First, a disclaimer: I am not writing this to endorse or discredit any products or companies I have mentioned in this blog post. I am simply curious what I can find on the internet that is freely available for the average Joe. And if you haven’t guess this by now, YES this is just a filler piece of random factoids, and does not necessarily have any scientific significance and may not be of interest to anyone.
The story begin when I decided to have a can of coke the other day and noticed that one of the ingredient is phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acids is something I used quite often in my research for electro-polishing copper.In fact, my friends and I have even successfully electro-polish copper with cola (a task usually done with phosphoric acid) albeit it leave a sticky sugary residue on the copper. Of course, cola is not as efficient as lab grade phosphoric acid. The concentration of cola is certainly much much much much lower so that it is safe for human consumption without making us sick. We had even used it successfully as a paint stripper, but that’s another story.
This is not the first time that I noticed phosphoric acid is an ingredient in most cola drinks, but it reminded me that cola drinks consist of this chemical (amongst other) and it is a chemical itself by definition. From our mandatory safety training, all chemicals should have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) available, usually provided by the manufacturers or retailers of chemicals, that lists all the properties, warnings, hazards, health & safety information,etc. So combining these thoughts, I started googling whether something like Coca-Cola would have a MSDS readily available.
From my “research” by means of Google, I have found that the MSDS is not necessarily required for food items destined to be on the retailer’s shelf directly (there are exceptions). Which means the MSDS for food items can be hard to find. But Google have led me to the MSDS database of Gordon Food Service (a major food service provider in North America). Lo and behold there are a huge list of pops including Coca-Cola. While the MSDS were largely uninteresting, most listing the chemical (read: products) as non-hazardous, non-corrosive to skin, not an irritant to eyes and skin, etc. (why would it be listed otherwise if it is safe to consume) this has spark me to wonder what other MSDS of food products I can find from various retailers’ or manufacturers’ websites.
The first thing I thought of was coffee. I couldn’t find anything for coffee, but I did find the MSDS for pure caffeine from quite a few chemical retailers (e.g. Sciencelab, Sigma-Aldrich, Alfa Aesar). Turns out pure caffeine is an eye and skin irritant, and it’s hazardous to ingest or inhale. The MSDS also contain this statement “The substance may be toxic to heart, gastrointestinal tract, central nervous system (CNS).” The lowest dose for the effect of toxicity to become apparent is listed as 192-400 mg/kg for adults.
Health Canada list that an average cup of coffee may contain anywhere from 76 – 179 mg of caffeine in coffee. Whereas, Walpol et al. have published in the journal BMC Public Health that the global average body mass is 62 kg (unfortunately this data is from 2005, although the paper was published in 2012). Which means that Coffee would become toxic to the average human if one drinks more than 138-156 cups of coffee in a short period of time (assuming you drink faster than your body can process the caffeine).
As a side note: the average north american body mass is 80.7 kg (~34% of the weight of the entire world populations), whereas the average asian has a body mass of 57.7 kg.
What about other caffeinated drinks? Health Canada list that a can of cola drink contains 36 – 46 mg of caffeine, so that’d come out to 330 – 539 cans in a really short period of time for caffeine toxicity to kick in for the average human.
From the looks of it, we probably get what’s known as water poisoning before caffeine in normal drinks have toxic effects. Speaking of which, there’s a MSDS for water sometimes listed as dihydrogen oxide. In fact, the MSDS for water is usually the example they give during safety training. Of course, water is non-toxic, non-hazardous, etc. However one of the MSDS list something interesting points, it says that in case of eye contact and skin contact, rinse with water (great way of getting rid of water by rinsing with more water). In any case, it list the LD50 to be 90 mL/kg. LD50 is a measure of toxicity, it is the dose that leads to 50% of the test subjects (usually human analogues like lab rats or mice) to die from toxic effects. From this, we can approximate that if we drink 5580 mL (~22 cups) of water quicker than we can pass it out of our body, it would likely be lethal (we’ll probably be sick way before this point anyways).
Other interesting MSDS that I have come across during my search:
Olive Oil – apparently a minor irritant to skin and eye contact, and slightly hazardous in case of ingestion or inhalation; reactive with oxidizing agents & acids.
Cocoa Butter – not toxic or hazardous, *phew* chocolate is still safe to eat. But chocolate also contains caffeine, and Health Canada list that 28 g of milk chocolate has about 7 mg of caffeine. To reach the lowest toxic limit of caffeine, it would take 47 -99 kg of chocolate in a time period faster than you can process the caffeine.
French’s Yellow Mustard – Conditions to avoid: heat, freezing, sunlight, moisture although it didn’t state the reasons why. The latter two obviously is to keep it from spoiling, but the former two makes me wonder.
What did I learn from all of this? I’ve learned that Google (and other search engines) and the internet itself provide us with a vast amount of information, and a great way to kill some time on boring evenings.
As I mentioned in the very beginning, this post is more about the random factoids I have found on the internet then trying to convey the newest science news or interest scientific facts. As such, probably not very fitted for this blog.
Most of the information bears absolutely no significance to our daily life (considering how many of the assumptions are impossible in real life), but this has been a great adventure in searching for information relating to my random thoughts and has been a great time waster for me and hopefully for you too.