This month has been a tough one for lovers of cheap, delicious foods. First it was the Blue Bell ice cream recall when it was discovered that three people died of listeria infection after eating their frozen dessert. Then Kraft recalled a whole selection of their macaroni and cheese after a bunch of people found little tiny pieces of metal in their boxed dinner. And now they're after your cheap wine — a new civil suit is alleging that several California wine companies are making wine with dangerous levels of arsenic. What's left to eat and drink now? How can we trust our food ever again?
There are ways to tell if the stockpile in your pantry of boxed wine and mac and cheese is part of the tainted batches. First of all, there are certain "best by" dates on very specific kinds of macaroni boxes that place them in the doomed selection. You can also open your macaroni and see if there are little metal pieces in it for a more hands-on experience. But distinguishing wine with arsenic from wine without arsenic is undoubtedly trickier. Since arsenic has no flavor or scent and it's essentially invisible to the human eye, detecting it is a little harder.
Though there are rules limiting how much arsenic can legally be in your drinking water, there are no further laws dictating the limits of the potentially poisonous substance in other food or beverages. This is why some claim that the current civil lawsuit does not have grounds — though the wines tested contain four to five times the acceptable level of arsenic in water, there is no federal regulation mandating winemakers to disclose their ingredients. The Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization set a limit at 10 parts per million in water, but no arsenic regulation for anything else. Because of this, the outcome of this case is likely to set an important precedent, no matter what happens.
It is possible to find out whether there is arsenic in your drink, but it's not cheap or easy. One detector, which has been hailed as a potentially life-saving innovation on a massive scale, is unfortunately still in the process of being developed. Some companies sell at-home arsenic detectors, ranging from $15 to $90 each.
But considering the price of the tests and the fact that none of them are recommended by any official health agency, it may be most prudent to just toss your wine. The cost benefit is pretty significant, too — studies show that the cheapest wines contain the most arsenic. Wouldn't you rather lose $7 on a wasted bottle of wine than $90 on a mysterious arsenic detector?
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