AskDefine | Define preservatives

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  1. Plural of preservative

Extensive Definition

A preservative is a natural or synthetic chemical that is added to products such as foods, pharmaceuticals, paints, biological samples, wood, etc. to prevent decomposition by microbial growth or by undesirable chemical changes.

Preservatives in wood

Preservatives may be added to wood to prevent the growth of fungi as well as to repel insects and termites. Typically arsenic, copper, chromium, borate, and petroleum based chemical compounds are used. For more information on wood preservatives, see timber treatment, lumber, and creosote.

Preservatives in foods

Preservative food additives can be used alone or in conjunction with other methods of food preservation. Preservatives may be anti-microbial preservatives, which inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi, or antioxidants such as oxygen absorbers, which inhibit the oxidation of food constituents. Common anti-microbial preservatives include calcium propionate, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, sulfites (sulfur dioxide, sodium bisulfite, potassium hydrogen sulfite, etc.) and disodium EDTA. Antioxidants include BHA and BHT. Other preservatives include formaldehyde (usually in solution), glutaraldehyde (kills insects), ethanol and methylchloroisothiazolinone. The benefits and safety of many artificial food additives (including preservatives) are the subject of debate among academics and regulators specializing in food science and toxicology.

Natural food preservation

Natural substances such as salt, sugar, vinegar, and diatomaceous earth are also used as traditional preservatives. Certain processes such as freezing, pickling, smoking and salting can also be used to preserve food. Another group of preservatives targets enzymes in fruits and vegetables that continue to metabolize after they are cut. For instance, citric and ascorbic acids from lemon or other citrus juice can inhibit the action of the enzyme phenolase which turns surfaces of cut apples and potatoes brown. Caution must be taken, however, since FDA standards do not currently require fruit and vegetable product labels to accurately reflect the type of preservative used in the products. Further, there is no current regulation requiring the inclusion of preservative chemical in labels at all; some potentially hazardous. While sometimes labeled as "natural" preservatives, most fruit and vegetable products contain carcinogenic chemicals.

Health concerns

Some modern synthetic preservatives have become controversial because they have been shown to cause respiratory or other health problems. Many studies point to synthetic preservatives and artificial coloring agents aggravating ADD & ADHD symptoms in those affected. Older studies were inconclusive quite possibly due to inadequate clinical methods of measuring offending behavior. Parental reports were more accurate indicators of the presence of additives than clinical tests. Several major studies show academic performance increased and disciplinary problems decreased in large non-ADD student populations when artificial ingredients, including preservatives were eliminated from school food programs. Allergenic preservatives in food or medicine can cause anaphylactic shock in susceptible individuals, a condition which is often fatal within minutes without emergency treatment.


preservatives in Min Nan: Hông-hú-che
preservatives in Czech: Konzervant
preservatives in Danish: Konserveringsmiddel
preservatives in German: Konservierungsmittel
preservatives in Spanish: Conservante
preservatives in French: Conservateur alimentaire
preservatives in Galician: Conservante
preservatives in Croatian: Konservansi
preservatives in Hebrew: חומר משמר
preservatives in Dutch: Conserveermiddel
preservatives in Japanese: 防腐剤
preservatives in Norwegian: Konserveringsmiddel
preservatives in Polish: Konserwant
preservatives in Portuguese: Conservante
preservatives in Russian: Консерванты
preservatives in Serbian: Конзерванси
preservatives in Finnish: Säilöntäaine
preservatives in Vietnamese: Chất bảo quản
preservatives in Chinese: 防腐剂
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