Today, the food industry is heavily regulated to protect and promote the health of consumers. But that hasn't always been the case. In fact, the addition of unnatural or unsafe products to food and drink was widespread in Victorian England. The motivations for adulteration were purely economic: using cheaper alternatives boosted profits and legislation to regulate the industry simply didn't exist. So, with this in mind, what are the implications for Christiana Edmunds? Was the Chocolate Cream Killer innocent, after all? Was this a case of accidental poisoning? Excuse the pun but it does give food for thought.
This image might seem a bit far-fetched but chocolate and sugar confectionery were two of the most heavily-adulterated foodstuffs of the 19th century. We can thank Fredrick Accum, a German chemist, for first bringing this problem to public attention. In 1820 he published his (damning) treatise on the English food industry and consumers were horrified. Accum found that sugar confectionery, in particular, was prone to adulteration with all manner of nasties, from starch to Cornish clay. Moreover, sweets were often coloured using "inferior" products or dangerous poisons, like red lead or copper. So it's perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that the sugar-filled centres of Christiana's chocolate creams were adulterated at source and not by her own hands.
After Accum's treatise, a number of articles and books on the subject of food adulteration followed and so did the number of nasties found in chocolate and sugar confectionery. In 1848, for example, John Mitchell found that high-quality chocolates were routinely mixed with starch and that cheaper chocolates were adulterated with "highly injurious" substances like lead. Publications from 1850 and 1855 added to the chocolate adulteration list: animal fat, brick dust, sulphate of lime, red lead and the shells of cocoa beans. The list got scarier and scarier and prompted The Food Journal to write, in 1870, that "there is no more unblushing and unlicensed poisoner in the world than the unscrupulous manufacturer of cheap confectionery. "