FOOD ADDITIVES: ORIGIN, CLASSIFICATION AND ALTERNATIVES

Welcome to Amerex’ Blog! As mentioned in previous posts, it is very common for today’s consumers to take a deeper look at the ingredients shown in food labels. In this blog post we will take a look at the origin, classification and alternatives to food additives to be able to make a conscious decision when buying food on a daily basis.

What are food additives?

The definition of food additives is laid down in Regulation 1333/2008 of the European Parliament and reads as follows: “any substance not normally consumed as a food in itself and not normally used as a characteristic ingredient of food, whether or not it has nutritive value, the intentional addition of which to food for a technological purpose in the manufacture, processing, preparation, treatment, packaging, transport or storage of such food results, or may be reasonably expected to result, in it or its by-products becoming directly or indirectly a component of such foods”.

Essentially, food preservatives are used in the food industry to improve the organoleptic characteristics of foods, increase their shelf-life or facilitate their manufacture.

Food selection. Image by Freepik

Are food additives regulated under the law?

The European Food Safety Authority, better known by its acronym EFSA, is the body in charge of evaluating the safety of food additives, either new additives or new uses of existing additives, as well as the re-evaluation of already authorised additives. It states the following data:

  • Identity and characterisation of the additive
  • Stability in food
  • Justification of its necessity
  • Existing authorisations
  • Evaluation of human dietary exposure to the additive
  • Biological and toxicological characteristics

In the framework of its safety evaluations of food additives, EFSA tries to determine the safe levels and the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for each substance. All this information is supported not only by EFSA but also by the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF). This ensures that food additives included in the EU list are considered safe and their limits are correctly identified.Regulation (EC) Nº 1333/2008 and its annexes constitute the legislation under which definitions, the use of food additives and all matters relevant to such additives are regulated.

How are food additives classified?

Additives used in food can be classified according to different criteria such as the origin of the product or, more commonly, according to their functionality. Let’s have a look at these classifications.

Classification according to the origin of the product

A first category would be natural additives, which are those obtained from natural elements through physical methods that do not involve the addition of any other non-natural substance. Examples of natural preservatives are plant-based pectin or agar obtained from algae.

The second category are the synthetic or non-natural additives, which are obtained through the synthesis of products that are not present in nature and/or through processes that generate or include non-natural substances. This category includes most of the preservatives commonly used in the food industry, such as sodium nitrite or citric/acetic acids.

Classification by functionality

Regardless of the natural or synthetic origin of food additives, they can be classified according to their function in the final food. The following is a classification of the most commonly used additives:

  • Colouring agents used to intensify or change the colour of the food and make it more attractive for consumption.
  • Preservatives that are added to extend the shelf-life of the food by protecting against microbiological or enzymatic spoilage.
  • Antioxidants used to also extend shelf-life through mechanisms that prevent or delay oxidation and rancidity caused by physical processes such as exposure to light or oxygen.
  • Emulsifiers that allow the mixture of two or more ingredients that are non-miscible and keep it stable.
  • Thickeners to improve, increase or concentrate the viscosity of a food to ensure an optimal texture for consumption.
  • Flavour enhancers that increase the intensity or durability of the natural flavour of the food.

Other categories of food additives would be e.g. sweeteners, humectants, acidity regulators or flavourings.

What does it mean if an additive is labelled as an E-number in a food?

When us consumers check a label in search of all the ingredients of a foodstuff, we very often find that many of them are labelled as an E number, which is basically an international identification system created for better understanding by consumers.

This E-number system indicates that the food additives listed on the label are approved by the European Union for use in food. In addition, they follow special numbering codes that indicate their classification by functionality as well as the specific substance used. Some examples of how the codes relate to these additives are as follows (they are classified in the hundreds):

  • Antioxidants and acidity regulators: E-300
  • Colouring agents: E-100
  • Preservatives: E-200
  • Stabilisers: E-400
  • Flavour enhancers: E-600

Is it safe to use additives in food?

Historically and for ages, society has been aware of the need to find solutions for food preservation, and therefore salt and vinegar, for example, are traditional preservation methods that many manufacturers still take into account today. Likewise, the use of spices and plants, which are traditional solutions to improve the flavour, aroma and appearance of food. Nowadays, and with the technology being much more advanced, the aforementioned preservatives meet this need, and consumers now place great value on the fact that the use of additives in the food industry must always be safe, justified, transparent and beneficial in its intended purpose.

There are some concerns about the use of some of these ingredients in certain foods and many consumers are more cautious about controlling their dietary intake. For example, one claim is that colouring agents are not safe, as many people develop sensitivity to specific colouring agents such as E-102 or Tartrazine that is mostly used in drinks, sweets and ice cream. Or the cases of infantile hyperactivity developed by some preservatives and their mixtures, equally supported and denied by the scientific community.

The truth is that the additives are regulated by the European Community and have their corresponding authorisation for use, so they meet the requirements established by law. However, this does not mean that all the food additives currently in use should not be monitored and that their functionalities and their suitability for human consumption should not be continuously re-evaluated. It definitely should be.

Are there alternatives to the use of additives in the food industry?

Indeed there are alternatives to food additives. In fact, in the food industry the concern for a clean label and the use of fewer additives and ingredients is becoming more and more relevant, as we mentioned in our previous blog post.

The “chemophobia” or fear of excessive chemicals in processed foods is causing numerous products claiming to be 100% E-number free, and offer more natural alternatives. Therefore, natural preservative alternatives are becoming increasingly popular and are without a doubt the focus of many ingredient manufacturers who want to follow these consumer trends.

Amerex Operator

Where can I get a natural preservative as an alternative to the use of food additives?

At Amerex we design and manufacture E-number free microbiological blends as alternatives to improve the safety and shelf-life of a wide range of products. Some examples of natural preservatives are our Biamex and Safemix ranges, which can achieve a reduction or even removal of these additives (sorbate, nitrites, sulphites, lactate, acetate…).

More specifically, our nitrite replace solution, BIAMEX-NC, is one of the top products of recent years. Or the AMEXOL range as natural antioxidant alternative to replace acids such as citric (E-330) and ascorbic (E-300).

If you like to know more about the use of these alternatives and many others that we have in our product portfolio, we will be happy to offer you expert advice on food preservation.

imasd@amerexingredientes.es

Phone number: +34 91 845 42 14

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