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The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Our Quality Standards: No Artificial Preservatives

We don’t sell just anything. Really. Everything in our stores has to meet our quality standards, or we won’t carry it.

In this series we’re giving you the inside scoop on our process, and some of our most fundamental standards – no hydrogenated fats, no artificial sweeteners, no artificial flavors or colors, and no artificial preservatives – and why what you find in our stores is different than anywhere else.  

Shelf life. That’s the reason preservatives are added to foods. Simply put, preservatives extend the time you can eat a food before it starts to grow mold or go bad in other ways. Some preservatives are natural, but many are also synthetic.

While I haven’t spent much time thinking about preservatives, the experts on our Quality Standards team certainly have.

One of the questions they ask when assessing food ingredients is: Is it necessary? Our answer: There are plenty of good options available without resorting to synthetic preservatives.

Citric acid, ascorbic acid and rosemary extract are natural preservatives that we allow in the food we sell.  We also allow preserving through canning, heating, pasteurizing, drying or pickling.

While products with natural preservatives might not have quite as long of a shelf life as foods that are artificially preserved, we’re okay with that. I think most of our customers would agree that fresh food is tastier and we don’t need or want a food to be artificially preserved so it can sit on a shelf for five or ten years.

Want to keep your eye out for artificial preservatives when you’re shopping at other stores? Here’s a short list of the most common ones and where they often show up.

Remember, none of these artificial preservatives are allowed in any of the food we sell, but you’ll often find them in products sold elsewhere.

Common Artificial Preservatives NOT ALLOWED at Whole Foods Market

  • Benzoic acid: Used in fruit juice, carbonated drinks, pickles, preserves.
  • Sorbic acid: Prevents growth of mold in cheese, syrup, jelly, cake, wine, dry fruits.
  • BHA/BHT (butylated hydroxyanisole/butylated hydroxytoluene): Antimicrobial used in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, vegetable oil. Retards rancidity in fats, oils, and oil-containing foods. 
  • Synthetic sodium nitrate: Found in bacon, ham, frankfurters, luncheon meats, smoked fish, corned beef.
  • EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid): Used in salad dressing, margarine, sandwich spreads, mayonnaise, processed fruits and vegetables, canned shellfish, soft drinks.
  • TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone): Used in baked goods, confections, margarines and oils, processed meats, pre-cooked pasta and rice.
  • Propyl gallate: Found in vegetable oil, meat products, chicken soup base, chewing gum. Propyl gallate retards the spoilage of fats and oils and is often used with BHA and BHT, because of the synergistic effects these preservatives have.
  • Ethyoxyquin: Used in spices and fruit products.

Source: Excerpted from LabelWatch.com Glossary.

So, while you may want to finish that loaf of bread you bought from our store a bit sooner than you would if it was loaded with artificial preservatives, we think that’s a good thing.

Were artificial preservatives already on your radar? What are your reasons for choosing naturally preserved food? What else do you look for on a food label?