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The Number of Approved Meat Additives have Continued to
be Expanded by the FDA -- and None of the Additives Need
to be on the Label

© 2015 Health Realizations, Inc.

There are over 3,000 substances currently added to foods, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While some of these are common household items you likely use regularly (salt, baking soda, sugar, etc.) others are complex chemicals you've likely never heard of.

controversial meat-packing technique

One controversial meat-packing technique is known as "modified atmosphere packaging." In this process, oxygen in the product's package is replaced with carbon monooxide and other gases to keep the meat red and "fresh-looking." Although the carbon monoxide does not pose a health threat in this case, opponents say the technique allows stores to sell meat after it's no longer fresh, and could mislead consumers to purchase and eat spoiled meat.

Just what is a food additive? According to the FDA, it's "any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result -- directly or indirectly -- in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food."

They're used in processing, packaging, transporting, and producing foods, and may enhance flavor or texture, prevent spoilage or discoloration, and extend shelf-life, along with a long laundry-list of other uses.

New Meat Additives Approved, but You Won't See Them on Labels

The FDA approved a number of substances for use as processing aids directly on meat and poultry products. Processing aids, according to the FDA, "are substances that are required during the manufacture or processing of a food and that are ordinarily removed from the final food."

Because these additives are intended to be removed from the final food (although even the FDA says that residuals may carry over to the final food), they are classified as "indirect food additives." This means that they do not need to be listed on food labels. Even some direct food additives, which are added directly to a food, are only listed on labels under terms like "natural flavor," "artificial flavor," or "caking agents," making it very difficult for consumers to ascertain what they're really eating.

Among the newest meat additives approved by the FDA are the following:

  • A blend of citric acid and sorbic acid for package "soaker pads:" The mix is intended to reduce the microbial load of purge trapped inside soaker pads in packages of meat and poultry.

  • Citric acid: Approved as a microbial agent on separated beef heads and offal.

  • Lauramide arginine ethyl ester: Approved as an antimicrobial agent for use on ready-to-eat ground meat products, such as sausages.

  • Trisodium phosphate: Approved as a component of phosphate blends, used to decrease the amount of cooked out juices in meat products.

Debate Surrounding Food Additives

food additives

Various chemicals are added to meats to extend shelf-life, improve flavor and texture, and prevent rancidity.

While the FDA maintains that food additives are safe, there is some controversy as to their potential health effects. There have been, for instance, food additives that were once deemed safe, which were later found to be carcinogenic and, subsequently, were withdrawn from the market. Examples of such additives include the color additive Violet No. 1 (once used to stamp USDA inspection grades on beef), and a flavoring called Safrole that was once used in root beer.

It's because of this potential for toxicity that additives are never given permanent approval. Instead, the FDA and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service monitor approved food additives based on recent findings and determine if approvals need to be modified or withdrawn.

Other Common Meat Additives

There are many approved additives added to the meat and poultry products in your supermarket. Following is a list of the most common (and those that are considered risky by some experts have been starred):

  • *BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole): These substances help to retard rancidity in fats, sausages, and dried meats, as well as help to protect some of the natural nutrients in foods, such as vitamin A. (*These additives have been found by some studies to cause cancer in rats.)

  • Bromelin: An enzyme derived from pineapple that is used to soften meat and poultry tissue (a meat tenderizer).

  • *Carrageenan: Made from seaweed, this additive is used as a binder to thicken or improve foods' textures. (*Low-levels of formaldehyde are present in this additive, although the European Food Standards Authority has deemed it does not pose a threat to human health.)

  • Citric Acid: Added to help protect flavor along with the color of meats during storage.

  • *Propyl Gallate: Used to prevent rancidity in rendered fats and pork sausage. It's often used with BHA and BHT. (*This preservative may cause cancer.)

  • Papain: An enzyme made from the papaya tree used as a meat tenderizer.

  • Phosphates: Used to enhance moisture retention and protect flavor in meat and poultry products.

