This is a report pertaining to a serious mistake or food safety misjudgement by a colleague of mine regarding a substance known as Carboxymethyl Cellulose (or CMC for short). CMC is used as a thickening agent in the food industry. It is often used in the soft drink industry, dairy industry and ice cream industry. CMC is insoluble and requires a medium to carry it in suspension until it can be mixed into the liquid product. Such mediums can be sugar syrup or a vegetable oil. It is a problematic ingredient to use that requires a great deal of worker proficiency.
Products that contain Carboxymethyl Cellulose are usually marked with the ingredient code E466. When used correctly this ingredient is considered safe and it is a good source of additional cellulose (fiber).
My friend is a very experienced food technologist and he should have known better than to do what I am about to tell you. During a visit to his doctor he was advised to add more fiber to his diet. No being a great eater of vegetables my friend decided to find a more creative solution to adding fiber to his diet. At first he targeted dietary supplement that are available at any health food store or pharmacy. After a while he decided that these products were too expensive and so he started to look for even more creative solutions to adding fibre to his diet.
Working in the food industry meant that he had access to many types of raw materials. Initially he started to drink industrial grade pectin which he mixed in a little syrup using a blender and once the pectin was suspended in the syrup he then added fruit juice. Seemingly, bit by bit he turned himself into a sort of human guinea pig and decided to become more ambitious in his quest for the ideal fiber to reduce his cholesterol levels.
He decided to experiment with CMC. Starting with quite low proportions he slowly got more ambitious and began to steadily increase the dosage. After not seeing my friend for some time I decided to call his wife to find out what had happened to him. On hearing my voice his wife immediately burst into tears and told me the story about the CMC and went on to tell me that he had developed a very severe intestinal blockage and that the only way to save him was by opening his intestine in several places to extract the lumps of carboxymethyl cellulose that had formed inside his gut.
I decided to tell you this story to emphasize the point of exactly how dangerous it can be to use food ingredients in ways for which they are not intended to be used. My friend, who is actually an expert in food hygiene and food safety fell pray to his own need to medicate himself cheaply. He wagered that his knowledge and experience were enough to take a calculated risk in using industrial grade materials for use on himself in ways which had never been tested. Now he is paying the price for that mistake.