Q: What are processing aids?
A: Processing aids are substances that are approved by both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They are used in the production of a variety of foods – meat, poultry, produce, etc., and are not present in any significant amount in the finished product. When present in such insignificant amounts in any finished product, they do not affect appearance or taste and most importantly they have no impact on public health.
Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recognize three situations in which a manufacturing substance is deemed to be a processing aid:
Q: What functions do processing aids perform in the food production process?
A: Processing aids may perform a number of functions in the food production process. For example, some serve to enhance food safety by reducing potential contamination in food during processing (antimicrobials) or facilitating an easier removal of impurities (flocculents). Some ease the processing of the food product as a flow agent or to prevent the food product from crystallizing in the processing conditions. Still other functions that processing aids serve include a pH control agent, a catalyst, or a clarifying agent.
Q: What are examples of common processing aids and how are they used in the modern food production?
A: Some processing aids approved by FDA that are commonly used in food production include:
Processing aids approved by USDA for use in meat and poultry products are commonly used to reduce or kill foodborne pathogens. They also:
Q: Do processing aids remain in the food after the production process is complete? If so, how much is in the finished food?
A: Processing aids sometimes remain after processing and are present in the finished food, but only at safe and insignificant levels.
Q: How do FDA and USDA ensure the safety of processing aids?
A: For safety purposes, processing aids are regulated in the same manner as any other substance added to food. For example, if a processing aid is to be used in meat or poultry production, it must be approved by FDA and authorized by USDA, which means it must be one of the following:
Q: Why are processing aids not declared on food labels?
A: Processing aids are not required to be declared in the ingredients list on the food label because, by definition, processing aids have no technical or functional effect in the finished food and because they are either not present or are present at only insignificant levels in the finished food. This labeling exemption dates back to 1973. According to the FDA:
… to require label declaration of all incidental additives \[including processing aids\] which may be present in a finished food product in nonfunctional trace amounts would be impracticable…. Furthermore, to require lengthy listings of such substances might cause consumers to give undue attention to the essentially meaningless compilations resulting in deception and unfair competition from competing products whose manufacturers fail to do as thorough a job of imagining all possible substances which may be present in some trace amount.