Hello again in this new Blog post! Did you know that according to FAO about 14% of the world’s foodstuff is lost after harvest, and another 17% is wasted during its commercialisation and by consumers, especially in households? One of the main reasons for this waste is microbiological spoilage. Food is affected by the presence of undesirable microorganisms that causes alterations which limit its shelf-life. These negative consequences affect consumers as well as manufacturers and retailers.
In addition to commercial defects, food spoilage can pose a health threat to those who eat the food. We hear all the time how diseases such as listeriosis, salmonellosis or botulism affect the population, in some cases with very serious consequences.
There is no doubt that these negative effects caused by food spoilage are a reason for the industry to develop effective methods and tools to mitigate the appearance and growth of pathogenic or spoiling microorganisms. We always talk about the system of barriers as the different strategies that face the preservation of food: processes such as heat treatments or high pressures (HPP), good manufacturing practices, the care in packaging or storing, and of course the use of chemical or natural substances with antimicrobial action such as food preservatives.
What are food preservatives?
According to Regulation 1333/2008 of the European Parliament, preservatives are: “substances which prolong the shelf-life of foods by protecting them against deterioration caused by micro-organisms and/or which protect against growth of pathogenic micro-organisms”. The Regulation separates this definition from the definition of antioxidants, which protect from “deterioration caused by oxidation, such as fat rancidity and colour changes”.
Let’s remember that food preservatives are one of the many types of additives that exist (in our previous Blog post you can review which are and their functionalities), and their definition would therefore be limited to those ingredients that are added to foods to guarantee their stability during their shelf-life, protecting them from microbiological spoilage by pathogens or other microorganisms.
These preservatives can be classified into organic and inorganic, and also differentiated by their mechanism of action. The use of each of them separately or together will depend on the type of food and the required need for protection.
Which food preservatives are most commonly used for food protection?
Some of the most common food preservatives are weak organic acids capable of disrupting the metabolism of microorganisms and are particularly effective in the case of acidic foods. For example:
- Sorbic acid together with its salts, the sorbates, is one of the most widely used chemically-synthesised food preservatives, especially effective against moulds and yeasts. It does not alter the flavour or aroma of foodstuffs, and in the case of sorbates they are more soluble and of minimal toxicity.
- Propionic acid, also used as propionate (in salt form) is effective against moulds and some bacteria.
- Lactic acid is in liquid form, which limits its application, but it is one of the most important additives in foods with microbiological fermentations. It is also used in its salt form, lactate.
- Benzoic acid is a preservative that works on foods with acidic pHs below 5, and even 4. It is mainly effective against yeasts but also has indirect action against bacteria and moulds. It is also used as benzoate, its salt.
- Acetic acid is a substance widely present in vinegar. It has a great potential for preservation but also modifies the organoleptic properties of the food. Its effectiveness is increased the lower the pH of the product to be preserved is. The salt used is diacetate.
What other preservatives exist in food?
In addition to the acidic preservatives we have just mentioned, there are others that are used for other needs to control spoilage caused by microorganisms.
For example, sulphur dioxide is traditionally used in wine manufacturing, but nowadays it is one of the food preservatives that also has an antioxidant effect on food, avoiding its darkening. However, it is not used directly as it is an irritant gas, better known as sulphite, which is directly used in the food industry in the form of sodium, calcium or potassium salt. It should be noted that this additive is an allergen and in high dosages it can affect the human vitamin B1, so there is a strong regulation around it.
Nitrates and nitrites have historically been used mainly in cured meat products. Nitrates can also be found in nature in some vegetables such as lettuce or beetroot, derived from the metabolism of substances present in the soil. Nitrites have a good preservation capacity thanks to the control of spore-generating microorganisms and their toxins, such as botulinum toxin. They also help to generate and maintain the characteristic colour of foods, such as the bright red colour of meat products. However, nitrites (both those produced from nitrates and those used directly in the food) at the end of their metabolism can generate nitrosamines, carcinogenic substances that pose a health risk for the consumer.
As we mentioned in the previous Blog post, food preservatives in particular, and additives in general, are evaluated and regulated by the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) together with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Both institutions work to determine the safe level of consumption and the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for each substance, thus ensuring their safety as food ingredients and trying to avoid potential health risks for consumers.
Can manufacturers in the food industry have access to natural alternatives to replace their additives?
At Amerex, we focus on developing alternative solutions to food preservatives for the safety and shelf-life of the food. Our bio-based blends are E-number free, so in addition to addressing your natural preservation challenges, they will help you achieve clean label foods with homemade organoleptic characteristics.
You can find here our strategies for substituting additives and other treatments used in the industry to stop microbiological spoilage. For example, in Amerex’s natural preservatives portfolio we have specialist products such as BIAMEX-YM that can replace sorbate to protect against moulds and yeasts. Also our SAFEMIX range of natural flavourings obtained by fermentation to replace lactate or acetate, among others.
Contact us to find out all the proposals for food preservation and make your final product safe, stable and tasty.
Phone number: +34 91 845 42 14