The Victorian people liked to make some profit and to do so they had to use cheaper substitutes for ordinary materials and sell it for a higher price. This is called adulterating, and in Victorian times many of the substances they used were highly toxic. It was common in over 2500 products.
At the time, white bread was the height of fashion. So to achieve this, many bakers and millers would add Plaster of Paris, lead and alum to flour. Alum is a compound of aluminium and potassium and is in modern day soaps and washing up liquid. It is used to retain moisture and it whitens the bread.
Alum, when consumed in small amounts isn’t too harmful to the body, but when it is the majority of the bread you consume daily, it adds up. It caused malnutrition and gastritis, and chronic diarrhoea which was the most common cause of death.
Lead chromate, a substance found in the yellow paint of American school buses, was also used in mustard to make it more attractive. In tea, things such as iron, dust, used tea leaves, black lead, Prussian blue, etc. were used.
Milk, along with bread, were among the most susceptible. Boracic acid was used in expired milk to take the acidity away and ‘prolong’ its life. Along with the chemical alkali, the sour milk’s pH level was brought from 4ish back up to 7.
Borax, which is now used for cleaning baths and toilets, caused serious irritation, diarrhoea in a small dose, brain and kidney damage/failure in a medium dose, and in extreme cases death!
Much adulterated milk carried tuberculosis (TB), a disease that affects the lungs and other organs. Bovine TB affected the bones and organs and was the most common among TB cases. It caused abscesses in the spine, causing people’s spines to collapse, deformities, paralysis and death. Almost all children had it in some form, and almost 500,000 people died from the condition.
In 1882 more than 20,000 samples were tested, and 1/5had been tampered with. Surprisingly enough, almost nothing was done about it, and none of the substances were banned.