News & Events

Food Ingredients & Food Additives

Author: Asst. Prof. Dr. Nyam Kar Lin (Lecturer, UCSI University)

Canning, the process of placing foods in jars or cans and heating properly to a specified temperature, is a way to preserve many different foods. The high heat destroys microorganisms and inactivates enzymes to maintain the safety and quality of the food. Nicholas Appert of France was first invented canning, as a way of preserving food for the army and navy use in 1809. There are many canned foods that available in the market, include fruits and vegetables, meat and poultry, fruit jam, fish and seafood, etc. For example, canning of fish such as sardines and tuna are the most frequently seen canned food in the market. The quality of the raw fish is one of the most significant factors in determining the quality of the product. One cannot expect to get good quality products from poor quality raw materials. Hence, in the initial stage of the canning process, involve the selection and handling of raw materials. In the selection of fish, the fish must be sorted according to their species. Industrial species intended for mincing must be handled according to good handling practice. The fish must be washed to remove all soil and other foreign or undesirable materials. The water used for cleaning purposes should be fitted with an in-line chlorination system allowing the residual chlorine content of water to be varied at will in order to reduce multiplication of microorganisms and prevent the build-up of fish odors. Water used for washing or conveying raw materials should not be recirculated unless it is restored to a level of potable quality. The washing process is usually done both before and after butchering.

Next, the raw fish are transported to the processing plant. At the same time, the fish should be kept in ice boxes to ensure the freshness of the fish could be conserved. There should be less handling of the ice raw material, so that, the quality could be maintained longer. If there is a bulk quantity of fish and exceed the production’s capacity, the fish have to be frozen except those are going to be used as minced raw material is not recommended to freeze. Thawing of frozen fish could be done by various methods such as immersed in chilled water, water spraying or air current exposure. The time, which taken for thawing process varies, depending on the species. Thawing of larger species, like tuna, could take up to 12 hours or more to fully thaw both of the inner and outer parts of the fish.

A food additive is any substance added to food, which can be classified into direct food additives or indirect food additives. The direct additives are directly added to food for a particular purpose in that food. For example, add xanthan gum as texture enhancer in salad dressings, chocolate milk, bakery fillings, puddings and other foods. Indirect food additives, on the other hand, are those unintended trace amounts of substances that generated when the food contact with the packaging materials, and are then indirectly become part of the food products. Therefore, it is compulsory for food packaging manufacturers to ensure that all the packaging materials are safe for consumption when they are in contact with food. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plays the role in regulating and permitting food packaging manufacturers whether the packaging is safe to be used. The main objectives of adding food additives into food products include maintaining the safety and freshness, improving the nutritional value and also to improve the taste, texture and appearance of the food products. Certain food additives act as preservatives to prolong the shelf-life of the food products such as the addition of antioxidants to prevent the occurrence of oxidation in fats and oils, which would cause the rancidity and off-flavor of the food products. There are many products that are available in the market are labeled with “rich in particular nutrients”, these products are usually fortified with vitamins and minerals. Hence, improves the nutritional values of the products. Such fortification and enrichment has helped reduce malnutrition in the worldwide. Food additives such as adding spices, flavoring, texture enhancers, sweeteners and coloring agents into the food products to improve the taste, texture and appearance of the food products.

After processing the food, there might have loss of color or variation of the food due to the exposure of heat, light, air or other conditions during processing of the food. In order to overcome these problems, add color additives to the food to improve the appearance of the food products and also make the food more attractive to consumers. Color additives are classified into two classes, include, colors that are exempt from certification and certified color. Colors that are exempt from certification are pigments derived from natural sources such as vegetables, fruits, minerals or animals, such as annatto extract (yellow), dehydrated beets (bluish-red to brown), caramel (yellow to tan), and beta-carotene (yellow to orange). On the contrary, certified colors are those colors, which produced synthetically and not derived from natural sources. In the food industry, they are more widely used due to its inexpensive costs and do not contain any odor like natural coloring agents. However, these color additives must be regulated by FDA before they are added into food to ensure that foods containing color additives are safe for consumption eat, contain only approved ingredients and are accurately labeled. Upon evaluating the safety of a material, FDA considers: 1) the composition and properties of the material, 2) the amount that would typically be consumed, 3) immediate and long-term health effects, and 4) various safety factors. Once an additive is approved, FDA issues regulations such as the types of foods in which it can be used, the maximum amounts to be used, and how it should be identified on food labels. Color additives are permitted for the purpose of restoring natural color lost in processing or for the purpose of standardizing color, as long as the added color does not deceive or mislead the consumer by concealing damage or inferiority or by making the product appear to be of greater than the actual value. Maximum level of use is not limited for such additives. There are two groups of ingredients are exempted from the control process under the Food Additives Amendment, which are the Prior-sanctioned substances and generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ingredients. The former group consists of substances that FDA had determined safe for use in food prior to the 1958 amendment. Sodium nitrite and potassium nitrite used to preserve luncheon meats are examples of this group. Among the several hundred GRAS substances are salt, sugar, spices, vitamins and monosodium glutamate (MSG), those are generally recognized by experts as safe, based on their extensive history of use in food before 1958 or based on published scientific evidence. The ingredients should be suitable for human consumption and be free from abnormal taste, flavor and odor.

When observing a canned tuna, there are some glass-like crystals or shards can be seen. These crystals are usually harmless compound, called struvite. The minerals in struvite are naturally in fish but may bind together during canning. Pyrophosphate is a food additive that is added to retard the struvite formation. There are also traced amounts of methylmercury are found in nearly all fishes. Methylmercury is a form of mercury that has neurotoxic effects, primarily in developing brains. The larger fish has more number of methylmercury. For example, white tuna usually has more methylmercury than light tuna. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), young children, pregnant or nursing women should not eat more than 6 ounces of canned white tuna or 12 ounces of canned light tuna a week. For some of the light tuna or Albacore tuna that are named as Chunk Light Tuna in Water, or Albacore tuna in Water. However, the “broth” is usually seen instead of “water” in the list of ingredients. The “broth” is made up of soy products and monosodium glutamate (MSG), and sometimes particular chemicals. The over consumption of this canned tuna may cause adverse effect to the health status of someone such as cardiovascular diseases. Salt should comply with the "Codex Alimentarius Specifications for Food Grade Salt" (as established by the Codex Committee on Food Additives), whereby the salt used for making brine or other purposes should be pure and not contain appreciable quantities of magnesium chloride, a common contaminant of unrefined salt. If the salt contains too much magnesium chloride the risk of struvite formation increases; this may concern consumers as struvite can form crystals resembling glass in the canned fish.

In short, selection and handling of raw material are the important factors to ensure the products’ quality. One cannot expect to have high quality product without high quality of raw materials. The addition of additives must meet the rules and regulation as established by the authorities in order to make sure the product available in the market, and the most essential to ensure the product’s safety to the consumer.


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