Why are preservatives used in food?
Preservatives allow us to keep food safe much longer. Preservatives might inhibit oil from going rancid or could help a product retain its original color. All these benefits allow us to keep food safe and nutritious for far longer.
This leads us into an often-overlooked benefit of food preservatives; they reduce food waste. According to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans toss out 35 million tons of food each year. When we can extend the shelf-life of products, we reduce the need to throw food out: a win-win for the environment and our pocketbooks.
Preservatives can also have nutritive roles as well. Take ascorbic acid as an example; it is a powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial compound that is added to everything from bacon to carbonated drinks. But did you know it is also an essential nutrient in diet? Ascorbic acid, more commonly known as vitamin C, can both preserve foods and directly satisfy nutrient requirements. The next time you see the chemical name of the label, know you are getting your fill of the sunshine vitamin!
One of the biggest benefits of preservatives is increased food safety. Many natural and living microorganisms are capable of producing toxins that can increase the risk of many diseases. Ask yourself this: have you heard of a friend getting ill from botulinum poisoning in sausage? What about catching tuberculosis from drinking milk? It may sound ridiculous, but these were both deadly diseases at one time. Food preservation is such an integral part of why these risks are mitigated. Nitrites are added to cured meats to stop Clostridium botulinum growth, and pasteurization has effectively addressed the presence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in fluid milk.