2003-05-02 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

A point of unity between food connoisseurs and everyone else who eats is that flavor is one of the most important aspects of every meal. Presentation can only carry a meal so far because if that which touches your palate does not have you reeling with ecstasy, it does not matter what it looks like. In an attempt to achieve optimum food flavor, restaurants often add food enhancers. One often-used product is glutamate (MSG). MSG is a readily available substance. It is sold in a crystalline form and resembles salt and sugar. Unfortunately, the taste enhancement may not be worth the sick feeling you experience if you are susceptible to MSG Symptom Complex.

MSG Symptom Complex is a short-term reaction to eating an item containing MSG. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) contracted with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), an independent group of scientists, and they found two situations where a MSG reaction may occur. The first group includes people who may have a reaction after eating large doses of MSG, particularly on an empty stomach. A large dose would be approximately three grams or more of MSG per meal. The second group includes people with severe and poorly controlled asthma. However, the FDA has received numerous reports of MSG-related adverse events from people who do not fit into either group; the reactions were unconfirmed in controlled testing.

Some symptoms associated with MSG Symptom Complex are numbness in the back of the neck radiating to the arms and back, burning sensation in the back of the neck, forearms and chest, tingling, facial pressure or tightness, chest pain, headache, nausea, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, weakness, and in MSG-intolerant people with asthma, difficulty breathing.

The FDA classifies MSG as a food ingredient "generally recognized as safe." Although the FASEB report indicates that adverse reactions are possible after consuming foods containing MSG, the additive is generally regarded as safe when consumed at levels traditionally used in cooking. A typical serving of glutamate-treated food contains less than 0.5 grams of MSG. The study also found no evidence of any connection between MSG and any serious long-term reactions.

Recognizing the importance of preventing symptoms associated with MSG consumption, I have sponsored bill A.3126. This bill would require any restaurant or other place where food containing MSG is prepared or cooked and offered for sale to give notice of its use. The notice shall either appear on the menu or in some other place likely to be seen and understood by each customer. It would provide fair and adequate warning to those who are susceptible to MSG Symptom Complex and enable them to make an informed decision on whether to eat elsewhere or to request that their food be prepared without MSG.

The information contained in this article can act as a warning to those of you who have experienced symptoms similar to the ones described above. It would be a good starting point to begin a dialogue with your physician to determine if the symptoms you experienced were attributable to MSG or possibly to another more serious problem. If you have these symptoms, it is advisable to seek professional medical attention and not rely on a hope that it is a temporary situation brought on by ingesting MSG.

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