Food Additives Article
|Common Pollutants - In Food|
By Dorothy M. Bowes
Society has always been dominated by survival, thus the need to have an adequate food supply to sustain a healthy and productive life. Much effort has traditionally been spent in the pursuit of hunting, foraging or the growing of food.
Prior to modern technology, food was always plentiful at harvest time. However, it became necessary to develop some method of preserving enough of the harvest and game collected during the peak hunting season, to ensure that there were sufficient food supplies for non-productive periods. Early methods developed to meet this need utilised the addition of substances to food. These were our first known food additives.
Some of the first substances used to preserve food were salt (sodium chloride) and smoke, while the addition of various spices disguised the flavour of preserved food and made it more palatable. Salt and smoke are methods still employed today, while the search for chemicals useful to preserve and increase the palatability of food continues. The acceptability of appearance, colour, texture and the flavour of food, is sometimes subject to experience and cultural tastes.
In the last several decades societies have undergone many lifestyle changes due to technological innovation. This has led to an increase in the addition of many substances to food for technological purposes. Many such substances have no clear benefits for consumers and are only there for cosmetic purposes.
Food production is a huge multinational industry with the push to produce more food and increase company profits. Processed foods represent in excess of 50% of diet in some developed countries. Increased demand for 'ready to eat' and snack food from supermarkets, hot take aways, ethnic foods, the demand for seasonal food all the year round, stable and low food prices, have increased the variety and uses of substances added to food.
While there is an ongoing increase in the utilisation of additives to food and new food processes being developed, these have been questioned by scientific and public debate on the risk associated with their use and the overall safety of the materials and processes used.
Toxicology as a science is still in its developmental stage. New technology has allowed testing of increased sensitivity and any toxicology is only based on what is known at the time, or is a limited assessment of risk. Animal studies are not necessarily representative of what happens in humans and toxicology results can be biased by the personal views of the assessor. Many decisions made are based on very questionable toxicology and some good examples of this are medications e.g. Diethylstilboestrol which caused cancer in the children of those who took it; Thalidomide which caused birth defects and some recent evidence to hand would suggest that the children of those who were deformed by Thalidomide have the same birth defects; Non-Steroid Anti Inflammatory medications that cause damage to the gut; Antihistamines have also been reported to be carcinogenic in the long term.
Inadequacies in medical data do not justify that many food additives and contaminants are 'harmless'. These have been unleashed upon the unsuspecting population who expect government regulations to protect them from this type of mass uncontrolled experimentation upon them. It is not even a good study as the medical profession is not involved and there is no retrospective study. Health effects are unexpected and those problems that do arise are poorly understood and relevant data not collected.
Regardless of the rights or wrongs of scientific argument, the Australian Government has no moral right to allow the food industry to use many additives and contaminants in our food supply. Whatever the real level of risk, and that is unknown, the government is not fulfilling its ethical responsibility to the population that is exposed on a daily basis to varying levels of additives and contaminants that are often above allowable limits e.g. sulphur dioxide.
Decisions made at the time of toxicological assessment impact on the consumer and public health. As government cannot adequately police the food industry and allows far too many known carcinogens and contaminants in our food, we can only assume that they are not concerned with the cost to the community of health problems that arise from food additives and contaminants.
Food additives are chemicals that are added to foods for a variety of reasons, many of them cosmetic, they are directly added to food to maintain freshness and prevent deterioration; for cosmetic use to colour, improve flavour, texture and general appearance; as processing aids to improve handling properties; or to maintain nutritional quality.
Some classes of food additives are:
|Class of additive||Function||Examples|
|Anti caking agents||ensure that products do not stick together e.g. salt||Calcium carbonate(170), Potassium ferrocyanide(536), Aluminium sodium silicate (554)|
|Antioxidants||Prevent foods from discolouring and from becoming rancid||Ascorbic acid(33), Propyl gallate (310), tertbutylhydroquinone(319) BHA(320), BHT(321)|
|Artificial sweeteners||Used to sweeten low joule foods||Aspartame, Cyclamate, Saccharin no numbers allocated|
|Bleaching agents||Used to whiten foods e.g. flour||Chlorine(925), chlorine dioxide (926), benzoyl peroxide(928)|
|Colours||replace colour lost in processing and restore uniform colour - cosmetic||Curcumin(110), Tartrazine(102)
Chlorophyll(140), Titanium dioxide(171)
|Emulsifiers||Stops separation of oil and water into layers||Lecithins(322) Polysorbate (333), Lactic and fatty acid esters of di-glycerol(472b), Sorbitan monostearate(491)|
|Enzymes||Break down foods e.g. ferment milk into cheese||Papain, rennet, bromelain, ficin or amylase produced by genetically manipulated organisms.|
|Flavour enhancers||Bring out the flavour of food||MSG(621), disodium guanylate(627), Maltol(636)|
|Flavours||To restore flavour lost in processing||Fruit pulp, nuts, honey, syrups natural or nature identical|
|Flour treatment agents||Improve flour performance in bread making||Sodium metabisulphite(223) Ascorbic Acid(300), Ammonium chloride(510), Potassium bromate(924)|
|Food acids||Maintain a constant acid level in food||Acetic acid(260), Citric acid(330), Lactic acid(237). Fumaric acid(297) Tartaric acid(334) Malic acid(296)|
|Humectants||Prevent food from drying our and becoming unpalatable||Sorbitol(420), Glycerin(422), Polydextrose(1200)|
|Minerals||Added to food to supplement dietary intake||Calcium, Iodine, Iron, Phosphorus|
|Mineral salts||Enhance the texture of foods after processing||Sodium bicarbonate(55), Magnesium carbonate(504), Calcium chloride(509)|
|Preservatives||Prolong shelf life and storage||Benzoic Acid(210), Sodium benzoate (211), Sulphur Dioxide(220)|
|Propellants||Used in aerosol containers||Carbon dioxide(290), Propane, Butane, Octafluorocyclobutane|
|Sequestrants||Bind and remove unwanted minerals that cause oxidation||Citric acid,(330), phopshates|
|Thickeners||Modify consistency||Dextrose(1400), Bleached starch(1`403), Enzyme treated starches(1405), Distarch phosphate(1412)|
|Vegetable gums||ensure consistency||agar agar(406), Carrageenan(407), Gum Guar(412),Hydroxypropylmethylcellulose (464), Pectin(440a), Xanthan gum(415)|
|Vitamins||Added to replace nutrition lost in processing||B vitamins including Niacin, vitamin C, vitamin E.|
The given code numbers are based on the European system of numbering food additives e.g. 220 is sulphur dioxide. In Europe these carry the letter E before the number e.g. E 220.
CASARETT & DOULL'S TOXICOLOGY: The basic science of poisons. 4th Ed, Pergamon, NY. 1991
HANSSEN, Maurice. The New Additive Code Breaker. Lothian, Melb. 1989.
BUIST, Dr Robert A. Food Chemical Sensitivity. Harper & Row, Artarmon. 1987.
NATIONAL FOOD AUTHORITY. Food Standards Code. AGPS, Canberra. 1994.
Web Links for more information
Food Standards Australia & New Zealand FSANZ website
FINA WebsiteFed Up with food additives
|< Prev||Next >|