A food additive is a substance that is intentionally added to food, without such additives being considered food in the ordinary sense of the term.
Definition and background
The term food additive is defined differently by the food laws of each country. For example, in the food code (Codex Alimentarius), food additive means any substance not normally consumed as food by itself, and not normally used as a typical food ingredient, whether or not it has nutritional value. This includes the intentional addition to food for a technological (including organoleptic) purpose in the manufacture, processing, preparation, treatment, packing, packaging, wrapping, transport or storage of such food.
The additive may or may reasonably be expected to modify it (directly or indirectly) or its by-products into a component, or to affect the characteristics of such foods.
The term does not include any contaminants or substances added to foods to maintain or improve nutritional qualities.
Therefore, a food additive is a substance intended for use in the production, manufacture, processing, preparation, transport or storage of food; including any source of radiation intended for such use.
Food additives are indispensable for the production and processing of many foods. Some are essential to the economics of food production and distribution. Additives ensure the general availability of high quality foods with a satisfactory shelf life.
Having a single unified list for food additives was first agreed in 1962 with food colors. In 1964, directives were added for preservatives, 1970 for antioxidants and 1974 for emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners and gelling agents.
E900 – E999 (coating agents, gases and sweeteners)
910-919 synthetic glazes
920-929 enhancing agents
930-949 packaging gases
990-999 foaming agents
E1000 – E1599 (additional additives)
1100-1599 New chemical compounds that do not fit into the standard classification schemes
Sometimes, "E-number" is used informally as a pejorative term for artificial food additives, and products may be promoted as "E-number free". This is incorrect, and can lead to confusion, because many natural food components have E numbers assigned to them (and the number is synonymous with the chemical component). For example, vitamin C (E300) and lycopene (E160d), found in carrots.
Classification by use
Additives are used for many purposes, but the main uses are as follows:
Food acids: are added to make flavors "sharper", and also act as preservatives and antioxidants. Common food acids include vinegar, citric acid, tartaric acid, malic acid, folic acid, fumaric acid and lactic acid.
Acidity regulators: used to change or control the acidity and alkalinity of foods.
Anti-caking agents: prevent powders such as milk powder from clumping or sticking.
Antifoaming agents: reduce or prevent foaming of food.
Antioxidants: act as preservatives by inhibiting the effects of oxygen in food and can be beneficial to health, e.g. vitamin C.
Bulking agents: are additives that increase the volume of a food without affecting its nutritional value, e.g. starch.
Colours: added to food to replace colors lost during preparation or to make food look more attractive.
Color retention agents: Unlike dyes, they are used to preserve the existing color of a food.
Emulsifiers: allow water and oils to remain mixed in an emulsion, as in mayonnaise, ice cream and homogenized milk.
Flavours: are additives that give foods a particular taste or odor, and may be derived from natural ingredients or artificially created.
Flavor enhancers: improve the existing flavors of a food. They can be extracted from natural sources (by distillation, solvent extraction, maceration, among other methods) or artificially created.
Flour treatment: are added to flour to improve its color or its use in baking.
Glazing agents: provide a glossy appearance or protective coating to foods.
Smoke flavourings: prevents food from drying out.
Tracer gas: tracer gas allows package integrity testing to prevent food from being exposed to the atmosphere, ensuring shelf life.
Preservatives: prevent or inhibit food spoilage due to fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms.
Stabilizers, thickeners and gelling agents: such as agar or pectin (used in jams, for example) give foods a firmer texture. Although they are not true emulsifiers, they help stabilize emulsions.
Sweeteners: are added to foods to give them flavor. Sweeteners other than sugar are added to keep food energy (calories) low or because they have beneficial effects on diabetes mellitus and dental caries and diarrhea.
Thickeners: substances which, when added to the mixture, increase its viscosity without substantially modifying its other properties.
According to the different uses, food additives can be grouped into 5 major groups:
I - Stabilizers
Antioxidants, complexing agents, synergists and sequestering agents
Preservatives and antimicrobial agents
Thickeners and gelling agents
Protection, packaging and propellant gases, air and controlled atmospheres