Are you guilty of using Google to determine whether an ingredient is safe?
If you search “food ingredients toxic” or “food ingredients bad”, search engines will give you over 100 million results! Pages and pages of information around which food ingredients you should avoid. The goal of this article is to explain all you need to know about food ingredient safety.
First, you must understand, what is a Food Ingredient?
First, what exactly is a food ingredient? Substances added to foods are food ingredients. Any added material or physical component counts. This definition applies to ingredients in packaged foods and in recipes.
Legally, the term refers to ‘any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result — directly or indirectly — in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food.’ This definition includes any substance used in the production, processing, treatment, packaging, transportation or storage of food. The purpose of the legal definition, however, is to impose a premarket approval requirement.FDA
In the Food Industry, Food ingredients are called Food Additives
Food additives is the term used for food ingredients by the Food Industry. Food additives are substances added to foods. Typically, these substances have a specific purpose.
These terms are interchangeable to those outside of the food industry. For the purpose of this article, let us call them Food Ingredients.
Food ingredients are used by everyone
Both home cooking and manufactured foods contain food ingredients. There are a variety of reasons to use food ingredients. Individual ingredients have specific roles inside of a food system (or recipe). For example, ingredients can improve the nutritional profile, improve taste or texture, increase acceptability, enhance shelf life and to assist in processing.
You can improve your cooking ability, recipe (or formula) development, and understanding the products you are consuming by understanding Food Science.
How do you know whether a product is safe or not?
In developed countries, you must prove that an ingredient is safe before using it in food products or selling it as an ingredient. As a Food Detective, it is important to know this. You cannot add any ingredient to food products. Ingredients must go through an exhaustive process to ensure they are safe.
Since I am located in the United States, I am going to focus on the US. Please note there are regulatory bodies and similar rules all around the world. In addition, the International Food Additives Council, or IFAC, supports science-based regulation and the global synchronization of food ingredients.
Both the USDA and FDA are responsible for regulating and policing food ingredients. The FDA regulates everything except red meat, poultry, and eggs. Ingredients can be added at any point from harvest to our kitchen tables. For example, baked good and sweet treat generally contain vanilla extract. Vanilla extract is a processed food. We use vanilla extract at home and food manufactures use it in their factories.
Per FDA guidelines ingredients first undergone extensive testing and research ensuring its safety. Usage guidelines are also established.
The FDA categories food ingredients into two groups
The FDA categories food ingredients, they call them additives, into two groups:
- Direct Additive – Purposely added to food to serve a function. The ingredient label on foods includes most direct additives. Vanilla extract is a great example. Its function is to enhance taste.
- Indirect Additive – Get into foods unintentionally. Juice cartons can be the example. Juice packaged into a wax coated paperboard package, some of the way may get into the juice.
Food Scientists, cooks, chefs, and consumers must monitor all aspects of when an ingredient or substance can enter their food supply.
Regulations and rules apply to both direct and indirect additives (ingredients). Even packaging materials undergo an approval process. In fact, all materials that may come into contact food must be proven safe.
The entire list of food additives per the FDA can be found here. Currently, more than 2,800 direct ingredients are added to foods. Estimates indicate there may be up to 9,000 indirect food additives.
It is important to understand Food versus Dietary Supplements
Next, it is important to point out that some products may appear to be a food but are not classified as food. The FDA regulated Dietary Supplements but they are not subject to the same rules. Dietary supplements come in many forms, such as capsules, powders, bars, and drinks.
“The law defines dietary supplements in part as products taken by mouth that contain a ‘dietary ingredient.’ Dietary ingredients include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs or botanicals, as well as other substances that can be used to supplement the diet.”FDA
As a consumer, you can quickly and easily tell whether a food is a Food product or Dietary Supplement by looking at the label.
Safety testing and laws around regulation are not the same for Food and Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplements have different rules than food products. Specifically, they can go to market before extensive safety testing. In contrast, food ingredients do not gain approval for use until extensive research. The research must prove the ingredient as safe.
Food Ingredients in your Daily Life
Thankfully, when you consume a food or food ingredient in the United States the FDA has ensured that it is safe. Before the ingredient can go to the market, it must undergo to extensive research and testing. The ingredient undergoes safety testing as well studies to identify usage limits. This process protects consumer health.
Now, you know that you know the FDA has already done the research for you. You can spend your time looking at kittens or puppies instead of searching whether specific ingredients are unsafe or toxic. Please also note that there is a difference between a food being safe to consume and healthy.
What do you think? Are there ingredients that still bring you confusion?
Food Additive Status List. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/food-additive-status-list. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-ingredients-packaging/overview-food-ingredients-additives-colors. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
FDA 101: Dietary Supplements. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/fda-101-dietary-supplements. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
Ward, Janet D. Principles of Food Science. Third Edition. Published in USA. The Goodheart-Wilcox Company, Inc. 2013.
Aramouni, Fadi and Kathryn Deschenes. Methods for Developing New Food Products. Published in USA. DEStech Publications, Inc. 2015.