Monday, August 24, 2009



Most people know of nutmeg, a common spice. Goes well in eggnog and such like.

What most people don't know, and continues my theme that everything is bad for your and laboratory rats at some level, is that nutmeg is toxic. Certainly if you applied to have it approved for use as a new drug you wouldn't get it past the food authorities.

We had a fruitcake submitted due to a complaint that the consumer's lips tingled when she ate the cake. Was it contaminated? No, but it had high levels of nutmeg.

Wikipedia says of nutmeg toxicity:

In low doses, nutmeg produces no noticeable physiological or neurological response.

Large doses can be dangerous (potentially inducing convulsions, palpitations, nausea, eventual dehydration, and generalized body pain).

Users report both negative and positive experiences, involving strong hallucinations, and in some cases quite severe anxiety.

Use of nutmeg as a recreational drug is unpopular due to its unpleasant taste and its possible negative side effects, including dizziness, flushes, dry mouth, accelerated heartbeat, temporary constipation, difficulty in urination, nausea, and panic. In addition, experiences usually last well over 24 hours making recreational use rather impractical.

Good reason to cut back on the nutmeg and up the rum.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The criminal mind


There was a newspaper item this morning about police in the US finding a body. It was disfigured and minus fingers and teeth, to avert identification.

But first a diversion...

I used to work at the coroner's court labs in Melbourne. People would drown someone in a bath tub and then throw them into the sea, not realising that we looked at the water in their lungs to see if they drowned at sea. They would kill someone and then burn the house down, not realising that we looked at the blood for evidence of the carbon monoxide poisoning that would be present in a fire victim and absent if they where dead before the fire started.

I used to work looking at foreign matter in food. We could often tell if the object was in there before cooking or entered after, either by accident, sabotage or extortion. Insects, for example, have an enzyme called phosphatase which is destroyed by cooking. If you must slip a cockroach into a pizza, cook it first.

Time and time again, people wanting to commit a crime, big or small, overlook something quite basic.

Back to our anonymous lady...

The police identified her by the serial numbers on her breast implants.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Radioactive Calamari


Every so often we get stories that go along the lines of :

"I went out to the kitchen in the middle of the night to get a glass of water. I didn't turn the light on and I saw the food in the cat bowl was glowing!

Is it radioactive?"

Most spectacular when it is calamari rings.

No, it is not radioactive, it is just active. With bacteria.

Pseudomonas fluorescens. A common spoilage bacteria that secretes a fluorescent pigment. It is generally harmless to humans unless they are already immunocompromised.


A little more on garlic...


While we are on the topic of garlic, I was presented with a complaint once where the lady had mixed chopped garlic with lemon juice and microwaved it.

It turned bright green.

Some months later I was shown a bottle of garlic cloves, preserved in vinegar, that had similarly gone bright green.

What's going on?

Part of the problem is that this is not how garlic was traditionally treated. It would normally be cooked in a neutral sauce. And a thick sauce that hid it from view.

The two complainants were treating garlic in a a totally different way to normal.

But the reactions were perfectly normal.

Garlic has natural levels of iron and natural levels of sulphur compounds. Heated in the presence of an acid (lemon juice or vinegar) these compounds react to form iron sulphide which shows as a green colour.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Of vampires and garlic.


"Vampires are feared everywhere, but the Balkan region has been especially haunted. Garlic has been regarded as an effective prophylactic against vampires.

We wanted to explore this alleged effect experimentally.

Owing to the lack of vampires, we used leeches instead. In strictly standardized research surroundings, the leeches were to attach themselves to either a hand smeared with garlic or to a clean hand. The garlic-smeared hand was preferred in two out of three cases (95% confidence interval 50.4% to 80.4%). When they preferred the garlic the leeches used only 14.9 seconds to attach themselves, compared with 44.9 seconds when going to the non-garlic hand (p < 0.05).

The traditional belief that garlic has prophylactic properties is probably wrong. The reverse may in fact be true.

This study indicates that garlic possibly attracts vampires."

Tidsskr Nor Largeforen. 1994 Dec 10;114(30):3583-6.