Uses and Side Effects of Calcium Propionate

Calcium propionate, the calcium salt of propanoic acid, is used as a food preservative in bread and other bakery products to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. Read this Buzzle article to know the benefits and side effects of this commonly used food preservative.
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Uses and side effects of calcium propionate
What Happens in Horses?
All racing horses are tested for Total Carbon Dioxide (TCO2) by the respective Office of Racing Commissioner (ORC). Calcium propionate present in the feed can raise the TCO2 in horses beyond the acceptable levels. It is believed that elevated TCO2 levels help enhance the performance of the horse by canceling the effects (like fatigue) of naturally accumulated lactic acid (it builds up during vigorous exercise). The horse with a positive test is declared ineligible to race, and the trainer is held responsible for the offense.

A few decades ago, growth of Bacillus mesentericus (rope bacteria) in bakery products was a serious problem. With advanced technology and improved hygiene, bakers have been successful in eliminating the chances of such spoilage. Increasing demand has led to rapid turnover of the finished baked goods. This has also considerably helped in lowering the risk of spoilage. Still, bakers often have to deal with mold growth, as the conditions in bakeries are favorable for such growth.

Research and several studies have shown that calcium propionate (also known as calcium propanoate or Mycoban) acts as an antifungal and antibacterial agent, and hence, it is used as a preservative in several food products. Like sodium propanoate, it prevents the growth of rope bacteria and mold in food. It comes in the form of powder or white crystals, and its molecular formula is C6H10CaO4.

Uses

Calcium propionate especially prevents the growth of Bacillus mesentericus mold strain which normally spoils the food.

As mentioned above, it is used in bakery products like breads, buns, cakes, pastries, etc., to increase their shelf life.

It can be naturally present in some cheeses and butter as fermented foods produce this compound.

C6H10CaO4 is added to processed meat, pies, dairy products, cultured whey, etc.

It is used in confections, frostings, gelatins, puddings, fillings, fresh dough, pizza crust, non-alcoholic beverages, jams, and jellies.

Use of calcium propionate in foods in small amounts (typically at 0.1-0.4%), as the manufacturers are using it, helps to keep bacteria and mold at bay. The compound is non-toxic and is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

This compound does not get accumulated in any body tissues. When you consume it through food, the body separates calcium from propionic acid. The acid is then metabolized like other fatty acids.

It is added to tobacco and animal feeds as it inhibits the growth of mold and other microorganisms in them.

It is added to cow feed as it helps prevent milk fever. It also provides extra calcium to cattle.

The compound is also used in pharmaceuticals in butyl rubber to improve its quality.

Harmful Effects

Calcium propionate is naturally present in fermented foods, and many people complain about headache after consumption of such foods. But there is no scientific evidence to say that C6H10CaO4 causes headache.

Those who experience headache or some other side effects after ingestion of food products, making of which involves fermentation of some of the ingredients, may experience headache and similar side effects after consuming foods that contain this preservative.

Those who are intolerant to this additive may suffer from nausea, vomiting, headache, and diarrhea.

Certain studies show that both calcium and sodium propionate if consumed in excessive amounts can damage the delicate lining of your stomach permanently. This can lead to serious health problems.

Once your body loses the capacity to heal the inflammation of stomach lining (gastritis), the condition may worsen. It may result in the formation of severe ulcers.

As per a study report published in The Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health (from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians) in Aug 2002, excess consumption of this compound (excessive intake over a long period of time), especially in children, can result in numerous behavioral changes like increased irritability and impatience, lack of attention, and insomnia. Miraculously, the symptoms vanished when the preservative was removed from their food.

According to the Pesticide Action Network North America, this compound is slightly toxic (just like vitamin C) and can be sprayed on fruits as a fungicide. Many times, spraying pesticides and preservative on fruits and vegetables helps keep them fresh on supermarket shelves.

Many preservatives that are used in foods are also used in various chemical industries for other purposes. For example, propionic acid is used in the manufacturing process of rubber, cosmetics, plastics, herbicides, cloths, and also in various other industrial chemical processes. This versatility frightens the users. Some compounds that are used as food preservatives are suspected to be carcinogenic. More research is needed to prove that these additives are 100% safe for dietary use.

Although it is not scientifically proved that use of calcium propionate as a food preservative leads to serious health problems, it is always safe to consume preservative-free products that are meant to be consumed fresh. Moreover, you can always buy organic food (100% preservative-free). If the consumers continue to demand foods that have a longer shelf life, manufacturers have no other option than using preservatives.
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Published: July 31, 2014
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