Read Labels: You’re Likely to be Surprised

Did you know that many of the frozen vegetables found in U.S. grocery store freezers are not from the United States?

I read this article last week about Chinese vegetables making their way into freezers in the United States. The article goes on to talk about how Whole Foods has not banned foods in their stores from China, but Trader Joe’s has.

This is most alarming to me, as a pet writer, I wrote of the pet food ingredients imported from China several years ago that was tainted and killed thousands of pets in the U.S.

We don’t have a Whole Foods, but I stopped shopping with them even before we left the city as more and more evidence emerged their “whole” foods weren’t so much.

When we went to our local grocery store this past weekend, I looked at the labels on the frozen vegetables we had been buying. Sure enough, they either said, “A product of the U.S. and China,” or “A product of U.S., China and Mexico.”

Since we are out of locally grown food, I decided to hold out until I could get back to my local organic grocer and see what they had.

As we continued shopping, I found two products I also like (and also two of my guilty pleasures), Coffee Mate and French’s Fried Onions had gone to all plastic containers. Although I only have 2 cups of coffee in the morning, I had been buying the larger container of Coffee Mate, as it was in a cardboard milk style carton, instead of those hard plastic jugs that do not ever disintegrate in landfills. The onions were similarly packaged in cardboard cans, but are now all hard plastic.

That reminded me of an article I found on my friend’s Facebook page at Attainable Sustainable, that talks about the plastic industry lobbying to write a portion in public school textbooks touting the “benefits” of plastic grocery bags.

More bad news when I was browsing the Internet yesterday morning and found this article, talking about the “honey laundering,” trade, where Chinese honey manufacturers are sneaking in illegal honey and selling it in the U.S. The honey is sometimes not even honey, but fake honey, and has a reputation of being tainted with antibiotics and heavy metals.

Thankfully, we buy our honey locally, but what about the products we buy with honey as an ingredient?

These latest stories about our food industry convinces me that we need to move even more toward our local organic grocer, away from even more processed foods and when we cannot, read our labels very carefully.

Thankfully, we have a real country market opening in our town this fall and he promises to deliver locally grown goods and foods, including fresh eggs daily and grass fed, free range organic meat he raises.

Yay! for small town entrepreneurs.

In the meantime, if anyone has a home recipe for vanilla flavored coffee creamer, please share.

Do you read the labels? Were you aware of any of the above problems in our food supply until today?

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42 Responses

  1. I’m a label reader too since I grew up with family members with food allergies. I don’t buy many frozen veggies, but I’ll have to take a look at the packages. Interesting.

  2. Susan says:

    I’ve heard that frozen veggies aren’t any less nutritious than fresh veggies, but I had no idea that so many frozen ones come from China. Makes no sense!

    • Kerri says:

      That’s what I’ve always read regarding the nutrition, Susan. Yes, we have to read the labels on absolutely everything these days.

  3. Jane Boursaw says:

    It burns me how much stuff is NOT made in the U.S. that could be. I know it’s going to take a complete overhaul of the system, but we can each do our part. I try to buy locally whenever possible and also shop at our local food co-op, which pays attention to such things when I don’t have time to check everything.

  4. Well, your article had me dashing to the frig to check my vegetable packages. Of four brands, three were clearly labeled either USA or specific state they came from,including an organic bought at Sunflower Market. However, Green Giant Steamers doesn’t say where the veggies come from–just “distributed by” address in the U.S.

    Maybe this should be called “Read your labels like your life depends on it.” Because it does.

  5. Fran says:

    Kerri, I found the recipe for that creamer you like. Haven’t tried it but planning on it. It’s made with honey instead of sugar. So it’s better for you. I just copied and pasted it here.


    1 quart of half and half
    2 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
    6 Tbsp Honey

    makes 72 servings of 1 Tbsp per serving

    warm the creamer over low heat – just until it is as warm as your finger, don’t get it hot!! Add the vanilla (or whatever flavor extract you like, and try to use the REAL stuff, though a lot of them you have no choice but to buy imitation) and the honey and stir until honey is mixed in. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Chill in the freezer, then return to the original half and half container (or a glass jar). This recipe is easy to cut in half or double…Remember – 1 serving = 1 Tablespoon!!

