E-Numbers and Additives and How We Regulate Their Use

Codex alimentarius. E-codes for food additives...

As a chef and a qualified assessor l have to be aware of many things including Health and Safety plans for Food Safety and what l prepare in meals for my clients,customers and residents. This includes the use of additives, colours and E-numbers, some of which cannot harm you, but many that have dramatic side-affects! In this post l would like to give you an overview of  my job in these areas. Also providing extracts and details of what these additions to our everyday food, really do! I intend to cover other areas of trans-fats and uses of oils at a later date!

Anyway Food Additives the good and bad of how we needed to regulate! This was with the advent of processed foods in the second half of the 20th century, many more additives have been introduced, of both natural and artificial origin.

To regulate these additives, and inform consumers, each additive is assigned a unique number, termed as “E numbers”, which is used in Europe for all approved additives. This numbering scheme has now been adopted and extended by the Codex Alimentarius (Latin for “Book of Food”) and is a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety.

Commissioned to internationally identify all additives, regardless of whether they are approved for use

E numbers are all prefixed by “E”, but countries outside Europe use only the number, whether the additive is approved in Europe or not. For example, acetic acid is written as E260 on products sold in Europe, but is simply known as additive 260 in some countries. Additive 103, alkanet, is not approved for use in Europe so does not have an E number, although it is approved for use in Australia and New Zealand. Since 1987, Australia has had an approved system of labelling for additives in packaged foods. Each food additive has to be named or numbered. The numbers are the same as in Europe, but without the prefix ‘E’.


Food additives can be divided into several groups, although some overlap between them.

Food acids are added to make flavours “sharper”, and act as preservatives and antioxidants. Common food acids include vinegar, citric acid, tartaric acid, malic acid, fumaric acid, and lactic acid.
Acidity regulators
Acidity regulators are used to change or otherwise control the acidity and alkalinity of foods.
Anti-caking agents
Anticaking agents keep powders such as milk powder from caking or sticking.
Anti-foaming agents
Antifoaming agents reduce or prevent foaming in foods.
Antioxidants such as vitamin C act as preservatives by inhibiting the effects of oxygen on food, and can be beneficial to health.
Bulking agents
Bulking agents such as starch are additives that increase the bulk of food without affecting its taste.
Food colouring
Colorings are added to food to replace colours lost during preparation, or to make food look more attractive.
Colour retention agents
In contrast to colourings, colour retention agents are used to preserve a food’s existing colour.
Emulsifiers allow water and oils to remain mixed together in an emulsion, as in mayonnaise, ice cream, and homogenized milk.
Flavours are additives that give food a particular taste or smell, and may be derived from natural ingredients or created artificially.
Flavour enhancers
Flavor enhancers enhance a food’s existing flavours. They may be extracted from natural sources (through distillation, solvent extraction, maceration, among other methods) or created artificially.
Flour treatment agents
Flour treatment agents are added to flour to improve its colour or its use in baking.
Glazing agents
Glazing agents provide a shiny appearance or protective coating to foods.
Humectants prevent foods from drying out.
Tracer gas
Tracer gas allow for package integrity testing to prevent foods from being exposed to atmosphere, thus guaranteeing shelf life.
Preservatives prevent or inhibit spoilage of food due to fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms.
Stabilizers, thickeners and gelling agents, like agar or pectin (used in jam ) give foods a firmer texture. While they are not true emulsifiers, they help to stabilize emulsions.
Sweeteners are added to foods for flavouring. Sweeteners other than sugar are added to keep the food energy (calories) low, or because they have beneficial effects for diabetes mellitus and tooth decay and diarrhea.
Thickeners are substances which, when added to the mixture, increase its viscosity without substantially modifying its other properties.
caffeine and other GRAS (generally recognized as safe) additives such as sugar and salt are not required to go through the regulation process.


