Introduction of Food Additives
The use of food additives is an emotional topic which continues to provoke consumer concern. Despite modern-day associations food additives have been used for centuries. Food preservation began when man first learned to safeguard food from one harvest to the next and by the salting and smoking of meat and fish.The Egyptians used colors and flavorings, and the Romans used saltpeter (potassium nitrate), spices and colors for preservation and to improve the appearance of foods. Cooks regularly used baking powder as a raising agent, thickeners for sauces and gravies, and colors, such as cochineal, to transform good-quality raw materials into foods that were safe, wholesome and enjoyable to eat. The overall aims of traditional home cooking remain the same as those prepared and preserved by today’s food manufacturing methods.
What are Food Additives and why are they necessary?
A food additive is defined as “any substance not normally consumed as a food in itself and not normally used as a characteristic ingredient of food whether or not it has nutritive value, the intentional addition of which to food for a technological purpose in the manufacture, processing, preparation, treatment, packaging, transport or storage of such food results, or may be reasonably expected to result, in it or its by-products becoming directly or indirectly a component of such foods” (Council Directive 89/107/EEC). Many food additives are naturally occurring and some are even essential nutrients; it is the technical purpose that leads to these being classified as food additives and given an E number.
Food Additives play an important role in today’s complex food supply. Never before has the range and choice of foods been so wide either in supermarkets, specialist food shops or when eating out. Whilst a shrinking proportion of the population is engaged in primary food production, consumers are demanding more variety, choice and convenience alongside higher standards of safety and wholesomeness at affordable prices. Meeting these consumer expectations can only be achieved using modern food processing technologies which include the use of a variety of food additives proven effective and safe through long use and rigorous testing.
Additives carry out a variety of useful functions which we often take for granted. Foods are subjected to many environmental conditions, such as temperature changes, oxidation and exposure to microbes, which can change their original composition. Food additives play a key role in maintaining the food qualities and characteristics that consumers demand, keeping food safe, wholesome and appealing from farm to fork. Food Additives are very carefully regulated and the general criteria for their use is that they perform a useful purpose, are safe and do not mislead the consumer.