First Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives Released by Environmental Working Group


The Environmental Working Group has released a take on its popular ‘Dirty Dozen’ list, which identifies the fruits and vegetables most likely to contain pesticide residue. This new list identifies the top food additives that are harmful and why shoppers should avoid eating foods that contain these additives.

According to the group, there are more than 10,000 food additives in use in the U.S. food system. Environmental Working Group claims its goal is to identify “the worst failures of the regulatory system.”

Some of these ingredients are known carcinogens, while others can cause reproductive or developmental issues, yet they’re currently allowed in foods, many under the GRAS designation (generally recognized as safe).

“The category has been controversial because it allows companies to determine whether a substance is GRAS without having to seek FDA approval,” reports Food Safety News. “Consumer groups like EWG claim that some additives with GRAS status don’t meet the same safety standard as food additives.”

“There are some additives that are classified generally recognized as safe and we really question that classification because they’re not free of health concerns,” Johanna Congleton, EWG senior scientist told Food Safety News.

Some of these food additives are restricted or banned in other countries, and others are extremely common, like nitrates and nitrites, which appear in cured meats like bacon and sausages. These preservatives can react with amines in the meat protein, creating nitrosamines, which are known to cause cancer.

The Dirty Dozen Guide for Food Additives includes:

  1. Nitrates and nitrites
  2. Potassium bromate
  3. Propyl paraben
  4. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  5. Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
  6. Propyl gallate
  7. Theobromine
  8. Secret flavor ingredients
  9. Artificial colors
  10. Diacetyl
  11. Phosphates
  12. Aluminum additives

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Image: Robert S Donovan