Food Additives

May 12, 1978

Report Outline
Issue of Food Component Safety
Concern Over Common Additives
Future of Usage and Regulation
Special Focus

Issue of Food Component Safety

Uses of Additives in Processed Foods

If we are what we eat, most of us are combinations of nature's bounty and laboratory-made chemicals. Many Americans ingest large quantities of food additives with their daily meals. Chemical additives come in many forms: stabilizers and emulsifiers that maintain consistency; preservatives that prevent spoilage; artificial flavors and colors that enhance taste and appearance; surfactants that bind ingredients together; anti-oxidants that prevent rancidity; and acidulants that modify tart tastes. Other chemical additives are used for a hardening, drying, coloring, leavening, non-caloric sweetening, creaming, firming, anti-sticking, whipping and sterilizing. In addition, many natural products, including salt, spices, sugar and sugar byproducts, are added to food during processing.

Several thousand additives have been approved for human consumption. But officials of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency that oversees the composition, quality and safety of food products, do not know the exact number. “It's extremely difficult to put a number on the exact amount” of approved additives, Tom Brown of the FDA's Petitions Control Branch told Editorial Research Reports.

The FDA publishes Food Additive Orders in the Federal Register, stating precisely how much is permissible in a food product. About 2,200 additives are so listed. More than 400 other additives, already in use when the registration requirement became law on Jan. 1, 1958, are listed separately. This is the GRAS list, so named because it is composed of additives “generally regarded as safe.” Indirect additives, such as stabilizers and plasticizers used in packaging materials, number at least 3,000.

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