People have been preserving food since ancient times. Since they did not have the technology to preserve food like we do now, they may have used methods like smoking, drying, canning, salting, boiling and pickling. This may have taken up most of their time. These techniques have been around for thousands of years (science. org., sec. 2).
In Ancient times, people would smoke their food by creating smoke from the fire and place their meat over the top. On really hot and humid days they would set the meat outside so it would dry. By drying the meat, they could take out the moisture so that it would be harder for it to spoil (science. org., sec. 2). In the early 1700's, the Dutch Navy preserved meat by putting it in a can with hot fat and then sealing it. They also did this with smoked salmon but instead of fat they would use butter and olive oil (Sullivan).
In 3500 BC, the Chinese would salt their fish to make it last (science clarified). Salt slows down the growth of bacteria. Pickling is a procedure that was used in ancient times as well. To pickle a food they would put it in a jar with vinegar like substance (Wikipedia.org). Meat was also boiled to kill diseases and bacteria. In some places of the world they would store food outside in the winter as a means of preservation (wiki/Ice_house).
Ice houses were invented in Persia to store ice throughout the year. An inscription was discovered in Iran in 1700 BC. It shows the records of construction of an ice house. Archaeologists found similar evidence in China. Even Alexander the Great stored snow in great pits that were dug into the ground to slow down the melting. In the third century AD in Rome, snow was brought down from the mountains in the winter, stored in pits and sold at ice shops (wiki/Ice_house).
People wanted to keep their food fresher for longer. The first known artificial refrigeration was invented by William Cullen in 1748. Oliver Evens, an American inventor, created a refrigeration machine in 1834. By the late 1920's three American companies discovered Freon. This became the standard for home kitchens. The term refrigerator was made up by, Thomas Moore, and engineer, in the 1800's. Some people think that refrigeration is one of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century (greatacheivements.org). It used to be that you could only buy the food that was grown in your neighborhood. Families had to buy their meat and milk everyday. Now, you can buy any fresh food you want, any time you want, from any county you wish. We only have to go to the store and get it
In the last fifty years, scientists created substances to put in food to make it last longer. While the people in ancient times depended on sugar, salt and vinegar to preserve their food, we now can preserve food with man-made chemicals.
“Food preservation traditionally has three goals: the prolongation of nutritional characteristics, the preservation of appearance, and a prolongation of the time that the food can be stored. Traditional methods of preservation usually aim to exclude air, moisture, microorganisms. Or to provide environments in which organisms that might cause spoilage cannot survive.”(chemistryexplained.com).
These chemicals are traditionally called artificial preservatives (AP). AP's can be also be called “food additives”. In 1938, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act defined them as, “any substance, the intended use of which results directly or indirectly, in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of food.” (diet.com)
The United States Congress put the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in charge of our nation's food safety. I think it is interesting that the categorization of AP's can be changed depending on new information about its safety. This is important because there are more than 3,000 substances that the FDA has reviewed (Hayhurst). Food preservation is more important than ever because the world's population continues to grow but fewer people are growing their own food (Nottridge). These days' consumers expect to be able to buy whatever they want even when it is out of season (greatachievements.org).
The basic additives that anyone should learn about are preservatives, antioxidants, emulsifiers, stabilizers, flavorings, and colorings. Preservatives are the most important additives. Preservatives keep mold and bacteria from growing so that food will not go bad. Because of preservatives, we can store our food for a long time. Antioxidants help food from decaying when it's exposed to oxygen. Two popular antioxidants are BHA and BHT. These are chemical antioxidants that keep oily food from spoiling. Emulsifiers and stabilizers are added to foods to keep them from separating. Two popular chemical additives in this category are propylene glycol and polysorbates. (Hayhurst).
Flavorings are the most common additive. There are more than 2,000 flavor additives. Most candies have flavor added. Color additives are used to make the food more appealing. Adding color to food has been around for centuries. Two popular food additives are dyes and lakes. Dyes are added to sodas, dry mixes, baked goods, confections, dairy products, and pet foods. Lake's are added to cakes, cookie mixes, hard candies, and chewing gum. Just how safe are all these different forms of food preservatives? (Hayhurst)
The average American will eat 150 pounds of additives in a year. The FDA is always testing different preservatives, but not all of them are sage for everyone all of the time. In the United States, 95% of food color is artificial. Many countries restrict certain colorings. For example, Norway does not allow artificial colors in their food. Some people are afraid that artificial preservatives are making them sick. The FDA does its best but people may not trust them because they might change their minds in the future. (Hayhurst).
There are controversies to putting additives in food. Surprisingly, some additives that were approved by the FDA are now considered unsafe to put in food.
“There are many unanswered questions about food additives.” (Hayhurst, 30)
MSG, sulfites, sugar, splenda, aspartame, and saccharin are just a few additives that have people concerned. Monosodium Glutamate, know as MSG, is used to enhance food. It makes bland food look attractive. But, MSG is not safe for everyone.
“Sulfates are chemical preservatives primarily used to keep food from turning brown.” (Hayhurst, 33)
People with asthma should avoid sulfates because it can cause a severe asthma attack. When reading the label, people should look for the word, “sulfate”.
Did you know that the average American eats 160 pounds of sugar per year? Too much sugar is bad for your health. Instead of sugar many people try sugar substitutes like saccharin, splenda and aspartame so that they do not eat too many calories. These substitutes can be from 300 to 600 times sweeter than table sugar! More than 100 scientific tests have been done using these sweeteners. They have been approved by the FDA since the 1990's but many consumers still avoid them because they are afraid they may get cancer or some other disease. (Hayhurst,37).
According to Hayhurst, the FDA says that, “Additives are used in foods for five major reasons: To maintain product consistency, to improve or maintain nutritional value, to maintain palatability or wholesomeness, to provide leavening, and to enhance flavor or impart desired colors.”
Whether or not a person wants to eat additives is up to them. Sometimes they are healthy and sometimes they are not. It is up to each individual to educate themselves about AP's and make the choice that is best for them.
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