All posts by: Brianna LaRouche

About Brianna LaRouche

What Are Upcycled Foods?

An estimated 30% of the global food supply is thrown away annually. Not only is this wasteful, it’s neither sustainable nor good for the environment. As a result, many food and beverage stakeholders are taking steps to support a more sustainable and less wasteful food supply.  

This means you may have begun to see phrases like “upcycled foods” more when reading online or while shopping at grocery stores. But what does “upcycled” mean? According to the Upcycled Food Association (UFA), “upcycled food is about reducing food waste by creating high quality, nutritious food products out of the nutrients that slip through the cracks of our food system.”  

Taking it a step further, the Upcycled Foods Definition Task Force published a summary paper in the Spring of 2020 further defining the phrase:  

“Upcycled foods use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains and have a positive impact on the environment.”  

Upcycled Foods Definition Task Force

This means that upcycled foods are:

  1. Made from by-products or ingredients that would have otherwise gone to waste. 
  1. Value-added products. 
  1. Safe for human consumption, but can also be used in animal feed, pet food, and cosmetics. 
  1. Have an auditable supply chain that ensures they are truly helping to reduce waste without putting added stress on the environment. 
How does this apply to food additives? 

Believe it or not, some additives that are commonly found in food and beverages are already upcycled ingredients. Take pectin for instance. The main sources of pectins are the rinds of citrus fruit, apple pomace (the main by-product of the apple juice industry) and sugar beet pulp. These otherwise wasted food processing components are used to help improve the texture of jams and jellies. 

Another example is glycerol ester of wood rosin (GEWR). GEWR is harvested from the stumps of pine trees cut down for other uses such as papermaking or as building lumber. GEWR is used as a stabilizer in fruit-based beverages and chewing gum. 

A couple other examples include lecithin (often sourced as a by-product of vegetable oil production) and yeast extract (which can be produced using the by-products of corn, sugar beet and sugar cane used to make molasses). 

How do I know if the food I’m buying is upcycled? 

Foods that are upcycled will indicate so on their packaging. One way they may do so is using a new certification standard and label established by the UFA. The first iteration of this standard sets a framework for the certification of upcycled ingredients and products. 

Ultimately, by upcycling by-products that would have otherwise been thrown away, food & beverage manufacturers are aiding the environment by decreasing waste and creating a more sustainable food supply. 

The Role of Food Additives in Ensuring Healthy Meals

white food plate with fork and knife on blue background

In late 2020, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services published the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). The DGAs are published every five years and contain science-based recommendations that help drive food and nutrition policy. This time around, they included recommendations for pregnant women, infants, and young children (the B-24 population), guidance on reducing sugar, sodium and saturated fat intake, and suggestions to incorporate more nutrient-dense foods into everyday diets.

With a hurting economy as a result of COVID-19, many families and individuals are experiencing challenges in meeting their daily nutritional needs. While food additives may be better known for enhancing the taste, texture, freshness, and appearance of foods – they are also critical in ensuring many food products meet federal nutrition recommendations for these same reasons – and at a more affordable cost. This is especially important in a time where many have limited access to grocery stores or markets, whether as a voluntary safety precaution or due to geographic location.

How do food additives help us meet nutrition recommendations?

COVID has not only affected our finances and how we shop, it’s also resulted in huge shifts in our eating habits – with 85% of all consumers reporting changes to how, and what, they eat since the pandemic began. One of the most prominent changes is a renewed focus on health and immunity, as many Americans are increasingly seeking healthier food choices – making the role of food additives even more valuable.

One way food additives can help improve nutrition is extending the shelf life of canned fruits and vegetables. Common ingredients such as salt and vinegar, as well as food additives like citric acid, are used to preserve canned foods, and as an added bonus these products are less expensive than fresh fruit and vegetables. Another food additive, mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids, is used as a coating agent for fresh fruits and vegetables and preserves product quality during transportation and storage. Phosphates contain naturally occurring phosphorus, a mineral that is essential to bone development, and are used to help fortify and leaven bread and baked goods.

Do food additives make it affordable to eat healthy?

