Have you ever heard the mantra “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it?” This saying may be popular among some fear-mongering food bloggers, but food scientists will tell you that they are missing the point. Some shoppers may say they want ingredient lists kept to a bare minimum because they don’t want “unnecessary chemicals” in their food. But often, these ingredients are there for a very important reason: to keep food safe. Sometimes the desire to get rid of so-called “unnecessary chemicals” stems from not understanding why they are necessary in the first place.
So why should we allow ingredients in our food that we can’t pronounce? Well, maybe you’ve heard that you should avoid the chemical compound dihydrogen monoxide. It may sound scary with no context, but it’s actually water (H20). Obviously, water is not something we should be avoiding. Likewise, the chemical compound sodium chloride is simply table salt. While it’s important to avoid excess salt or sodium in the diet, ingredients such as sodium and other preservatives help keep food fresh, and prevent or delay spoilage which significantly reduces your risk of foodborne illness.
Each year, about 48 million people get sick from contaminated food. Foodborne illness is especially dangerous to specific at-risk populations such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. One of the most important things you can do to prevent foodborne illness is handle food safely, including washing your hands, keeping foods at the proper temperature, and avoiding cross-contamination.
Safe food handling aside, it’s critical that the food we buy is safe to begin with. For a closer look at processed food, preservatives and the safety of these ingredients, read my full FACTS Followers article here.
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Note of Disclosure: I’m pleased to be a consultant to The International Food Information Council, providing blogs and other social media content that shares their resources for health professionals and the public. I believe whole-heartedly in their mission of effectively communicating science-based information on health, nutrition and food safety for the public good.
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