Food additives play an important part in our food supply ensuring our food is safe and meets the needs of consumers.
How to find out about a food additive
If you want to know more about a 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). You can use this information to gain a better understanding of what is in the food you eat.
The lists below can help you identify food additives 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.
What are food additives used for?
Food additives can be used to:
- improve the taste or appearance of a processed food. For example, beeswax - glazing agent (901) may be used to coat apples to improve their appearance
- improve the keeping quality or stability of a food. For example, sorbitol - humectant (420) may be added to mixed dried fruit to maintain the moisture level and softness of the fruit
- preserve food when this is the most practical way of extending its storage life. For example, sulphur dioxide - preservative (220) is added to some meat products such as sausage meat to limit microbial growth.
Many substances used as additives also occur naturally, such as vitamin C or ascorbic acid (300) in fruit, or lecithin (322), which is present in egg yolks, soya beans, peanuts and maize. The human body cannot distinguish between a chemical naturally present in a food and that same chemical present as an additive.
Food additives in most packaged food must be listed in the statement of ingredients on the label.
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.
Additives banned overseas
There are sometimes reports that additives are banned overseas when they haven't been banned at all. In some cases manufacturers in these countries haven't ever applied to use certain additives because there are alternatives they can use. In other cases policy decisions are made, like applying a warning statement, which are not based on scientific safety assessments.
Some additives were banned many years ago, and scientific evidence since then has proven them to be safe.
Adverse reactions to food additives occur in a small proportion of the population. Intolerances can be to natural or synthetic sources. The labelling of food products helps people who are sensitive to some food additives to avoid them.