The myth of preservatives in canned foods

The myth of preservatives in canned food

It’s fair season. States and counties nationwide are setting up Ferris wheels (or, if you’re in Iowa, helicopter rides), hawking cotton candy and laying down straw for the farm animals. Many fairs are also promoting food drives, often by offering free admission or rides to fairgoers who bring canned goods.

As these donations roll in, it’s worth remembering that canned foods provide as many nutrients as the veggies and fruits sold directly from the fields where these fairs are held. Something else to keep in mind: Because they’re cooked before being packaged, canned foods do not need or contain preservatives.

According to a Mealtime.org survey (supported by the Canned Food Alliance), more than 65 percent of Americans believe that there are preservatives in canned foods. And of course the Internet abounds with unsound advice about why consumers should avoid canned foods. For instance, one blogger claims that salt is used in canning “so that it can keep the food from rotting.” Needless to say, you need more than a grain of salt when reading this assertion — it’s not true at all. Not only that, but it’s extremely detrimental advice to anyone trying to feed a family nutritious foods, especially on a budget.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Canned fruits and vegetables are preservative-free; the canning process (high temperatures and sterile containers) destroys organisms that would cause spoilage. Canned food remains safe as long as the container remains intact.”

Salt is indeed often packed in cans — but not as a preservative. It’s sometimes used to maintain the flavor and texture of the canned food. However, consumers watching their sodium intake can easily avoid this by purchasing low-sodium or sodium-free products. If you’re unable to find a low-sodium option, give the food a quick drain and rinse. Draining alone will reduce sodium by 36 percent; draining and rinsing reduce it by 41 percent.

“Overall, the primary source of preservation is not additives. It’s the heating process and the blocking away from oxidation,” says Steven R. Miller, a professor of agricultural, food and resource economics at Michigan State University. The notion of preservatives in canned foods, Miller says, is “pretty much a myth.”