Food preservatives are added in the food to increase the shelf life of the product as well as to preserve the aroma, taste and flavour of the food. Food preservation is a method which has been in use traditionally to prevent the spoilage and growth of micro-organisms.
Since primeval times salt, sugar and vinegar have been in use as natural food preservatives. Some of the methods commonly used to preserve food is dehydration, refrigeration, freezing, boiling, pickling and smoking. These methods and natural preservatives have proven to be effective in preserving the food and preventing the microbial spoilage. These microbes could be bacterias, moulds, yeasts making the food unfit for consumption and if consumed, might result in food intoxication or food poisoning.
With the increase in demands and variety of packaged foods, use of artificial preservatives have become popular. In this blog, we will discuss some of the preservatives which are added and their potential effects on the body. Different packaging methods like vacuum packaging, hypobaric packaging and chemical preservatives are used in different food products to maintain the quality. Let us discuss some of the chemical preservatives used -
- Benzoate - They are used as benzoic acid or sodium benzoate and possess anti-bacterial properties. But it has been perceived that some people have experienced issues like allergies, asthma and skin itching after eating them. As reports articulated by World Health Organization (WHO), consumption of high doses of benzoate increases the risk of certain cancers like leukaemia and can harm our organs like the heart, liver, kidney, spleen and brain.
- Nitrates and Nitrites - They are used either as nitrite or sodium nitrate, commonly used in meat products for curing. These preservatives prevents bacterial growth and keeps them red in colour. As stated by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, consumption of nitrates and nitrites may increase the risk of certain cancer like leukaemia and tumours. They are also harmful for children and might cause health risks like abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea, blood in stools, respiratory infections and muscle loss.
- Sulphites - Used as sulphur dioxide in juices, dry fruits, wine and processed potato foods, these preservatives helps prevent discolouration of foods. Any individual who is allergic or sensitive to sulphite may experience health issues like abdominal pain, asthma, headaches, palpitations, hot flushes, diarrhoea and skin irritations.
- Butylates - Frequently used in vegetables oil, butter and margarine, these preservatives have been found to cause elevated blood sugar and cholesterol levels; and also affect kidney function.
- BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) - This preservative is commonly used an an antioxidant to prevent rancidity and oxidative damage. Redundant doses have been associated with f liver and kidney cancer.
- Sorbates or Sorbic Acid - These anti-microbial preservatives are used in the form of sodium sorbate and potassium sorbate. Although there has been less reports of the side effects of these preservatives but some studies claim to cause dermatitis and urticaria.
To conclude, we can say that although food preservatives prevent food from getting spoiled, they may also have certain side-effects, if consumed in excess which in turn can be life-threatening at times. These preservatives can be used but should be within the limit as stated by authorities like FSSAI, FDA, etc. We can make at attempt to read the ingredients label carefully and try to avoid the food products containing preservatives as much as possible. Also never forget to look for the certifications so as to be ensure that if the preservatives are being used, they are in permissible limit.