London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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City of London 1924

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Port of London]

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The official certificate of the Latvian Republic was recognised by the Ministry
of Health by notice inserted in the London Gazette on the 30th May, 1924.
A deputation from the London Chamber of Commerce interviewed your
Medical Officer on the 1st September. A subject in question was a consignment of
cashew nuts. It was suggested by the deputation that—
(a) Maggots were a natural concomitant of every fruit and nut and often
of cheese and other foods.
(b) That the eating of maggots was not injurious to the human economy.
(c) That at least exportation of the material to the Continent should be
I set out the position as follows
(a) That whereas an occasional maggot or alternatively a little maggot
dung was welcome in a food as proof positive of the capacity of that food to
support life (in contrast to the heavily boraxed or even lightly formalinised
foods, of which the relative or absolute sterility show the capacity of the
preservative to interfere with normal biological processes, such as digestion,
and so depress vital functions, whether in the human or other animal organism),
a parcel of nuts which showed one, two, three or even more tracks of maggot
in every nut would, in the words of the law, and in fact, be deemed to be
" unsound." This parcel was so " unsound " and " unfit for human consumption."
(b) That I was aware of no experiment which could either support
or oppose the suggestion of injury, and did not approach the subject from this
point of view (to most people " wormy " or maggoty food is nauseating, and
while it is a probability that instinctive nausea in connection with foods is
primarily protective and implies phylogenetic history of danger to health
wherever the nauseating factor exists) such considerations are only now
emerging from an undeserved obscurity and were not pressed on this occasion.
A question of killing larva and insect by cold storage having arisen in the
matter, I suggested that whether the insect or larva were living or dead did
not seem to be worth discussion for present purposes. Maggot or decomposing
maggot and dung would still be present.
(c) That I would advise your Worshipful Committee to direct the
refusal of exportation of material in half as filthy a condition as the parcel
under consideration as being outside the legal procedure laid down for dealing
with unsound food, as affording possibility of the return to this country of the
food in an unidentifiable form or method of packing, and as perpetuating that
importation and bandying about of unsound food from trader to trader in
this country, with inevitable leakage to the public, against which the spirit
and letter of the Unsound Food Regulations is directed.
Your Medical Officer informed the consignees that the parcel would be released
by consent, under acceptable guarantee, for cattle feeding, or would be taken
before a magistrate for his decision as to unsoundness.
The vexed question in this case, however, was the one whether export of unsound
material which had been seized as such should be permitted. Your Worshipful
Committee agreed your Medical Officer's comment and action.
Cashew nuts are a valuable commodity, and have such flavour and other
properties as are welcomed in " almond " icing ; in the making of icing the nuts
are simply crushed. The new nut is of course uninfested by weevil in any of its
stages of development.