With the increasing use of processed foods since the 19th century, there has been a great increase in the use of food additives of varying levels of safety. This has led to legislation in many countries regulating their use. For example, boric acid was widely used as a food preservative from the 1870s to the 1920s, but was banned after World War I due to its toxicity, as demonstrated in animal and human studies. During World War II, the urgent need for cheap, available food preservatives led to it being used again, but it was finally banned in the 1950s.Such cases led to a general mistrust of food additives, and an application of the precautionary principle led to the conclusion that only additives that are known to be safe should be used in foods. In the USA, this led to the adoption of the Delaney clause, an amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, stating that no carcinogenic substances may be used as food additives. However, after the banning of cyclamates in the USA and Britain in 1969, saccharin, the only remaining legal artificial sweetener at the time, was found to cause cancer in rats. Widespread public outcry in the USA, partly communicated to Congress by postage-paid postcards supplied in the packaging of sweetened soft drinks, led to the retention of saccharin despite its violation of the Delaney clause.

In September 2007, research financed by Britain’s Food Standards Agency and published online by the British medical journal The Lancet, presented evidence that a mix of additives commonly found in children’s foods increases the mean level of hyperactivity. The team of researchers concluded that “the finding lends strong support for the case that food additives exacerbate hyperactive behaviours (inattention, impulsivity and over-activity) at least into middle childhood.” That study examined the effect of artificial colours and a sodium benzoate preservative, and found both to be problematic for some children. Further studies are needed to find out whether there are other additives that could have a similar effect, and it is unclear whether some disturbances can also occur in mood and concentration in some adults. In the February 2008 issue of its publication,AAP Grand Rounds, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that a low-additive diet is a valid intervention for children with ADHD:

“Although quite complicated, this was a carefully conducted study in which the investigators went to great lengths to eliminate bias and to rigorously measure outcomes. The results are hard to follow and somewhat inconsistent. For many of the assessments there were small but statistically significant differences of measured behaviours in children who consumed the food additives compared with those who did not. In each case increased hyperactive behaviours were associated with consuming the additives. For those comparisons in which no statistically significant differences were found, there was a trend for more hyperactive behaviours associated with the food additive drink in virtually every assessment. Thus, the overall findings of the study are clear and require that even we skeptic’s, who have long doubted parental claims of the effects of various foods on the behaviour of their children, admit we might have been wrong”

In 2007,Food Standards Australia New Zealand published an official shoppers’ guidance with which the concerns of food additives and their labeling are mediated.

There has been significant controversy associated with the risks and benefits of food additives. Some artificial food additives have been linked with cancer, digestive problems, neurological conditions, ADHD, heart disease or obesity. Natural additives may be similarly harmful or be the cause of allergic reactions in certain individuals. For example,safrole was used to flavour root beer until it was shown to be carcinogenic. Due to the application of the Delaney clause, it may not be added to foods, even though it occurs naturally in sassafras and sweet basil.

Extreme caution should be taken with sodium nitrite which is mainly used as a food colouring agent. Sodium nitrite is added to meats to produce an appealing and fresh red colour to the consumer. Sodium nitrite can produce cancer causing chemicals such as Minestrone’s, and numerous studies have shown a link between nitrite and cancer in humans that consume processed and cured meats.

Blue 1, Blue 2, Red 3, and Yellow 6 are among the food colourings that have been linked to various health risks in animal models. Blue 1 is used to colour candy, soft drinks, and pastries and there has been some evidence that it may cause cancer in mice, but studies have not been replicated. Blue 2 can be found in pet food, soft drinks, and pastries, and has shown to cause brain tumours in mice. Red 3, mainly used in cherries for cocktails has been correlated with thyroid tumours in rats. Yellow 6, used in sausages, gelatin, and candy can lead to the attribution of gland and kidney tumours, again in animal models and contains carcinogens, but in minimal amounts.[unreliable source?]. It should be noted that many animal models are poor substitutes for studying carcinogenic effects in humans because the physiology of rabbits, mice and non-human primates can be very different from humans in the relevant biochemical pathways. There has been no scientific consensus on the carcinogenic properties of these agents in humans and studies are still ongoing.

In the EU it can take 10 years or more to obtain approval for a new food additive. This includes five years of safety testing, followed by two years for evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority and another three years before the additive receives an EU-wide approval for use in every country in the European Union. Apart from testing and analysing food products during the whole production process to ensure safety and compliance with regulatory standards, trading standards officers (in the UK) protect the public from any illegal use or potentially dangerous misuse of food additives by performing random testing of food products.