  • *Sodium Nitrite/Nitrate: A preservative and color fixative used in cured meats and poultry products such as bologna, hot dogs and bacon. (*These additives can lead to the formation of cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosamines.)

  • *Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Used as a flavor enhancer. (*MSG has been linked to numerous side effects, including sudden cardiac death. MSG must be listed as "monosodium glutamate" on meat and poultry labels.)

MSG: If it's Safe, Why do They Disguise it on Labels?

Monosodium glutamate, commonly known as MSG, was thought of as a "miracle food enhancer" when it was first introduced to the public over five decades ago.

More than just a seasoning like salt and pepper, MSG could actually enhance the flavors of foods, making processed meats and frozen dinners taste fresher and smell better, salad dressings more tasty, and canned foods less tinny.


This sign from the front window of a Chinese restaurant suggests just how many people prefer to have their food MSG-free.

It wasn't until people started having side effects after eating foods with MSG that some began to question whether this miracle flavoring was too good to be true. Today, many more question its safety, but others insist it's safe.

How Much MSG are Americans Eating?

Americans associate MSG with Chinese food. In fact, MSG Symptom Complex, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identifies as "short-term reactions" to MSG, was for some time (unfairly) referred to in the United States as "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome."

But MSG is in many more foods than Chinese food, and is listed under names other than MSG. While many Americans are aware that MSG has been linked to negative side effects, and may have experienced them personally;  many have been misled to believe they are avoiding it in their diets.

Food manufacturers, who realize that many people would prefer NOT to have MSG in their food, have adapted by using so-called "clean labels." These ingredient labels hide MSG under names that consumers won't recognize, such as hydrolyzed soy protein.

Some manufacturers have also gone so far as to list "No MSG," "No Added MSG," or "No MSG Added" on product labels when MSG is still present, but exists only as a constituent in another ingredient!

MSG is Always In:

  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Gelatin
  • Glutamate
  • Glutamic acid
  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Monopotassium glutamate
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Textured protein
  • Yeast extract
  • Yeast food
  • Yeast Nutrient


MSG is Often In:

  • Barley Malt
  • Bouillon
  • Broth
  • Carrageenan
  • Enzyme-modified substances
  • Flavoring
  • Flavors
  • Malt Extract
  • Malt flavoring
  • Maltodextrin
  • Natural flavor/flavorings
  • Natural pork/beef/chicken flavoring
  • Pectin
  • Protein-fortified substances
  • Seasonings
  • Soy protein
  • Soy protein isolate or concentrate
  • Soy sauce
  • Soy sauce extract
  • Stock
  • Vegetable gum
  • Whey protein
  • Whey protein isolate or concentrate

What Does the Government Say?

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), a group of scientists the FDA asked to review the safety of glutamate, released a report in 1995 that found the following:

  • When consumed at usual levels, MSG is safe for the general population.

  • No evidence of any connection between MSG and serious long-term reactions.

  • No evidence linking dietary MSG or glutamate to Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, or any other long-term or chronic diseases.

  • No evidence suggesting that dietary MSG or glutamate causes brain lesions or damage to nerve cells in humans.

However, the study did find that MSG Symptom Complex did occur in some people, particularly those who ate a large dose of MSG and those with severe asthma. According to the FDA, MSG Symptom Complex can result in:

  • Numbness
  • Burning sensation
  • Tingling
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty breathing for asthmatics

Estimates of just how many Americans are sensitive to MSG vary widely: from 1.8 percent to 50 percent of the population may be affected. However, these estimates may be conservative. Symptoms related to MSG may present immediately or several hours after eating a food, so attributing them to MSG can be difficult.


We've all eaten it, but now you can say you've seen it: Here's what MSG looks like close-up.

In terms of labeling requirements, the FDA says that "monosodium glutamate" must be listed on the label only if MSG is added to a food. However, it's misleading for a manufacturer to list "No MSG," or "No Added MSG" on foods if sources of free glutamates, like hydrolyzed protein, exist, they say. Further, items listed as "flavors," "natural flavors," or "flavorings" may not include MSG, hydrolyzed proteins or autolyzed yeast.

