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List of Chemicals Used in Food Processing

author image Valerie Liles
Based in Atlanta, Valerie Liles has been writing about landscape and garden design since 1980. As a registered respiratory therapist, she also has experience in family health, nutrition and pediatric and adult asthma managment. Liles holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University and a Master of Science in technical communication from the University of Colorado.
List of Chemicals Used in Food Processing
Know what is really in your food before you eat it.

Chemical food additives preserve shelf life by reducing or eliminating the growth of microorganisms that cause food decay. These added chemicals are controversial as some may have a detrimental effect on your health. Eating more fresh, whole foods may be a safe alternative to avoiding these chemical additives used in food processing.

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Nitrites and Nitrates

Nitrites and nitrates are effective antimicrobials that protect against the botulism bacterium; however, they are known to be a health hazard. According to Richard Scanlan, Ph.D., of the Linus Pauling Institute, nitrites react with certain amino acids in the digestive system causing the formation of nitrosamines, substances known to cause cancer. Sodium nitrate, used as a color stabilizer, slowly metabolizes into nitrites. Certain brands of products commonly containing nitrites and nitrates are bacon, cured meats, tobacco products and hot dogs.

Sulfites and Sulphur Dioxide

Sulfites and sulphur dioxide are both antimicrobials, used primarily as preservatives. Sulfites are found predominately in dried fruits and red wine, and sometimes in certain brands of fruit juices. Sulphur dioxide is used in numerous foods. This compound slows the oxidation of fats called lipids. When sprayed on freshly harvested fruits and vegetables, it stops the natural ripening process. These two compounds can cause an allergic reaction in certain individuals and is a known allergen for many asthmatics.

Alginate, Propylene Glycol Alginate

Alginate is a naturally derived compound of kelp, or seaweed, and is used as a thickening agent and foam stabilizer. However, propylene glycol alginate is a chemically modified substance, utilizing algin to thicken foods with a higher acid content such as beer, soft drinks and salad dressing. Alginate is used in milk products such as ice cream, cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt.


This compound, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is one that should be avoided. Aspartame is a combination of amino acids and methanol. This chemical compound may cause cancer and other health-related problems, though more intensive studies are needed to confirm a connection. Used as an artificial sweetener, Aspartame is used in diet foods in place of sugar, and used primarily in soft drinks and drink mixes, and many low-calorie, processed fresh and frozen desserts.

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