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Food Safety

Safety of Food Products

Food additives and flavourings

Food additives

Food additives are substances added intentionally to foodstuffs to perform certain technological functions, for example to colour, to sweeten or to preserve.

Food additives are defined in Community legislation as "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 results ... in it or its by-products becoming directly or indirectly a component of such foods." (for full definition see: Article 1(2) of Directive 89/107/EEC)

Food additives are authorised at EU level for all the fifteen Member States, as well as for Norway and Iceland.

The Community legislation on food additives is based on the principle that only those additives that are explicitly authorised may be used. Most food additives may only be used in limited quantities in certain foodstuffs. If no quantitative limits are foreseen for the use of a food additive, it must be used according to good manufacturing practice, i.e. only as much as necessary to achieve the desired technological effect.

Food additives may only be authorised if:

  • there is a technological need for their use,
  • they do not mislead the consumer,
  • they present no hazard to the health of the consumer.

Prior to their authorisation, food additives are evaluated for their safety by the Scientific Committee on Food, an expert panel that advises the European Commission in questions relating to food.

The Community legislation on food additives consists of the following Directives:

  • Council Directive 89/107/EEC, as amended by Directive 94/34/EC, that provides the framework for the authorisation of food additives;
  • European Parliament and Council Directive 94/36/EC that lays down detailed rules on colours;
  • European Parliament and Council Directive 94/35/EC, as amended by Directive 96/83/EC, that lays down detailed rules on sweeteners;
  • European Parliament and Council Directive 95/2/EC, as amended by Directives 96/85/EC, 98/72/EC and 2001/5/EC, that lays down detailed rules for authorisation of all food additives other than colours and sweeteners.

Listed legislation (consolidated)

Council Directive 89/107/EEC el, of 21 December 1988 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States concerning food additives authorised for use in foodstuffs intended for human consumption, as amended.

European Parliament and Council Directive 94/36/EC elof 30 June 1994 on colours for use in foodstuffs.

European Parliament and Council Directive 94/35/EC elof 30 June 1994 on sweeteners for use in foodstuffs, as amended, all languages

European Parliament and Council Directive 95/2/EC el, on food additives other than colours and sweeteners, as amended by Directives 96/85/EC, 98/72/EC and 2001/5/EC el

Furthermore, all authorised food additives have to fulfil purity criteria which are set out in detail in three Commission Directives:

  • Directive 95/31/EC elas amended by Directive 98/66/EC and Directive 2000/51/EC for sweeteners;
  • Directive 95/45/EC elas amended by Directive 99/75/EC for colours;
  • Directive 96/77/EC elas amended by Directive 96/86/EC and Directive 2000/63/EC elfor additives other than colours and sweeteners.

The use of food additives must always be labelled on the packaging of food products by their category (anti-oxidant, preservative, colour, etc) with either their name or E-number. Detailed rules on labelling of additives in foodstuffs, and on additives sold as such to food producers and consumers are laid down in Community legislation (Directive 2000/13/EC, Regulation 50/2000/EC (see Food labelling) and Directive 89/107/EEC).

Based on the information received from the Member States, the European Commission has drafted a report on dietary food additive intake in the European Union. This report aims to present an overview of the additive intake in the European Union. Due to the differences on how the Member States reported the information the outcome should be regarded as a preliminary indication of the situation in the EU. The report was adopted by the Commission on 1st October 2001 and will be published in the Official Journal.

  • Report from the Commission on Dietary Food Additive Intake in the European Union, 01 October 2001 defr(-/+170KB)

Food flavourings

Flavourings are substances used to give taste and/or smell to food. Community legislation defines different types of flavourings, such as natural, natural-identical or artificial flavouring substances, flavouring preparations of plant or animal origin, process flavourings which evolve flavour after heating and smoke flavourings (for full definition see Article 1(2) of Directive 88/388/EEC).

Council Directive 88/388/EEC, as completed by Commission Directive 91/71/EEC, sets out the definition of flavourings, general rules for their use, requirements for labelling and maximum levels for substances which raise concern for human health. The latter substances are naturally present in source materials for flavourings (e.g. herbs) and are therefore also present in flavouring preparations. It is prohibited to add those substances as such to food.

With respect to flavouring substances, European Parliament and Council Regulation 2232/96/EC sets out the basic rules for the use of these substances in or on foodstuffs in the EU. Under this Regulation, the Member States have informed the Commission which flavouring substances are currently authorised for use in foodstuffs at national level. This information has been compiled by the Commission in a Register of about 2800 substances, adopted as Commission Decision 1999/217/EC, and amended by Commission Decision 2000/489/EC. The Register forms the basis for a five-year evaluation programme of these flavouring substances as adopted by Commission Regulation 1565/2000/EC. After completion of the evaluation programme, a Community-wide positive list of flavouring substances for use in foodstuffs shall be established.

The Community legislation (Directive 2000/13/EC (see Food labelling), Directive 88/388/EC and Directive 91/71/EEC) also sets out the rules on labelling for flavourings added to foodstuffs, and for flavourings sold as such to food producers and consumers. The word "flavouring" must be present in the ingredient list on the packaging of food products when they contain flavourings. The expression "natural flavouring" may only be used for flavouring substances or flavouring preparations which are extracted from vegetable or animal materials. For flavourings sold as such, additional labelling is required concerning their minimum durability, conditions for storage and use, identification of the producer and identification of other substances contained in the flavourings (e.g. additives).

Listed legislation

Council Directive 88/388/EEC deelon the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to flavourings for use in foodstuffs and to source materials for their production and Commission Directive 91/71/EEC completing Council Directive 88/388/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to flavourings for use in foodstuffs and to source materials for their production

European Parliament and Council Regulation 2232/96/EC elof 28 October 1996 laying down a Community procedure for flavouring substances used or intended for use in or on foodstuffs

Commission Decision 1999/217/EC of 23 February 1999 adopting a register of flavouring substances used in or on foodstuffs drawn up in application of Regulation (EC) No 2232/96 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 October 1996(1999/217/EC)

Commission Decision 2000/489/EC of 18 July 2000 amending Decision 1999/217/EC adopting a register of flavouring substances used in or on foodstuffs

Commission Regulation 1565/2000/EC of 18 July 2000 laying down the measures necessary for the adoption of an evaluation programme in application of Regulation (EC)No 2232/96 of the European Parliament and of the Council

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Safety of Food Products
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