Food with chemical is any substance that yields or can be made to yield more than one product, or when reacted with another substance produces a distinct product . Chemicals sold for food, beverage and pharmaceutical use may sound like something that is harmless in nature but in fact there are some chemical components present in these products that can have harmful effects on human health as well as environment.
Food With Chemicals
While we’re definitely moving in the right direction, there’s still an entire category of chemical-tainted foods that are going unnoticed: the “healthy” ones! Read on to discover which of your favorite wholesome eats are riddled with bad-for-you chemicals and dyes—plus, clean Eat This-approved alternatives for each naughty food. And for more insight into some of the more indulgent foods riddled with chemicals, check out these unhealthiest foods on the planet!
Fruit is among the most vibrantly colored food in the supermarket so it’s a bit strange that so many manufacturers add things like Red #3 to their cans to make nature’s candy looks even brighter. It just seems silly! Plus, Red #3 has been shown to cause thyroid tumors in rats. Our suggestion? Grab a fresh pear or an apple instead. They’re both easy-to-eat on the go. If you prefer a mix of fruit, make a big fruit salad at the beginning of the week and pack some in a Tupperware container to enjoy at work or on the run.
Eat This Fresh fruit, Whole Food’s 365 Organic Peaches & Pears
Not That!: Dole Cherry Mixed Fruit Cups
While wholesome Greek yogurt makers rely on novel things like real fruit and vegetable juice to color their flavored yogurts, other brands take shortcuts and save money by using chemicals like caramel coloring, Blue #1, and Red #40, a coloring agent that has been shown to trigger hyperactivity in children and immune system tumors in mice.
Eat This: Stonyfield Organic, Wallaby Organic, Siggi’s
Not That! FAGE, Dannon Light & Fit
In it’s purest form, oatmeal is one of our favorite superfoods. But once food makers start tinkering with added flavors, things can go awry. Quaker’s line of high fiber instant oats contains caramel coloring (a possible carcinogen) in a number of their flavored packets. If you want to amp up the flavor profile of your cereal, we suggest reaching for natural add-ins like cinnamon and honey instead. You’ll get the flavor you crave with next to no additional work. For more oatmeal inspiration, check out these best overnight oats recipes. Even if you don’t go all in with the recipes, they can still give you a good idea of which fruits, spices, and natural flavors will pair well together in your cereal bowl.
Eat This: Plain oats with fresh toppings, Walmart’s Great Value Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal, Nature’s Path Organic Instant Hot Oatmeal Apple Cinnamon
Not That! Quaker High Fiber Instant Oatmeal Maple and Brown Sugar, Quaker High Fiber Instant Oatmeal Cinnamon Swirl
You know you should be adding dressing to your greens to help your body absorb vital veggies nutrients, but not all salad toppers are made from real ingredients. A number of brands use caramel color to give balsamic, Italian, and Asian-style dressings their signature hue, while berry and Catalina dressings often get their vibrant colors from a mix of Red #40 and Blue #1. A number of animal studies have been done to examine the safety of Blue #1 with varying results. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says that further research needs to be conducted before it should be considered safe for human consumption. In the meantime, we recommend staying away from the stuff.
Eat This: Homemade dressings, Annie’s Homegrown, OrganicGirl
Not That! Kraft Asian Sesame Dressing, Wishbone Italian Dressing
Last we checked, cucumbers are naturally green, so we’re not quite sure why so many brands feel the need to add yellow dyes to their pickle jars. A number of them are also filled with sodium benzoate, which has been shown to damage mitochondria, an important area of DNA in the “power station” of cells. Eek—that’s definitely not what you want to be shoveling into your mouth.
Eat This: Grillo’s Pickles, Woodstock Farms Organic Baby Kosher Dill Pickles
Not That! Wickles Original Pickles, Walmart’s Great Value Whole Dill Pickles, Vlasic Dills Kosher Pickles
Nearly every supermarket in America is packed with cartoon-splattered boxes all touting their “natural” ingredients and “essential vitamins and minerals.” In reality, though, the cereal aisle is more like a dark alleyway in a horror movie, where all sorts of fiendish villains—vampires, cavemen, blood-thirsty honey bears—lie in waiting. Inside their boxes, you’ll find grains that have been stripped of their natural fiber and nutrients and spray-coated with sugar and chemicals. While nearly every box we looked at contained the preservative BHT, a highly controversial, potentially carcinogenic ingredient, it was the seemingly healthy ones (like Kellogg’s Special K Fruit & Yogurt Cereal) that contained dyes like Red #40 and Blue #1, likely because leading kids’ cereal manufacturer, General Mills, has vowed to stop using fake coloring.
Eat This: Van’s Cinnamon Heaven, Erewhon Raisin Bran, Kashi Organic Promise Sweet Potato Sunshine Cereal,
Not That! Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Kellogg’s Raisin Bran Crunch Cereal, Kellogg’s Special K Fruit & Yogurt Cereal
Chemical additives in your food
Our list of the top 15 chemical additives and their possible side effects will help decipher ingredient lists at your supermarket.