    Number of Servings: 72

  6. Fran says:

    We had a big e-coli scare here in Oregon a few weeks ago. It was from a local strawberry farm. The funny thing was, it only happened in part of there field. The part that got picked for grocery stores and the farmers market. The part of the field for U-pick was just fine. Makes you wonder how clean the pickers are.
    Just saying that sometimes going to u-pick is better then farmers market because the farmers pay people to pick. And there’s no law that says these pickers have to have clean hands or wear gloves when picking our food.
    As far as reading labels, you are so right Kerri. Our food is getting so scary anymore. I told my husband I just want to move to the country just to grow and raise our own food. So we hope to do that soon.
    My husband works for a grocery store chain called WINCO Foods. He drives truck for them. He watched Food Inc with me and said he delivers meat from those meat packing places. Makes us both sick to know our government just doesn’t care AND they are even a part of this.
    I could go on and go. But I’d better stop before my computer starts steaming.Grrrrrrrr.

    • Kerri says:

      I know, Fran. A very sad state of affairs, indeed. I always tell people if they watch “Food Inc.,” they will never look at their food the same way again.

    • Lion says:

      I want to make it clear that if a product comes from Mexico or China, it does not necessarily mean that it is not a good product.

      We make excellent things around the world.

      It has nothing to do with the pickers whether they are clean or not. Sense a little bit of the race issue here.

      Simply its a matter of personal health. If you don’t wash your produce or desinfect because you are being lazy, that has nothing to do with the origin of food. Otherwise get off the couch and go do something, grow your own vegetables and food.

      Most people in the US and Worlwide are part of a widespread pandemic for frozen foods, because of a personal choice. “LAZYNESS”

      • Kerri says:

        Lion, It has nothing to do with race and I’m very insulted that you would imply that. It, really, for me, doesn’t have anything to do with who is picking the food, either. I’m a journalist. I covered the pet food recall several years ago when thousands of pets were killed in the U.S. because of tainted food from China. I don’t trust foods that come from China simply because they have not been honest in the past about additives. I don’t trust much of what comes from U.S. suppliers anymore either, for that matter, unless it is locally grown. And yes, we are growing more of our own food and trading with our neighbors.

        • Lion says:

          I am sorry to be blunt but that is how it is coming off as, call me sensitive.

          I do se a renewal in eating habits, and do see much garbage food being consumed in USA.

          Its a matter of being clean and the way it is adressed here, and I think due to this “clean” idea there utter confusion spreading.

          When has any HUGE bloodsucking food company stated the truth, I think POM is the closest it has gotten.

          • Kerri says:

            I agree, there is too much garbage being consumed in the U.S. and there are definitely most likely some products that come from other countries, such as Mexico, that would be better for the American consumer. I think part of it, though, is having to teach people how to grow and eat foods that are not processed foods. That’s all my husband has eaten his whole life, the best meals he ate were the lunches (which were then prepared fresh) at school. It’s hard to get people to eat properly when even our schools feed processed junk.

  7. Frugal Kiwi says:

    I remember the first time I read about “honey laundering” I just about keeled over. We don’t allow imported honey in New Zealand, but I was absolutely HORRIFIED at the whole idea. As is, I’m very glad to have my own backyard hive. I know exactly what has been done to that hive and where the honey comes from!

    • Kerri says:

      Frugal Kiwi, you are my homesteading hero. I learn so much from you! As long as we have local bee keepers here we trust, I’m leaving the hives to them. 🙂

  8. I still go to Whole Foods because the variety of food (and often, the price on things like water crackers) is much better than Stop & Shop – but no matter where I shop, I gotta read the labels carefully. Thanks for the reminder!

  9. mat says:

    Our town no longer has a farmers market (used to have 2), and the nearest one is 20 minutes in a direction we don’t often find ourselves in. They’re only open Friday nights and Saturday afternoons…which for an active family is tough to utilize. Maybe we’re just used to the convenience of a 24-hour grocery store.
    Very conveniently, there’s a handful of roadside stands open for a good part of the summer, so we stop at any number of them during our commutes. But alas, the one nearest our house has already closed for the season.
    I suspect that the reason we’ve seen a decline in locally-available foods and venues has to do with the housing sector (and economy in general) being in the toilet. Without coming off as…elitest, I feel like a lot of renters makes for a poor neighborhood. Both financially and community-wise.
    On a lighter note, I have found the world’s most delicious organic salsa (that is not homemade).

