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    Preservatives- Ensuring Food Safety and Freshness

    Preservatives- Ensuring Food Safety and Freshness

    Food safety and freshness are pressing concerns that bring to question a number of products which are usually added to foods. On the global stage, due to the unscrupulous acts of certain manufacturers, products such as preservatives, that are completely safe for consumption when used in regulated amounts are rumored to be harmful to health. This not only causes a challenge for businesses but more so for consumers, who struggle to find options suitable for their needs. In this article, we break the myths about preservatives in food being harmful, and share exactly how important a role they play in food safety.

    view kinds of preservatives

    What are preservatives in food?

    Preservatives are food additive substances which help in maintaining the safety and health of foods to which they are added. They do so by slowing down the process of microorganism formation which in turn keeps them from spoiling quickly. In addition to delaying spoilage, food preservatives also help in maintaining the freshness of the foods and keeping the flavors intact along with retaining the nutritional value of the foods. Available in synthetic as well as natural options they are used for a diverse array of foods such as meats, beverages, dairy products, and bakery goods, allowing them to last a long time.

    Kinds Of Preservatives

    Preservatives are created in two main categories including natural and artificial preservatives. However, there are other additives as well such as antimicrobials, antioxidants, and acidulants which create specific conditions to preserve the foods. Each of these food preservatives types offer unique properties and abilities which help protect the foods from spoiling.

    Antimicrobial Preservatives: Antimicrobial or antibacterial preservatives, as the name suggests, slow down the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast, thereby protecting foods for a long time. These are added to easily perishable items to elongate their shelf life and avoid the spread of foodborne ailments. Products such as sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, calcium propionate, sodium diacetate, among others, are the most commonly used kinds of antimicrobial chemical preservatives. The different options within this category are used for varied purposes.
    For instance, sodium benzoate is ideal for acidic food products such as carbonated beverages, salad dressings, etc., whereas potassium sorbate is widely used in dairy products and baked items as well as in wines.

    Acidulants: Acidulants are a kind of artificial preservatives which create an acidic environment within the foods, thereby lowering their pH, and minimizing the growth of microbes. In addition to this, they also help enhance the flavor of the foods to which they are added. Acidulants such as citric acid, lactic acid, and sodium acetate, are most commonly used varieties for food preservation while acting as a preservative. Citric acid finds extensive usage in beverages and candies whereas lactic acid is extensively used in products like yogurt and sauerkraut.

    Antioxidants: Antioxidants are yet another type of commonly used preservatives which are used extensively for preserving foods. These work specifically by inhibiting the oxidation process which, if not controlled, causes foods rich in fats and oils to go rancid and spoil in addition to losing their nutritional value. Commonly used antioxidants include ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C which helps in preventing vegetables and fruits from browning, which is caused when they spoil.

    Apart from these types of common preservatives which are added to foods, particularly manufactured food products, there are also natural preservatives such as salt, sugar, vinegar, nipagin esters, propionates, nisin, natamycin, rosemary extract, and more which are utilized in manufactured as well as home cooked products for preserving foods for a long time.

    preservatives in food

    How Do Preservatives Help

    The role of preservatives in food is one which cannot be replaced by any other substance. They help by messing with microorganisms’ enzyme system, upsetting their typical metabolism, and reducing activity of enzymes. Additionally, they interfere with the ability to thrive and propagation of bacteria by causing the coagulation and denaturation of proteins. Finally, they have the capacity to alter the cytoplasmic membrane’s permeability, which prevents the release of enzymes and metabolites from inside the cells and results in their elimination.

    Preservatives help prevent foodborne diseases: In foods such as ready-to-eat meals, instant foods, and more, preservatives help in preventing the growth of bacteria and mold. Bacteria that cause diseases like salmonella, and e.coli can grow in foods without preservatives very easily.

    Preserving the nutritional value of foods: Preservatives play a pivotal role in maintaining the nutritional value as well as freshness of food products, preventing them from spoiling or degrading over time. Certain kinds of preservatives like ascorbic acid help in retaining the vitamin and mineral content within the foods, thereby preventing their spoilage.

    Prolonging the shelf life of foods: The main function that preservatives perform is extending the shelf life of food products. By inhibiting the growth of bacteria and other microbes, they prevent the foods from spoiling quickly. This feature plays a critical role in the global food supply distribution chain, allowing manufacturers to transport foods over long distances without the fear of spoilage. Moreover, it is vital to prevent the wastage of foods which can be harmful for the environment, requiring more and more production, and also cause economic issues.

    Concerns About Preservatives

    Preservatives have received a bad reputation due to malpractices by manufacturers. As the saying goes ‘too much of any substance can lead to poisoning’. Considering the toxicity of a substance without focusing on dosage is what leads to such rumors. With regards to preservatives, there are strict standards for its use established by the USFDA and EFSA, designed to keep safe dosage amounts in mind. When used under the ‘safe standard’ limits, they pose no danger as the human body can excrete small amounts of the preservatives through metabolism.


    Preservatives are an essential kind of food additive that play a vital role in more than one way. Not only do they ensure health, they also help companies and consumers save money, prevent wastage, and enable the global food supply chain. While they are not harmful, too much of them can cause some harm, which makes it vital for consumers to check the quantity of preservatives being used in any kind of food product that they consume.

    Related Posts:
    1. Common Food Additives
    2. Food Additives Buying Guide

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