Social media can be our best friend or our worst foe. As many people know social media circulates large amounts of information. We spread any fleeting, unheeding thoughts we may have during the day, reaching people across the globe. “Alex is currently eating a bagel”… The beauty and potentially the beast of these platforms is their lack of filtration.
Of course freedom of speech is our right, but this also means that what is read on the Internet and social media platforms should be read critically and perhaps be taken with a grain of salt, or in some situations a bag of Himalayan pink salt. For example, social media posts regarding ‘chemicals’ in our food stating chemicals should be kept out of all of our food may not be based on the facts. There is also a concept gaining popularity that says if you cannot pronounce an ingredient then you should not eat it. These headlines are easy to latch onto, but the concepts are very complicated. They can contain truth but also more than likely some falsehood—so I want to back up and break some of these circulating ideas down.
A chemical substance may be defined as a material produced or used in a reaction involving changes in atoms or molecules. The phrase chemicals or chemical reactions might make us picture a laboratory with hundreds of beakers and green goo foaming over a flask, but think about a simple bread recipe and the complex reactions taking place during preparation and cooking processes. First of all, you have yeast, a microorganism, that needs to be fed in order to produce the carbon dioxide that consequently helps the bread rise and give it that delectable crumb!
On the flip side I do understand how reading ingredient labels with rows of names including “thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, TBHQ, soy lecithin, sodium sulfite…” might be unsettling if a consumer is the least bit unfamiliar with what these ingredients are doing in their food. However, it just takes a little research to better understand what purpose ingredients are serving in your favorite snack!
- Thiamine mononitrate: stable salt form of thiamine (salt form promotes better solubility into the product matrix, ensuring thiamine is equally spread throughout the product) and thiamine is Vitamin B1
- Riboflavin: Vitamin B2
- Folic acid: Vitamin B9
- Soy lecithin: Lecithin is a fatty substance inherent to animal and plant tissue, for example, it is found in egg yolks and acts as an excellent emulsifier. Commercially the lecithin used is often derived from soybeans and therefore is titled soy lecithin.
- TBHQ: tert-butylhydroquinone is an aromatic organic compound , derived from hydroquinone, substituted with a tert-butyl and functions as an antioxidant, preserving our food. If this is uncomfortable for some consumers, it should be known that this compound was studied for safety purposes by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the U.S. FDA to determine that levels consumed by humans are safe.
I understand many consumers may also disagree with the idea that they should or need to research what the ingredients mean-but if their generic purpose was stated instead of an exact scientific title, ingredient formulas would be unspecific making the formula an estimation. Reproducing recipes would then essentially be a guessing game for a company–making quality control and evaluation even more difficult that it already is. This would also sacrifice consumer safety. There are also strict regulations in labeling, meant for the safety and clarity to manufacturers and consumers. Manufacturers cannot just decide to place anything on a label. There are laws against consumer deception, in the hopes that consumer fear may be displaced with contentment. Legal guidelines put the consumer’s best interest at the forefront.
Social media provides an opportunity to dispel myths and help educate consumers that are frustrated with current food labels, diet trends, new food processes and additives, or even just answer simple questions. There are now many ways we -food scientists- can help spread our messages and most importantly the well known facts.
These platforms also make sharing cutting-edge research findings with the public much easier. Research was often more exclusive and difficult for much of the public to get there hands on, much less read. As researchers of food science we WANT the public to know what we are doing and why and how it can impact their lives. But… research is just that – research. We often do not and cannot have a black and white hard answer, but rather we take the initial steps towards an answer.
Social media also supports a international reach; look at groups like Compound Chemistry and IFLS who promote science information globally. It is so easy these days to spread information across the world! We not only have access to what is going on in our local community, but across the nation as well as the other side of the earth. Additionally, a constant global extension allows for checks and balances from other scientists, enabling more credibility.
Again, with the immediacy and potentially far reaching effects of social media headlines regarding food science, it is important that we monitor this and engage ourselves to promote the most up to date findings. It is crucial we help promote facts as experts in our area. It is our responsibility to the public.
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