Food preservation is the process of treating and handling food to stop or slow down spoilage caused or accelerated by microorganisms. The purposes of food preservation are to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms and to retard the oxidation of fats which cause rancidity to food. Food preservation may involve the addition of natural (e.g. salt, vinegar, etc.) or synthetic chemical preservatives (e.g. sulfite, benzoate, nitrite, etc.) to food or processing the food to prevent microbial growth like drying, fermentation, or pasteurization.
Food preservation has been practiced by humans for thousands of years. They learned the necessity to preserve perishable foods for future use (e.g. winter months). Among the oldest ways to preserve food are drying, salting, sugaring, pickling, and smoking. Salt, vinegar, and alcohol are the natural preservatives commonly used until today.
With the advancement of science and technology, the number of food preservatives has increased to thousands over the years. Unfortunately, these preservatives are synthetic and their safety is questionable. The proliferation of synthetic chemical preservatives in the food industry is aggravated by the proliferation of synthetic food additives which do not necessarily preserve food but just make food look or taste better. These food additives include coloring, sweeteners, emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, and flavorings. Like chemical preservatives, the safety of these food additives are also questionable.
This article provides the uses and dangers of commonly used chemical preservatives and food additives. The main purpose of this article is to let you better informed of probable side effects of the many preservatives you consume almost every day.
Food Preservatives and Additives and their Side Effects
Nitrates and Nitrites
Use: Preserve meats such as sausage, ham, bacon, beef, etc.
Side Effect: Allergy, asthma, nausea, vomiting and headaches; sodium nitrite can be converted to nitrous acid in the body and cause cancer
Sulfites (Sulfur dioxide and Metabisulfite)
Use: Prevent fungal spoilage and browning of peeled fruits and vegetables
Side Effect: Allergy, asthma, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, palpitation, and headaches
Sodium Benzoate or Benzoic Acid
Use: Added to carbonated drinks, margarine, flour, pickles, fruit purees, and fruit juices
Side Effect: Severe allergic reaction and cancer
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated Hydroxyanisole
Use: They serve as antioxidants that prevent the oxidation of fats (rancidity). They are used in preserving fresh meat, pork, sausages, potato chips &crackers, beer, baked goods, drink powder, dry cereals, and frozen pizza
Side Effect: They can cause cancer and liver disease.
Mono-glycerides and Diglycerides
Use: They are used as preservatives for cookies, cakes, pies, bread, peanut butter, roasted nuts, shortening, and margarine.
Side Effect: They may cause cancer and birth defects.
Use: Gives artificial color to food and beverages, making them look better
Side Effect: Some food coloring are carcinogenic and may cause allergies, asthma, and hyperactivity.
Artificial Sweeteners (Saccharine and Aspartame)
Use: They are used as substitutes for natural sugar. Although they are sweet, their chemical structures greatly differ from that of sugar.
Side Effect: They are linked to cancer, allergies, and behavioral problems
Use: Propylene glycol is used as food emulsifier, preventing ingredients from separating into unappealing globs in food such as ice cream and mayonnaise.
Side Effect: As a synthetic solvent, propylene glycol is recognized as toxic to the skin
Use: Flavorings are the most commonly used food additives with more than 2000 natural and artificial flavorings currently in use. An example is monosodium glutamate.
Side Effect: There are flavorings that cause allergic and behavioral reactions such as dizziness, headaches, chest pains, depression, and mood swing.
Use: Bromates are added in white flour and bread.
Side Effect: Diarrhea