Column: Mouthwash from Malaysia and food from other places

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 9, 2001

Several weeks ago I was looking over several newspapers from other places which are sent to the Tribune when I saw a rather unusual headline on the front page of the Jan.

Friday, February 09, 2001

Several weeks ago I was looking over several newspapers from other places which are sent to the Tribune when I saw a rather unusual headline on the front page of the Jan. 6, 2001, issue of our affiliated publication, the Fergus Falls Journal. It said, &uot;Mouthwash blamed for four deaths.&uot;

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Gosh, I always thought mouthwash was a harmless product.

What followed this headline was an Associated Press (AP) article about contaminated mouthwash infecting a dozen patients at a Fargo, N.D., hospital in early 1999. Four of those people died.

The federal Food and Drug Administration confirmed that this mouthwash distributed by a Florida firm was contaminated with a virulent form of bacteria. There was a recall of this particular batch of mouthwash in the spring of 1999. However, during last year the AP reports that another shipment of contaminated mouthwash from this firm’s Malaysian supplier was detained by the U.S. Customs Service.

This AP news article immediately caused me to wonder about two details.

First, were there health problems in other localities with this mouthwash?

I have a strong hunch the legal profession will be working on the answers to this in the court systems for the next few years.

Second, why did the Florida firm import the mouthwash made by a company in far off Malaysia? I know a high percentage of our clothing, appliances, vehicles and so many other products are made in other nations. I’m also aware of the fact that some of our food products originate elsewhere in the world. Yet, what gives with the importing of mouthwash? Is the water in Malaysia better than the liquid in Florida? Then again, maybe the labor factor is much lower.

After all, what is mouthwash? It’s flavored water (peppermint, cinnamon, clear mint, green mint, or the icky yellow stuff) with a little zing added for gargling and for freshening the breath. An alleged bonus is the germ-killing potential.

To be more specific, here are the ingredients as listed on a bottle of peppermint flavor mouthwash: water, alcohol (5 %), sorbitol, poloxamer 407, domiphen bromide, cetylpyridinium chloride, saccharin, benzoic acid, flavors, F D & C blue #1.

Say, where’s the peppermint in this list? Maybe that fits in under flavors.

As I copied these ingredients off the bottle, I noticed this particular brand of mouthwash was sold by a firm in New Jersey, but &uot;made in Canada.&uot; Another bottle of mouthwash and gargle I recently purchased had a tiny American flag illustration on the label and a &uot;made in U.S.A.&uot; notation.

All this could help to illustrate why it pays to really read the labels, and that some of the products sold in our stores actually come from somewhere else in the world.

This reference to Canada reminds me of the products (boxed or canned) on display in area stores which have labels in both the English and French languages. Some of these goodies are made by American firms for possible export to Canada, and other goodies are imports from Canada.

Then there’s the matter of English and Spanish on the labels. The obvious intent is to sell these products in both the U.S. and the Republic of Mexico.

To my way of thinking, the sharpest firms have trilingual labels – English, Francais and Espanol. Thus, these products can be sold anywhere in North America.

It’s no big secret that some of the fairly fresh fruit and vegetables on display in the produce sections of area stores happens to originate somewhere else on the globe. This is certainly true this time of the year. After all, it’s summer time down in Chile, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

Anyway, carefully reading the labels on the cans and packages that come into our homes could provide an interesting lesson in geography.

Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.