Food Testing & Analysis – Preservatives

Food Testing & Analysis - Preservatives
Food Testing & Analysis – Preservatives

A preservative is a substance that is added to foods to prevent microbial decomposition or undesirable chemical changes. Artificial preservatives reduce the risk of foodborne infections, decrease microbial spoilage, and keep the food fresh and nutritious.

Preservatives in food play a crucial role in keeping the perishable and edible items fresh for longer durations. Not just in foods, chemical preservatives and additives are used in a wide range of products, such as personal care products and medicines.   

With awareness spreading over the use of preservatives in food and their effects on human health, we try our best to ensure the healthiest food choices for our families. 

Thus, as a consumer, it is important to equip yourself with proper knowledge about the types of food preservatives used in food. With that said, in this post, we are going to discuss everything about food additives, including what they are made of, classification of preservatives, types of food preservation, and more. 

Let’s jump right into it. 

What Are Preservatives Made of? 

Food additives and preservatives are artificially created substances that are used in food products to enhance their taste, improve colour, appearance, shelf life, smell, and texture. They are frequently used in both packaged and natural food products since they stabilise product processing. 

Preservatives can be made of naturally occurring chemicals like alcohol and salt. However, today, you will see that the majority of foods contain man-made preservatives, also known as artificial preservatives.

Chemicals like propionate, sodium benzoate, and sodium nitrate are the most common chemicals used in artificial preservatives. They are only effective when used in small amounts. 

Preservatives are normally categorized into two classes:

Class I: Those which are naturally available e.g. common salt, sugar, dextrose, spices, vinegar, honey, and edible vegetable oils.

Class II: These are chemically synthesized compounds e.g. benzoic acid and its salts, sulfurous acids and its salts, nitrates or nitrites of sodium or potassium used in foods like ham and pickled meat.

Preservatives are used to increase the shelf-life of a food product while retaining its nutritional value. Depending upon the purpose of their usage in the food products, preservatives can be further categorized into antimicrobial and antioxidant.

Antimicrobial Preservatives: These prevent degradation by bacteria. This method is the most traditional type of preserving, such as pickling and adding honey to prevent microorganism growth by modifying the pH level.

The most commonly used antimicrobial preservative is lactic acid. Nitrates and nitrites are also antimicrobial. These chemical compounds inhibit growth of the bacteria or inhibit specific enzymes.

Chemical compoundUse
Benzoic acid and sodium benzoateFor preservation of acidic foods such as jams, salad dressing, juices, pickles, carbonated drinks
Hydroxybenzoate and derivativesUsed in a broad range of pH conditions
Nitrate; NitriteUsed in meats
Propionic acid and sodium propionateUsed in bakery products
Sulfur dioxide and sulfitesCommonly used for fruits
Sorbic acid and sodium sorbateCommon for cheese, wine and baked food

Antioxidant preservatives: Oxidation occurs when the food comes in contact with the oxygen, present in the air. Fats are particularly prone to oxidation; they quickly turn rancid upon coming in contact with oxygen.

Oxidation can be prevented by adding antioxidants as preservatives. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and ascorbates are the most common antioxidant to be used as a preservative. These are often added to oil, cheese and chips.

Other antioxidants include phenol derivatives such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which are used in food packaging. Sulfur dioxide and sulfites are used as preservatives for wine and other beverages.

You may be surprised to find that the majority of foods you consume contain additives and preservatives. With that said, food items like dried fruit, wine, cheese, soft drinks, bread, etc. may contain preservatives and additives. 

When we talk about the classification of preservatives, there are more than 300 additives and preservatives permitted for use in India for non-organic processed foods. 

Why Are Preservatives Added to Foods? 

Additives and preservatives help to prevent or slow down the spoilage of food due to yeast, fungi, moulds, bacteria, and other microorganisms. On the other hand, they also give food their colour, odour, and texture. In short, preservatives in food increases the shelf life of foods and also enhances their flavour. 

Classification of Additives

From colours to parabens, antioxidants, and flavour enhancers, you will find different types of food additves for different types of organic and non-organic foods. Let’s have a detailed look at each one of them. 

#1 Colours 

You will find a wide range of food products such as sweets and candies that contain artificial colouring. The primary goal of using colour additives to foods is just to improve their appearance, making them lucrative to the eyes.

Some of the artificial colours include yellow 2G 107, brilliant blue 133, quinoline yellow 104. On the other hand, the most popular natural colour is cochineal red, that is made using a specific type of insect found on cactus plants. 

#2 Parabens 

Parabens are typically used to extend the shelf life of the food products. The special chemical compounds make the food look fresh for a longer period of time. Some of the most common parabens and preservatives in food are sorbates, propionates, nitrates and nitrites, sulfites, and benzoates. 

#3 Antioxidants

As the name suggests, antioxidants are used to provide anti-oxidation benefits through food. The most common antioxidant chemicals used include 4-hexylresorcinol, dodecyl gallate, octyl gallate, propyl gallate, etc. They are often used in products like chewing gums, baked goods, meats, flake cereals, powdered soups, and sweets.  

#4 Flavour Enhancers 

Flavour enhancers are used to artificially improve the taste and aroma of food products. Some common flavour enhancers used in food products are glutamate and monosodium. Food products like savoury food items, biscuits, cookies, chips, etc. contain flavour enhancers. 

How Are Additives and Food Preservatives Approved for Use in Foods? 

Food additives and preservatives that are developed must get approval from the FSSAI  before it can be used in food products. The FSSAI will only approve of the additive or preservative if it is backed by the scientific data demonstrating that the chemical is safe to use for its intended purpose. 

In harmony with the international laws and regulations pertaining to the use of preservatives, the FSSAI has specified guidelines for permissible limits of preservatives in a food product, as their excessive use could lead to health problems.

In compliance with the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011, we provide services to the FBOs. Our laboratory has state-of-the-art instrumentation to analyze preservatives in food products.

We also provide consultation on labeling requirements concerning preservatives for packaged food products. Importantly, our food testing lab has been identified among the top 5 national level labs in India and is accredited by NABL and approved by FSSAI for testing of food items.

Please contact us today using the quick query form on the right or by calling us now on +91-11-45754575 to get your food samples tested for Preservatives.

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