You Are At The Archives for August 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012 in , , , , , , , ,

"Clean" and "Green" beauty, science, and comic book characters - Part 2, Irradiation and you.

Irradiated foods have long been a subject of controversy and outrage in the organic industry, and the process is not allowed for organic foods.  Foods aren't the only things being treated with Gamma Rays, however.  I was surprised to find out how many things we may be using unsuspectingly that have actually been irradiated.  Meats, fruits, vegetables, single use medical equipment, cotton balls, swabs, bandages, ointments, tongue depressers... the list goes on.

(You can catch Part 1 of this dual post on cosmetic packaging and irradiation here by the way.)

As I would find out while reading up on irradiation, Gamma Rays are produced by a radioactive isotope called Cobalt 60.  It produces high energy photons that are disruptive to the DNA and structure of living things.  This is why they are capable of sterilizing.  The DNA of the microbe is broken down during treatment and it is unable to recover.  The FDA limits the energy levels the radioactive material can emit.  The permitted radioactivity level makes the gamma rays pass straight through the treated material and leave it with no residual radioactivity.  Essentially it isn't strong enough to knock apart the atoms in the treated material and destabilize them.  It's sort of like an X-ray that way.

Items are brought into the facility, exposed to radiation, and dosimeters indicate when the required amount has been achieved.  They are then removed and sent off to their consumer or industrial destinations.

So if this process doesn't create radioactivity in the final product why all the fuss?  Some sites will tell you it is perfectly safe, and in fact makes our food safer.  Food poisoning that has erupted from contaminated meats might be avoided with a little irradiation.  The E. Coli contaminated spinach outbreak comes to mind, and produce is something that is irradiated.

Organic enthusiasts know though that one of the main reasons we have massive problems with killer bacteria on our foods now is the way our food system is structured.  Livestock farms are generating massive amounts of manure too great to be composted, which is leading a lot of it into unexpected places in our water supplies and from that contaminated water into our food distribution.  According to Food and Water Watch it is " estimated 500 million tons of manure each year, more than three times the sewage produced by the entire U.S. human population."  This is a major source of E. Coli contamination, and one of the reasons for concern about food cleanliness.  Maybe that problem would be best addressed at the source rather than trying to fix it after the fact.
Organic regulations do not allow for irradiation.  Period.  Why?  The objections are heavily based on nutrient depletion, chemical by-products of the radioactive exposure that may then exist in the foods, lack of clarity about long-term safety, and the fact that the food industry is basically covering up cleanliness issues it should be addressing in more appropriate ways.  For a full breakdown of the Organic Consumers opinion on this topic see their page.

Regardless of what the contrasting opinions are and the arguments for its benefits I knew this was something we would never consider doing, even to a piece of plastic.  The process was cumbersome, the hazards to environment and workers huge, and it isn't allowed for organics.  While our product line isn't certified we hold to organic standards in the handling of all our botanical materials, studio cleaning procedures, and even pest control.  All told, no Gamma Rays happening here at Blissoma, folks.

The other really disturbing thing that I found out during this entire inquiry process is that TWO separate packaging suppliers told me that it was highly irregular that we were doing anything to clean our closure components at all.  What?

I could write it off if one source told me that, but two unrelated companies were surprised when we asked about appropriate cleaning procedures for closures.  According to both of those sources the industry standard is just to use the pumps and bottles straight out of the cases.  I was shocked.  They may come out of the cases without gunk stuck to them, but the moment someone sneezes or touches them they've got microbes on them, some that may be disease causing pathogens. 

It's possible that many mainstream product manufacturers just use preservation in high enough doses that they know that a little contaminant on the pump or bottle isn't going to cause a problem.  After all, many high end face creams are still sold in jars - it's actually the way a "classic", miraculous face cream is usually presented to customers.  If you are sticking your fingers in it every day and it keeps for 3 to 5 years there's some serious preservatives going on.  A dirty closure is not unlike a dirty finger.  (By the way, if you use a cream out of a jar this is a point worth considering.  You might want to use a little disposable spatula instead of that bacteria-ridden finger!)

Blissoma's recipes aren't like that, and while they are preserved the system can be overwhelmed if the amount of initial microbe contamination is too high.  Not to mention the goal is to produce the cleanest possible product.  Duh.  This is partly why we have created a full line of moisturizers that are fluid enough to be pumped.  They are protected from environmental contamination once packaged.  With natural preservation the packaging choice is just part of the full "hurdle" plan to keep a product fresh for the customer.  The more barriers to contamination the better.  Again, the lack of cleaning procedure alleged by these packaging suppliers seems like laziness on the part of industry not unlike irradiation to ensure foods are clean.  Overpreserving and not cleaning components doesn't address the root cause of the contamination.

Because we are committed to using organic approved, nontoxic, environmentally sound handling methods we had to devise our own new way to clean our pumps.  For pumps that can't handle steam we are now using organic alcohol to clean them.  The pumps are immersed and then the alcohol is allowed to evaporate before the pump is applied to the product.  It's time consuming but I feel satisfied that we've done what is right for both our processes and our end product.

The takeaway from this is that I wanted to share our process with you, our community.  Also, like me, there may be many people surprised at the use of radiation to treat so many common objects.

So what do you think?  Are you as surprised as I was that Gamma Rays are such a common treatment?  What did you previously know about food irradiation?  How do you feel about irradiation being used to treat cotton balls, bandaids, and the like?  Is it acceptable to you when applied to something that is not a food? 

