A century ago, we almost knows about source of food, its process validity and its quality. Because, unlike today, there was very little variety of vegetables, fruits and meats. No one could even think about such kinds of hybrid fruits and broiler chicken. There were no food chains like McDonald or KFC etc. Fruits ripen under natural atmosphere and without any interference of manual processing. You could tell about freshness of food by smelling or tasting. We were having good health with good food. Alongwith we also frequent with food processing e.g. home-canned fruits, pickles and cheese etc. But nowadays commercially processed food in many ways have deteriorated and failed our health by providing food with less nutrition.
Earlier home-based food processing was not only nutritious but also tasty. Commercially food processing is prevailing and seizing our opportunity of fresh food. We have to purchase process foods not by choice, but by necessity. During 1861 to 1865, during US-civil war, food had to provide to troops on large-scale through canneries. But afterwards these canneries made their place in markets at large scale. It got acceptance at large scale, due to the reason that urban population has opportunity to cultivate their own vegetables. And canned foods were sigh of relief in such moments.
Everybody loves good and tasty food, but everybody has different sense and taste of food. This sense is activated by cells that are located in taste buds of the tongue. Sense of smell also affects our taste inclination. Similarly brain’s taste recognition system is affected by our general life experiences. We generally prefer the foodstuff which we grew up eating or which we have some pleasant association. You may have observed that some time dislike of food is due to bad eating experience of that food. For example food eaten during illness and eaten in a bad mood. Likewise smell of food also plays important role to decide that that whether we are attracting to food or not.
Food processors are playing with our health.
Although we have different liking, but majority of us like to eat fatty, salty or sweet foods. Food processors know that while increasing any one or two falvors in production of food, will make it more attractive. These additions are called additives. These additives made the food more appealing to our taste buds, and they are inexpensive. Very less amount of these additives may not harmful but sometimes our food contain large amount of these ingredients.
Through processed food we take much calorie intake without any nutritional value. For example a soda-can may have about 5-mm of sugar (more than 10 teaspoons). Calories contain much fat than proteins and carbohydrates, which makes food more attractive as they add texture and taste. Food industries launch products in market every year, but have (either low or none) connection with food available in farms. Even food processors have adopted chemical substitutes to natural sources, for people who are conscience regarding sugar or calories intake. You may have noticed a long list of unknown stuff on food labeling, only added for attraction of taste buds. Interestingly these substances have been tested and approved by FDA, but who cares to check and avoid such material.
Fastest and Cheapest food.
Nowadays, we spent much less on our food than we spent 50 years back. As with the passage of time, food industries and farmers have discovered how to generate economic food. But this is not always a good bargain. Meat industry buys cheap meat from different sources and mixes it to produce meat products at lower cost. Needless to say that such mixed meat could be infected with Escherichia Coli O157:H7, a toxin causing food-borne diseases. On the other hand local butcher who himself slaughter and grinds piece of beef, cannot afford sale on such a low price.
However, such food additives may be used as alternate for real food, e.g. red food-flavoring may replace cherries in snack-food. Most of food additives are safe to consume, except some additives with a potential to cause allergic reaction. Due to costly real food, shoppers prefer cheap food that contains additives. Nowadays, families have less time for them to get nutritious meal for themselves. Despite of knowing that eating fresh and locally grown food is healthiest and safest, they have no time for preparation. Many food producers have met with modifying family requirements by developing huge collection of prepared food available conveniently. Such available choices compromises food safety, e.g. food may perished and decomposed if not kept at proper temperatures. That’s why in order to increase their shelf lives, convenience foods required additional chemical preservatives like Ajinomoto (Chinese salt).
Processing of meat.
Fresh meat is entirely different by its nature from processed meat. Recently innovation in meat industry aimed at making safe products for consumers with science-based control systems. It also includes pathogen testing, improved equipments and worker education. Moreover, there is a check system introduced by USDA to reduce threat from food-related illnesses.
But, despite of all efforts, thousands pounds of meats are recalled every year due to probability of pathogen contamination. Similarly, innovative process in which finely ground beef are take care through ammonia gas to eliminate E.coli and Salmonella bacteria. These edges are cattle’s parts that are likely to be contaminated with fecal matter while moving through slaughterhouse. Earlier they were used for pet-food, but afterwards ground-up edges combined with ground beef were used to produce hamburger patties. These patties were become a major source of hamburger provided by fast-food chains in school lunches. Despite of complaints by school cook regarding ammonia smell in raw food, those were approved. Reason was that it cost as less as 3-cents per pound. With the claim that ammonia-treated meat is not contaminated with pathogen, still there are different incidents revealed about bacterial contamination.
Reasons to use food additives.
Food additives in any form were being used from centuries for many reasons like drying meat and making of pickles. Likewise, contemporary food processors use additives for many reasons. But there is big difference between earlier and modern additives. Nowadays, many additives works as preservatives against molds, air, bacteria and fungi etc. Anti-oxidants (labeled as BHA & BHT), likewise, are used to contain food fats to prevent from growing an off-flavor.
Some anti-oxidants like vitamin-C, calcium propionate (added to bread to restrain molds) are also beneficial to health. Fiber and vitamins minerals are added to make it more nutritious, and sodium nitrites added to cured meats e.g. sausage. Sometimes these vitamins are added to processed vegetables and fruits to substitute with vitamins that were lost during processing. Minerals and vitamins are added in fortified cereals as an extra source of essential and natural nutrients. Sometimes nutrients are added in order to prevent nutrient deficiency related diseases.
