Salt, vinegar, sugar, and corn syrup are a few common natural additives that have been used since prehistoric times. Unlike the past, industries have begun to promote the use of unnatural additives to help preserve and color food. Consequently, scientists, consumers, and manufacturers have begun to question the necessity and safety of these substances as they have been linked to hypersensitivity and other health risks. As a result, the concern of additives continues to coincide with the increasing demand of processed, prepared, and convenience of foods as the global population grows. In order to manage the impact of additives on the production of food products, international policies have been placed on industries to limit the amounts of additives to guarantee an adequate food supply. As a result, countries such as Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France have placed regulations on the use of preservatives, nutritional additives, flavoring agents, coloring agents, texturizing agents, and miscellaneous additives.
Although salt was used to preserve meat in the past, lactic and acetic acids are now used to control pathogens in meat (Theron and Lues, 2007, p.145). Resulting from the development of food industries, the Food Protection Committee of the Food and Nutritional Board defines a food additive as "a substance or mixture of substances, other than a basic foodstuff, which is present in a food as a result of any aspect of production, processing, storage, or packaging" (Branan et.al., 2002, p.1). Therefore, the acetic and lactic acids are to be listed on a meat label because the acids are now considered to be "an ingredient of the product" (Theron and Lues, 2007, p.145). Although additives are sometimes unnecessary they can also provide health benefits. In order to implement health benefits, additives are used in foods for five reasons: acidity/ alkalinity, flavor enhancement, maintenance of product consistency, maintain palatability and wholesomeness, and improve or maintain nutritional value (Kucharska et. al., 2009, p.325).
To manage the appropriate uses of the varieties of food additives, the European Union developed the E system which classifies the multiple additives in their categories. For instance, within the category of preservatives are antimicrobials (E200-290), antioxidants (E300-326), and antibrowning agents. The E system groups the additives depending upon their purpose. Although antimicrobials are used to extend the shelf life of snacks and convenience foods, and antioxidants are used to prevent lipid and/ or vitamin oxidation in food products, their E numbers are consecutive. The other type of preservatives, antibrowning agents, is unlike antioxidants and antimicrobials in the fact that their numbers are more spermatic. For instance, citric acid has an E number of 330 and sodium sulfite has an E number of 221. Although both are common preservatives in fruits and vegetables, there is a difference of 109 in E values. Though the values correlate with the purpose of the additives, the E system has been proven useful in portraying the purpose and reason for newly approved additives in other countries.
With research continuously being done on health risks and benefits, consumers continue to express their concerns for natural nutritional additives. Consequently, vitamins and minerals are being used to enhance nutritional value that is lost during processing in cereals and other cereal products. Not only are vitamins being incorporated into cereal, but also into milk. For instance, the United States requires that vitamin D to be included into milk in order to prevent major nutritional deficiencies. Although nutritional value is important to consumers, there has also been a rise in the interest of fiber. In response to the attentiveness of the public to dietary fiber, lysine, an amino acid, is incorporated into cereal to intensify the protein quality. As a result of the use of multiple additives in cereal, this breakfast staple is more healthful and able to have a greater shelf life than without the additives. It is even estimated that the manufacturing of antioxidants into cereal has extended the shelf-life by 200%.
Although consumers have a tendency to focus on nutrition, they also relay on the appeal of the texture and color of the product. With Americans watching television, reading magazines, and newspapers, the influence of propaganda of foodstuffs is seen everywhere. As a result, additives that contribute to pleasing the consumers' ideal of "picture perfect" foods are emulsifiers, phosphates, and stabilizers. When these substances are utilized on food products, their use depends upon the purpose of the product; Emulsifiers are used to allow flavors and oils to be dispersed throughout a food product and phosphates to modify the texture of foods containing starch and proteins. Phosphates are also affiliated with stabilizing various dairy and meat products. As seen, phosphates and other additives can be implemented in multiple processes. Another example of an additive being utilized in multiple ways is soya protein. Soya protein is a nutritional additive and a texturizing agent.
Considering the average meal contains 12-60 additives and each can be used for multiple purposes makes consumers question the health effects of the ingredients in their daily diet. In the late 1970s and early 1980's the United Kingdom began to have concerns about the safety and of food additives in the nation's diet (Young, 1997, p.111). The primary source of the concern was the link between hypersensitivity and food additives. As one connection arose, consumers also began to question do additives have either long or short term effects. As concerns rose, researchers and scholars examined the risks and concluded that the there was not any adequate proof that certain additives are safe. Instead, they organized the risks into indirect and direct risks. Indirect risks correlate to the increase in the availability of the variety of foodstuffs. For instance, with the addition of preservatives and nutritional additives, industries and manufacturers are allowed to promote naturally nutrient deficient foods or "junk" foods. The long term effects of the supplement of nutrional additives are unknown and more research is needed to be done. As for direct risks of food additives, the principal source for concern is the toxicological effects. The effects of direct risks are unlikely to be short-termed, but the risk of hypersensitivity is likelier. It is unknown to researchers why exactly sensitive individuals can experience severe symptoms from additives although the additives are used at legally acceptable levels.
Hypersensitivity and food intolerance are associated with health risks of additives. Compared to food intolerance, hypersensitivity involves the immune system whereas food intolerance does not. Also, 6-8 % of children and 1-2% of adults experience food allergies as a result of food intolerance rather than hypersensitivity. With hypersensitivity being more unlikely, it is still the more severe of the two and the likelihood of developing hypersensitivity can be increased with exposure to food antigens (i.e. preservatives, dyes, and antibiotics, carbohydrates, and protein conjugates) and long-term expose to smoke and car exhaust (Kucharska et.al. 2008, p.325-326). While the risks remain a topic of concern, the health benefits are also in need of improvements.
Functional foods is defined as "foods that are part of the normal diet which have been fortified or enriched to provide additional health promoting benefits in conjugation with normal nutritive properties" (Devcich et. al., 2007, p. 334). Determined to investigate the effects of modern health worries and their correlation with food additives, Daniel A. Devcich, Irene K. Pederson, and Keith J. Petrie concluded that anxieties about environmental and technological changes, worries of pesticide residue, genetic modification, addition of hormones, and additives correlated to consumer perspective of nutritional supplemented foods. These worries have led to the phenomenon of healthism or "the increased awareness of health, interest in food supplements and mistrust of all things scientific" (Devicich et. al, 2007, p.336).
Margareta Wandel, a researcher for National Institute for Consumer Research, examined what substances consumers of multiple demographic and socio-economic classes looked at on food labels when purchasing food products. Wandel acquired that women with an education were more likely to understand portions of the food label, but there was still confusion. The result of the study concluded almost eighty percent of responding participants wished to know more about the effects of additives in their food. However, a few participants stated that in order to have a healthy diet it was just better avoid the substances. From Wandel's study and from previous studies considered, the responses drawn supported the idea that modernization the food industry is manipulating the health patterns of consumers. To examine the affects of the wordy labels, Wandel requested respondents to state whether they would prefer E-numbers versus the chemical compound listed. The conclusion was consumers prefer to see the chemical compounds listed, but the problem is that it would take too much space on the product. The problem Wandel found with E-numbers was that consumers thought that E-numbers were a representation of the safety of the additive. For example, the higher the E-number the greater the risk it the substance is a carcinogen or allergen. Whereas Wendel found that consumers were confused, Kusharska stated that the food labeling is aimed to benefit people with food allergies and that the list of ingredients demonstrates the safety of the product.