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)

How can I find out more?

If you would like any more information, you can email: or telephone 020 7276 8570.

EFSA assessment of the safety of authorised colours

The European Commission has asked EFSA to systematically re-evaluate all authorised food additives in the European Union and has started by looking at all colours. This is in the interest of consumer protection, to take account of new research since the original assessments were carried out.

Food colour alerts by SMS

Get details about when EFSA publishes an opinion on a colour in food, as soon as it’s issued by getting the details sent as an SMS text message direct to your mobile phone. We will also send an alert when a regulatory decision is made about a food colour or there is other important information to communicate about food colours. This is a free service.

Subscribe to FSA alerts Subscribe to get alerts

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