Many food additives absorb radiation in the ultraviolet and / or visible region of the spectrum. This absorbency can be used to determine the concentration of an additive in a sample using external calibration. However, additives may occur together and the absorbency by one could interfere with the absorbency of another. A prior separation stage is necessary and the additives are first separated by high liquid chromatography (HPLC) and then determined on-line using a UV and/or visible detector.

General Texts:

As “ Fully Qualified Assessor “ l have to provide training for Food Hygiene (general principles, codes of hygienic practice in specific industries or food handling establishments, guidelines for the use of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point or “HACCP” system). This has become even more important as food has become a even greater source of poisoning over the past 10 years or more.

History of HACCP:

HACCP is believed to stem from of a production process monitoring used during World War II because traditional “end of the pipe” testing on artillery shell’s firing mechanisms could not be performed, and a large percent of the artillery shells made at the time were either duds or mis-firing. HACCP itself was conceived in the 1960s when the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) asked Pillsbury to design and manufacture the first foods for space flights.

The HACCP seven principles:

Principle 1: Conduct a hazard analysis. – Plans determine the food safety hazards and identify the preventive measures the plan can apply to control these hazards. A food safety hazard is any biological, chemical, or physical property that may cause a food to be unsafe for human consumption.

Principle 2: Identify critical control points. – A critical control point (CCP) is a point, step, or procedure in a food manufacturing process at which control can be applied and, as a result, a food safety hazard can be prevented, eliminated, or reduced to an acceptable level.

Principle 3: Establish critical limits for each critical control point. – A critical limit is the maximum or minimum value to which a physical, biological, or chemical hazard must be controlled at a critical control point to prevent, eliminate, or reduce to an acceptable level.

Principle 4: Establish critical control point monitoring requirements. – Monitoring activities are necessary to ensure that the process is under control at each critical control point. In the United States, the FSIS is requiring that each monitoring procedure and its frequency be listed in the HACCP plan.

Principle 5: Establish corrective actions. – These are actions to be taken when monitoring indicates a deviation from an established critical limit. The final rule requires a plant’s HACCP plan to identify the corrective actions to be taken if a critical limit is not met. Corrective actions are intended to ensure that no product injurious to health or otherwise adulterated as a result of the deviation enters commerce.

Principle 6: Establish procedures for ensuring the HACCP system is working as intended. – Validation ensures that the plants do what they were designed to do; that is, they are successful in ensuring the production of a safe product. Plants will be required to validate their own HACCP plans. FSIS will not approve HACCP plans in advance, but will review them for conformance with the final rule.

Verification ensures the HACCP plan is adequate, that is, working as intended. Verification procedures may include such activities as review of HACCP plans, CCP records, critical limits and microbial sampling and analysis. FSIS is requiring that the HACCP plan include verification tasks to be performed by plant personnel. Verification tasks would also be performed by FSIS inspectors. Both FSIS and industry will undertake microbial testing as one of several verification activities.

Verification also includes ‘validation’ – the process of finding evidence for the accuracy of the HACCP system (e.g. scientific evidence for critical limitations).

Principle 7: Establish record keeping procedures.The HACCP regulation requires that all plants maintain certain documents, including its hazard analysis and written HACCP plan, and records documenting the monitoring of critical control points, critical limits, verification activities, and the handling of processing deviations.


So in conclusion there is much more to a chefs job than just cooking great food, you need to be a person that has “Health and Safety“ in mind and know that what you are serving your customers ,clients or residents is healthy, tasty, nutritious and wholesome. But does not contain any Additives or E-Numbers that could have side-affects on the people you are providing the food, so you need to know your “Codex Alimentarius” (“Latin for “Book of Food”) or at least know where you can find the information.

Bye for now and more later, CJ

{Resident Chef} Ace News Group

As usual need any help or guidance you can now email our news desk at “Ace Food News” at leave-your-views@yopmail.com or leave a comment and l will reply.  

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  1. Pingback: 5 Most Toxic Food Additives to Avoid – Food And Recipes – Mother Earth Living « Zumba Dayz

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