Harvard’s School of Public Health reports that eating a healthy diet is more expensive than an unhealthy one. While the absence or presence of food additives doesn’t necessarily make a food more or less healthy, the versatility of food additives contribute to improved shelf-life and stability while enhancing the nutrient profile and being more affordable.

Another important consideration is dietary restrictions and social/personal food decisions. Food ingredients such as konjac gum, a hydrocolloid used to help stabilize dairy products and prevent the development of ice crystals, is also a U.S> Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-recognized source of dietary fiber. This dietary fiber assists with satiety, intestinal health, and cholesterol levels, and may not be present in each consumer’s daily diet otherwise. Other examples include ascorbyl palmitate, which may be used as a source of vitamin C; and yeast extract, a source of vitamin B-12; which is important for those who are pregnant and can sometimes be lacking in plant-based foods.

The benefits of food additives to health and nutrition through food consumption are diverse. Several additives, including pectin or carob bean gum, are FDA approved as recognized sources of dietary fiber and can provide beneficial effects such as improved digestion and the feeling of satiety. Other ingredients, like carrageenan, can be used as replacement agents – replacing the sodium in lunch foods or fats, oils, and sugar in sweet treats, for example. Food additives like citric acid can also be used in products that revitalize skin, soothe sore throats, and curb nausea.

Food additives also contribute to consumer nutrition in how they accommodate diverse dietary preferences and needs. For example, xanthan gum and guar gum are used in gluten-free baking to help bind and thicken ingredients, making gluten-free foods more easily attainable for professional and at-home bakers. Plant-based products and diets, which have seen increased interest during COVID, are also aided by food additives such as yeast extract – which contribute to enhancing the flavors, texture and nutritional value of plant-based meat alternatives.

It is important that we all have access to nutritional, healthy foods without having to worry as much about cost, food spoilage, or availability. Food additives, through their versatility in purpose and function, make nutritional, affordable foods a reality – playing a vital role in helping us achieve healthier lifestyle through balanced, nutritional diets.

To learn about the different kinds of food ingredients, and how they bolster nutrition, the environment, the food supply, and more, visit our Types and Sources pages.

What Is “Processed” Food?‎

The phrase “processed food” is often mischaracterized as something people should avoid. This mischaracterization has unfortunately become too common and accepted by too many. When used to describe food, the word “processed” means a product that has been changed by being prepared, canned, frozen, packaged, or combined with other ingredients. Processed foods can undergo physical changes including chopping, mixing, baking, or frying, as well as chemical changes which can include fermentation, leavening, and preservation.

Examples of Processed Foods

Using this definition, “processed” describes many of the foods that help make up a balanced diet such as yogurt, sauces, low-fat cheese, and cut fruit. The food you cook from scratch can be described as processed.

Take a loaf of homemade sourdough bread for instance. To start, you need a sourdough starter, made by fermenting flour and water. From there you add more flour and some salt, followed by several rounds of proofing (leavening through fermentation), kneading, and folding. Before you even put the bread in the oven, you’ve made both chemical and physical changes to the ingredients that you started with – water, flour, and salt. By then, baking your dough in the oven you’ve once again changed your dough by adding heat.

But do you think of your fresh homemade sourdough as being processed? Likely not.

Or what about the dried pasta you may have stocked in your pantry at the onset of COVID-19? Similar to your homemade sourdough, the ingredients for the pasta – flour, salt, water, oil, and eggs – were mixed together in a large-scale mixer, pressed through a pasta dye, dried, and boxed so that you could buy it from your local store and keep it in your pantry until you need it.

The level of processing that a food product goes through isn’t always telling of nutrient levels and doesn’t have a direct association with the quality of a food product. Processed foods have gone through one or more changes before reaching the store shelf, and are typically designed to produce a food that is tasty, affordable, shelf-stable, and easy to access.

What Is the Role of Food Additives in Processed Foods?

Food additives are used in processed foods for many reasons, including to improve texture and stability, increase shelf-life, and enhance flavor. Food additives can be used for one or more reasons depending on the type of ingredient and the desired functionality in the processed food.

