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There are various chemical components that constitute food, each of which plays a significant role in conferring health and nutrition to the consumers. Some of these chemical components of foods include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, fiber, trace elements, and antioxidants, among others. The aforementioned chemicals components are naturally found in food, although their availability and composition differs from one type of food to another (Food Standards Agency para. 5).
These are the natural components of food and their consumption at the right quantities helps to improve the nutritional status and health of an individual. On the other hand, foods also have other chemical compounds that also occur naturally, such as solanine in potatoes, and cynogenic glycosides as found in cassava. These chemicals are often associated with certain toxic properties. Therefore, when consumed by humans, these chemical pose a danger to their health.
Sources of chemicals in foods
A number of food processing techniques such as smoking of food are also known generate by-products that are toxic to humans. They include acrylamide or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Besides, there are also environmental pollutants that could be present in foodstuffs in differing levels. They include chlorinated compounds and lead. We also have toxic elements in the environment such as cadmium as found on the crust of the earth.
Others include algal toxins (for example, shellfish poisons and aflatoxins) and natural mould. These could also find their way into foods at differing levels. In order to ensure the safety and health of the consumer upon the consumption of foods, it is important to establish procedures that are in a position to assess the types of health risks that such compounds presents in food and the dangers this could pose to the consumers of these foods.
In addition, we also need to take into account additional sources of exposures. The presence of undesirable chemicals in foods could also be due to the absorption of certain material components by the food upon contact, like in the case of chemicals in food packaging material being absorbed by the food contained in the package.
The addition of chemicals into foods could also be with a view to achieving a certain technological function. For instance, we could ad chemicals into foods to impart color, accentuate flavor, or for purposes of preserving that food.
Besides, chemicals may also be available in food in the form of residues following their use in the day to day agricultural practices (for example, residues found in foods as a result of the use of veterinary drugs or pesticides). In these substances are to find use in food production, it is important to ensure that a detailed safety assessment of these residues is undertaken.
In addition, in the environment, we have several chemical substances that may also acts as pollutants. Such contaminants could be available in the form of the raw materials that finds use during the process of the production and distribution of foods, albeit unintentionally.
As a result, we may not be in a position to avoid their presence in foods. The role of food legislation therefore is to help in the achievement of a balance between on the one hand, the benefits of the unintentional substances in foods and on the other hand, the risks that are associated with such substances. In addition, food legislation also aims at ensuring that contaminants of food are reduced drastically to the acceptable levels.
Materials used in the manufacture of food packages could also be of concern to the health of consumers if it penetrates into the food. For example, studies indicate that harmful chemicals from Styrofoam or plastic packaging have the potential to penetrate into foods. Consequently, they could also pose dangers to the health of the consumers, and some of these chemicals have been associated with causing cancer (Hunter 2).
In addition plastic wrappings as used in microwavable foods also have the potential to transmit the chemicals of their manufacturing process into the food during the heating process. It is important to have in place sound assessment procedures to examine the dangers posed by chemicals of packaging materials to the users. This way, we can then have in established limits of the levels of the chemical substances that consumers can tolerate with no risk to their health.
Role of chemicals in foods
Chemical substances play a significant function in as far as the production and distribution of food is concerned. For example, food additives find use in helping to extend the shelf life of foods. On the other hand, food flavorings and colors are used in making food to appear more attractive to the eyes of the consumers. During the storage of food, issues of attractiveness and hygiene are very important.
As such, such food containers as plastics enable foods to remain attractive and hygienic. Although the aforementioned benefits justify the role of chemicals in the production and distribution of foods, however, the same chemicals are also associated with potential health risk to the consumers of such foods. This may be as a result of either the residues of such chemicals in the foods that they are meant to preserve, add color or flavor to, or other side effects.
The addition of preservatives in food is for purposes of ensuring that it remains safe for longer. Preservation therefore constitutes a key requirement for processed foods in order to extend its shelf-life (Food Standards Agency para. 5). The only time that preservatives may not be included in foods meant for extended periods of storage is if additional means of preservation such as canning, freezing, or drying, have been used.
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For instance, ham, corned beef, and bacon make use of nitrates and nitrites as a preservative, to control bacterial growth. However, from a health context, nitrites and nitrates are thought to be carcinogenic. Sulphur dioxide finds use as a preservative in dried fruits to control bacterial growth.
Protecting consumers from harmful chemicals in foods
There is the need to achieve high protection levels of the consumers’ health in as far as the issue of chemicals in food is concerned (Foods Standards Agency 2). With regard to food chemical substances, the following are the fundamental classes of food legislation:
– The principle of food additives legislation holds that their use should only be restricted to just those additives that enjoy explicit authorization. Even then, their use should be in specifics foodstuffs, and in limited quantities (Europa para. 3). Before the Codex Alimetarius Commission gives its authority on the use of food additives, they first have to undergo through an evaluation process in an effort to assess their safety levels.
-Limits are usually established by the current legislation on flavorings as regards the presence of otherwise undesirable compounds (Europa para. 4). On the other hand, in as far as the flavoring substances that have already been chemically defines are concerned, already, a large safety evaluation program is being executed. In this case, authorization shall only be granted to the chemical substances with a favorable outcome so that they can be used in foodstuffs.
-scientific principles and advice are useful during the legislation process of contaminants in foods. As such, the intention is to ensure that low levels of the contaminants are maintained within the most reasonable capabilities through the use of good manufacturing practices (Smith 6). Already, we have in place the maximum tolerable levels for a number of contaminants (for example, mycotoxins, heavy metals, dioxins, chloropropanols, and nitrates, among others) with the intention of ensuring the safety of public health.
– We also have authorization on veterinary medicinal product residues that finds use in animals meant for food production as well as in pesticides. In this case, a scientific evaluation has to be provided for prior to the authorization of the respective products (Europa para 7). – we have in place a provision of food contact materials with respect to legislation which states that the transfer of the components of such materials into foodstuffs should not be
-In such large quantities as to put to danger the health of humans (WHO para. 3), or appear to later the taste, texture, or composition of the foodstuff in question.
It is important to ensure that harmful chemicals are not found in food meant for human consumption. Already, we have international bodies such as the IPCS (International Programme on Chemical Safety) that have established diverse activities aimed at assessing the safety of the components of foods, natural toxic constituents of foods, pesticide residues in foods, food additives, food contaminants, and veterinary drugs.
Europa. Chemical safety of food- introduction. 2010. Web.
Foods Standards Agency. Preservatives. 2001. Web.
Foods Standards Agency. Committee on toxicity of chemicals in food, consumer products and the environment cot addendum to joint statement of the committees on toxicity, mutagenicity and carcinogenicity on nanomaterial toxicology. 2010. Web.
Food Standards Agency. Chemical Safety. 2010. Web.
Hunter, Beatrice. Dangers of packaging chemicals getting into food. Consumers’ Research Magazine,76.12(1993): 2- 8
Smith, Eric. The international programme on chemical safety. An overview. 2010. Web.
WHO. International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS). Chemicals in food. 2010. Web.