Everything You Need to Know About Food Preservatives

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Every decade or so, a certain food ingredient or category is dubbed public enemy number one. In the past, people have railed against fat, sugar, eggs and gluten. Right now, the latest scapegoats are preservatives. Many consumers want to avoid them and ask for companies to scrap them completely. They don’t recognize that food preservatives are necessary and that many of them are perfectly safe as ingredients.

Why are food preservatives necessary?

These ingredients are essential for extending the shelf-life of food products. If you want your food to last longer than a few days without going bad, you need to add some type of preservative. Without them, the contents of your fridge become offensive to your senses and virtually inedible.

These additives can protect you from problems that are less-visible than fuzzy blue mold. The right concentration of food preservatives will stop your food from becoming a breeding ground for harmful microbes, which can cause terrible illnesses like Listeria. Ironically, while food preservatives get a reputation for being “bad” for human health, they have historically guarded humans against dangerous foodborne illnesses.

Why are they considered unhealthy?

The problem isn’t that food preservatives are automatically unhealthy for consumption — it’s that certain preservatives are not healthy when they are consumed frequently over a long time.

For instance, one of the oldest ways of keeping meat shelf-stable is to use salt. The ingredient draws out moisture in the food, creating an environment where microbes can’t spread and thrive. However, too much sodium in the diet carries serious health risks like high blood pressure and a greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease.

The health risks from overconsumption don’t mean that salt should never be put in food. It means that it should be eaten in moderation.

What can you do?

Companies that want to appeal to the consumer concern about chemical preservatives know that they can’t get rid of them altogether. To make consumers happier, you can use alternatives that will still keep your food products shelf-stable, edible and safe.

You can get healthy alternative ingredients for your bakery products from an ingredient supplier with a varied portfolio. They should have a strong selection of antimicrobial agents, chelating agents and antioxidants for you to choose from. For instance, green tea extract and rosemary extract could be options that work well with your items.  

Green tea extract is an antioxidant that works well with snack foods and baked goods. In the same vein, the antioxidant rosemary extract will delay the oxidation of fats and effectively slow down the deterioration process. Consumers may be relieved to see these ingredients on the label in place of difficult-to-pronounce chemicals.

The tides against food preservatives will eventually turn. With more information readily available, consumers will learn that not all preservative ingredients are harmful and that many of the items that they are afraid of are completely fine in small doses. Food companies can find simple alternatives that can preserve their products and keep their labels looking squeaky clean.

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