Bht: Is It Safe?

Posted: February 01, 1989

Q. Most cereals state that BHT is used to "preserve freshness." I've read that BHT is a dangerous chemical. If this is so, how come the powers-that-be

allow BHT to be used?

C.J.A., Port Orange, Fla.

A. BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) is a preservative. It acts as an antioxidant - that is, it tries to stop the damage done to food by oxygen. BHT is particularly effective in inhibiting oils from becoming rancid. Its main function, then, is to extend the shelf-life of food.

A package of cereal, potato chips, bread, or what have you, can state, and often does, that there are no preservatives added to the product. However, in little print somewhere you might read, "To help preserve the freshness BHT is added to the packaging material." But, according to an article in the February 1985 issue of Food Processing, "When added to the packaging material, the anti-oxidant (BHT) vaporizes from the package and diffuses throughout the cereal product." So even though the BHT is not added directly to the product, it ends up in the product indirectly.

I would not call BHT a "dangerous chemical," but its safety is a matter of controversy since it's added to so many foods and it does accumulate in body fat.

Peter Phelps of Kellogg's consumer affairs department, when asked why BHT is permitted in cereals and other food products, responded, "Because scientists at the FDA have evaluated the scientific evidence for safety of this compound and concluded that it is safe and useful in this application. We believe that the FDA scientists are among the most expert in the world in this regard, and we trust their judgment in these matters."

Conversely, Michael Jacobson, in Eater's Digest, feels that BHT, and its ally BHA, have not been adequately tested and cannot be generally recognized as safe. "Purchase your food carefully," he advises, "and reduce your consumption of these antioxidants."

Some of Kellogg's products do not contain BHT. These are: Raisin Bran, All- Bran, Bran Buds, Cracklin' Oat Bran, Honey Smacks, Fruitful Bran, Bran Flakes and Nutri-Grain.

Q. Where can I find steel-cut oatmeal? For years I bought Elam's from the grocery chain stores, but they stopped. G.N.C. has also stopped. I would appreciate it if any one of your readers could help me.

Mary Arndt

Michigan City, Ind.

A. I asked the Quaker Oats Company what they could tell me about the oats you seek, and Susan Plantz, a consumer specialist, responded:

"Steel-cut oats are oat groats cut into pieces by steel blades. (A groat is a hulled grain. The word grits evolved from the Old English word groets.) Rolled oats are steamed and rolled in large steel rollers. Several years ago we did manufacture steel-cut oats for the retail trades. Frankly, sales were very low so the product was withdrawn. It was a step we took reluctantly

because we know that some of our customers enjoyed the texture of this product as an occasional change of pace from the rolled oats. It is no longer available in retail outlets."

I would suggest that you try Scotch-Irish Oatmeal, which is described in the Vermont Country Store catalog as a "course-cut oatmeal and a rich cereal with high protein." Write for their free catalog to P.O. Box 3000, Manchester Center, VT 05255. A 4-pound bag of this oatmeal is $5.20.


Mary Bixler, Clarence, Iowa: "In regard to a question from one of your readers about mold growing on her syrup, I have a solution for her. If it is stored upside down once it has been opened, it should keep indefinitely in the cupboard or pantry. I learned this from an old friend years ago and have saved many bottles of unused syrup ever since."


Have a question for Sonja Heinze? Write to her in care of the Daily News, 400 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19130.

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