This gas is pumped into crates of apples to stop them from producing ethylene, the natural hormone that ripens fruit. Commonly known as SmartFresh, this chemical preserves apples for up to a year and bananas up to a month. Sulphur dioxide serves the same purpose when sprayed on grapes.
Researchers in the early 1900s developed many artificial colors from coal-tar dyes and petrochemicals. Over the years, the FDA banned many of these chemicals as proven carcinogens (cancer-exacerbating agents). Today, the FDA only allows 10 colors in foods, four of which are restricted to specific uses. This restriction suggests some risks remain. Check out the color additives section of the FDA (www.fda.gov/ForIndustry/ColorAdditives/default.htm) Web site for more information.
This blanket term refers to hundreds of laboratory chemicals designed to mimic natural flavors. For example, some imitation vanilla flavorings are made from petroleum or paper-mill waste. In fact, a single artificial flavoring can be created from hundreds of individual chemicals. New studies suggest artificial-flavoring additives can cause changes in behavior.
This sugar substitute is sold commercially as Equal and NutraSweet and was hailed as a savior for dieters unhappy with saccharine’s unpleasant after-taste. Unfortunately, one out of 20,000 babies is born without the ability to metabolize phenylalanine, one of the two amino acids in Aspartame. As a result, it’s not recommended for pregnant women or infants.
Almost 90-percent of salmon sold in supermarkets today come from farms. The diet of farmed salmon doesn’t include crustaceans, which contains a natural astaxanthin that causes pink flesh in wild salmon. As a result, producers add astaxanthin to farm-salmon diets for that fresh-from-the-water appearance. Astaxanthin is manufactured from coal tar.
BENZOIC ACID/SODIUM BENZOATE
Often added to milk and meat products, these preservatives are used in many foods, including drinks, low-sugar products, cereals and meats. Both temporarily inhibit the proper functioning of digestive enzymes and cause headaches, stomach upset, asthma attacks and hyperactivity in children.
BHA (BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE) AND BHT (BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE)
These antioxidants are similar but non-identical petroleum-derived chemicals added to oil-containing foods as a preservative and to delay rancidity. They are most commonly found in crackers, cereals, sausages, dried meats and other foods with added fats. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer considers BHA a possible human carcinogen.
Egg yolks don’t always come out golden yellow, so producers use this pigment to make them more palatable. Although the amounts used are very small, tests have shown greater quantities of canthaxanthin can cause retinal damage.
Emulsifiers, made from vegetable fats, glycerol and organic acids, extend the shelf life of bread products and allow liquids that wouldn’t normally mix, such as oil and water, to combine smoothly. Many reduced-fat or low-calorie products use emulsifiers. Commercial emulsifiers also are used in low-calorie butter, margarine, salad dressings, mayonnaise and ice cream. Emulsifying agents used in foods include agar, albumin, alginates, casein, egg yolk, glycerol monostearate, xanthan gums, Irish moss, lecithin and soaps.
HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
This ubiquitous sweetener helps maintain moisture while preserving freshness. A little fructose isn’t a problem but the sheer quantity of “hidden” fructose in processed foods is startling. The consumption of large quantities has been fingered as a causative factor in heart disease. It raises blood levels of cholesterol and triglyceride fats, while making blood cells more prone to clotting and accelerating the aging process.
MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE (MSG)
There was much hue and cry years ago when the public learned Chinese restaurants commonly added MSG to Chinese foods as a flavor enhancer. We then learned MSG could be found in many other processed products, such as salad dressings, condiments, seasonings, bouillons and snack chips. Some reports indicate MSG causes tightening in the chest, headaches and a burning sensation in the neck and forearms. While MSG is made of components found in our bodies _ water, sodium and glutamate (a common amino acid) _ ingesting it is an entirely different matter.
The FDA approved this fake fat for use in snack foods several years ago, over objections from dozens of researchers. Their concern was that Olestra inhibits our ability to absorb the healthy vitamins in fruits and vegetables thought to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Even at low doses, Olestra is commonly known to cause “anal leakage” and other gastrointestinal problems. Perhaps this is why the FDA requires foods containing Olestra carry a warning label.
Hydrogenation is the process of heating an oil and passing hydrogen bubbles through it. The fatty acids in the oil then acquire some of the hydrogen, which makes it more dense. If you fully hydrogenate, you create a solid (a fat) out of the oil. But if you stop part way, you create a semi-solid, partially hydrogenated oil with the consistency of butter. Because this process is so much cheaper than using butter, partially-hydrogenated oils are found in many, many foods. Their addictive properties have linked partially-hydrogenated oils to weight problems caused by a slowed metabolism and the development of diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Potassium bromate increases volume in white flour, breads and rolls. Most bromate rapidly breaks down to an innocuous form, but it’s known to cause cancer in animals _ and even small amounts in bread can create a risk for humans. California requires a cancer warning on the product label if potassium bromate is an ingredient.
