Food Preservatives

This year’s National Nutrition Month theme “Celebrate food . . . from field to table” aims to help Canadians learn how food is raised or grown, harvested, produced and processed. Processing of foods often includes preservation and the use of preservatives.

Preservation is used to help make foods safe to eat after they have been shipped a long distance. It also makes certain foods available when they are not in their peak growing seasons. One way that food may be preserved is by adding food additives, salt or sugar.

Food additives can stop or slow food from spoiling. Food can spoil because of the growth of moulds, yeasts or bacteria in the food. Food can also spoil due to its natural enzymes or chemicals. For example, fats can turn rancid or fruits can turn brown.

Only certain food additives can be used in Canada and there are strict guidelines for their use. They are monitored by Health Canada. For more on their safety, visit www.hc-sc.gc.ca/. You will find the “Food Additives Dictionary” here. It is a list of additives allowed in Canada and why they are added to foods.

In addition, salt and sugar are often used to preserve fresh produce. Many canned fruits or vegetables will have more sugar or salt than when they are fresh. Frozen vegetables and fruit are often preserved without any added salt and sugar. Salt is also used to preserve cured, ready-to-eat meats, processed cheese products and foods like pickles. Salt and sugar are not considered food additives under Canadian food regulations. They are regulated as a food and not as a food additive.

The Ingredient List on the food label of packaged foods tells you if there are food additives, sugars or salts added. All of the ingredients in a food are listed in order by weight. Those present in the greatest amount are listed first. Sugar and salt can be present on the label under many names. For more tips on how to read the Ingredient List, go to www.hc-sc.gc.ca/.

The “Nutrition Facts” table on the food label shows the sodium and sugar content of the food. The percent Daily Value (% DV) tells you if the food contains “a little” or “a lot” of sodium or sugar. You can then compare products to see which ones are lower in salt or sugar. Keep in mind that the serving size may vary between products.

Foods found in a less processed form are usually lower in sugar and salt. They can also be less costly, especially when produce is in season. Food preservatives are used in many of our foods and are well regulated by Health Canada. They can have an important role in our diets by providing variety throughout the year and keeping food safe. Contact a Public Health Nutritionist for more information and resources on food preservatives.

WRITTEN BY THE PUBLIC HEALTH NUTRITIONISTS OF SASKATCHEWAN

Originator: Helen Flengeris, Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region

References:

Dietitians of Canada. 2010 Nutrition Month Campaign Reference Manual for Dietitians.

2008 Food Safety Network, University of Guelph, “Preservatives”, www.foodsafetynetwork.ca/.

Health Canada, “Food Additive Dictionary”, www.hc-sc.gc.ca/.

Health Canada, “Food Additives”, www.hc-sc.gc.ca/.