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JAMA 100 Years Ago
April 2, 2003


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2003;289(13):1710. doi:10.1001/jama.289.13.1710-a

Elsewhere1 in THE JOURNAL appears an abstract of an article by Drs. MacAlister and Bradshaw of Liverpool, on the effects of salicylic acid as a food preservative. Their conclusions are positive and, as they say, they speak with a due sense of responsibility. According to their views, salicylic acid, in the ways in which it is used in the preparation of food products, is not only not harmful, but is a preservative to health, inasmuch as the process of decomposition which it prevents would be far more dangerous. Their argument seems to be fairly well taken and their experiments reasonably conclusive. They show by their experiments that digestion in vitro is scarcely perceptibly hindered by saturated solutions of salicylic acid and that the effects of small quantities on the living subjects are practically negligible, according to their own personal experiences and observation and those of Kolbe, whom they quote. The question of food preservatives is one that is of general interest and the communication, therefore, has a certain specific value. One of their arguments is that a large number of popular non-alcoholic beverages are possible with the use of salicylic acid, and are useful substitutes for the stronger alcoholic drinks. The use of salicylic acid, therefore, is in direct line with the temperance cause. On this point they lay much stress. There is a certain use of salicylic acid to which this argument does not apply, and that is in certain drinks in which a decided percentage of alcohol is used. If the amount of salicylic acid thus taken either in these "temperance drinks" or in the alcoholic ones is not harmful, then it is probably not harmful in food in the way it is used, especially the small quantities in condiments, such as catsup, etc., in which it is principally employed. What is said of the harmlessness of salicylic acid is probably equally true of several other antiseptics used as food preservatives. Dr. Tucker's paper, abstracted in a very recent issue of THE JOURNAL,2 while conservative as to their use, deprecates any extreme legislation on articles which are not generally conceded to be harmful. It would not be a bad idea, however, as he suggests, to require manufacturers of all substances containing these preservatives to have the proportion used stated on the labels.

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