Food ingredients, including food additives, have been used in foods for hundreds of years for those same reasons. All ingredients listed on food labels are approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or have been determined to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by qualified experts after a review of the scientific evidence supporting their safety and intended use in foods.

What Does This Mean About the Food I Eat?

At the end of the day, processed foods, whether packaged, canned, jarred, or frozen, are an important part of the American diet, allowing us to buy foods that are more affordable, have longer shelf lives, and reduce preparation time. Food additives also help make the wide selection of tasty organic, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, and other diet-specific food options possible.

Processed foods are can be part of a balanced diet and shouldn’t be thought of as something to fear. When it comes to a balanced diet, it’s about eating nutritious foods, not necessarily monitoring the processing level of the foods you eat.

IFAC Statement on “Effect of Neighborhood Food Environment and Socioeconomic Status on Serum Phosphorus Level for Patients on Chronic Dialysis”

In November 2020, the study titled “Effect of Neighborhood Food Environment and Socioeconomic Status on Serum Phosphorus Level for Patients on Chronic Dialysis” was published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. The authors reviewed data on patients receiving dialysis and the availability of food in their neighborhoods to determine whether greater access to “healthy” food affected on phosphorus levels in the patients. While it was surmised that patients living in geographical areas with more poverty, which the authors suggest have higher amounts of foods containing high levels of phosphorus and are, in their words, “unhealthy,” the authors found no link between phosphorus levels and neighborhood food availability or income. Based on findings that older patients had lower serum phosphorus levels than younger patients, and that patients who identify as Black or Hispanic had slightly lower phosphorus levels than white patients, the authors suggest phosphorus levels may be better managed through personalized diet plans and improved education regarding food labels. An accompanying article in Nephrology News & Issues contains a perspective on the study by Lisa Gutekunst, a renal dietitian, who noted there were no insights into specific foods being purchased or where patients bought food, and that the fact that stores sell “healthy” food does not mean they  contain lower levels of phosphorus or that patients purchase them.

While the above information seems to call into question the health aspects of phosphorus, research supported by the International Food Additives Council (IFAC) has found dietary phosphorus, including phosphate food additives, are not a concern for most people. Research led by Dr. Victor Fulgoni explored the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a study which assesses the health and nutritional status of Americans, and intake of foods containing phosphorus. Dr. Fulgoni reviewed data collected from 1988 to 2016, specifically identifying intake levels of foods and beverages containing naturally occurring phosphorus as well as phosphorus that would be added through phosphate food additives. He found that the majority of phosphate intake in the U.S. diet comes from naturally occurring phosphorus, with the top three most common phosphorus-containing foods for adults (+19 years of age) being coffee, yeast breads, and cheese. Only about 12% of phosphorus intake came from added phosphates. These findings show that foods that generally contain higher levels of naturally occurring phosphorus are not necessarily unhealthy and that greater emphasis on the labeling of foods containing phosphate additives is unlikely to have a meaningful impact on phosphorus intake.

While those with chronic kidney disease (CKD) or end stage renal disease (ESRD) should be conscious of their phosphorus intake, the general population should not be concerned about their phosphate intake and potential health risks. The outcome of a 2017 review of 110 primary research articles on dietary phosphorus and human health found no conclusive evidence of phosphate consumption and negative health outcomes in the general population. Phosphate intake recommendations for the general population and those with CKD or ESRD is further explained by Dr. Taylor Wallace in a webinar conducted in March 2020. More information on the webinar can be found here.

For individuals looking to monitor their phosphorus intake, phosphate food additives are included on the ingredient list of all foods and beverages. Although companies are not required to disclose the amount of phosphorus on the Nutrition Facts panel, some volunteer this information and share the amount of phosphorus or other nutrients. Others list detailed product information on their websites if it is not on the label.

IFAC Position Statement on Allegations Around Dietary Emulsifiers and Health Impacts

Emulsifiers are common food ingredients that are used to enhance the flavor, texture, stability, and shelf-life of processed foods. Food emulsifiers range from common products like mustard and canola oil, to food additives such as lecithins, polysorbates, and carrageenan.