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks for the salsa link, Mat. Although I make our own, I sometimes like having good, natural salsa on hand for “emergencies!” We have a lot of roadside stands too. Our town had a big blow up over the farmer’s market this year, a ploy, maybe to try to do away with it altogether. We had enough from neighbors this year to not have to buy from the FM, but it’s good it’s here just in case.

  10. Margo says:

    Oh Kerri, I SO know what you mean about the coffee creamer! When it became hard to find at my local grocery, I started using the French Vanilla coffee syrup and real cream. The only place I’ve been able to find the large bottles of the syrup has been Cost Plus World Market, but several of the chain coffee shops (like Scooter’s) sell the larger bottles. There’s probably something in there that’s not good for us, and I’m not sure where it originates from (the bottle I have says manufactured in San Francisco), but it’s my one guilty pleasure food-wise.

    I’ve been following the changes in the Food Safety Modernization Act for a couple of years now. The changes signed into law in January 2011 by President Obama are, on the surface, supposed to help prevent the outbreakes of e coli and other “nasties” in commercially produced / imported foods. (Imported cilantro and commercially grown spinach are the two cases I heard the most about.) HOWEVER, the law does not specify “COMMERCIAL” food production. The result is the laws can be used against home gardeners and small private dairy farms.

    While I would like to believe that our government would not abuse this. . .it is already happening. In June of this year, Michael Taylor (the FDA’s Food Czar) defended the raid on an Amish Dairy Farm, stating at the same time that he would seek a high rate of compliance for the new law and that enforcement can be acheived without having to go to court.

    And just to be clear, Michael Taylor was previously a VP for Monsanto.

    If anyone desires more information on this just Google the following terms. . .

    food czar
    Food Safety Modernization Act
    HR 875

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks, Margo, for this information. I will no longer be buying the coffee creamer and I hope to find something more natural to tickle my buds in the morning! 🙂 Your post is a sobering one. I’ve been terribly disappointed with President Obama on the environmental and wildlife areas, especially. Putting former VPS of Monsanto in key positions isn’t very awe inspiring for people who care about our food supply. Also, did you know that the FDA was warned about the most recent e-coli outbreak with the turkey? As I heard it, Cargill reported it as soon as they were aware there was a problem. The FDAs response: “We won’t do anything until there are reports of illness.” Really?

  11. Not long ago I made a trip through the grocery store to stock up on food to feed my family. Three-quarters of the way through the store the cart was nearly empty and I was near tears. “There’s no FOOD here!” I told my 18-year-old. How has our food system come to this? And why are so many Americans okay with it??

    I do my best to avoid fake additives and I refuse to bring home food in hard plastic containers. It’s bad for us, it’s bad for the environment. The other day I needed lime juice. It only comes in plastic, so guess what I bought? LIMES.

  12. It’s pretty shocking that froz veggies are from China when when so many farmers in our country have a hard time making ends meet.

    • Kerri says:

      It really doesn’t make any sense at all, particularly when our government pay some farmers NOT to grow certain crops!

  13. Heather L. says:

    I am a big fan of buying local and don’t eat much in the way of processed food, but this post is eye-opening and I plan to be even more careful in the future.

  14. Olivia says:

    I always read labels because I am celiac and have to be very careful. I wish I could just go through a supermarket like anyone else – *sigh*.

    However, I am very careful about what produce I buy and the country of origin. The only frozen vegetables I ever buy are corn and peas in winter – or edamame. Everything else is “fresh”, although that is a misnomer in this country (Canada) where we are buried in snow half the year. I have a garden that provides us with fresh veggies and we have a year round Farmers’ Market although you’ll probably only find root crops there in winter.

    As for milk, my understanding is that we have neither BGH nor antibiotic residue in our Canadian milk supply. Any cow requiring antibiotics is quarantined until better and then her milk is tested to ensure it is free from residue as well as random testings. If any residue is detected then ALL the milk is dumped and the farmer fined.

    Still – let’s not kid ourselves. Chemicals are so pervasive in our world that it is impossible to avoid all exposure. Toxins are even found in mammals in the Arctic. It’s a sad fact of modern life – but then, I guess, back in the day people died from poisoning and disease from which we are largely spared due to modern scientific advances.

    All of this stuff is so complex: there are just not any simple solutions. You do what you can and try to enjoy life. It’s already too short 🙂

    • Kerri says:

      Canada, as well as many other nations have better food control, as I understand it, than the U.S. with it’s heavily funded FDA. I think it is a sad statement for our society when we cannot trust that “natural” products are anything but. You’re right, Olivia, we need to enjoy life and it is way too short, but I hope to make it a little longer finding the least chemical laden products possible.

