Food & Nutrition

Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS)

Let’s start from the beginning. You might be asking yourself this question: “If the chemicals in our food and beauty products are really so harmful, then why would they be allowed in our products?” Well, the government (specifically, the FDA) has assigned a label to these additives by the name of “generally recognized as safe”. The chemical must be added below the FDA-determined level of safety.

GRAS

Take a look at the FDA’s statement about GRAS:

“GRAS” is an acronym for the phrase Generally Recognized As Safe. Under sections 201(s) and 409 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act), any substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excepted from the definition of a food additive.

Let’s break this down…

There are 3 main phrases here we can dissect to define GRAS:

1. any substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA

2. unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use

3. unless the use of the substance is otherwise excepted from the definition of a food additive

This first statement says that anything added to food is a food additive. Okay, we can all see that’s pretty obvious. Now, this food additive must go through approval by the FDA before it’s allowed to be added to food and sold as a food product. The next two statements are exceptions to when the FDA has to pre-approve a food additive. The first exception is that the food additive has already been studied and a safe limit has been previously defined. The second exception is that the food additive doesn’t have to be defined as a food additive; this would mean that the food additive gets to play by other rules.

So what?

You might wonder what could be wrong with this. It would seem that any chemical addition to your food has been studied and proven to be safe at the level you would consume. I’m going to offer some challenges to this, and as we cover specific chemicals, we will examine a little deeper what these “safe” levels are, what these studies actually look like, and how close you get to going over these safe levels in your food.

My first challenge

Are these studies truly thorough enough to show without a shadow of a doubt that in humans, there will be no short or long term negative consequences of consumption. Some of these chemicals haven’t even been around long enough to know what the long term effects of use are.

For example, genetically modified (gmo) foods first hit the supermarket in the form of a FLAVR SAVR tomato in May 1994. Research for this tomato started in 1987, approximately 8 years prior. So, we’re talking 30 years from research production to present day. This isn’t nearly enough time to know what the effects of eating gmo foods for 50 years would do to a person. They haven’t even been around that long themselves.

My second challenge

What is the difference between “intended use” and realistic actual use?

For example, a Cheez It serving size is 27 crackers with 6 servings per box. Cheez Its contain many chemical additives like TBHQ (which we’ll discuss later). According to the FDA, it is safe to consume TBHQ in the form of Cheez Its in the intended use. Is the intended use one serving? Is that one serving per day or per week? Now, what if I eat 4 servings of Cheez Its in one sitting instead of 1? And then what if I eat 5 other things through the day that have TBHQ? Am I still below the safe limit? How close would I be to eating an unsafe limit? You see where I’m going with this.

My third challenge

Where is the money? Who funded the research? Is there a conflict of interest?

My goals is to respond to each of these challenges for each food additive. We deserve answers for what is being allowed in our food. Question everything. Look for facts, evidence, and truth. If you can’t find a satisfactory answer, don’t put it in or on your body. Time to start digging!

If you have any questions or suggestions for a featured article drop a comment below!

Much love,

K

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