of thanks. However, in 19th century England, breaking bread often came with stomach upset and other more serious illnesses. This is because cost- saving measures often meant that the products that consumers bought were not always pure. They were often mixed with cheaper ingredients to increase profits for sellers. Flour was rumored to be mixed with other ingredients such as alum, gypsum, plaster of Paris, and bone ash.
Eventually, in 1836, a British law was created that limited the ingredients used to bake bread. In 1850, the Lancet medical journal found that all the samples of bread that they tested contained alum. Alum can cause nausea and stomach upset if it is ingested. A severe case of flour contamination was reported when a baker requested lead chromate from a druggist. The druggist mistakenly gave the baker arsenic sulfide. Two children narrowly escaped death because of the mishap.
Beginning in the 1850’s, scientists from various backgrounds banded together to fight for laws that would ensure safer foods for the public. The biggest change came when the Sale of Food and Drugs Act of 1875 was passed. By 1900 the mixture of foods with harmful substances had declined.
As we break bread during the holiday season remember to give thanks for legislation that promotes safer foods for our communities and our families.If you have a poison question or poison emergency, call 1-800-222-1222