Foods are also improved by adding spices, sweeteners, flavoring and colors, in order to enhance natural flavor of foods. It restores vegetable and food color that was lost in processing. Some additives may be chemical copies of natural stuff and some are chemicals that happen naturally in foods.
Regulations of safe Food Additive.
It’s the primary duty of FDA to monitor and test the protection of food additives. It reviews the characteristic of material, amount to be used and its effects on human health. No food additive can be used without the approval of FDA. Food manufacturers have to provide proof, that the additive is safe of human consumption in the proposed way of use. Among others, regulators at USDA are consulted for use of additive in meat. After FDA approval, amount of substance to be used in food, will be specify by the regulatory authority.
Now here’s the catch. Certain substances were recognized as General Recognized as Safe (GRAS) at the time of passing of additive laws. It was decided that additives like sugar, salt and spices shall not be included as they have long-history of safe-use. Food manufacturers uses these substances in large quantity to make their food more attractive with less effort.
Destroyed essential Nutrients.
Many processes of food processing destroy essential and important nutrients. Let’s take an example of wheat grains milling. In milling-process, wheat-grains go through a process of crushing, sifting, separation and removal of germs and bran from starchy interior.
Food-industry prefers white flour due to its longer shelf-life and many of us chose bakery-items made from this starchy flour. But unfortunately this white flour has no fiber, minerals or vitamins as these were removed in the process. Likewise, cooking of vegetables also results in loss of vitamins, even while cooking vegetables at home. Commercially cooked vegetables are cooked for long-time at high temperature that destroys more vitamins. Mostly vegetables and fruits have their nutrients in their skins, which in most processed foods are removed. That’s why, in case you have no fresh fruits, frozen fruits are best choice as compare to canned fruits.
Meat grilling at high temperature, also converts natural substance of meat into chemicals i.e. heterocyclic amines (HCAs). It is still unknown regarding its effects on human, but in lab experiences, these compounds were found capable of causing cancer in animals. It is recommended that meat be cooked at lower surface temperature by using marinade (not directly over flames).
Unknown substances on labeling.
Manufacturers are required to label the list of ingredients used in product, in order of quantity present in the product. But these ingredients can be as confusing as consumer may be not familiar with their chemical names. For example some color additives are named as “yellow-5”. Similarly, labeling like “no-chemicals” or “farm-fresh” or “natural” are confusing as well as attractive. These terms are not well-defined and can cause confusion for end-consumer who is conscious to select nutritious and safe food.
Chemical Testing of food additives.
There is a list provided by FDA as “everything added to food”, which has more than 3000 entries. Yet, there are hundreds other legal substances which are not included on the list. An average American diet includes hundreds of chemicals, and all have been tested, by laboratory or otherwise. Additionally some scientists have questioned the adequacy of testing for certain chemicals. But the question is still unanswered that, what amount of additives can be eaten safely? And what are health impacts of eating so many chemicals? We have to be conscious to our health, as it is impossible to test body’s long-term tolerance of added chemicals.
Packaging through health hazardous Bisphenol-A.
Modern techniques of food packaging help in preserving foods alongwith convenience to store and serve the foods. There are plenty of readily available plastics for foods packaging. Bisphenol-A is chemical that is used to make such plastic packaging, which is a lightweight and tough plastic. These chemical-resistant helps to maintain quality of food, and nowadays it have been found inside every person.
Human exposure to BPA occurs through diet. Although FDA has confirmed BPA as safe in food packaging, but due to its widespread use and public awareness, its safety is being reevaluated. Lab experiments show BPA is link with abnormal fetal growth, reproductive problems, early female puberty and cancer. That’s the reason that kids’ feeders are now specifically directed to label as “free from BPA”.
How to avoid BPA.
Scientists after studying BPA effects, offered some steps for consumers who want to avoid BPA.
- Use infant bottles labeled BPA-free;
- Less use of canned foods;
- Avoid plastic containers in dishwasher;
- Avoid plastic containers to cook or warm food in microwave;
- Use stainless-steel or glass containers for microwave, particularly for liquids;
While scientists continue to study the evidence about BPA, consumers who wish to avoid BPA can take several steps: Reduce the use of canned foods; use infant formula bottles labeled BPA-free; avoid putting plastic containers in the dishwasher; avoid using plastic containers for warming foods in a microwave; use glass or stainless-steel containers, particularly for hot food and liquids.
Regarding food restaurants, food authorities are mostly concerned about filth in kitchen or slimes in the Ice machine. All food service establishments are regularly inspected by health departments just to make sure that they are following safety procedures. Despite of this more than half of US population suffers from food-borne illnesses. Reason? Because the serious violations are poor employee hygiene, cooking-temperature, improper cooking times, unsafe food sources and improper food holding temperatures etc.
Naïve customers have no way to know if a restaurant is guilty of these violations or not. However, now ratings system has improved the quality of restaurants on the basis of their annual inspection. In this inspection results has to be posted in front of a restaurant, and causes the restaurant to adhere to safety procedures.
Although modern food-processing technology is beneficial to us as we can have access to variety of foods. But it occasionally led deceiving and unreliable practices, cost-cutting despicable techniques which compromises food safety. Demand of ready-to-eat food has increased the use of food additives. That’s the reason, mostly restaurants with bad-reputation, are responsible to food-related diseases.