In recent years, researchers have published articles that call into question the potential impacts of dietary emulsifiers on gut inflammation and chronic disease. In response to these claims, the International Food Additives Council (IFAC) points to the overwhelming scientific evidence that supports the safety of these ingredients, which is summarized in a 2018 literature review by Vo et al., titled “Dietary Exposures to Common Emulsifiers and Their Impact on the Gut Microbiota: Is There a Cause for Concern?”.

For this review, the authors reviewed all published literature on dietary emulsifiers and human impacts. Despite claims to the contrary, Vo et al., found there is limited evidence indicating adverse effects of emulsifiers on the microbiome. The authors suggest that an established and agreed upon range of different microorganisms within the microbiome would help to provide a reference for future studies in the interpretation and clinical relevance of changes observed in response to various dietary components and ingredients. Given this, the researchers found that consumption of foods containing dietary emulsifiers do not pose any safety concerns and that their history of safe use is not brought into question by the existing scientific literature.

Studies linking animal models to human health outcomes have many limitations. There continues to be limited evidence indicating adverse effects of emulsifiers on the microbiome. More about what we do know can be found here.

Recent publications that have questioned the safety of dietary emulsifiers:

In October 2020, the publication “Dietary Emulsifiers Directly Impact Adherent-Invasive E. coli Gene Expression to Drive Chronic Intestinal Inflammation” by Viennois et al., suggested dietary emulsifiers disturb gut microbiota and promote chronic inflammation. In this study, mice were colonized with Crohn’s-disease-associated adherent-invasive E. coli (AIEC) and administered common emulsifiers carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) or polysorbate-80 (P80). The authors conclude that dietary emulsifiers promote virulence and encroachment of pathobionts, providing a means by which these compounds may drive inflammation in hosts carrying such bacteria.

Upon further review, the authors note that the underlying prevalence of AIEC (a strain of E. coli known to be a factor in the development of Crohn’s Disease) in humans is not well understood, which calls into question the relevance of these findings to humans. Additionally, while the authors suggest that AIEC interacts with CMC, causing gut inflammation, they also note that the CMC levels used in this study are much higher than those consumed through the diet and incorrectly state that their would be similar in humans, who could have similar exposure over a long period of time compared to an acute exposure like the mice in this study.

Another study, published in November 2020 and titled, “Is sodium carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) really completely innocent? It may be triggering obesity”, concluded the dietary emulsifier CMC can cause changes in the expression of some genes associated with obesity. Authors Baran et al., provided CMC through the food of zebrafish embryos by the microinjection method at different concentrations. The authors concluded that CMC does not cause a toxic effect in zebrafish embryos, but assert that their findings show that CMC can lead to important effects on lipid metabolism by causing changes in the expression of some genes associated with obesity.

IFAC notes that this study, having been conducted in zebrafish, is not relevant to human exposure and should not alter our use or understanding of the benefits of various emulsifiers that are used to improve food product texture, stability, and shelf life.


The Codex Committee on Food Additives (CCFA) manages an International Processing Aids (IPA) Database that includes processing aids listed by technological function, many of which have multiple functions. “Microbial nutrients and microbial nutrient adjuncts” is one of the categories in the database and one of the key functions performed by processing aids in this category is as a cryoprotectant.

What are cryoprotectants?
Cryoprotectants are ingredients that are added before the freezing step of the manufacturing process of live microorganisms to protect them from damage during freezing and freeze-drying.

Processing aids that may be used as cryoprotectants include but are not limited to:

Acacia Gum

Dextrose monohydrate

Microcrystalline Cellulose

Sodium chloride

Acetic acid

Diammonium phosphate

Milk powder

Sodium citrate (Di- & Tri-)



Monoammonium phosphate

Sodium dodecyl sulfate

Alkoxylated fatty acid ester (vegetable)

Dipotassium hydrogen phosphate

Monopotassium Phosphate

Sodium formate

Ammonium chloride

Disodium inosinate

Monosodium glutamate L

Sodium hydroxide

Ammonium citrate, dibasic

Formic acid

Nitrogen, liquid

Sodium lauryl sulfate

Ammonium hydroxide


Phosphoric acid

Sodium phosphate, monobasic

Ascorbic acid

Glutamic acid L

Polysorbate 80




Potassium citrate

Soy Lecithin

Calcium ascorbate


Potassium hydroxide

Soy Peptone

Calcium carbonate


Potato Starch


Calcium chloride

Inositol (vitamin B8)

