Many cultures hold some food preferences and some food taboos. Dietary choices can also define cultures and play a role in religion. For example, only kosher foods are permitted by Judaism, halal foods by Islam, and in Hinduism beef is restricted. In addition, the dietary choices of different countries or regions have different characteristics. This is highly related to a culture's cuisine.
Food poisoning has been recognized as a disease since as early as Hippocrates. The sale of rancid, contaminated, or adulterated food was commonplace until the introduction of hygiene, refrigeration, and vermin controls in the 19th century. Discovery of techniques for killing bacteria using heat, and other microbiological studies by scientists such as Louis Pasteur, contributed to the modern sanitation standards that are ubiquitous in developed nations today. This was further underpinned by the work of Justus von Liebig, which led to the development of modern food storage and food preservation methods. In more recent years, a greater understanding of the causes of food-borne illnesses has led to the development of more systematic approaches such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), which can identify and eliminate many risks.
Research has shown that grilling, barbecuing and smoking meat and fish increases levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). In Europe, grilled meat and smoked fish generally only contribute a small proportion of dietary PAH intake since they are a minor component of diet – most intake comes from cereals, oils and fats. However, in the US, grilled/barbecued meat is the second highest contributor of the mean daily intake of a known PAH carcinogen benzo[a]pyrene at 21% after ‘bread, cereal and grain’ at 29%.
In December 2007, 37 countries faced food crises, and 20 had imposed some sort of food-price controls. In China, the price of pork jumped 58% in 2007. In the 1980s and 1990s, farm subsidies and support programs allowed major grain exporting countries to hold large surpluses, which could be tapped during food shortages to keep prices down. However, new trade policies had made agricultural production much more responsive to market demands, putting global food reserves at their lowest since 1983.
Population studies exhibit a J-curve correlation between wine consumption and rates of heart disease: heavy drinkers have an elevated rate, while people who drink small amount (up to 20 g of alcohol per day, approximately 200 ml (7 imp fl oz; 7 US fl oz) of 12.7% ABV wine) have a lower rate than non-drinkers. Studies have also found that moderate consumption of other alcoholic drinks is correlated with decreased mortality from cardiovascular causes, although the association is stronger for wine. Additionally, some studies have found a greater correlation of health benefits with red than white wine, though other studies have found no difference. Red wine contains more polyphenols than white wine, and these could be protective against cardiovascular disease.
Animals, specifically humans, have five different types of tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. As animals have evolved, the tastes that provide the most energy (sugar and fats) are the most pleasant to eat while others, such as bitter, are not enjoyable. Water, while important for survival, has no taste. Fats, on the other hand, especially saturated fats, are thicker and rich and are thus considered more enjoyable to eat.
Various food preservation and packaging techniques are used to extend a food's shelf life. Decreasing the amount of available water in a product, increasing its acidity, or irradiating or otherwise sterilizing the food and then sealing it in an air-tight container are all ways of depriving bacteria of suitable conditions in which to thrive. All of these approaches can all extend a food's shelf life without unacceptably changing its taste or texture.
Some foods not from animal or plant sources include various edible fungi, especially mushrooms. Fungi and ambient bacteria are used in the preparation of fermented and pickled foods like leavened bread, alcoholic drinks, cheese, pickles, kombucha, and yogurt. Another example is blue-green algae such as Spirulina. Inorganic substances such as salt, baking soda and cream of tartar are used to preserve or chemically alter an ingredient.