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Times of India
05 April 2011
By Durgesh Nandan Jha
New Delhi, India

Doctors Warn Packaged Foods Have High Preservatives, Can Cause Serious Health Hazards
Illness Packages on Your Platter
Predominant among the food items in Rattan Kumar’s kitchen storage are packaged foods and drinks. Kumar is a senior executive with a major pharmaceutical company and his wife works with a management firm. He says these are easy to cook and he does not have to run to vegetable shops at odd hours.

Many working couples and students living alone prefer to have packaged foods due to their busy schedules, but doctors warn against this. According to them, much of the packaged food available in markets have high quantities of preservatives like calcium, potassium and sodium salts and sodium benzoate that can cause serious health problems.

"Usually, human body has a good capacity to handle electrolytes and chemicals used in these preservatives. However, excessive and longterm usage can cause toxicity. Those suffering from organ damage–kidney, heart and liver–need to be extra-cautious," said Dr Anoop Mishra, chairman, Fortis’ Centre of Excellence in Diabetes, Obesity, Metabolic Diseases and Endocrinology.

According to Dr Nidhi Sarin, clinical nutritionist, sodium nitrate is used in processed meats such as ham, hot dogs, sausage and bologna to increase their shelf-life and maintain their colour. "Excessive consumption of sodium nitrate is known to worsen asthma and decrease lung function. So one should avoid having packaged foods on regular basis and or at least check the amount of preservatives used before consuming them," she said.

Sarin said that potassium bromate is used in breads and other bakery products to increase their volume. "If the bread is not cooked long enough or not at a high enough temperature, then a residual amount of this oxidizing agent will remain in bread, which may be harmful if consumed," she added.

"Sodium benzoate and benzoic acid are food preservatives found in sauces, fruit juices, jams and pickled products. If used over the permissible limit, regular intake can cause allergic reactions," said Ashok Kanchan, a researcher working with Consumer-Voice NGO.

He said that under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, two types of food preservatives–natural and chemical–are allowed. "The use of benzoic acid, nitrites and other kinds of preservatives is legally permitted. But there is need for monitoring of the quantity. Also, consumers need to be aware of the side-effects such preservatives can have on high-risk patients," he added.

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