What’s Preserving Your Food?


A pretty popular topic in the media as of late has been over something found in many of our foods called preservatives. Preservatives are used to help prevent the deterioration of our food, as well as protecting against spoilage from mold, yeast, and other bacteria or organisms that can potentially be dangerous to our health. By preventing food deterioration, preservatives help reduce food costs, improve shelf life, and reduce food waste.

In the past, common food preservatives were the salting and curing of meat and fish, as well as pickling vegetables, and adding sugar to canned foods. Today, preservatives are classified into two categories: Physical and chemical preservation. Physical preservation is simply the drying or refrigeration of foods. A chemical preservation is adding ingredients to foods in order to prevent undesirable changes to food and is referred to as food additives. Examples of a chemical preservation can be from a natural source such as lemon juice, sugar, and salt. Artificial preservatives are synthetic versions of natural occurring preservatives that are added into our food. Listed below are some common artificial food preservatives you may find in your foods.

Types of Food Preservatives

 Preservative  Uses  Found in but not limited to: 
Sodium Benzoate Used to inhibit bacteria, mold and yeast growth in acidic foods. Carbonated beverages, fruit juices, jams, and pickles
Sorbates: Calcium, sodium, or potassium Used to inhibit growth of mold and yeasts Yogurts, cheese, wine, dried meats, fruit drinks, baked goods, and maple syrup
Sodium Propionates Mold inhibitor Baked Goods
Sodium Nitrite Helps reduce changes in color, and helps prevents the foodborne illness botulism Bacon, deli meats, jerky, and smoked salmon
Sulfites Antimicrobial agent which helps prevent discoloration and browning in foods. Salad dressings, pickles, lobster, shrimp scallops, fruit fillings, fruit juices, beer, and cocktail mixes
BHT and BHA Preserve shelf life, and helps prevent foods from going rancid. Also keeps foods from changing flavor and developing odors Often found in high fat foods: butter, meat, baked goods, beer, chewing gum, cereals, and snack foods

Who allows the addition of preservatives and are they safe?

The FDA requires that all food additives be listed in the ingredient section of the nutrition label. Preservatives are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) according to the FDA in the quantities that are allowed in food products but there are still some concerns on preservatives. For instance, nitrite/nitrate used in processed meats have been linked with increased risk of colorectal cancer when consumed in large amounts. BHA and BHT have been linked to being human carcinogens, although it is considered safe by the FDA in very small quantities. Sodium Benzoate is suggested to increase hyperactivity in young children.

Overall a diet full of processed foods exposes consumers to excessive amounts of preservatives, which may lead to increased risks towards overall health. Limiting preservatives in the diet is advised but having foods containing preservatives do not need to be avoided if part of a balanced and healthy diet.

For further reading:

The Vital Role of Food Preservatives 

What Are Food Additives 

Created by: Ricardo Blanco, Student Asst. and Hospitality Dietitian 

Prepared by Hospitality Dietitian Mindy Diller, MS, RDN, LD   mindy.diller@ttu.edu 


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