The demand for Ready to eat (RTE) foods among the Indian population is on the increase. Though this category of food is undeniably convenient, one cannot ignore the fact that most manufacturers use food additives like chemical preservatives, flavouring agents, artificial food colours and antioxidation agents which can be harmful to health. Furthermore, there is a wanting in the consumer knowledge about the same. Let us take a look at some of the common chemical food additives as stated by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and their undesirable side effects, and also see possible alternative techniques for their use in RTE.
REGULATIONS LAID DOWN BY FOOD SAFETY AND STANDARDS AUTHORITY OF INDIA (FSSAI)
According to the regulations laid down by the FSSAI(1), the chapter “Substances added to the food” specifies the standards for the natural and synthetic substances which are added during the manufacturing, processing or packaging of the food. The broad divisions herein include food preservatives, flavouring agents, food colours, and others like anti oxidation agents specifying their maximum permissible amount, type of food product it has to be used in and so on.
Given below are the definitions of various food additives and their specifications by FSSAI
Food preservative means a substance which when added to food, is capable of inhibiting, retarding or arresting the process of fermentation, acidification or other decomposition of food.
Preservatives are broadly divided into following classes :
A. Class I preservative: Some examples of which are
- Common salt
- Glucose Syrup,
- Vinegar or acetic acid
- Edible vegetable oils
Addition of Class I preservatives in any food is not restricted, provided that the article of food to which a Class I preservative has been added conforms to the standard specifications
B. Class II preservatives: Some common examples are
- Benzoic acid and its salts
- Sulphurous acid and its salts
- nitrates or Nitrites,
- Sodium and calcium propionate.
- Methyl or propyl Parahydroxy-Benzoate
- Calcium salts of lactic acid
Use of more than one Class II preservative is prohibited unless it has been allowed in the alternative, provided the quantity of each preservative so used does not exceed the set limits .
Flavouring agents include flavour substances, flavour extracts or flavour preparations, which are capable of imparting flavouring properties, namely taste or odour or both to food. One common example is Monosodium glutamate(MSG) (also known as Ajinomoto)which is allowed to be added within permissible limits in certain kind of foods and completely restricted in infant (child below 12 months of age) food.
Anti-oxidants are agents which are added to avoid spoilage of food by oxidation.
- Butylated hydroxyanisole(BHA)
- Butylatedhydroxytoluene or BHT
Anti-oxidants are allowed within permissible limits
REPORTED SIDE EFFECTS OF CHEMICAL FOOD ADDITIVES
Even though their use is legally allowed within permissible limits, many studies have reported the ill-effects of some of these chemical food additives
- High sodium content in RTE foods may increase the likelihood ofhypertension, diabetes, heart disease
- Frequently consuming food which has high amounts of Food preservatives and Flavouring agents has a direct correlation to adolescence obesity(2)
- Foods which have increased amount of N-nitrosodimethylamine can most likely attribute to high occurrence of gastrointestinal cancers (3)
- Food preservatives like sodium benzoate and propionic acid have been reported to decrease immunity(4)
- Studies have shown a correlation between attention deficit disorder and food additives(5)
POINTS TO PONDER
- That all the manufacturers of RTE strictly follow the set standards is an arguable statement
- Well known branded food manufacturers in the recent past have failed to stick to the standards
- To be on the safer side it is better to look for manufacturers who have FSSAI approval
ALTERNATE OPTIONS FOR USE OF CHEMICAL FOOD ADDITIVES
The purpose of use of chemical food additives is to enhance its natural cooked taste and flavor, elongated shelf life and prevent spoilage of the food. Some alternatives for use chemical food additives can be outlined as follows:
- Natural preservatives can be used within limits
- Manufacturing processes like freeze drying can be used which helps in preserving the freshness of the cooked food
- Heat processing techniques like pasteurization which help to reduce spoilage
- Use of specialized packaging materials in which the food is thermally sealed to elongate the shelf life of RTE foods.
- Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2009 In exercise of the powers by section 92 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (34 of 2006).
- Niemeier HM, Raynor HA, Lloyd-Richardson EE, Rogers ML, Wing RR. Fast food consumption and breakfast skipping: predictors of weight gain from adolescence to adulthood in a nationally representative sample. J Adolesc Health 2006;39(6):842-9.
- Keszei AP, Goldbohm RA, Schouten LJ, Jakszyn P, van den Brandt PA. Dietary N-nitroso compounds, endogenous nitrosation, and the risk of esophageal and gastric cancer subtypes in the Netherlands Cohort Study.Am J ClinNutr 2013;97(1):135-46.
- Maier E, Kurz K, Jenny M, SchennachH, UeberallF, Fuchs D. Food preservatives sodium benzoate and propionic acid and colorant curcumin suppress Th1-type immune response in vitro. Food Chem.Toxicol2010;8:1950–56
- McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, Crumpler D, Dalen L, Grimshaw K et al. Food Additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3 year old and 8-9 year old children in the community: A randomized double blinded, placebo controlled trial.The Lancet2007;370(9598):1560-67.