Reddit's "dirty little secrets" thread - some thoughts

If you haven’t seen it yet, this thread over on Reddit has been getting a lot of internet attention over the last couple of days. In a nutshell, people have been posting secrets that their employers try to keep hidden. They range from the expected and mundane (restaurants dropping food and serving it, IT reps who don’t really know what they’re doing) to more shocking (the long rant about the funeral industry comes to mind). It’s worth reading if you want your faith in society shaken, though of course I think it’s also a good idea to take a lot of it with a grain of salt, given that these are all anonymous internet complainers.

Anyway, reading these stories prompted a thought of my own, and since (a) I’m not a Redditor, and (b) at this point, anything I posted there would be read by absolutely no one, I thought I’d mention it here. I don’t really have any earth-shattering secrets from former jobs, but the closest thing I have to one illustrates a point.

I used to work for a large manufacturer of nutritional supplements - herbs, teas, that sort of thing. If you’ve ever purchase a bottle of echinacea capsules or, I don’t know, St. John’s Wort, or that sort of thing, there’s a pretty good chance we made it. Or, really, packaged it. We purchased these powders in bulk, loaded them into capsules, and sold them on. We also made the store brand versions of the exact same products for several of the country’s largest retailers. So far, so boring. I worked as a microbiologist in the lab, testing each batch of product for bacterial contamination before shipping it out.

Now, because of the lack of regulation of this industry, we were exempt from a lot of the requirements that pharmaceuticals or even regular food products were required to follow. As it happens, just before I started there, the company hired a new lab manager who genuinely cared about doing things right. He made sure that real, informative lab tests were done on everything we shipped. He even instituted actual studies to establish real expiration dates - basically, you age the product and test for levels of whatever active ingredient you decide is important. The expiration date should be how long it takes for that ingredient to degrade to a certain point. Under the previous lab manager, they set the expiration dates by literally walking across the street to Wal-Mart and looking to see what expiration dates the competitors were putting on their products. Totally legal, but very shady.

So, yay! We’re trying to do things right. Except that within a year after instituting all these good quality initiatives, the company declared bankruptcy. I’m not saying that the new lab expenses were responsible for this, but guess which department was severely reduced?

As I read all these stories of greedy companies cutting corners and cheating wherever they can, it’s easy to chalk it all up to greed and evil, and perhaps that is involved in some instances. But it’s also true that quality and doing things right costs time and money, and if my company spends the money to do things correctly, it’s only a matter of time before some shadier company, willing to do whatever it takes, shows up and outcompetes me. My only options then are to go out of business or sink to their level. This isn’t a huge revelation, I’m sure, but it’s depressing.

Oh, and FYI, echinacea is the dirtiest, filthiest product I ever had to deal with. Every single batch we got in, no matter who the supplier was, was crawling with E. coli and other fecal coliforms. We had to lower our standards for echinacea, or we could never sell any of it. I’m convinced to this day that if echinacea has any effect on the immune system, it’s not the plant - it’s the massive infusion of nasty bacteria into your system that is doing it.

Huh. I have a wildflower garden on top of the leach field to my septic system, and the purple coneflower is one of the few things that does well there. Good to know I’m doing it right :-).

That funeral post really sort of puts the lie to the body integrity people in the organ donation thread we had a few weeks ago.

I have always figured that I will donate as much of my body to anywhere - body farm if nobody else wants it!

If nothing else, I can always specify that once they are done gutting me or whatever, they can toss me in the incinerator. I do not hold to the sanctity of the human body or however you want to consider it. I am not in my body after I am dead, might as well recycle it somehow.

WHY is echinacea so dirty filthy? Is it grown in a third world country and fertilized with raw poop? ( I’m curious. Never thought where the stuff is grown or how it’s processed.)

To me, this is why the libertarians who think the free market will solve everything will never be right. Cheating works. Companies that cheat can beat companies that play honestly and that means eventually you’ll have nothing but the companies that are the best at cheating.

You need an impartial body - like the government - that is strong enough to enforce a set of standards. With cheating off the table, companies can compete honestly.

