By: Kerry Robinson, RD Date: 03/15/10
The ingredients in our food have many functions, from helping to ensure a safe, shelf-stable food product, to adding or enhancing flavor. Food scientists and manufacturers want to create food that is appealing to consumers, in terms of how it looks, smells, tastes, and feels; however, food safety is their top priority.
Within the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) is responsible for reviewing the safety of food ingredients. In the U.S., food ingredients permitted for use in food fall into one of two categories: approved food additives (which require pre-market approval from the FDA) or Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) ingredients.
While food additives submitted to CFSAN for approval are typically new ingredients proposed for use in foods, GRAS ingredients are not truly “new,” – that is, much is already known about their safety.
A GRAS ingredient must meet one of the following two conditions:
- The ingredient’s safety was established before 1958, based on its history of safe use and consumption by a significant number of consumers.
- Scientific data and information about the safety and use of the ingredient is widely known and publicly available (through scientific articles, position papers, etc.), and there is consensus among scientific experts that the ingredient is safe for its intended use.
There are hundreds of GRAS food ingredients that range from things like beef protein and potato fiber, to ingredients such as citric acid, which is naturally present in lemons and used both for its sour taste and preservative qualities. Other examples are corn starch (which helps to thicken foods), sodium chloride (a natural component of salt), steviol glycosides (the natural no calorie sweetener in stevia-based sweeteners), and caffeine (a natural ingredient in tea and coffee).
As food science and technology forges ahead, we are sure to see new ingredients that improve the safety, flavor, and healthfulness of the foods we consume. Some of these may already be present in other cultures and may come to be regarded as GRAS ingredients, like the recent addition of stevia sweeteners to the U.S. food supply. Others may be so new that they will require pre-market approval as a food additive. Regardless of how an ingredient is discovered, the bottom line is its safety for use in food.
Want to know more? View our Food Ingredients and Colors brochure.