Chemicals as Food Preservatives
Chemicals as Disinfectants and Preservatives
The spoiling of meats and soups, and the souring of milk and preserves, are due to germs which, like those producing disease, can be destroyed by heat and by chemicals.
Milk heated to the boiling point does not sour readily, and successful canning consists in cooking fruits and vegetables until all the germs are killed, and then sealing the cans so that germs from outside cannot find entrance and undo the work of the canner.
Some dealers and manufacturers have learned that certain chemicals will act as food preservatives, and hence they have replaced the safe method of careful canning by the quicker and simpler plan of adding chemicals to food. Catchup, sauces, and jellies are now frequently preserved in this way. But the chemicals which destroy bacteria frequently injure the consumer as well. And so much harm has been done by food preservatives that the pure food laws require that cans and bottles contain a labeled statement of the kind and quantity of chemicals used.
Even milk is not exempt, but is doctored to prevent souring, the preservative most generally used by milk dealers being formaldehyde. The vast quantity of milk consumed by young and old, sick and well, makes the use of formaldehyde a serious menace to health, because no constitution can endure the injury done by the constant use of preservatives.
The most popular and widely used preservatives of meats are borax and boric acid. These chemicals not only arrest decay, but partially restore to old and bad meat the appearance of freshness; in this way unscrupulous dealers are able to sell to the public in one form or other meats which may have undergone partial decomposition; sausage frequently contains partially decomposed meat, restored as it were by chemicals.
In jams and catchups there is abundant opportunity for preservatives; badly or partially decayed fruits are sometimes disinfected and used as the basis of foods sold by so-called good dealers. Benzoate of soda, and salicylic acid are the chemicals most widely employed for this purpose, with coal-tar dyes to simulate the natural color of the fruit.
Many of the cheap candies sold by street venders are not fit for consumption, since they are not only made of bad material, but are frequently in addition given a light dipping in varnish as a protection against the decaying influences of the atmosphere.
The only wise preservatives are those long known and employed by our ancestors; salt, vinegar, and spices are all food preservatives, but they are at the same time substances which in small amounts are not injurious to the body. Smoked herring and salted mackerel are chemically preserved foods, but they are none the less safe and digestible.