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Preservative Information

The science of food preservation is very old and has developed over centuries. Usage and understanding of preservatives has improved dramatically with advent of modern science. Development of new preservatives, has contributed greatly to prevention of food wastage and safety as well.

There are various methods of preserving food among which freezing is arguably the safest and has least effect on the taste when done correctly. 

However, there is a necessity of using what is classified as chemical preservatives. While frozen food does not need preservatives per say, this is more applicable to raw food. Majority of processed frozen food do have chemical preservatives. Here, we try to shed a bit of light on the chemical preservatives.  

While the usage of chemical preservatives has increased over years, so has the understanding of its harmful effects when abused. This has led to emergence of regulations across the world regarding its usage in terms of nature and quantity of the preservatives. General awareness of effects of preservatives is found to be very poor among general population across the world.  

 

Food preservative and substance that are added to food items in order to inhibit, retard or arrest the process of fermentation, acidification, and decomposition of food items. Or, in other words, preservatives in food help keep food safe, without spoiling, for longer.

Food preservatives are classified as:

  • Class I preservatives or the natural preservatives such as salt, sugar, vinegar, syrup, spices, honey and edible oil and
  • Class II preservatives or the chemical preservatives such as benzoates, nitrites, and nitrates of sodium or potassium, sulfites, glutamates, glycerides and the like.

The food standards regulations require that not more than one class II
preservative to be used on one particular food item.


Both, natural and chemical preservatives are categorized into 3 types:

  • Antimicrobials that destroy or delay the growth of bacteria, yeast and molds. E.g. nitrites and nitrates prevent botulism in meat products. Sulfur dioxide prevents further degradation in fruits, wine and beer. Benzoates and sorbates are anti-fungals used in jams, salads, cheese and pickles.
  • Anti-oxidants that slow or stop the breakdown of fats and oils in food that happens in the presence of oxygen(Oxidation) leading to rancidity. Examples of anti-oxidants include BHT, BHA, TBHQ, and propyl gallate
  • Anti-Enzymatic preservatives that block the enzymatic process such as ripening occurring in foodstuffs even after harvesting. E.g. Erythorbic acid and  citric acid stop the action of enzyme phenolase that leads to a brown color on the exposed surface of cut fruits or potato.

The following table shows the type of food preservatives used, the type of food products they are used in, and the permissible limits for their use.

Food Preservative

Type of
preservative

Type of food products

Maximum
Permissible limit

Benzoates and
sorbates

Antimicrobial

Pickles, margarine, fruit
juices, jams, cheese

200 ppm (200
parts per million)

Propionates

Antimicrobial

Bakery products,
cheese, fruits

0.32 percent

Sulfites and sulfur
dioxide

Antimicrobial

Dry fruits and fruits,
molasses, wine fried or
frozen potatoes, prevent
discoloration in fresh
shrimp and lobster

200-300 ppm

Nitrites and
nitrates

Antimicrobial

Meat products

100-120ppm

Propyl gallate

Antioxidant

Baked foods, meats

200 ppm

BHA (butylated
hydroxyanisole)
and BHT
(butylated
hydroxytoluene)

Antioxidants

Baked foods and snacks,
meats, breakfast cereals,
potato products

100 ppm for meat
products, 50
ppm for breakfast
cereals and
potato products

Tert
Butylhydroquinone

Antioxidant

Baked foods and snacks,
meats

100 ppm

 

 

Note: Permissible limits for use of food preservatives vary depending on the food
product, from country to country.

source: https://www.medindia.net/patients/lifestyleandwellness/food-preservatives.htm