Food additives


Food additives are substances that are not usually consumed as food and not used as a main ingredient of food but that are added to food products for a technological purpose, at the stages of:

  • manufacturing
  • processing
  • preparation
  • handling
  • packaging
  • transport
  • warehousing.

These additives or their derivatives become themselves a component of the food to which they have been added. They may or may not have nutritional value.

The interest in the use of food additives may be:

  • the increase of the shelf life or the stability of food products
  • the improvement in the sensory qualities of these products (taste, texture, appearance).

Food additives are classified in one of 27 categories according to their technological function.  Some examples of these categories are:

  • antioxidants
  • sweeteners
  • colorants
  • thickeners
  • flavor enhancers
  • preservatives
  • emulsifiers
  • stabilizers.

Obligations and controls

All new food additives are subject to an authorization procedure at the European level before being included in the community positive list. In this procedure, they are evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The European authorization procedure sets the general conditions that food additives must meet. Food additives must:

  • be safe
  • meet an adequate technological need
  • not mislead the consumer.

Food additives are authorized per food product categories.
For example: the colorant E100 curcumin is authorized for use in marzipan. Marzipan belongs to category 5.2 of food products.

The evaluation of food additives conducted by the EFSA uses toxicological data from scientific studies, but also from statistical models. This evaluation is used to establish a maximum threshold of consumption above which the first toxic effects may be observed called NOAEL (No Observed Adverse Effect Level). This threshold will then be used to determine an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), the amount that an individual can theoretically ingest on a daily basis, without health risk.

In order to not exceed the NOAEL dose, a maximum limit is set for food additives for which an ADI has been established. The maximum limits may vary depending on the category of food for which an additive is authorized.

On the other hand, some food additives are authorized in a "quantum satis" manner, for which no maximum level is specified. These food additives are used at the minimum dose necessary to obtain the desired effect such that the consumer is not misled.
For example: citric acid E330 and lactic acid E270.

To control the use of food additives, several control campaigns including the inspection of companies and analysis of the food products are organized by the Food Safety Unit for non-animal products and by the Administration of Veterinary Services (ASV) for animal products.

Food additives that have a technological function in the finished food product must be clearly indicated by showing the functional category in front of the name or the E number of the additive in the list of ingredients.
For example: colorant: E120.

Obtaining a health or free sale certificate to export food of non animal origin or food contact materials is only possible in compliance with European regulations on food additives.

The import and the marketing of food additives or food products containing food additives must comply with European regulations on food additives.

Food additives imported from third countries are controlled by the Food Safety Unit and the Administration of Veterinary Services.

Related organizations

The Food Safety Unit is responsible for controls linked to food additives for food products of non animal origin.

The Administration of Veterinary Services is responsible for controls linked to food additives for food product of animal origin.

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