Additives or E numbers

Additives must be assessed for safety before they can be used in food. We also ensure that the science on additives is strictly reviewed, the law strictly enforced, and action is taken where problems are found. We investigate any information that casts reasonable doubt on the safety of an additive.

European Union (EU) legislation requires most additives used in foods to be labelled clearly in the list of ingredients, with their function, followed by either their name or E number. An E number means that it has passed safety tests and has been approved for use here and in the rest of the EU.

What are the different types of additives?

Food additives are grouped by what they do. The additives that you are most likely to come across on food labels are:

  • antioxidants (stop food becoming rancid or changing colour by reducing the chance of fats combining with oxygen)
  • colours
  • emulsifiers, stabilisers, gelling agents and thickeners (help to mix or thicken ingredients)
  • flavour enhancers (used to bring out the flavour of foods)
  • preservatives (used to keep food safer for longer)
  • sweeteners (intense sweeteners are many times sweeter than sugar whereas bulk sweeteners have a similar sweetness to sugar)

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