How do we Know that Scents are Safe? Part 2

Whether the flavors or fragrances are constructed of natural or synthetic ingredients we have established that both can contribute to the list of safe ingredients and to the list of un-safe ingredients.  The origin of the ingredient is a moot point – it is the structure of the ingredient that determines its toxicity / safety profile.  [To be clear, the source can be a differentiating factor IF there are multiple ingredients associated with one source or the other including but not limited to structural isomers of the principal ingredient(s). For instance nature frequently creates l (or d) isomers while synthetic versions are usually racemic mixtures (containing both isomers in equal quantities).]
In the group of ingredients that are routinely used by many to construct fragrances and sometimes flavors there are items for which their safe use has been observed for decades and even longer and yet there are still detractors who claim that the material(s) are unsafe for one reason or another.  For example phthalates are one class of ingredients that have been used for many decades seemingly safely but there are various assertions that these ingredients are “hormone mimics” and that when found in close contact with humans can result in unintended health consequences.  Claims have been made that extra-chromosomal differences can develop in newborns (be caused by phthalates) and that these are varied ranging from no observed physical differences to slightly observable physical differences to observed psychosocial differences in these individuals.  Proof of the cause is sketchy and inconclusive although these effects have been observed in animals for other, different chemistries and certainly in situations not easily relatable to humans.  Further, there are assertions that using nano-level doses of these materials is more consequential than when larger doses are used.  In other words, the long-believed “the [larger] dose makes the poison” is called into question.  To date, there is no data which clearly proves these claims.  So what is a fragrance/flavor creator to do?
Many have chosen to follow a client’s lead on whether these materials are to be used OR not since there are numerous replacements for these types of ingredients since their role is not directly odor-contributing.  At some point however due to the ubiquitous presence of these materials it would be prudent to test for biological activity and fully characterize the compounds.  And, there are still dozens of ingredients that fit into this gray area of no conclusive evidence at this time.  Others have chosen to replace any such ingredients immediately by finding alternatives that they “know” are safe rather than put clients and their customers and, even more critically, their co-workers who are exposed to the highest concentrations of all, at risk.  If I am making the selection it is this latter group with which I choose to work simply because they are willing to err on the side of safety and to do so they must be talented enough to continue to deliver odor and taste fidelity in both character and quality.
Safety in creating and using scents will always be an issue and questions will always be asked.  Listen carefully and get answers from experts while being mindful that these answers are to the best of their (current) knowledge.  What we know for sure WILL change.  Assertions by consumers and their advocates will be made – and they will be both grounded and ungrounded from time to time.  Considering all of the alternatives, this is a healthy way for us to proceed if we continue trying to do our best at all times.

Written by: Jerry Bertrand

Part 1 available here.

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