SODIUM NITRITE AND NITRATE
These closely related chemicals have been used for centuries to preserve meat. While nitrate itself is harmless, it easily converts to nitrite which, when combined with secondary-amines compounds form nitrosamines, a powerful cancer-exacerbating chemical. This chemical reaction occurs easily during the frying process.
Chemicals in food
Chemicals are essential building blocks for everything in the world. All living matter, including people, animals and plants, consists of chemicals. All food is made up of chemical substances. Chemicals in food are largely harmless and often desirable – for example, nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, fat and fibre are composed of chemical compounds. Many of these occur naturally and contribute both to a rounded diet and to our eating experience.
Chemicals can, however, have a variety of toxicological properties, some of which might cause effects in humans and animals. Usually, these are not harmful unless we are exposed to them for a long time and at high levels. Scientists help to safeguard against these harmful effects by establishing safe levels. This scientific advice informs decision-makers who regulate the use of chemicals in food or seek to limit their presence in the food chain.
Chemical substances can play an important role in food production and preservation. Food additives can, for example, prolong the shelf life of foods; others, such as colours, can make food more attractive. Flavourings are used to make food tastier. Food supplements are used as sources of nutrition.
Food packaging materials and containers such as bottles, cups and plates, used to improve food handling and transport, can contain chemical substances such as plastic, elements of which can migrate into food. Other chemicals can be used to fight diseases in farm animals or crops, or can sometimes be found in food as a result of a production process such as heating/cooking or decontamination treatment.
Some plants and fungi naturally produce toxins that can contaminate crops and be a concern for human and animal health. People can also be exposed to both naturally occurring and man-made chemical compounds present at various levels in the environment, e.g. in soil, water and the atmosphere. Examples include industrial pollutants such as dioxins and PCBs. A variety of metals can be present naturally in the environment or as a result of human activity.
As a contribution to the ‘European Green Deal’, EFSA and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) have drafted a joint position paper around the idea of “one substance – one assessment” for chemicals. The paper analyses the current situation and proposes solutions that support simplification, cost savings and improved regulatory predictability. The key proposals are a central coordination mechanism, better coordination on or distribution between agencies of tasks (including on chemical mixtures) and access to all available data in the same structured format.
The European Commission published the European Green Deal in December 2019, announcing a chemicals strategy for sustainability. The Commission is looking at how to simplify and strengthen the legal framework and review how to use the EU’s agencies and scientific bodies better to move towards ‘one substance – one assessment’.
EFSA provides scientific advice in the form of risk assessments and other technical assistance on chemicals in food and feed to European Union risk managers (European Commission, European Parliament, Member States). Risk managers take EFSA’s scientific advice into account together with other factors when making decisions about the safety of these substances for human and animal health and the environment.
- Market authorisation of chemical substances used in the food chain. Before chemicals can be authorised in the EU for use in food and feed, EFSA carries out strict risk assessments to determine which substances can be used safely and at which levels.
- Risk assessments are also carried out in relation to contaminants that are considered to be a possible concern for human and/or animal health. Risk managers may take measures to limit human and animal exposure to such substances if EFSA indicates a potential health impact.
EFSA carries out risk assessments on a wide range of substances, including those that are deliberately added to food and feed, chemical residues that can be present in food and feed due to production, distribution, packaging or consumption, and those that might be present through contact with the environment.
Regulated food ingredients
Some chemicals are added to food for a variety of technical reasons, including to make them taste better, last longer or be more nutritional.
- Food additives
- Food enzymes
- Food flavourings
- Food supplements
Food chain residues
Sometimes traces of chemicals are unintentionally present in food because of food production and preparation methods, such as residues of pesticides or additives used in animal feed. Small traces of chemicals from packaging and other food contact materials can also unintentionally end up in food.
- Feed additives
- Food contact materials
Contaminants in food and feed
Naturally occurring chemical compounds such as metals and nitrates can be present at various levels in the environment, e.g. soil, water and the atmosphere. They can also occur as residues in food because of their presence as environmental pollutants, as a result of human activities such as farming, industry or car exhausts, or as a result of food production such as high-temperature cooking. People can be exposed to them from the environment or by ingesting contaminated food or water.
- Contaminants in feed
- Environmental pollutants
- Brominated flame retardants
- Dioxins and PCBs
- Mineral oil hydrocarbons
- Natural contaminants
- Process contaminants
Assessing chemicals in food
EFSA’s main task is to carry out scientific risk assessments on possible hazards associated with the food chain, including potential risks posed by chemicals in food. Our scientists use internationally recognised approaches in their risk assessments of chemicals to help safeguard the health of consumers and animals and to help protect the environment. We have developed a comprehensive body of good chemical risk assessment practices to guide our experts to ensure that our assessments respect the highest scientific standards, including on the following topics:
- Alternatives to animal testing
- Chemical mixtures
- Endocrine active substances
- Margin of exposure
- Threshold of toxicological concern