The ingredients list on a package of meat or frozen food may seem riddled with strange chemicals. Most of them have long names that sound intimidating. It's disturbing to think that you're eating chemicals with your food, and not just the food itself — but these chemicals aren't all dangerous. Eaten in modest amounts, chemicals like sodium acid pyrophosphate are safe.
Are Preservatives Safe?
Preservatives are found in many different types of food. Meat has preservatives that keep it from going bad or losing color. Frozen foods have preservatives to keep bacteria at bay. Even baked goods tend to have preservatives.
Living without these chemicals would be ideal, but it's difficult when your food comes from different parts of the country, and sometimes different parts of the world. To keep food fresh and safe for the consumer, preservatives are necessary.
Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate
There's an entire category of preservatives called phosphates, which contain some derivative of the mineral phosphorus. Sodium acid pyrophosphate is part of that category. Not all phosphates do the same thing, though.
How It's Used
Sodium acid pyrophosphate can be used as a leavening chemical for bread to help it rise. It's used in sausage to enhance flavor and color. In french fries, the chemical reduces levels of a carcinogen called acrylamide, according to an article from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It also prevents discoloration in potatoes and sugar syrups. In canned tuna, it prevents harmless struvite crystals from forming.
Is Pyrophosphate Problematic?
While sodium acid pyrophosphate and other phosphates help enhance your food, there are drawbacks to ingesting products containing phosphorus. It's important to maintain a healthy phosphorus-to-calcium ratio, according to a 2014 study published in Advances in Nutrition.
Contributing to Osteoporosis
If you have too much phosphorus in your diet and not enough calcium, it can be detrimental to your skeletal system. Excess phosphorus makes your bones brittle by encouraging your body to break down bone instead of building it up. The more phosphorus you eat, the more calcium you need to eat to maintain a healthy balance.
Problems With Immunity
Sodium acid pyrophosphate has also been shown to harm your immune system if you consume it in large amounts for an extended period of time, according to a 2018 study in Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology. The levels tested in that study were extreme, and shouldn't raise any alarm bells for normal consumption.
Lowering Pyrophosphate Intake
You can take active steps to avoid consuming sodium acid pyrophosphate if you're concerned that it's affecting your health, especially if you already have low bone density. Look for the chemical on nutrition labels in bread and meat products. Potatoes and sugar syrups might contain it too, as well as certain types of fish.
Organic foods that are locally sourced have the lowest chance of containing preservatives. The shorter the distance your food has to travel, the fewer preservatives it needs. Speak to a local farmer or farm stand store about their products, along with your local butcher.
Simply buying organic food isn't enough to guarantee that sodium acid pyrophosphate has not been used. The chemical has been deemed safe for general use by the FDA and doesn't require a warning label. The closer you can get to your food sources, the better.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Chemical Cuisine
- OMRI: Sodium Acid Pyrophosate
- Research Gate: Effect of sodium acid pyrophosphate on sensory, chemical, and physical properties of frankfurters
- Advances in Nutrition: Assessing the Health Impact of Phosphorus in the Food Supply: Issues and Considerations