Propyle gallate


Calcium phosphate dibasic


Rice Flour


Casein enzymatic hydrolysate


Rice protein hydrolysate

Trisodium citrate dihydrate

Casein hydrolysate

Magnesium sulfate

Silicon dioxide

Whey (powder)

Casein peptone


Skim milk powder

Whey protein

Citric acid


Sodium alginate

Yeast peptone

Corn starch

Maltose (hydrogenated)

Sodium ascorbate/Ascorbic acid

Yeast/Yeast extract

Corn syrup solids

Manganese chloride

Sodium aspartate/Aspartic acid

Zein from corn

Cysteine L

Manganese sulphate monohydrate

Sodium bicarbonate

Cysteine monohydrochloride L


Sodium caseinate

Why do foods contain cryoprotectants?
Cryoprotectants protect certain components of food, such as live microbial dietary ingredients, food cultures, and probiotics, so they are not killed in the process of making the finished food. There is little to no benefit of live microbial dietary ingredients in food if they are dead or destroyed.

Are cryoprotectants safe?
Yes. Cryoprotectants are regulated and approved for use by some government agencies around the world. They meet quality and safety standards recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

Shelf Stability: More Important Now Than Ever

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we shop for almost everything, but perhaps nothing more than the normal weekly or even daily trips to the grocery store. At the height of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security suggested that all Americans purchase enough food to last for two weeks at a time in order to keep grocery stores from becoming packed, decrease risk of individual exposure, and to ensure an adequate food supply at home. It’s therefore no surprise that consumers have been stocking up on more packaged and shelf-stable food products to minimize trips to the grocery store.

Recently, 47% of consumers reported stocking up on essential items like food and water. As the pandemic continues into its eighth month, with many restrictions still in place, food conservation and shelf stability is even more important.

How Do Food Additives Help With Shelf-Stability?

Shelf-life, according to the Institute of Food Science and Technology, is “the period of time during which the food product will remain safe; be certain to retain its desired sensory, chemical, physical microbiological, and functional characteristics; where appropriate, comply with any label declaration of nutritional data, when stored under the recommended conditions.”

Food ingredients, including food additives, play key roles in increasing the shelf lives of many foods, making them even more important when stocking up on foods that will last during the pandemic. Many food additives help boost the stability and quality of food products, allowing us to store them in our homes and pantries for longer periods of time – which leads to fewer trips to the grocery store, improved cost, reduced food waste, and more.

What Types of Food Additives Help With Shelf-Stability?

One type of food additive that can improve shelf life is preservatives. Preservatives are added to foods to keep them fresh and safe for consumption – preventing spoilage or rotting. Common preservatives include salts, sugars, gelatin and vinegars; which are used to prevent bacteria growth. Additives, such as nisin and trisodium phosphate, may also be used to help preserve foods.

Another type of food additive that helps with shelf stability, antioxidants, help to decrease oxidation in foods. Citric acid and lecithin are common additives with an antioxidant function.

Emulsifiers, thickeners, firming agents, and stabilizers are used to help extend shelf life. These additives also improve the appearance, texture, and quality of products over time. Stabilizers, for example, help ingredients within a product to stay dispersed, maintaining the intended and desirable composition. Firming agents, on the other hand, help keep fruits and vegetables firm and crisp.

Food Additives + Shelf-Stability = Stronger Food Supply

All of these different types of additives help foster a safer, more sustainable, and more affordable food supply. Without them, we would have to make more frequent grocery trips, spend more money on food, and throw away food that would spoil too quickly. Shelf life is an important characteristic of healthy, affordable food products, and additives are an important part of making them so. Additives, and the effects they have on shelf life, are what make logistics of the current food supply possible.

While shelf life, and the role additives have in improving it, has always been important to our food supply – it is more important now than it ever has been. With COVID-related restrictions still in place around the world, and with a need to limit human contact as much as possible, it is important that we can purchase foods that will last longer.