Food ingredients such as butylated hydroxyanisol, acesulfame potassium or methyl salicylate may sound scary, but the only thing threatening about them is their name, according to a new guidefrom the International Food Information Council which explains the names and purposes of common additives in order to make them less off-putting to consumers.
The guide was inspired by a 2012 IFIC Food and Health survey which found that 90 percent of consumers pay attention to ingredients listed on food labels when grocery shopping.
“With that in mind we wanted to find a way to help them with a resource,” explains Sarah Romotsky, R.D., Manager of IFIC’s Food Ingredients and Food Technology.
“We understand that consumers may see these names and they’re long and unfamiliar and almost chemical sounding, so to them it may seem unappealing,” said Romotsky in an interview with Food Safety News. “But the truth is that the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) requires that these ingredients be listed by their proper scientific names, so really a lot of these ingredients are regularly found in nature and are more common than consumers may think.”
Examples provided by the guide include dihydrogen oxide, which “is really just water,” says Romotsky, and sodium chloride, which translates into salt.
The guide hits on some of the most common ingredients listed by unfamiliar names, says Romotsky.
The purpose of the two-page printable document is to explain to readers that these ingredients are not as foreign as they sound. They are often naturally occurring, says the guide, and are added to foods to improve their quality or safety by extending shelf life, improving flavor, texture, or preventing caking or clumping.
The guide also explains that all ingredients added to foods in the U.S. are either an “additive” that has been approved by FDA as safe for human consumption, or have been deemed Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the agency.
“Both must meet strict safety standards before being permitted for use in foods and beverages,” says the guide, which tells consumers that “Each ingredient serves a function in our food supply. It may not always be obvious, but it is nevertheless important.”
For example, it says, preservatives help prevent food spoilage and can lower the risk of foodborne illness, and other additives provide a sweet alternative to sugar or enhance a food’s texture.
The safety of many GRAS ingredients and additives has been questioned over the years. Some examples include food dyes that are thought to increase the risk of cancer, specifically Red 3, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. Butylated hydroxyanisole, another GRAS ingredient, is “reasonably considered to be a human carcinogen,” according to a 2011 report by the National Toxicology Program.
Other items on the list, while they haven’t been linked directly to adverse health effects, are considered contributors to obesity and heart disease. The “Fats and Oils” section describes items that provide “taste, aroma and texture,” according to the guide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hydrogenated oils – a category of food listed in this section – are an artificial source of trans fat, which is a risk factor that contributes to low-density protein, or “bad” cholesterol, which in turn contributes to heart disease.
The guide is available for download here. It was created to be an easy reference for consumers to bring to the grocery store.© Food Safety News