And how do you feel knowing that major cosmetic manufacturers are not necessarily doing anything to clean their packaging prior to bottling product?  Do you feel fine?  Or does that make you go "hunh?"  Or are you not surprised at all considering the use of so many unstudied chemicals and questionable consumer safety related practices anyway? 

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.  Sound off and share, s'il vous plait.  As always, love to you.

Sunday, August 5, 2012 in , , , , , , , ,

Questions in "Clean" and "Green" beauty, science, and comic book characters.

This post really began months ago during the heart of my search for new packaging.  Our moisturizer bottles were suddenly completely unavailable at the start of the year, which forced us into a hunt for new bottles and pumps.  It was that hunt and what we found that brought up a whole new set of questions and problems. 

There is very little as agonizing or important as the hunt for the right packaging, as many cosmetic industry folks can vouch.  The "right" packaging can make or break the branding and sales of your product.  Not only that but you need it to do essential things like protect your product and dispense it properly.  It seems so simple, right?  Fundamentally it's a bottle and a cap.  The human race is currently building atomic super colliders and dark matter research facilities that are something like a mile underground.  If we can master technology like that then a simple bottle and cap should be no problem.  

Sadly that assumption proves to be false, at least according to years of my own experience and my current situation.  I don't know if it's just the industry?  Maybe those inclined to spend their time designing cosmetic pumps ended up there because their work wasn't quite up to par for the dark matter research equipment.  One would hope the volume of items produced would feed into a desire for quality construction, though.  Based on the packaging woes I've heard from other smaller companies problems with containers and closures are all too common, causing us a few more worry lines in our faces every time something goes wrong.  (Thank goodness we have good skincare accessible to offset this!)

As a smaller manufacturer we don't have the same purchasing options as, say, the Estee Lauder company or even medium size manufacturers.  Large cosmetic companies can contract directly with packaging suppliers, have their own parts designed for them, and control the entire process.  It doesn't work anything like this when you're a little guy.

Packaging components direct from the manufacturing facilities are sold at minimum increments of 10,000 or more.  And I think you'd be getting lucky to convince them to make that few.  Usually it's 25,000 pieces and up.  For glass bottles it's even more if you want to commission a certain shape and size.  That's just not even close to possible for a company like us.  We're then stuck with buying the items that manufacturers choose to make and sell to the open market in smaller increments.  The amount of choices available narrows considerably with this purchasing plan.

Often what we find at a wide variety of sellers is repeats of what the other guys might have.  Sometimes what is affordable and accessible really narrows down to perhaps a maximum of 5 bottle and closure options.  Sometimes less.

We loved our previous pumps and would never have switched but we had to.  They were a great design, worked perfectly, and had never given us a problem.  But they were no longer available except for direct orders in massive quantities with a 40 week wait.  Um, no, not going to work.

We were pretty thrilled when we found a reasonably priced and unique looking combination from a single supplier.  They looked nice together and were different from what would be available through the really small distributors - the stuff that everyone small has.  It's incredibly difficult to find a unique brand look when you're all stuck with the same handful of options.  We were happy we had seemingly done it.

Some time later we ran our first bottling of product into the new container/pump combination.  We did about 100.  At first everything seemed great, but then a few days in as I was fiddling with them and the new label designs I noticed the pumps weren't staying screwed on.  The slightest friction was causing them to come loose and no matter how hard we tightened them they came back off.

We contacted the company to ask what might be going on.  This is where things get really interesting.

For years now we have used steam as a way to clean our closures prior to putting them into the final product.  It's ecological, non toxic, and best of all nearly free.  Our containers we usually use dry heat to clean, not unlike what people do before canning produce.  Our products have a natural preservative in them but we don't like to take chances.  A clean container and closure ensure less chance of contaminating our products.  In addition it ensures that if there is ever a problem we can reasonably say that it came from our production process or some factor other than trace contaminants on the packaging.  

We have always assumed that this was a pretty standard practice, especially as companies would get larger and liabilities would get more imposing if something went wrong.  I've seen videos of bottling operations at food facilities and containers are washed prior to use.  Why wouldn't the cosmetic industry do the same thing?

It's also true that some plastics can deform with heat.  We couldn't see a visual deformation of the pumps that were now slipping but it was only after steaming that the problem developed.  I approached them and asked them if they had any other thoughts for us on how we could cleanse them prior to use.

The answer that came back made me laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all.

"Steaming is not an acceptable procedure.  Our components will suffer uncontrolled deformation that will affect their functionality.  The only process that can be applied without consequences is gamma rays treatment."

Did you catch that?  They just said GAMMA RAYS were the only way to clean these components.  Say what?  Frank was quick to bring up that Gamma Rays are fabled to have turned Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk. (According to science that, by the way, would not happen - he'd have been dead which you can read up on the Incredible Hulking Reality on LiveScience here.)  While we're big on being green let's just say we never thought about being that particular kind of green!

This prompted a flurry of alarmed and astounded emails back and forth.  While I had been ready to find an alternate way to clean the components I was definitely surprised by the answer that came back.  I started trying to imagine how on earth we would ever be able to perform a process like this at our studio, how expensive the equipment would be, and finally leading to that I would absolutely NOT consider having such a thing around myself or my family.  Not to mention what my clients would think, and I was sure the response would be as negative as my own.

I asked how on earth we were supposed to conduct such a procedure.  They replied that normally the items are sent to a facility that specializes in Gamma Ray sterilization and sent back once clean.  That was definitely not going to work for our production process either since we purchase and work in small batches.

As I started to look into the Gamma Ray sterilization process I realized that I had indeed heard of it before but under a different name.  Irradiation.  So what would we do? 
Til then stay green, just not A La Incredible Hulk.

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