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There’s AntiFreeze in WHAT?

October 29, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s the week of Halloween and, of course, fear is celebrated. Recalls, news media reports and a host of others proclaiming antifreeze in our FOOD! An announcement of a recall of Fireball whisky generated the topic.

Propylene glycol has people queasy. Like comments made by the FoodBabeArmy, not all is what it seems. Let’s ask – and seek – answers to a few basic questions.

What is propylene glycol?

Propylene glycol, also called propane-1,2-diol, is an organic compound with the chemical formula C3H8O2. It is a viscous colourless liquid which is nearly odourless but possesses a faintly sweet taste.

So…despite the scary sounding name, it’s organic. 3 carbon, 8 hydrogen, 2 oxygen. Food manufacturers and processors “hiding something” isn’t really a case as there’s not much to hide. Many things are added to foods to make them more visually appealing because that’s what consumers want. Bright colors, appealing textures, lack of separation.

An ingredient can be versatile, and many more familiar ingredients are also used in a variety of ways. Water and salt, for example, are needed in our diet, but an excess can be fatal. In order to ingest enough of the propylene glycol in Fireball Whisky to harm you, it’s certain you would die from alcohol poisoning long before propylene glycol was a factor. Obviously, testing that is not recommended!

Why is it in food?

Propylene glycol USP/EP is the ideal carrier of a large variety of flavours that give most of today’s food and beverage their distinctive taste. The substance itself is colour-, taste- and odourless, and it does not react on its own, which means that it can perform its function without impacting on other product attributes.

This product has been confirmed safe, and provides unique inherent properties with regard to holding/attracting both water- and oil-based substances. In food, it is used to retain food colour pigments and provide for homogeneous distribution within the mixture. Propylene glycol USP/EP is approved for use as a food additive under E-number E 1520 (with strict maximum limit of 1 g/kg in human foodstuffs). Direct food contact uses include:

  • solvent and carrier for flavour and colour in food and beverage manufacturing processes, for drinks, biscuits, cakes, sweets

  • thickener, clarifier and stabilizer in food and beverage such as beer, salad dressings or baking mixtures

OK but it calls for other uses – it’s in antifreeze and everyone knows antifreeze is poison!

Most antifreeze is an alternative ingredient, ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol is toxic. Sounding similar doesn’t make something the same. Propylene glycol is frequently used as a substitute for ethylene glycol in low toxicity, environmentally friendly automotive antifreeze. This is an industrial use, not food grade use, of a product that is fed to pets and livestock as well as a food additive.

But it didn’t used to be….wait. It did. It’s been used for five decades in a variety of products from ice cream to dog food to livestock feed to paint to – yes – non toxic antifreeze. Environmentally sound options. It is, I learned, a danger to waterways not from poison but that when combined with water it reduces the oxygen in the water. It smothers, not poisons, fish.

P6150727Of course, many people will not be convinced. It is possible to avoid propylene glycol in foods – buy fresh direct and process everything yourself, no matter what the appearance is. Create everything you do yourself, including the storage factor if not wanting to make your days revolve around food production and processing.

Modern convenience takes ingredients that we don’t use on small scale at home.

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