No idea. I never saw it in rawer form than the dried powder we bought in. I can only assume that it’s a really nice host for bacteria for some reason. I don’t think it’s due to growing conditions - we used the same suppliers for other products that were perfectly clean. I think it’s something about the plant itself. But I’m not a botanist.

Exactly. That was the conclusion I came to as well. But then, there are lots of stories in that thread of government inspectors not enforcing the regulations, or companies getting around them in some underhanded way. The government enforcers are just as corrupt. I don’t know what the solution is, but I guarantee that it would be hugely expensive. If we want things done right, we’re going to all have to pay for it, and that’ll never work.

This is what I got from that funeral director post:

Waitaminute, you can buy caskets from Costco and Walmart??

(The rest of it was stuff I already knew or at least suspected. Why the fuck else would all this stuff be so expensive?)

Yup. When we buried my mother-in-law this summer, we checked Costco but couldn’t get one in time through them. Ended up ordering one via an online retailer for about $1500 (and could have gotten cheaper but her family liked that one) including 2-day delivery direct to the funeral home.

That is so funny! And naïve.

Too many people are under the mistaken impression that government agencies, like the FDA USDA, DEQ, etc., act as watchdogs protecting the consumer from the actions of companies. That isn’t how it works in practice. These agencies act as facilitators to help the companies with their business, with a little token testing and oversight thrown in.

I used to work in animal feed manufacturing. I was responsible for maintaining the medicated feed program and drug control. The FDA inspector always called ahead to schedule our annual ‘surprise’ inspection with me. So all my ducks were in a row and we never happened to be producing any medicated feed on that day. A little meeting, a few samples, a review of records, and we were done for the year.

We had 2 DEQ permits that applied to our water outflow into the Columbia. One for particulates in the wash and storm water drains needed to be clean. 50 yards away we had another 10 inch pipe with a different DEQ permit that allowed us to pump 650,000 pounds of fish scrap waste *per day *into the same river.

Different permits, different standards, same river. All just fine with DEQ.

The ‘rant’ about the funeral industry, alone, is worth reading.
And this FTC Funeral Rules Information link, isn’t from an ‘anonymous internet complainer’…

Thanks for posting that, Smeghead!

I read a book back in the 90s that was an expose on the funeral industry … it is not new.

hell, padding costs probably dates back to Pharaonic Egypt … you don’t really think it took 500 weights of natron to pickle someone, did you? :stuck_out_tongue:

Six Feet Under was (and still is) pretty popular. They covered all that stuff in between the arguments, sexual encounters, and argumentative sexual encounters.

Years ago, Penn and Teller aired an episode of their show Bullshit about the Funeral Industry. This coincidentally aired a few weeks before my family started making the arrangements for my father. He was still alive but very ill (and ended up passing a way just a few weeks after we did it).

Armed with my knowledge from that show, I was clear eyed during the proceedings and politely challenged the funeral Director on several things, saving us money.

A few years later my Mother passed away suddenly. I was so emotionally devastated, the Funeral Director (not the same one) named a price (five figures) and I paid it without a second thought (wiping out my savings with one fell swoop).

Ironically, My father’s funeral brought me a lot of closure and peace; my Mother’s funeral was so shoddily run that to this day, years later, it angers me. I believe every word in that Reddit post.

Thanks, indeed. Very informative!

My Dad prepared for his own funeral - he had a casket all picked out, the music listed, and how he wanted it to go. All that was left was the actual readying the body, which was minimal because he wanted closed casket [and it would have been fairly impossible at that time to make him look good - 6 months in the ICU does nasty things to your overall look - being that ill made him look like crap. ] Finding a piper to go along with the military funeral detail was fairly easy. Gravestone was already there, just needed the death date added.

FWIW, we have a family plot, been there for over a hundred years so even I have a plot and stone though I don’t really plan on using it, I plan on being scattered if I have any survivors otherwise no ceremony just planting my jug of ashes in my spot.

I haven’t read the reddit thread yet but I’ll probably be over there in a few minutes.

As for me, you can take my ashes and throw them in the trash.

If you said “trashes” it would rhyme. Just sayin’.