  15. Does anybody really have any doubt about why we are plagued by so many types of cancer and other diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s? We are being systematically poisoned by food manufacturers who would happily sell us rat poison packaged as breakfast cereal if they could get away with it, actually they ARE getting away with it.

    Our tainted, chemical laden food is just evidence of what happens when giant corporations make their own rules, or pour enough money into politicians pockets to make sure the few rules they do have to abide by, are favorable to their profit bottom line. The FDA is too corrupted by big Pharma and gigantic food manufacturers to do an even minimally effective job of protecting our food supply.

    I get eggs from my sister who has chickens and grow some of my own veggies. The rest I get from the farmer’s market but in the winter, I’m forced to go to the local Price Chopper. I try to buy as much organic as possible, but even then I check labels because “organic” is one of those words that has become a marketing tool, and is put on all kinds of products that do have additives. High fructose corn syrup is in all kinds of “organic” products. So, when it comes to food today, it’s buyer beware!

    • Kerri says:

      True, Kathleen. And how can we be sure that “organic” vegetables from China are even what they say they are!? (See my note below about going to my local health/organic store today and finding all of their frozen “organic” vegetables originated in China).

  16. Jason says:

    This topic has been on my mind for a few months now. I started buying all my food at local farmer’s markets and only using local honey if I need a sweetener. Luckily, there are a lot of farmer’s markets where I live and local honey is plentiful as well. I started looking at all the labels in my house and have been shocked. My mouthwash says to immediately call poison control if swallowed! They purposely put poisonous ingredients in something that is supposed to go in my mouth?! Needless to say, I stopped using it. Its truly scary what is in most packaged and processed items that we come in contact with today.

  17. V Schoenwald says:

    I am glad that you have brought this to everyone’s attention, Kerri. I have heard of this but couldn’t find anything on the frozen vegetables from China.
    I buy as much as I can from our local Farmer’s Market here, then, in as I can afford it, I purchase vegetables like Cauliflower heads when they have them on sale and take them home, wash, blanch and then freeze what I can for winter use only. I try to just eat in season, but sometimes, during Holidays, I like to use some veggies for special dinners.
    I buy local honey, and meat from a processor about 50 miles from me, as the meat is local and pastured.
    I buy very little from the grocers, because they are corporate, and we have a super Wally world and that’s worse yet. I utilize a wholesale company that has been here for many years that supplies the cafe and institutions like nursing homes, and purchase bulk items like sugar and flour and spices.
    People need to gain control of their food supplies but I in general do not see it except when I go to the Farmer’s market where like-minded people go, the rest are on auto-pilot and purchase the processed garbage in the box. I can be next to someone who buys the boxed junk and myself with my from scratch purchases and come out ahead every time. The last woman I was in line with had purchased $500 worth of boxed garbage and I just about fell over….mine was $50 and had enough for 30 meals. And I used some coupons also.

    • Kerri says:

      Wow, that is a huge difference in the grocery bills. Sadly, I went to our locally owned organic grocer today and pointed out to them that all of their “organic” frozen vegetables were “products of China.” They didn’t even know it.

  18. Alexandra says:

    I do read labels, all the time. This should not be. You did not mention milk. Best to avoid milk with bovine growth hormone, something created by Monsanto and allowed by the FDA, while a similar body in Canada refused approval. Sufficient testing was not done. I have taken to writing the dairy that makes the milk I buy, which is simple online, to verify provenance. I used to drink a similar product to your creamer, but gave it up when I saw the list of chemicals, including high fructose corn syrup, on the bottle. Now I use organic half & half, plus a bit of local honey. Thank you for bringing this problem to the attention of your readers. The more people become aware and demand safer food, the better. I think our country needs laws that would make it impossible for execs from Monsanto to work at the FDA. This revolving door policy brings people deciders with bias and, no doubt, monetary gain as a possibility, to key choices on what goes into our bodies. Frightening, isn’t it?

    • Kerri says:

      I’m glad you weighed in, Alexandra, you’re the go to person when it comes to additives and chemicals. I’ve been aware of the problem with the chemicals in milk for so long, I did forget to mention it. We’ve been using organic milk for probably 15 years, after I called the dairy from which we bought our previous brand and they couldn’t tell me if it contained antibiotics. Anyway, yes, it is scary. Very.