Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska

Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska

Is Food Laced with Harmful Chemicals?

February 11, 2014Food

It's true - your food contains chemicals. (Remember the Periodic Table and how all these chemicals make up our world?) But are these chemicals harmful?



We asked Julie M. Jones, PhD, CNS, LN, CFS, FICC, Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emerita, Foods and Nutrition, St. Catherine University, whether we should be concerned about chemicals in food.


Should we be concerned about chemicals in food?

Dr. Jones: "Food is actually made of chemicals. But not all chemicals are bad. For example, cranberries, which keep very well in the refrigerator, have a higher level of (naturally-occurring) benzaldehyde than the FDA allows to be added to food. This is just one example.


"The real worry is overeating, not enough fruits, vegetables, whole grain, and fiber. We should concentrate on what are proven risks for heart disease, diabetes and cancer rather than concentrating on these small things (like certain ingredients in food)."


We also asked Carl Winter, PhD, Director, FoodSafe Program, Extension Food Toxicologist at the University of California-Davis, to provide some insights on chemicals in food, specifically azodicarbonamide, an ingredient found in some bread.


Dr. Carl Winter: "It's the dose that makes the poison. It's the amount of a chemical, not its presence or absence, that determines the potential for harm. In the case of azodicarbonamide, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers it to be Generally Recognized as Safe under the typical ways that it is used in breads.  Essentially, while consumers may be exposed to the chemical, the levels of consumer exposure, which are the most important thing to look at, are far below levels of any health concern.


“Companies don't just add products or substances just for the sake of adding,” said Robert Gravani, PhD, a food scientist professor at Cornell University, during an interview on National Public Radio. “They have some functional purpose in the production or preparation or the appeal of that particular product to consumers.”

Gravani said we’ve eliminated many nutritional diseases and enhanced foods’ nutritional value with food additives.


“We as a society wouldn't be where we are today without food additives,” he said, but that doesn’t mean we should blindly consume without asking questions. Consumers have choices – and they have every right to pose questions to the companies making their food, he said.


Find more great answers about food on the BestFoodFacts website.