Professors speak out about dangers in “clean labelling”

Posted by Andrea Hogan on 20th November 2017

A pair of US professors in food science and nutrition have warned consumers may not realise the possible harm in demanding ‘clean label’ foods.

In recent years, “clean labelling” has established itself as a major trend in the food industry, with many consumers wanting to purchase food with listed ingredients that they understand and determine to be healthy.

The two professors have however spoken out about the practice, saying it can have negative consequences in terms of food waste, food safety and cost.

Professor Ruth MacDonald, a food science researcher at Iowa State University, said just because a food has an ingredient or additive that is unfamiliar to consumers does not automatically make it bad for you.

“The decision to remove additives appears to be driven more by market demand than consideration of the benefits these additives provide and the potential food safety risk,” said both Professor MacDonald and her nutritionist colleague, Professors Ruth Litchfield.

“Removing nitrates from deli meats and hot dogs is just one example.”

Professor MacDonald says nitrates play a necessary role in preventing the growth of Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria which causes food poisoning.

“People have a hard time understanding the risk-benefit ratio when it comes to foods,” Professor MacDonald said.

“They see a chemical, such as nitrates, listed on the label and assume it is bad or the food contains a high amount.

“The food safety risk without these preservatives is so much greater.”

Social media = greatest culprit of confusion

Litchfield and MacDonald name social media “as the greatest culprit of confusion” when it comes to the “clean eating” trend.

“Social media has gotten us to this point. It is a big driver of distrust,” Litchfield said.

“If they read about research on social media, track down the original study to see if it even exists.”

Without preservatives food waste increases

Litchfield expects food waste in the US to increase with the removal of additives and preservatives.

“Additives reduce off-flavours, prevent separation of liquids or oils or give foods a pleasant feel in our mouths,” Professor Litchfield said.

“Taking these types of ingredients out of foods will probably increase the amount of food we throw away.”


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