Chemical Preservation of Food


Food additives are specially added to prevent the deterioration or decomposition of food, has been referred to as chemical preservatives. The food deterioration may occurs due to microorganisms, by food enzymes, or by purely chemical reactions.

The inhibition of the growth and activity of microorganisms may inhibit microbes by interfering with their cell membrane, enzyme activity, or their genetic mechanism. Lactic, acetic, propionic and citric acids or their salts are used as preservatives.

Citric acid used in syrup, drinks, jams, and jellies as a substitute for fruit flavours and for preservation. Lactic and acetic acids are added to drinks of various kinds, green olives etc. Sodium or calcium propionate is used extensively in the prevention of mold growth and rope development in baked foods, cheese foods etc. These are effective against molds, yeast and bacteria.

Propionic acid is a short chain fatty acid (CH3 CH2– COOH) and like some other fatty acids, perhaps affects the cell membrane permeability. The sodium salt of benzoic acid has been used extensively as an antimicrobial agent in foods such as jam, jellies, and margarine, carbonate beverages, fruit salads, pickles, fruit juices etc. Sorbic acid is used as a direct antimicrobial additive in foods and as a spray, dip or coating on packaging materials.

It is widely used in cheese, cheese products, baked goods, beverages, syrups, fruit juices, jellies, fruit cocktails, dried fruits, pickles and margarine. It is most effective against yeast and molds but are less effective against bacteria. Mono-chloroacetic acid, per-acetic acid, di-hydro-acetic acid and sodium diacetate, have been recommended as preservatives but not all are approved.

Di-hydro-acetic acid has been used to impregnate wrappers for cheese to inhibit the growth of molds and as a temporary preservative for squash. Acetic acid in the form of vinegar is used in pickles, pickled sausages, and pig’s feet. Acetic acid is most effective against yeast and bacteria. Combination of various salts of nitrites and nitrates used in curing solutions and mixtures for meats.

Nitrates decompose nitric acid, which forms nitrosomyoglobin when it reacts with the heme pigment in meats and thereby forms a stable red colour. Sulphur dioxide and sulfite are used in the wine industries to sanitize equipment and to reduce the normal flora of the grape must.

The fumes of burning sulfur are used to treat most light-coloured dehydrated fruits; while dehydrated vegetables are exposed to spray of natural sulfites before drying. Ethylene and propylene oxide are used as sterilants. Ethylene oxide is most effective than propylene oxide. It kills all type of microorganisms. They are thought to act as strong alkalyting agents attacking labile hydrogen.

The primary use have been as sterilants for packaging materials fumigation of ware-house, and cold sterilization of numerous plastics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, syringes, and hospitals supplies, fully dried fruits, dried eggs, gelatin, cereals, dried yeast. Sugar and salts lower the moisture content and thus, have an adverse effect on microor­ganism.

Sodium chloride is used in brines that prevents or inhibits the growth of microorganisms. Sugars such as glucose or sucrose, owe their effectiveness as preser­vatives to their ability to make water un­available to organisms and to their osmotic effect. Examples of foods preserved by higher sugar concentrations are sweetened condensed milk, fruits in syrups, jellies, and candies.

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Nicola B
Editorial Team
Journal of  Biochemistry and Biotechnology