There is a wide variety of food preservatives used by cooks and food manufacturers to extend shelf life and improve storage of both cooked and raw foods. Many natural preservatives, like salt and sugar, are often used in preserving canned fruits, processed meats as well as various types of canned or jarred vegetables. Nitrates and nitrites are common artificial preservatives found in many processed meats, including lunch meat and bacon, and are made from naturally occurring sodium chloride found in table salt. Antioxidants also play a role in preserving fresh and processed foods, as do proper at home preservation methods like freezing, pickling or jarring foods.
Food manufacturers use an array of food preservatives to keep food fresh and stable, as well as to extend shelf life and prevent natural decay. One of the most common food preservatives is salt, suitable for many uses such as preserving meat, canned vegetables and fruits, as well as frozen desserts and vegetables. Salt is one of the most popular food preservative used at home for preserving raw meat, as salt helps draw out moisture from the meat through a process called osmosis. This is often called curing the meat and is one of the oldest food preservation methods known.
Artificial preservatives called sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are often used in processed meats and are derivatives of the natural sodium found in regular table salt. Sodium nitrates and nitrites are commonly found as food preservatives in luncheon meats, bacon and ham, and can sometimes be found in processed ground beef. Sugar is also one of the common food preservatives, often used to extend the shelf life of desserts and sweet food items, such as canned fruit or candy. Sometimes natural sugar is replaced by high fructose corn syrup in many processed foods, to act as a less expensive sweetener and preservative.
Synthetic antioxidants, such as butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene, are added to some foods to extend shelf life by fighting oxygen damage to the food. Most synthetic food preservatives do contain some controversy about their health effects, yet the science remains unclear as to the precise effect small amounts have on human health. Natural food preservation methods, such as freezing or drying, are very popular for individuals preparing food at home. Canning and pickling foods with vinegar and salt are also excellent preservation methods used to extend the shelf life of any raw or cooked food.