Packaged foods often contain artificial preservatives to extend the shelf life

Packaged foods often contain artificial preservatives to extend the shelf life.

Artificial Preservatives

What are Artificial Preservatives?

Artificial preservatives are chemicals that when added to food tend to stop or slow deterioration. However, they do not include common salt, sugars, vinegars, spices, or oils extracted from spices or substances added to food by direct exposure thereof to wood smoke.1

They are used in baking to enable baked goods to remain fresh and at high quality during transport and delivery to consumers.


The main categories of artificial preservatives are antimicrobials, antioxidants and chelating agents.

Antimicrobials agents are added to foods to destroy bacteria or inhibit the growth of mold on food.

  • Sorbates: compounds based on sorbic acid. Sorbates are effective against yeasts and molds. Since sorbates can inhibit yeast fermentation, sorbates are applied to bakery products by encapsulation, spraying onto the product as an aerosol or incorporating it into the packaging material.
  • Benzoates: compounds based on benzoic acid. Benzoates are inhibitory to yeast and most commonly used to delay spoilage of high acid fillings, fruits and jams.
  • Propionates: compounds of propionic acid. Due to their lack of activity against yeast, propionates are the most widely used antimicrobial in yeast-raised baked goods.
  • Nitrates: salts of nitric acid. Nitrates are commonly used in meat product.

Antioxidants help to prevent food spoilage by slowing down the reaction of food with oxygen in the atmosphere.

  • Sulfites: a group of compounds consisting of charged molecules of Sulphur combined with oxygen
  • Ascorbic Acid: also known as vitamin C
  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA): waxy, yellow solid
  • Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): white powdery substance
  • Propyl gallate: an ester formed by the condensation of gallic acid and propanol
  • Tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ): an aromatic organic compound which is a type of phenol

Chelating Agents are chemicals added to foods in order to bind metal ions such as iron, cobalt and copper which would otherwise exert detrimental effects on the color, texture, aroma of food.

  • Disodium Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA)
  • Polyphosphates
  • Citric Acid

FDA Regulation

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Part 582, Subpart D lists chemical preservatives generally recognized as safe.2 FDA CFR Title 21, Part 172, Subpart B lists food preservatives permitted for direct addition to food for human consumption.2

Concentration of Benzoates as a food preservative is limited by the FDA in the U.S. to 0.1% by weight.2 Under certain circumstances, such as in the presence of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), benzoate salts can produce benzene (carcinogen) in soft drinks; however, the levels of benzene measured do not pose a safety concern for consumers.3

The antioxidants, BHA and BHT, propyl gallate and TBHQ are generally recognized as safe for use in food when the total content of antioxidants is not over 0.02 percent of fat or oil content, including essential (volatile) oil content of food provided the substance is used in accordance with good manufacturing or feeding practice.2


  1. “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21.” CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21.U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  2. “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21.” CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21.
  3. “U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” Questions and Answers on the Occurrence of Benzene in Soft Drinks and Other Beverages.