Food Additives

Food Additives Food Additives Food additives have been used for thousands of years. In prehistoric times, salt was probably used to preserve meat and fish. Our ancestors also found that large amounts of sugar helped preserve fruit and that cucumbers could be preserved in a vinegar solution. The ancient Egyptians used sulfites to stop bacterial growth and fermentation in wine. They also used extracts from beetles for food coloring.

Vegetable dyes from juniper fruits or beech-root juice were popular colorings in the Middle Ages, although wary kings began to employ garglers to test their mealsperhaps for additives that did not originate in the kitchen (Editors of Prevention Magazine 1993). Today, salt, sugar, and corn syrup are by far the most widely used additives. The role of food additives has become more prominent in recent years, due in part to the increased production of prepared, processed, and convenience foods. At the same time, consumers, scientists, and others have raised questions about the necessity and safety of these substances. Although limited amounts of food additives are necessary to guarantee adequate food supplies for a growing population, their use is strictly controlled by laws that assure consumers that foods are safe to eat and accurately labeled (FDA/IFIC 1998).

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Many people tend to think of any additive added to foods as a complex chemical compound but that ideology is quite wrong. A food additive is a substance or mixture of substances, other than basic foodstuffs, present in food as a result of any aspect of production, processing, storage, or packaging (Winter 1984). Salt, baking soda, vanilla, and yeast are all food additives and are commonly used in processed foods today. By law, the label must identify the food product in a language the consumer can understand. It must indicate the manufacturer, the packer, or distributor, and declare the quantity of contents either in net weight or volume, and the ingredients must be declared on the label in order of predominance (Winter 1984).

The useful functions of food additives are often taken for granted, but their purpose is as varied as the foods in which they are used. Additives prevent salad dressings from separating, salt from becoming lumpy, and packaged goods from spoiling on the grocery shelf. They keep cured meat products safe to eat and give margarine its yellow color. The addition of vitamins and minerals to milk, flour, cereals, and breads was a key factor in the disappearance of diseases such as goiter, rickets, pellagra, and beriberi in the United States over the last fifty years. Since most people today are concentrated in big cities and their suburbs, additives help keep the nutritional and aesthetic quality of food from degrading while en route to markets.

Additives also improve the nutritional value of certain foods and can make them more appealing by improving their taste, texture, consistency, or color (FDA/IFIC 1998). Some additives could be eliminated if we were willing to grow our own food, harvest and grind it, spend many hours cooking and canning, or accept increased risks of food spoilage. Most people have come to rely on the many technological, aesthetic, and convenience benefits that additives provide in food (FDA/IFIC 1998). We want pretty foods because consumers have been subjected to the beautiful pictures of foods in popular magazines and on television. Food purveyors are only responding to the changes in society (Winter 1984). Additives are used in foods for five main reasons.

(1) To provide leavening or control acidity/alkalinity. (2) To enhance flavor or impart desired color. (3) To maintain product consistency. (4) To maintain palatability and wholesomeness. (5) To improve or maintain nutritional value (FDA/IFIC 1998).

Many substances added to food may seem odd when seen listed on the ingredient label, but these chemicals that sound so intimidating are actually quite familiar. It is helpful to remember that all food is simply made of Carbon, Hydrogen and other chemical elements like Oxygen and Nitrogen. Dr. Melvin A. Benarde feels that the public is being widely misinformed about the chemical additives in processed foods. He points out that without these chemical additives, many of the convenience foods we use would not be available (Benarde 1971).

Under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the term food additive is defined as any substance which results or may reasonably be expected to result — directly or indirectly — in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food (FDA/IFIC 1998). If a substance is added to a food for a specific purpose in that food, it is referred to as a direct additive. For example, aspartame, which is used in diet sodas, yogurt, chewing gum, and other foods, is considered a direct additive. Dr. Wurtman, who is, in addition to his position at MIT, a consultant to Searle (on products other than aspartame) is of the opinion that gram to 1 gram a day should be safe for those adults who have no special sensitivity (Harrington 1987). On the other hand Jacobson, Lefferts, and Garland state in their book, Safe Food, to avoid the additive aspartame, especially if one is pregnant, suffers from PKU, or experiences side effects from using it (Jacobson et.

al. 1991). Some common direct additives are antioxidants, such as propyl gallate and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA). These additives are approved for use in retarding rancidity in animal or vegetable fats, to preserve color during storage, and to enhance flavor. Preservatives and curing agents such as table salt, sugar, benzoic acid, and sodium nitrite help prevent food spoilage. Binders and extenders — including cereals, nonfat dry milk, and soy protein products — are permitted in such items as sausages and meat patties to bind together ingredients and extend processed products (Harrington 1987).

Although FSIS and FDA have approved these additives for safety, their use is not required in most cases. In fact, a number of food manufacturers limit the use of additives or avoid using them altogether. Persons who are concerned about additives or who must avoid certain substances in their diets should consult product labels to learn the names of many direct additives used in products (Haas 1999). Another group of additives is classified as indirect. These substances may be present in food in very small amounts as a result of some phase of production, processing, storage, and packaging. For instance, packaging materials may become indirect additives when minute amount of substances making up the packaging material …


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