Guide eases fear of misunderstood food ingredients
October 18, 2012
WASHINGTON—From ammonium sulfate to xanthan gum, ingredients listed on food labels can be downright scary.
But now there’s a consumer guide that explains the mystery terms and their uses.
The International Food Information Council Foundation has posted a guide at foodinsight.org that explains the names and purposes of common food additives.
The guide was inspired by a 2012 IFIC survey that found 90 percent of consumers pay attention to ingredients listed on food labels when grocery shopping.
“It’s important for consumers to understand that any food ingredients listed on nutrition labels are safe and are used to improve the overall quality of our food,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
The site notes that ingredients are carefully regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure that foods containing them are accurately labeled and safe to eat. Ingredients are added to food for four reasons: to maintain or improve freshness; to improve taste; to provide texture; or to improve appearance.
The long, chemical-sounding names of ingredients are their scientific names, the site explains. For example, thiamine mononitrate is ordinary vitamin B1, and fructose is a natural sugar found in fruits.
The site also explains the purpose of many added food ingredients. Ammonium sulfate adds stability to dough and prevents crumbling, so it’s commonly found in breads and other baked goods. Soy lecithin enhances texture, aids in dissolving and prevents separation of ingredients in products like salad dressing and peanut butter.
“People read these terms they’re not familiar with and think that if they don’t recognize the names then they must be bad for them,” Banks said. “This website is set up to dispel these myths and to let shoppers know what those ingredients are used for.
“Once shoppers understand the terms, they can feel more confident about buying a product.”
All ingredients added to foods in the United States are either an “additive” that has been approved by the FDA as safe for human consumption, or they have been deemed “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, by the agency.
Contact Banks at 804-290-1114.