Chemical Preservation Methods

Addition of chemicals usually occurs in conjunction with other preservation methods because they enhance the effectiveness of heat, refrigeration, drying, or packaging.

Examples include the addition of antioxidants to fried foods to reduce the need for more expensive oxygen-impermeable flexible packaging and the use of sulfur dioxide to retard the development of brown color in frozen or dried apples.

The extreme toxicity of the hydrogen ion toward food-spoilage microbes and its tolerance by humans has made it a preferred food preservative. Studies have shown that various organic acids exert a strong inhibitory effect on the growth of microbes beyond the activity of the hydrogen ion itself. Lactic, propionic, acetic, sorbic, and benzoic acids; their sodium or potassium salts; and certain derivatives of benzoic acid find extensive use as yeast, mold, and bacterial inhibitors in bread, beverages, and sauces. Combinations of hydrogen ion, organic acids, mild heat treatment, and exclusion of oxygen have allowed the simple and safe preservation of foods not tolerant of conventional heat sterilization above 100°C, freezing, or dehydration.

Traditional food-preservation methods were based largely on drying in conjunction with preservation with locally available chemical preservatives. These included salt, organic acids generated by a lactic or acetic acid fermentation (as in pickling), wood smoke, and ethanol derived from the fermentation of substances containing sugar. Many traditionally preserved products are available in the marketplace, although modern preservation methods predominate because they are convenient.

Chemical preservatives and chemical preservation methods used in conjunction with other preservation methods for meat and poultry are controlled by USDA regulations. The FDA has jurisdiction over the use of chemical preservatives in other foods. Additives are reviewed continually for heat safety.

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