Food contaminants – adulterants and additives
Many people are concerned about the presence of ‘chemical additives’ in their food and worry about the possible ill-effects of eating them. ‘E numbers’ (which signify the presence of an additive in a food) have become notorious as unnatural components of foods, and catalogues of ill-defined effects have been attributed to them. Yet, as explained in the preceding chapters, food itself is composed of chemicals and so, for that matter, are our bodies. What is usually meant by ‘chemicals’ in connection with food are those substances which do not normally form a part of the food in its natural or traditional state. Their presence may arise as a result of accidental contamination, or they may be deliberately added to improve processing or keeping qualities or to supplement the nutrients already present. The adulteration of food by crude methods, such as the addition of alum to flour or water to milk, though once common, does not occur today to any extent. Many people, however, take the view that the adulterants of former times have been replaced by additives in the twentieth century. For some people, a risk of bacterial food poisoning – even a high risk – is bearable because bacteria are ‘natural’, but they consider all chemicals as ‘unnatural’ and any theoretical risk from them is unacceptable. This is a philosophical and religious issue which cannot be resolved by a study of food science or of nutrition.