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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 meals?perhaps 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).
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
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Food and Drug Administration, Food additives, Food law, Food science, Food coloring, Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Food safety, Generally recognized as safe, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food processing, Food chemistry, Preservative
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