Preservatives prevent microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria from developing on foods, which then lead to spoilage. Preservatives are also used to maximize the amount of time poultry, fish, beef and other meats and foods can stay on supermarket shelves, as well as in your refrigerator. Though preservatives help protect the food supply, many fear the negative effects preservatives might cause to the body.
To prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses such as botulism, meat manufacturers inject deli meats with preservatives such as nitrites. The preservatives also preserve the longevity of deli meats and gives the deli meat its fresh-looking color. Other preservatives found in deli meats might include butylated hydroxytoluene, citric acid, corn syrup and gelatin. Some deli meats -- such as sausages, bacon, salami and bologna -- might contain more nitrites than others. Check the nutritional label for "nitrites" or "nitrates" in the ingredients list. If so, purchase deli meats that advertise "no nitrites" on its label.
Chickens are known to live in filthy environments. Farmers and manufacturers use anti-microbial products on live chickens to help prevent the spread of diseases such as salmonella. After they have been slaughtered, chickens are then injected with preservatives, including sodium lactate and potassium lactate. Each of these preservatives helps lengthen the shelf life of the poultry, as well as fights off bacteria. Bromelain and ficin are often used to help tenderize the meat. Chicken might also contain hydrolyzed protein, monosodium glutamate and papain. To avoid these added preservatives, purchase USDA-certified organic poultry.
Dried meats, such as beef jerky, as well as ground beef, steaks, roasts and other forms of beef, are all injected with preservatives as well. Beef jerky contains butylated hydroxytoluene, which prevents the meat from quickly turning rancid. Ground beef might contain chemicals such as carrageenan to help the beef bind together. Roast beef might be injected with an unspecified water solution to make sure the meat is juicy. Other preservatives that might be found in beef include phosphates and propyl gallate.
Preservative Side Effects
Though preservatives do protect the nation's food supply from bacteria and disease, they also might be harmful to health. Bromates are known to destroy nutrients and cause stomach problems such as diarrhea. Sulfites are known to cause joint pain and heart palpitations. Butylated hydroxytoluene is known to cause cancer in rats. Sodium nitrate is said to cause stomach cancer, and artificially produced citric acid is said to cause asthma and allergic reactions. To avoid the dangerous chemical concoctions preservatives might bring, preserve foods naturally using salt, sugar, onions or rosemary extract.