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May 31, 2009 12:53 PM

Strange chemical on some restaurant/store food

I have had this experience several times in my life. As I recall, it was usually on fish or fresh fruits and vegetables. My mom always told me that some restaurants and retail stores use a chemical preservative that they spray on food to extend it's shelf life. It is a really distinctive and disgusting taste. When I have had this happen in a restaurant, I complain and of course reject the dish. I am unable to eat anything else because I am so turned off. Does anyone in the food/restaurant business know what I am talking about? Does such a thing really happen? I have wondered about this for some time.

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  1. You might be tasting the industrial equivalent of this:

    3 Replies
    1. re: small h

      Thanks small h, I feel like although your suggestion is a possibility, and perhaps the answer to my question, someone out there knows the truth. What's the deal on the part of the restaurants/stores adding some chemical to the food? Thanks for responding. I can't help but believe that someone out there knows more than they are telling. I guess you could call me a foodie comspiracy theroist. Have you ever tasted it???? It's terrible.

      1. re: susieQ49

        I have experienced exacly the same. As a former restaurance mgr. I know we added an ingredient to the wash water when cleaning produce and rinsing off fish, meats, etc. that had come in packaged. I no longer purchase any bagged produce, because of this. Also, I have noticed a verystrong odor when near the dairy area of big markets (Ralphs, Vons, etc.) Almost like they have sprayed a disinfectant in the area. The plastic bags in most chain markets have this same odor. I know I am super sensitive but can't imagine what they are thinking!! I even stopped using my dishwasher until I found a fragerence free detergent at Target.

        1. re: susieQ49

          Decades ago, when I was a teen working at Roy Rogers, we rinsed lettuce in a water & fruit-fresh solution, to prevent browning. I have no idea whether or where this is still common practice, but the stuff definitely had a taste that was discernible if the fruit-fresh hadn't fully dissolved.

      2. Hate to disappoint you, but there is no conspiracy or chemical used to preserve food in the restaurant kitchen. Sometimes I notice the smell and sometimes faint taste of disinfectant or bleach that have been used in cleaning that haven't been well rinsed. Sometimes I suspect that's the case when I get something as simple as a drink from a machine or dispenser that hasn't been well rinsed.

        Oxidation is one of the things that can cause fruits or vegetables to turn brown within minutes after cutting. When I worked in restaurants putting freshly cut fruits or vegetables in chilled water or coating them with lemon juice or even spreading mayonaise over the top of guacamole would slow down the oxidation.

        Product like the poster brought to your attention may slow the oxidation process (sounds its derived from a natural acidic fruit), but it isn't preservative.

        As far as meats or fish there's nothing they're treated with in-house that are going to extend their shelf life except for handling them properly with refrigeration and roatation of product.

        4 Replies
        1. re: monku

          According to the Wegman's website (the Fruit-Fresh site has no ingredient list that I can find), Fruit-Fresh is: Dextrose, Ascorbic Acid, Citric Acid, and Silicon Dioxide. Nothing scary, but it could certainly impart an unpleasant taste.

          1. re: small h

            As I suspected, acidic ingredients and it says it isn't supposed to alter the taste.

            1. re: monku

              I won't pretend to have eaten the stuff straight in the recent past, but I remember it made the lettuce taste "off." So whatever the claims (and really, would the product's literature own up to its tasting nasty?), I think the possibility exists that a consumer could tell Fruit-Fresh was present on food.

              1. re: monku

                I dislike the dextrose addition. It's not necessary and its absence imparts a nice tang.

          2. Fruit Fresh is mainly vitamin C. It's hardly harmful - quite the opposite - but ascorbic acid does taste really awful if any residue remains on food, as does citric acid. Many food establishments also use various chlorine based sprays and surfactants to clean, disinfect and/or slow oxidation.

            Sodium tripolyphosphate is used as a preservative in many seafood products (notably in scallops) and in poultry.

            There is, indeed, one chemical spray that effectively masks spoilage. It is based on sulfites, which occur naturally in some foods and are added to most wines. It is illegal to use this on fresh foods in most - if not all - of the US and Canada. As I understand it, this stuff isn't actually harmful, but causes severe allergic reactions in some people. More to the point, it is so effective that it can make spoiled (if not putrid) meat and produce look and smell okay.

            1. I thought it was a sulphite preservative. My mom has a severe reaction to sulphites and must be careful about eating packaged salads and fish.

              2 Replies
              1. re: salsailsa

                I am replying so everyone knows above that there is something definitely in packaged salad, Ice Burg lettuce and some fish (shellfish has been my experience) also, wine.

                I just had one of the worst anaphylactic reactions I have ever had to the Kings Sooper brand "Simple Truth" Romaine Lettuce. I am also trying to find out what it is they are putting as a chemical in packaged lettuce and in Ice Burg lettuce that isn't packaged. I have had this kind of reaction to both. The last one caused extreme
                problems for me to breathe and my eyes and face swelled not to mention my throat closing. Liquid Benadryl is the only thing that works quickly enough and with the Romaine lettuce it didn't work fast enough so I don't plan on eating anymore packaged products until I know what it is that is causing the problem. Thank you for any of your thoughts or knowledge regarding what this is.

                If anyone really knows what is going into those packages, please reply as this in life-threatening for me.

                1. re: gabriellez

                  Sulfites are supposed to be labeled on foods and IIRC it was banned from salad bars in some manner. I discovered I was allergic to them after having a nasty allergic reaction to a restaurant salad in the late 1970's. I certainly hope they have not come up with some way to reintroduce the use of sulfites on produce.
                  I did have a recent run in with bagged green beans having a very off chemical flavor and aroma. I had bought a bag of fresh beans from Cosco. They smelled like they had been treated with something and the taste of whatever it was overwhelmed the finished beans. They didn't give me a reaction but I won't ever buy them again, the flavor was very offputting. Baby carrots are frequently soaked in a weak bleach(chlorine) water. They always remind me vaguely of pool water. What was on the beans was certainly something other than simple chlorine water.

              2. I know that the salad bar at work used to have a vague but very disgusting formaldehyde smell to it. It doesn't any more, but I know they still don't wash their lettuce, which skeeves me out.