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Plant Science Panel

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'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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Ask for Evidence - Food Science Mythbusting

Food additives: What's the science behind the "yuk" factor?

Food

Chelsea Snell, member of the Voice of Young Scence network.

“Food additives and processes can sound scary. You might read the ingredients list on the back of a packet and be astounded by the unfamiliar words. In reality, the flavourings, emulsifiers and stabilisers that you find in so many of your favourite foods are in fact harmless. So when I spotted a series of articles “exposing the truth” behind the food industry it was time to Ask for Evidence and reveal how safe food additives really are..."

Claim: ready meals made using old ingredients
20/05/2015
Chelsea: Freezing is purely another way of preserving food to inhibit the growth of micro-organisms. Of course food manufacturers do not want to use, nor would a consumer want to buy, decaying food products. If you took a look at my freezer you could tell I am fine with freezing food! Frozen fruit and vegetables are actually very nutrient rich when they are, generally, harvested at peak ripeness and then frozen. Fresh produce can be exposed to a lot of fluctuations in temperature and light on their journey from farm to fork which can impact on nutrient content. (Image Courtesy of E.C. Johnson )
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fruit salad
Claim: fruit salad is cough syrup
20/05/2015
Chelsea: Citric and tartaric acid are natural preservatives found naturally in fruits and are used to prevent the fruit from browning. They are also added to other products such as wine, soft drinks and cough syrup to prevent the growth and activity of micro-organisms. This doesn't mean a cup of fruit salad is equivalent to drinking cough syrup! Enzymes occur everywhere and are used in a number of food and household products. Pectinase is used to soften the fruit but is also used routinely in fruit juice production. (Image Courtesy of Kara Michele)
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salami
Claim: salami contains antioxidants and solvents
20/05/2015
Chelsea: Rosemary extract is a natural preservative found in many foods that has undergone vigorous safety testing. When fats in the meat oxidise, the product goes rancid. Yuk. The preservative is used to prevent this oxidation to prolong shelf life and quality and prevent microbial growth. Many food extraction processes involve the safe use of solvents such as hexane, ethanol and acetone; these are used during the extraction of olive oil. (Image Courtesy of Sören Benter)
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scampi
Claim: Scampi contains phosphates
20/05/2015
Chelsea: Phosphates are added to seafood and meat products as preservatives to extend shelf life and maintain water retention. These are safe for human consumption and are found naturally in all living things. The artificial flavourings added are safe and tested, and can even be superior to natural flavourings. (Image Courtesy of Michael Fletcher)
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crisps
Claim: Crisps made using week old bleached and deodorised vegetable oil
20/05/2015
Chelsea: Vegetable oils go through essential refining processes such as bleaching and deodorising to remove contaminants and impurities to make them edible. Bleaching involves the filtering of the oil with clay or earth to remove colour, and deodorising involves the use of steam. Safe antioxidants are added to oils to prolong their shelf life. (Image Courtesy of bour3)
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blood protein
Claim: processed meat with added animal blood protein
20/05/2015
Chelsea: Animal blood protein is added as a binder, an emulsifier to stabilise the mixture and stop it separating, and as a natural colour enhancer. Waste blood and carcasses, from which the protein is extracted, pose an environmental pollution problem – this technique avoids that waste. Blood also provides a valuable source of extra protein in what you’re eating. (Image Courtesy of David Blackwell)
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organicwine
Claim: buy organic wine
20/05/2015
Chelsea: While traces of pesticides may be present in wine, the concentrations that they are found in are very low – they’re measured in micrograms per litre (parts per billion, or ppb). One part per billion is equivalent to one grain of sugar in an Olympic swimming pool. Remember, the dose makes the poison. Stringent safety regulations govern the use of pesticides and the residue levels that are present in food and drink products. (Image Courtesy of Matthew Rogers)
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Bagged Salad
Claim: bagged salad is washed in bleach
20/05/2015
Chelsea: Chlorine is added to water at a safe concentration in order to kill micro-organisms that spoil food, and human pathogens on salad. Without it there is a risk of getting sick. ‘Modified air’ refers to a simple alteration of the gases found naturally in air. It is used to prevent food from spoiling too quickly and hence keeps your salad fresher for longer. I know I don’t want to spend my money on fruit and veg that goes mouldy really quickly! Strict guidelines and regulations are in place to ensure safety and quality. (Image Courtesy of uncoolbob)
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Beaver
Claim: vanilla flavouring ethylvanillin from sawdust
20/05/2015
Chelsea: Natural vanilla is extremely expensive and requires a labour intensive and lengthy extraction process. Ethylvanillin is made from lignin, which is found in wood leftover from pulp in the paper industry - not exactly sawdust. Many food flavourings are artificially made including fruit and liqueur flavourings. Artificial flavourings are generally considered safer as they undergo vigorous food safety testing and are more environmentally friendly. Vanilla flavouring can even be made from a gland in a Beaver's butt;but at an extremely high cost. Would you pay £60 for plain vanilla ice-cream!? (Image Courtesy of Laura Westrouge )
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