Having a well-planned shopping list is essential for a successful grocery trip. It allows you to get in and out of the store quickly and helps you stick to your healthy eating plan. For centuries, ingredients have played useful roles in a variety of foods. Our ancestors used salt to preserve meat and fish, added herbs and spices to improve the taste of food, and preserved fruit with sugar and cucumbers pickled in a vinegar solution.
Today, consumers demand and enjoy a food supply that is tasty, nutritious, safe, practical, colorful, and affordable. Food additives and advances in technology help make this possible. There are thousands of ingredients used to make food, many of which we use at home every day. However, some consumers are concerned about additives because they can see long, unfamiliar names and think of them as complex chemical compounds.
In fact, all the foods we eat, whether it's a freshly picked strawberry or a homemade cookie, are chemical compounds that determine flavor, color, texture, and nutritional value. All food additives are carefully regulated by federal authorities and several international organizations to ensure that foods are safe to eat and are accurately labeled. Additives play a variety of useful roles in foods that consumers often take for granted. Some additives could be eliminated if we were willing to grow our own food, harvest and grind it, spend long hours cooking and canning, or accept a greater risk of food spoiling.
However, most consumers today are confident in the many technological, aesthetic, and practical benefits offered by additives. In its broadest sense, a food additive is any substance added to food. Legally, the term refers to any substance whose intended use results in or can reasonably be expected to result directly or indirectly in becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food. This definition includes any substance used in the production, processing, treatment, packaging, transportation or storage of food. Direct food additives are those that are added to a food for a specific purpose in that food.
For example, xanthan gum which is used in salad dressings, chocolate milk, bakery fillings, puddings and other foods to add texture is a direct additive. Most direct additives are identified on the food ingredient label. Indirect food additives are those that become part of food in small quantities due to packaging, storage or other handling. For example small amounts of packaging substances can reach food during storage. A coloring additive is any colorant pigment or substance that when added or applied to a food medicine or cosmetic or to the human body is capable alone or through reactions with other substances of imparting color.
The FDA is responsible for regulating all coloring additives to ensure that foods containing coloring additives are safe to eat contain only approved ingredients and are accurately labeled. The colors allowed by the FDA are classified as subject to certification or exempt from certification both subject to rigorous safety regulations prior to approval and inclusion in the list for use in food. To market a new food additive or colorant (or before using an additive already approved for use that is not yet approved) the manufacturer or other sponsor must first apply to the FDA for approval. These requests must provide evidence that the substance is safe for the ways in which it will be used. As a result of recent legislation since 1999 indirect additives have been approved through a pre-marketing notification process that requires the same data that was previously required by a request. Under the amendment on food additives, two groups of ingredients were exempted from the regulatory process: Group I (Previously Sanctioned Substances) are substances that the FDA or USDA had determined were safe for use in food before the 1958 amendment; Group II (GRAS) ingredients (generally recognized as safe) are those that experts generally recognize as safe based on their extensive history of use in foods before 1958 or based on published scientific evidence. Grocery shopping can be an overwhelming task if you don't have an organized plan.
To ensure quality ingredients and resources for your grocery list it's important to understand what types of additives are used in foods today and how they're regulated by federal authorities. Knowing this information will help you make informed decisions about what you buy at the store so you can get the most out of your grocery shopping experience.