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App reveals dead bugs, carcinogens in your lunch

Chemical Cuisine for iOS and Android dishes the dirt on the dirty ingredients in your dish.

If you're concerned about the number of foods you eat that contain pulverized insect bodies, or worry about all the ways another Coke or Pepsi might contribute to your early demise, boy, have I got an app for you.

That doctor is probably not prescribing this app... Flickr user skampy

The folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest are wagering you're willing to fork over a buck to find out how truly disgusting and/or dangerous the ingredients in your food are with their new "Chemical Cuisine" app. Download it for 99 cents for iOS or Android and you have instant access to an encyclopedia of all those indecipherable ingredients on food labels--things like cochineal extract or carmine, which comes from those unfortunate aforementioned insects and is used to add a nice pink, purple, or reddish hue to your yogurt and other munchies.

An Acesulfame-K up your sleeve won't make a winning hand in the end. CSPI/EchoDitto

Believe it or not, cochineal extract is an ingredient that CSPI rates as safe to consume for most people but notes that some folks can have a severe allergic reaction. "Certain People Should Avoid" is one of five ratings used for the ingredients in CSPI's database. The others are "Safe," "Cut Back," "Avoid," and "Caution" for those ingredients that might pose a risk and need more testing.

One entry of interest in that last category is the natural sweetener Stevia, also known as Rebiana or by brand name like Truvia, a bottle of which is currently on a shelf at my home. The app capsule on Rebiana points out that natural doesn't necessarily mean safe or healthy--there's been evidence that it can promote cancer and infertility in rodents.

In the "Avoid" category, the artificial colorings and sweeteners dominate, from notorious names like Aspartame to the more harmless-sounding--but still potentially carcinogenic--"caramel coloring." Most bottles of Diet Coke contain both.

CSPI is quick to point out that most food additives are relatively safe in the amounts in which they're used. In fact, I counted less than 20 on the "Avoid" list on Chemical Cuisine.

One characteristic of this app seemed a little baffling to me, though. While I'm not exactly operating in the nonprofit sector, this sort of awareness-building app just screams to be made available free, and the 99-cent price seems odd for what amounts to basically a digital pamphlet, albeit a very handy one.

Then again, I'm likely to see that dollar returned a thousand-fold with all the dough I now won't spend on those carbonated cancer and corn-syrup bombs in a can in the future.