The Other Side

Other experts are not so convinced of MSG's safety. For instance, Dr. Russell Blaylock, an author and neurosurgeon, recently explained a link between sudden cardiac death, particularly in athletes, and excitotoxic damage caused by food additives like MSG and artificial sweeteners. Excitotoxins are, according to Dr. Blaylock, "A group of excitatory amino acids that can cause sensitive neurons to die."

Said Dr. Blaylock:

"When an excess of food-borne excitotoxins, such as MSG, hydrolyzed protein soy protein isolate and concentrate, natural flavoring, sodium caseinate and aspartate from aspartame, are consumed, these glutamate receptors are over-stimulated, producing cardiac arrhythmias. When magnesium stores are low, as we see in athletes, the glutamate receptors are so sensitive that even low levels of these excitotoxins can result in cardiac arrhythmias and death."

Further, many consumers have personally experienced the ill effects of MSG, including headache, nausea or vomiting after eating MSG-containing foods.

Said Cathy Evans Wisner in her article "The MSG Myth," "I know from personal experience that the chemical is not as harmless as vinegar or salt. When I ingest a fair amount of MSG, I immediately have nausea, stomach cramps, "spaciness," heart palpitations and a "pins-and-needles" headache, followed the next day by lethargy and overall weakness."

Headaches are one of the most commonly reported side effects of MSG, which may occur because it can increase blood flow to the brain. According to Ann Turner, director of the Migraine Action Association, "Food additives can be triggers [for headaches]. MSG, although still not fully understood, may be a culprit ... "

Which Foods Contain MSG?

MSG is much more prevalent than many people realize. Below is a list from that show some common food items containing MSG. Remember to look for the "hidden" MSG names (listed above) on all processed foods you buy.

  • The Following McDonald's Items:

    • Grilled Chicken Filet

    • Hot and Spicy Chicken Patty

    • Grilled Chicken Ceasar Salad

    • Grilled Chicken California Cobb Salad

    • Seasoned Beef

    • Sausage Scrambled Egg Mix, Sausage, and Sausage Patty

  • Doritos®

  • Pringles® (the flavored varieties)

  • KFC® fried chicken and most of their other products

  • Boar's Head® cold cuts and most of their hotdogs

  • Progresso® Soups

  • Lipton® Noodles and Sauce

  • Lipton® Instant soup mix

  • Gravy Master®

  • Cup-a-soup® or Cup-o-Noodles®

  • Planters® salted nuts (most of them)

  • Accent® (this "seasoning" is nearly pure MSG)

  • Sausages (most supermarkets add MSG to theirs)

  • Processed cheese spread

  • Supermarket poultry or turkeys that are injected or "self-basting"

  • Restaurant gravy from food service cans

  • Flavored ramen noodles

  • Boullion

  • Instant soup mixes

  • Many salad dressings

  • Most salty, powdered dry food mixes

  • Flavored potato chips

  • Gelatin

  • Canned tuna

  • Hot dogs

  • Soy sauce

  • Worcestershire sauce

  • Kombu extract

  • Dry milk

  • Dough conditioners

  • Body builder drink powders containing protein

  • Medications in gelcaps (contain free glutamic acid in the gelatin)

  • Fresh produce that has been sprayed with Auxigro, a plant growth enhancer that contains hydrolyzed protein(s) and MSG (some of these crops may be used in baby foods)

Your best bet as a consumer looking to avoid MSG, is to be diligent in reading processed food labels.

In general, the more highly processed a food is (or the more ingredients listed on its label), the more likely it is to contain MSG. Limit the number of processed foods you eat overall and you'll inevitably reduce your chances of eating MSG, as well.


USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service


How Food Could Help Your Headache

MSG Truth

The MSG Myth: Why the Wonder "Spice" Isn't So Wonderful

Truth in Labeling


Whole Foods Market: MSG

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