A More Sustainable Food Supply: How Food Additives Help

A More Sustainable Food Supply: How Food Additives Help

Even in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, research has found that consumers are still highly interested in sustainability. In fact, a substantial 83% of U.S. consumers take environmental impact into account when purchasing food products – indicative of the rising trend of sustainability over the past decade. With the global population steadily climbing towards an estimated 9.6 billion by the year 2050, equating to an additional 75 million people each year needing food, it may seem challenging to produce food in a manner that doesn’t negatively affect the environment. But with a better understanding of food additives and their contributions to sustainability, the goal of providing a sufficient amount of food while trimming excess and preventing waste becomes more realistic.

Food ingredients – more specifically food additives – are used to enhance the flavor, texture, appearance, and other key qualities of food. But what you may not know is that sustainability is an integral element to their purpose and function. Food additives help to keep our food supply sustainable by preserving food to keep it fresh and edible for extended periods of time, bolstering plant-based products and diets, and enhancing overall food production, distribution, packaging, and storage. Food additives also help support sustainability by contributing to food availability, nutrition delivery, affordability, and convenience while supporting the growth and development of domestic and global economies.

How Do food Additives Bolster Sustainability?

Every year, around one-third of all food produced on earth (over 1 billion tons) goes to waste. Not only does this squander resources, but it accounts for between 8-10% of emissions contributing to the global carbon footprint, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Food additives are a crucial element to reducing food waste and loss. Throughout history, certain ingredients have been used as a means of preserving food products to prevent them from spoiling – demonstrating how the purpose of food additives is inherently anti-food waste. Additives are necessary in guaranteeing consistent quality as food products travel from farms, factories, retailers, and ultimately to the plate. Food additives also contribute to food safety. By helping to ensure food safety and quality, food additives are a crucial element in maintaining and enhancing a sustainable food supply.

How Do Food Additives Enhance Food Production & Distribution?

Food additives support sustainability by enhancing the longevity and safety of food products. Whether produced from natural sources or synthesized under safe and regulated conditions, many additives serve to maintain a product’s freshness or prevent causes of spoilage like extreme temperatures and lights, microorganisms, or chemicals. Not only do additives help to prevent food from going bad, they also can enhance taste and appearance. 

Many food additives are designed with the purpose of extending a product’s shelf life by, in one way or another, preserving the integrity and quality of a product. Depending on the food product, the use of additives can substantially extend shelf life by preventing oxidation, inhibiting decay, rot, or mold, and more. In these instances, food additives allow products to maintain original form for longer periods of time with no drop-off in safety, health, or taste.

Food products travel long distances before ending up in your fridge, passing through farms, factories, retailers, and more before being purchased – additives that prevent early food expiration help protect the integrity, safety, and quality of food throughout this process.

How Do Food Additives Contribute to Sustainable, Plant-Based Products and Diets?

Plant-based food ingredients directly bolster environmental sustainability by supporting the growing plant-based food market. Many consumers are incorporating more plant-based foods into their diets as a healthier lifestyle change that also better supports the environment, with a full quarter of 25-34 year old Americans now saying they are vegans or vegetarians. These ingredients do not require the use of any animals in their production, and thus evade the resulting emissions from animal farming, digestive gas from animals, storage and production associated with animals, and more. Plant-based diets and products are chosen by many for their inherent positive effect on the environmental footprint of individuals and food supplies. In addition, many food ingredients also contribute to the rich, savory and umami flavors of plant-based products that have drawn in many consumers who are looking for flavorful plant-based meat-alternatives.

As it currently stands, food additives support sustainability in the supply chain and in food production through maintaining and reducing the amount of food that is wasted on a daily, monthly, and annual basis.  As plant-based food trends continue to rise concurrently with sustainability concerns, food ingredients will continue to contribute to environmental sustainability through their incorporation within this growing market of food products. Technologies and innovations surrounding food additives will continue to develop and expand as time passes to better support and accommodate a sustainable food supply and future.