Preservatives are a variety of natural or synthetic compounds that help slow or prevent the growth of bacteria in a wide variety of products, including food, medicine, and personal care products.
Preservation techniques were used as early as the 14th century , when man first used salt (salting) and smoke (preserving) to prevent spoilage of meat and fish. Nowadays, the use of food preservatives has become an indispensable part of the food we eat. Despite many doubts about their safety, our growing demand for greater choice, ease and convenience of food and our high standard of food safety make them a vital part of our food systems.
What preservatives can we find in food?
What is E926 - Chlorine dioxide?Category: Preservatives
What is E925 - Chlorine?Category: Preservatives
What is E239 – Hexamethylenetetramine?Category: Preservatives
What is E219 – Methyl parahydroxybenzoate sodium salt?Category: Preservatives
What is E218 – Methyl parahydroxybenzoate?Category: Preservatives
What is E215 – Ethyl parahydroxybenzoate sodium salt?Category: Preservatives
What is E251 - Sodium nitrate?Category: Preservatives
What is E250 - sodium nitrite?Category: Preservatives, Stabilizers
What is E210 - benzoic acid?Category: Preservatives
What is E 222 - Sodium bisulfite?Category: Antioxidants, Preservatives
What is E290 - Carbon dioxide?Category: Acidity regulators, Antioxidants, Carriers, Packing gases, Preservatives, Solvents
What is E225 - Potassium sulphite?Category: Antioxidants, Preservatives
What is E938 - argon?Category: Packing gases, Preservatives
What types of preservatives do we have?
Preservatives currently used in food are either extracted from natural sources or produced synthetically .
Natural preservatives are primarily used in food and beverages to help reduce spoilage and preserve the product’s color and flavor. However, they are also found in cosmetics and other hygiene products.
For example, the preservative natamycin (E235), which is widely used in the surface treatment of cheeses and cured meats, can come naturally from bacteria normally present in the soil. Natural preservatives can also be obtained from plants, animals, fungi and algae . In addition, common kitchen staples such as salt and sugar can be used to naturally preserve food in certain cases, such as when making pickles or sauerkraut. Try our recipes for homemade pickled cabbage 4 different ways.
Common examples of natural preservatives include:
- aloe vera
- citric acid
- lemon juice
- rosemary extract
- sorbic acid
Artificial (chemical) preservatives are man-made substances that are added to many products to extend their shelf life. Although they are also created to prevent food from spoiling and help it retain its shape and color, they are often full of chemicals. Common examples of chemical preservatives include:
- antimicrobial agents
- chelating agents
“Natural” or “organic” chemicals are not necessarily healthier than synthetic or man-made chemicals. In fact, artificial preservatives such as sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, and propionate have long been added to foods because they are effective even in small amounts.
Preservatives can also be broadly divided into so-called antimicrobial preservatives and antioxidant preservatives . However, many preservatives, such as sulfites used in wine and nitrates used in meat, serve both functions.
- Antimicrobial preservatives , such as sulfur compounds such as sulphites (E220-228), are used to inhibit the growth of bacteria, e.g. in wine, dried fruit, vegetables in vinegar or brine.
- Antioxidant preservatives are often used in minimally processed vegetable products, such as ready-to-eat salads, fresh-cut fruit, and fresh juices, where browning is a significant concern.
We also know:
- Antibiotics , such as tetracyclines, are used to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in poultry, fish and canned foods.
- Humectants , substances that absorb moisture, help maintain the moisture content of products such as shredded coconut.
- Enzymes stop the expiration of cosmetics and similar products.
What are preservatives used for?
- Preservatives are added to foods to fight spoilage caused by bacteria, mold, fungi and yeast . Preservatives can keep food fresh longer and thus extend its shelf life . Food preservatives are also used to slow or prevent changes in color , taste, or texture, and to slow rancidity . Some also have an aesthetic role – they improve the appearance of the product.
- Preservatives are commonly used in medications such as acetaminophen, insulin, and cough syrup to prevent microbial contamination.
- In cosmetics and personal care products, preservatives help prevent contamination and the growth of harmful bacteria in products ranging from sunscreens, lotions and shampoos to toothpaste and make-up. Bacteria could cause irritation or infection.
- Preservatives are also added to wood to prevent it from splitting, rotting and breaking.
In which foods can we find preservatives?
- ready meals
- nonalcoholic drinks
- Dried Fruit
- fruit juices
Are food preservatives safe?
The use of preservatives in the Czech Republic is strictly regulated by EU regulations and is allowed only for certain types of food and only in specified quantities. Preservatives used must be listed on the food label so that consumers can easily learn that they are used in the food.
Preservatives have rarely been shown to cause actual allergic (immunological) reactions. Among the food additives that have been reported to cause adverse reactions are some sulfite preservatives, which include several inorganic sulfite additives (E220-228) and benzoic acid and its derivatives (E210-213). These can trigger asthma in sensitive (e.g. asthmatic) individuals.
Some research also says that certain preservatives, such as benzoic acid, can increase hyperactivity in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, not all children with ADHD react to preservatives.
Excessive consumption of artificial preservatives may also contribute to some of the signs and symptoms of GERD , including heartburn, difficulty swallowing, and bloating.
However, in general, due to strict EU legislation, preservatives can generally be considered safe for most consumers.