|BLUE LABEL KETCHUP bottle, made 1930|
The impetus for this week's column was finding an intact glass bottle while doing a bit of trail clean-up in
In the ketchup market, Curtice lost out to Heinz by taking the wrong side on the benzoate debate. In that era, increased industrialization of food production led to rampant unsafe practices and fraud in packaged foods. A consumer backlash known as the Pure Foods Movement lead finally to the passage in 1906 of the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act, the predecessor of today's Food and Drug Administration. One catalyst was the publication of Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle, a vivid description of the plight of immigrant workers in the meat packing industry. Meant to be a Socialist cry for labor justice, Sinclair later complained that “I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident hit its stomach.”
|Blue Label Ketchup bottle, made 1930.|
9" tall. Top threaded for screw-cap.
Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, chief chemist in the Department of Agriculture, was strongly opposed to what he considered unsafe preservatives in foods, which at that time included benzoate, formaldehyde, sulfites and others. The Heinz Company had already been experimenting for years with processes of making ketchup without preservatives. Curtice Brothers argued that there was a safe level for benzoate. New laws required that preservatives be listed on the label. Heinz pounced, by advertising its ketchup was without preservatives, and doubled down by offering a money-back guarantee for spoiled product. What's ironic about this is that there is a safe level for sodium benzoate. To this day it is an allowed food preservative for pickles and other acidic foods at one-tenth of one percent, which is what Curtice was using back then.
|This close-up of another Owens-Illinois|
bottle shows the O superimposed over
the diamond, with an I in the center.
The number to the left indicates
which factory; to the right, the year.
I do not put ketchup on hotdogs, an opinion I share with President Barack Obama ("...not acceptable past the age of eight.") and also Clint Eastwood's character in Dirty Harry: "Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hotdog."