Chemicals Used as Food Preservatives


A preservative is a substance or a chemical that is put into products like packaged food products, bottled beverages, pharmaceutical / chemical drugs, varnishes/ paints, biological samples taken from living organisms, beauty products, and many other different products to prevent the process of decomposition by microbial growth or by undesired chemical change. Generally, preservation is done in two modes, that is chemical and physical respectively. Chemical protection deals with adding chemical compounds to the product. Physical maintenance deals with processes like refrigeration or drying up of products. Preservative food additions shrink the risk of foodborne infections, narrow the chances of microbial spoilage, and preserve fresh characteristics and nutritional quality of the food. Some physical processes for food preservation consist of dehydration, UV radiation, drying by freezing, and refrigeration manufacture industry.

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Chemical Food Preservatives

There are three categories of chemical preservatives commonly used in foods:

  • Benzoates (like sodium benzoate)

  • Nitrites (like sodium nitrite)

  • Sulphites (like sulphur dioxide)

If we pay attention to the ingredient labels of different food packages, we will frequently come across the names of different types of chemical preservatives. Another common chemical preservative that we will commonly come across on food packet labels is sorbic acid. All of these chemical preservatives either inhibit the activity of microbes such as bacteria or destroy them. Chemical preservatives boost food product usage to a substantial level.

Antioxidants In Food Preservation

Antioxidants used for food preservations have two categories – Naturally occurring antioxidants and artificial antioxidants. Both of them are used as food preservatives. Oxidation readily affects the quality of food and shortens its life by incredibly modifying its semblance, colour, sensory attributes, and nutritive quality. 

Common Antioxidants in Food Preservation

Some examples of potential natural antioxidants in food preservation and their sources are tocopherols (found in nuts and seeds), ascorbic and citric acids (found in citrus fruits), carotenoids (found in fruits and vegetables) and phenolic compounds (found in herbs and spices, grape seeds). Plant phenolic extracts are prevalently used in the preservation of seafood, meat, fats and oils. Ascorbic acid is extensively used in the preservation of juices, cereals, jams, treated meats and some canned foods. At the same time, tocopherols have their applications in the preservation of grains, meat and poultry products, butter, oils, and other dairy products. Rosemary extract is predominately used as an antioxidant preservative in the continents of Europe and North America.

Sodium Preservative In Food

The most extensively used sodium preservative in food is sodium benzoate. Sodium benzoate is predominantly known as a preservative used in processed foods and beverages to extend consumption life, though it has many other uses. It's an odourless, crystalline powder manufactured by merging benzoic acid and sodium hydroxide.

Another extremely used sodium preservative in food is sodium nitrate. Sodium nitrate is a preservative that is used in some processed meats like bacon, jerky and luncheon meats. But it could increase your heart disease risk. It's anticipated that sodium nitrate may damage your blood vessels, making your arteries more likely to harden and narrow, which can lead to heart disease.

Role of Salt In Food Preservation

Salt commonly plays a vital role in the fermentation of foods. Fermentation is a common phenomenon for preserving foods, in which fresh foods are converted to desirable foods that can be kept for more extended periods than their new part for the actions of particular microbes. The common belief for the salt in food preservation is that salt kills bacteria, but for the actual matter of fact, salt does not preserve food directly. Instead, it has to play an essential role in a critical process called osmosis. Salt can always play a role in the development of physical attributes of foods that are beneficial for processing or developing final product qualities. For example, salt levels play a significant role to control the adhesive properties of some doughs, which is the process of some baked goods.


1. What are preservatives in the salt?

Salt can play an essential role in the development of physical properties of foods that are beneficial for the process and progress of final product qualities. As an example, salt levels play an essential role in controlling the stickiness of some doughs which eases the processing of some baked materials.

Fun Facts

As jams and jellies contain much more sugar than any other kind of sweet or deserts. By the process of osmosis, the sugar extracts the water from food. In this way, this process helps in food preservation. This is the same reason why our mothers use to put in extreme quantities of salt and oil in the pickles. The pickles have an intense taste due to this.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What are the Benefits of Preserving Food?

Chemical preservatives can act as antioxidants which make food more acidic, reduce the moisture level of food, decrease the speed of ripening procedure and prevent the growth of microorganisms on a diet, all of these procedures help the food last longer. After the preservation of food, the manufacturing capacity is increased, and it will help the industry to boom, especially in the food industry. The industries can't use natural preservatives so much as they are too costly.  As a result, they use artificial preservation techniques also. The chemical preservatives generally do artificial preservation. Now, it is clearly understood why preservatives are beneficial.

2. How does Food Preservation Help the Earth?

Earth is a lot dependent on the preservations. Many scientific pieces of evidence are preserved for future use for the betterment of Earth. Scientific specimens are also required to be maintained to gain knowledge in future, which can be helpful for any experiment or any scientific exploration. On the other hand, food preservation stops the rancidity of the food by halting the process of oxidation on them.  We must prevent the food from oxidation so that the food could be consumed for a little more prolonged time. Most importantly, nature supports the process of preservation if we do it correctly.