Preservatives Usage Back in the Days
Preservatives have been used since people first learned about several ways to increase the shelf life of food. Food preservation methods from the past included salting, smoking, pickling, and fermentation. These techniques allowed them to store and eat food for extended periods of time, especially during the time where food is hard to obtain! Food products that are easy to use and have a long shelf life became more and more in demand as industrialisation advanced. Synthetic preservatives were created as a result, and they are now used in the production of commercial food. Preservatives aid in preventing the development of bacteria, yeast, mould, and other microorganisms that can spoil or make food hazardous to eat.
In the middle of the 20th century, the widespread use of preservatives in the food business picked up speed. This was influenced by things like the necessity for ready-to-eat meals, the need to transport goods across great distances, and the desire to cut down on food waste. Food producers were able to satisfy these needs thanks to preservatives, which increased product shelf life while maintaining product quality.
Preservatives That Are Commonly Used
Even though they keep food from spoiling and increase shelf life, some preservatives have been linked to significant health hazards. It is crucial to remember that not all preservatives are dangerous, and that their safety varies depending on the particular preservative and the quantity used. Concerns have been expressed about a few common preservatives:
Sodium Nitrites and Nitrates
Bacon, sausages, and deli meats are examples of processed meats that frequently contain sodium nitrite. They are responsible for bacterial growth inhibition and contribute to the unique colour of cured foods. However, overusing these preservatives has been associated with a higher risk of developing some cancers, particularly colon cancer.
Cosmetics, personal care goods, and some food products frequently include parabens. Although additional research is needed to properly understand the risks, there are worries that parabens could have an impact on hormones.
BHA and BHT
Synthetic preservatives like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are frequently used in processed meals including snacks, cereals, and baked goods to stop food from spoiling. Although the evidence is inconclusive, several studies imply that certain preservatives may be carcinogenic in high dosages.
It's important to note that regulatory organisations, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), establish standards and safety restrictions for the use of preservatives in food and other items. These restrictions are made to guarantee that preservatives are being used at levels that are considered safe for consumption by humans.
Food Ingredients that can act as Natural Preservatives
Concerns about potential health dangers linked to various synthetic preservatives have led to a recent rise in consumer preferences for minimally processed or foods without preservatives. Some have started to find food that only contains natural preservatives! Natural preservatives are substances that can suppress the growth of microbes and increase the shelf life of food goods. They are generated from natural sources.
Since ancient times, people have used salt as a beneficial natural preservative to keep food from spoiling. Osmosis is one way that salt aids preservation. When salt is added to food, it causes a larger concentration of salt to form outside of the food than inside, which draws out moisture. For bacteria, moulds, and yeasts, this dehydration process generates an unfavourable environment that prevents their growth. Salt also stops bacteria from growing by lowering the water activity in food. As bacteria need a particular amount of moisture to exist and grow in number, salt prevents them from getting the water they require. Salt can also inhibit enzyme activity, which is what causes food to break down. Salt contributes to extending the shelf life of preserved goods by lowering enzymatic activity.
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Sugar is a natural component that, through a number of methods, is essential for food preservation. Their osmotic activity is one of their main impacts. A large concentration of solutes is produced when sugar is given to food, which causes osmosis. Microorganisms find it challenging to survive and reproduce as a result of this process, which removes moisture from them. By limiting the amount of water that is available, bacteria, moulds, and yeasts are unable to grow and spread, prolonging the shelf life of the preserved food. Other than that, sugar alters the pH equilibrium of food. Numerous microbes flourish in environments with pH levels that are neutral or slightly acidic. Sugar contributes to preservation by raising the acidity of some preserved foods, which makes it difficult for microorganisms to cause deterioration.
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Since ancient times, vinegar has been used as a preservation tool. Its acidic characteristics and antibacterial qualities are what make it effective. The pH of an atmosphere created by vinegar normally ranges from 2.0 to 3.5. This low pH level prevents the development of bacteria and fungus that might cause spoiling. The shelf life of preserved items is increased by preventing these microbes from surviving and proliferating in the acidic environment of vinegar. In addition to being acidic, vinegar also has antibacterial qualities that improve preservation. The primary component of vinegar, acetic acid, functions as a natural antibacterial. It has the capacity to break through the cell walls of microorganisms and impair their biological processes, causing them to be inhibited or killed. In preserved foods, its antimicrobial effect aids in preventing the development of bacteria, moulds, and yeasts.
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Natural antioxidant vitamin E aids in the preservation of some foods and goods. Its antioxidant activities are thought to be the main factor in preservation. Food can deteriorate due to the chemical process of oxidation, which can result in rancidity, off flavours, and a shorter shelf life for fats, oils, and other ingredients. By neutralising free radicals, which are extremely reactive chemicals that might start oxidation events, vitamin E can aid in preventing or delaying this oxidation process. Vitamin E aids in preserving the quality and freshness of food by preventing oxidation. It can be useful for preserving oils, fats, and foods that contain fats. Vitamin E helps in extending the shelf life of these components and maintaining their nutritious content by shielding them from oxidative damage.
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Written by: Alia Adrina Asri
BSc (Hons) Nutrition
Love Earth Nutritionist