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Additive regulation and adverse reactions

Food additives are regulated to ensure their safety & prevent adverse reactions. This article explores the regulation of additives with a case study.

Food additives are something that is commonly regulated across the world to ensure that foods on the market are safe to consume.

For example, Food Standards Australia New Zealand is the body responsible for the regulation of food additives in Australia and New Zealand.

FSANZ carries out safety assessments on food additives before they can be used.

FSANZ checks whether:

  • the food additive is safe
  • there is a good technological reason for using the additive

FSANZ’s safety assessment process follows an internationally accepted (Codex Alimentarius) model involving a hazard (safety) assessment of the chemical and dietary exposure (consumption levels) assessment.

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code sets out the:

  • colours that are permitted to be added to food
  • maximum levels at which colours may be added
  • type of foods that may contain permitted colours
  • labelling requirements for food additives

International regulations

Most countries have their own set of additive regulations, and/or they choose the follow international regulatory bodies such as European Food Safety Authority or the Codex Alimentarius – General Standard for Food Additives.

‘Codex Alimentarius’ is Latin for ‘food code’ and refers to the international food code established by the FAO and WHO. It provides a collection of food standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and recommendations developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) to protect the consumers’ health and ensure fair practices in the food trade.

The FAO and WHO are jointly responsible for the CAC. Many other international government and non-government organisations contribute to the work of the CAC. The Codex Alimentarius has a significant impact on food quality management across the world.

How to find out about a food additive – Australian FSANZ case study

If you want to know more about food additive look at the ingredient list on the food label for the additive’s function and name or number, e.g. acidity regulator (260).

The FSANZ lists below can help you identify food additives on the labels of food products as you shop.

Please note these tables are updated periodically and may not be the most recent version. For the complete current list, including permissions, refer to the Standards 1.3.1 Food Additives on the Federal Legislation website.

Most food additives must be listed by their class name followed by the name of the food additive or the food additive number, for example, Colour (Caramel I) or Colour (150a).

Most flavouring substances can be identified as either ‘flavouring’ or ‘flavour’, or by a more specific name or description. Enzymes may be identified as ‘enzyme’ and the specific name of the enzyme does not need to be listed.

Adverse reactions to food additives

Whilst FSANZ assesses the safety and suitability of all additives prior to use in food and provides regulations regarding how these can be used safely, adverse reactions to food additives occur in a small proportion of the population.

Food intolerances can be to natural or synthetic sources – both added ingredients, including food additives and processing aids, and naturally occurring food components, such as salicylates and amines may be involved in food intolerance. Appropriate labelling of food products helps those who are sensitive to some food additives to avoid or limit them.

The following resources are available if you would like to explore the topic of food additives further:

Reflect on additive regulation and how products are labelled to help prevent adverse reactions. What are some real-life examples you can think of where food companies work to prevent adverse reactions from consumers?
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