A Learning Curve: Food Ingredients, Additives & Processing Aids in the Food Industry
As a Muslim, I’ve always known that I could only eat the meat of halal species of animals such as cow, goat, poultry etc.. Pork was an absolute no-no in my diet. I also knew I had to refrain from liquor, and all other intoxicants. However, this was the extent of my knowledge of Islamic dietary restrictions. After coming on board at IFANCA, a third-party halal-certifier, my knowledge of halal and haram matured.
I was familiar with a 3rd-party agency, Underwriters Lab, that tests electrical products, and certifies them, as safe for use. It is only after their certification, that companies can use the UL icon on their electrical products, in order to increase their marketing potential. Similarly, IFANCA certifies both consumer and food products, and ascertains that they are free from haram ingredients. When it permits the use of its halal crescent M icon, it declares that certified products are permissible to Muslims.
However, I was totally flabbergasted, when I learnt that even “vegetarian foods” are certified as halal. “Where is the need to certify a food, if there is no meat in the product?” was my question. This was the starting point of my journey, to research on the food-additives and processing aides, used in the food Industry.
Not having a food-science academic background, posed neither challenge nor hurdle. From my conversations with colleagues at IFANCA, very soon I was able to get a higher level of scholarship on this topic. This article, restricted to food products, is the result of such an effort.
Everyone likes food that has freshness, good taste, enticing aroma, enhanced nutritive value, attractive physical appearance, offers convenience of cooking, and long lasting shelf life. Today, we live in a society that has an overly busy life-style. After a day’s hard work there is very little time to shop for raw food-ingredients and cook them well before they begin to spoil.
The food industry is doing its share of innovation to address needs of busy consumers, by providing processed and packaged food products. All these contain a host of ingredients and processing aids which are added to ensure food safety, or enhance nutritional value or to improve food quality. That Mac and Cheese ready to cook dinner or that frozen halal TV meal, all need additives to taste the way they do.
Food ingredients come from many different sources. Some of the best known food ingredients are salt, sugar and lemon juice. Fruits and vegetables are a common source of food ingredients. Food ingredients can be made from vegetable and animal enzymes. A common food ingredient, gelatin can be used as glaze on doughnuts, cakes and toaster pastries. It may even be used in ice-cream. Gelatin can be from halal or haram sources. The usual source of gelatin is pig skin, cattle hides or bones. The label on the food product may only list gelatin as an ingredient but not the source. Now I could understand why even non-meat products require halal certifications.
The commonly used additives and their purposes are listed below:
|Colors||Color is commonly added to foods for enhancing visual appeal. Tests show that when people eat food that looks good, it will taste better.|
|Emulsifiers||The emulsifier keeps oil and water mixed. Without an emulsifier water and oil would be separate. They are used to aid in the processing of foods and also to help maintain quality and freshness.|
|Flavorings||The human brain interprets signals from taste, smell and even vision before turning them into an impression of the food. Flavorings are added to food products to give, enhance or intensify flavor|
|Gelling agents||Gelling agents give shape and structure. Thickeners or thickening agents make foods thicker.|
|Preservatives||Stabilizers help to maintain the physical and textural properties of foodstuffs through their production, transport, storage and cooking.|
|Sweeteners||Sweeteners provide texture in baked goods to stop them from drying out, it lowers the freezing point in ice creams, it acts as a preservative in jams, in soft drinks adds bulk to baked goods|
|Anti-cake agents||Anti-caking agents are added to allow them to flow and mix evenly during the food production process.|
|Antioxidants||Antioxidants are added to food to slow the rate of oxidation and, if used properly, they can extend the shelf life of the food.|
|Acidulants||Acidulants are additives that give a sharp taste to foods. They also assist in the setting of gels and to act as preservatives.|
|Coatings for Food Packaging/Food Contact Substances||Coatings (paper, metal, etc); New/recycled plastics including both polymers and monomers; Paper; Adhesives; Ingredients in Pkgs.(i.e. colorants, antimicrobials, antixoxidants, etc.);Packaging material for use during food irradiation,; Food packaging “formulations”|
All food additives in processed foods must be approved by the national regulatory body charged with food safety. Food additives are regulated by FDA (Food Drugs and cosmetics Act) Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 120, and the Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulation for foods. FDA defines food additives as any substance that is intentionally added to food and determines if such use is GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe).
Food additives are subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, for consumer safety. FDA requires written HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) to determine whether there are food safety hazards that are reasonably likely to occur, and to identify control measures that can control those hazards. Strict limits are placed on the amount and types of additives in foods, and any additive must be included in the ingredients listing on a food package
Food processing constitutes the set of methods and techniques used to transform raw ingredients into food, or to transform food into other forms for consumption by humans. These methods include canning, freezing, refrigeration, dehydration and aseptic processing.
The principles of halal, when analyzed, fit into the doctrines expounded under the banners of “Social Responsibility”, “Organic”, and “Green”. These initiatives are currently on the radar of any manufacturer that wants to stay competitive. Companies should speed up and develop “halal brands” and be certified as such by a well recognized, experienced 3rd party certification source such as IFANCA.