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December 11: Professor Ladd Calls for Safer Ketchup

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The Pure Foods Movement was a grass roots effort that called attention to the presence of unhealthy additives in processed food. Prior to 1906, there was no governmental oversight of processed foods and pharmaceutical drugs. Purity, quality, and sanitation were not regulated. Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel “The Jungle” exposed the unsanitary conditions of Chicago slaughterhouses. The book increased people’s awareness of the unhealthy condition of some foods.

There are many examples of producers trying to maximize their profit by adulterating their products. Milk, for example, was often thinned with water. Dyes, chalk, or plaster dust were then added to enhance the color. In the days before refrigeration, a common additive to milk was formaldehyde as a preservative.

One early champion of pure food and drugs was Professor Edwin F. Ladd, the chemistry instructor at the North Dakota Agricultural College. Professor Ladd was concerned that people were being poisoned by chalk dust, coal tar, toxic dyes, and other additives. One of Professor Ladd’s targets was ketchup.

Benzoate of soda was being added to ketchup. Producers claimed it was necessary to preserve ketchup after the bottle was opened. Ladd pointed out that producers of ketchup were known to add water to increase the volume of ketchup at very little cost. Ladd said that after a bottle of ketchup was opened, it increased the rate of spoilage. If the producers didn’t add water, they would not need to add the benzoate of soda. A good reason to avoid the additive is that it can turn into benzene, a carcinogen, when mixed with vitamin C, which is plentiful in ketchup.

Eventually, the use of clean factories allowed ketchup to be made from ripe tomatoes instead of fermented tomatoes, eliminating the need for benzoate of soda.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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