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Nutrition Team Blog

Pet Food Preservatives to Avoid

Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

We're always being asked about additives in pet food, so we thought it was high time we wrote a blog explaining the different types of preservatives used in pet food, and what to watch out for.

Why do pet food companies add preservatives?

Preservatives are essential for dry food to retain freshness and nutritional value. If pet food manufacturers didn't use preservatives, the fat in the food would oxidise and basically go rancid.

Moist food is different. Moist food doesn’t need a preservative because sealing the can or the pouch stops air getting in. As a bag of dry food remains open, air can find its way in and react with the contents. 

Are all pet food preservatives all bad?

Preservatives are necessary to use in the production of dry pet food as explained earlier but not all preservatives are bad. It is worth checking your pet food to note what preservatives are used. Some chemical preservatives have been linked to cancer and other detrimental health issues.

What's the difference?

The good: Natural preservatives

There are several natural preservatives used within the pet food industry. Natural preservatives like the following have the added benefit of being antioxidants:

  • Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) – Benefits include collagen synthesis and immune system support.
  • Vitamin E (Tocopherols) – Benefits include immune system support, improved digestion, improved cardiac health and healthy skin and coat.
  • Rosemary – Benefits digestion and is also a good source of iron and anti-cancer properties.

We’re pleased to label our food as ‘natural’, and that includes the preservatives we use. These are Vitamin E (a tocopherol) and Rosemary extract - we’ve been using them since 1997. 

The bad: Chemical preservatives

Manufacturers use chemical preservatives instead of natural preservatives as they are cheaper. There’s a large list of chemical preservatives out there, not all of which are obvious to spot straight away. Here are some of the more common ones you might find in an ingredients list (and not just in dog food!). The FDA (Food and Drug Association) in America considers a small consumption of artificial preservatives as safe – but when your pet has them in every meal, every day, that’s a cause for concern and we suggest avoiding them!   

  • Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT,E321) – Used within other industries such as food packaging, cosmetics, rubber products and petroleum products. The World Health Organization has named both BHT and BHA as suspicious cancer-causing compounds.
  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA,E320) – Used in packaging materials and food containing fats and oils. The State of California has now identified BHA as a possible carcinogen (an agent directly involved in causing cancer).
  • Ethoxyquin (E324) – This is used in pesticides and as a hardening agent for making rubber. This preservative is not permitted for use in Australian dog foods and not approved within the European Union, Ethoxyquin in dry pet food has been found to promote kidney carcinogenesis, significantly increase the incidence of stomach tumours, enhanced bladder carcinogenesis and increase the number of colon tumours.
  • Propylene Glycol (PG, E1520) – This chemical preservative is used in antifreeze and E-cigarettes. Although it’s allowed in dog food, PG was banned in cat food in 1996 by the FDA.
  • Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ, E319) – Used to stabilise certain explosive compound and in varnishes, lacquers and resins. A study by the International Programme on Chemical Safety discovered that TBHQ produced pre-cancerous stomach tumors in laboratory animals. Prolonged exposure to TBHQ can also lead to other types of cancer.
  • Propyl gallate (E310) – Used in both human and pet food, adhesives, hair products, gum and sweets. Gallates aren’t permitted in infant or children’s food in the UK as they have been linked to the blood disorder methemoglobin. High doses of gallates in humans can cause gastric or skin irritation.

Why we use natural preservatives:

At Burns, we pride ourselves on producing food that is as close to homecooking as possible. So naturally (excuse the pun!) we have chosen to use Vitamin E and Rosemary extract to preserve our food. Not only are these natural ingredients but the added health benefits to these natural preservatives can only add to the quality of our diets.

In fact, in 1997 we became the first UK pet food company to produce chemical-free pet food using Vitamin E, and set the industry standard for others to follow. 

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