Factors affecting vitamin stability

One of the very few attributes that the vitamins have in common is that none is completely stable in foods. The stability of the individual vitamins varies from the relatively stable, such as in the case of niacin, to the relatively unstable, such as vitamin B12. The factors that affect stability vary from vitamin to vitamin and the principal ones are summarised in Table 10.2. The most important of these factors are heat, moisture, oxygen, pH and light.

The deterioration of vitamins can take place naturally during the storage of vegetables and fruits and losses can occur during the processing and preparation

Table 10.2 Factors affecting the stability of vitamins Factor

  • Temperature
  • Moisture
  • Oxygen
  • Light

• pH

  • Presence of metallic ions (e.g. copper, iron)
  • Oxidising and reducing agents
  • Presence of other vitamins
  • Other components of food (e.g. sulphur dioxide)
  • Combinations of the above of foods and their ingredients, particularly those subjected to heat treatment. The factors that affect the degradation of vitamins are the same whether the vitamins are naturally occurring in the food or are added to the food from synthetic sources. However, the form in which a synthetic source is used (e.g. a salt or ester) may enhance its stability. For example, the vitamin E (tocopherol) esters are more stable than the tocopherol form itself.

With the increased use of nutritional labelling of food products, vitamin levels in foods have become the subject of label claims that can be easily checked by the enforcement authorities. This poses a number of problems for the food technologist. When more than one vitamin is the subject of a quantitative label claim for a food, it is very unlikely that the vitamins will deteriorate at the same rate. If the amounts of these vitamins are included in nutritional labelling, the shelf life of the food is determined by the life of the most unstable component.

In order to comply with the legal requirements of maintaining the label claim throughout the declared life of a food product, the food technologist needs to obtain a reasonably accurate estimation of the stability of each of the vitamins in the product. This has to be evaluated in the context of the food system (solid, liquid, etc.), the packaging and probable storage conditions and is achieved by conducting well-designed stability tests.

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