Food Preservatives, Useful or Dangerous?

Nowadays food companies make extensive use of preservatives and other food additives, but there is increasingly talk of danger to health.

Until a few decades ago, food preservation was a problem that had lasted for millennia. Food availability was limited to the harvest season. Man had to find a way to store food because he needed it throughout the year, he needed to invent methods by which food items could be stored for a longer time without loss in taste and quality.

Foods can be distinguished between perishable and non-perishable. Perishable ones are those foods which deteriorate quickly because of the attack of micro-organisms. Non-perishable foods are those that can last longer and can be consumed within weeks or months without causing damage to health. Some examples of perishable foods are meat, milk, fruits, vegetables etc. Non-perishable foods are: pasta, rice, wheat, oils, dried pulses etc. We have two types of food preservatives: natural and artificial, both are designed to maintain quality, edibility, taste and nutritional values. Food preservatives can be classified into:

  • Antimicrobial preservatives, inhibit the growth of microorganisms in food
  • Antioxidant preservatives, inhibit the oxidation of food
  • Preservatives that act on enzymes of the food by preventing the natural aging process

The oldest natural preservatives known by man are salt, vinegar, sugar, oil and herbs. Some of these substances are still used today in our diet such as salt, sugar and oil. Ongoing research is targeted to find new natural food preservatives. Let’s see a few preservatives in detail. russian food store

  • Salt: salt has been used to preserve foods since ages, particularly for meat and fish. At very high concentrations the cells of the micro-organisms lose water and dehydrate. With salt meat and fish can be preserved for years. Salt is still used for the brine to preserve olives, cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, green beans etc.
  • Vinegar: vinegar is an acid solution obtained from the fermentation of wine, or from sugar in aqueous solution. Vinegar contains acetic acid which kills the bacteria due to its acidity or lower pH. Vinegar is also used to preserve meats and vegetables during pickling.
  • Sugar: sugar is a carbohydrate and the mechanism by which it acts for the preservation of food is the same as the salt. Food staffs can be stored in sugar in two ways: a. by immersion in concentrated sugar syrup. b. cooked in sugar, especially fruits, examples include jams and preserves.
  • Herbs: extracts of herbs are prepared by the distillation of leaves. They are used as preservatives since ages because of their antioxidant properties, they also give special flavor to the food.

Preservation of food staffs is much changed in the last century. With technology advances, man has solved many problems related to food preservation: faster means of transportation to bring food to areas other than production, discovery of chemicals suitable for food storage, freezing, are some examples.

Nowadays we can find all the food stuffs throughout the year, we can buy fruits and vegetables in any seasons and anywhere in the world. Food industries produce and sell every day hundreds of new meals ready to eat, this would not be possible without preservatives; but all these beautiful things may require a price to pay, what are the effects on our health? That is a good question, I refer most of all to the chemicals used for food preservatives. Chemical preservatives are a major component of the large family of food additives that also include chemically dyes, thickeners, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, etc.

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