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Food Additives

Food additives have been used for centuries; for example, preserving food by pickling (with vinegar), salting, as with bacon and dried tomatoes, or using sulphur dioxide as in some wines. Food additives are substances added to food to preserve flavour or improve its taste and appearance. With the advent of processed foods in the second half of the 20th century, many more additives have been introduced, of both natural and artificial origin. Some of these latter additives are open to debates and disagreements whether they should be allowed at all. Moreover, many claim that certain additives may be the cause of certain health conditions, such as allergies, migraines, hyperactivity in children, and several adverse reactions.

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Despite their safety pass by the EC a few people suffer from allergic reactions to some of them, whether natural or synthetic. The E numbers are helpful to these people because they can easily see whether the food contains an additive to which they are allergic.
Many people feel that additives are sometimes used when there is no real need for them - for example, food colouring, but most additives have a useful role. For example, preservatives help to prevent spoilage of food so that foods can be stored safely for longer.

Colours - E100 - E181

Cur cumin
orange-yellow colour; derived from the root of the curcuma (turmeric) plant, but can be artificially produced; used in cheese, margarine, baked sweets and fish fingers
Riboflavin, Riboflavin-5'-phosphate
'Vitamin B2' and colour; occurs naturally in green veges, eggs, milk, liver and kidney; used in margarine and cheese
FD&C Yellow No.5; known to provoke asthma attacks (though the US FDA** do not recognise this) and urticaria (nettle rash) in children (the US FDA** estimates 1:10 000); also linked to thyroid tumours, chromosomal damage, urticaria (hives) and hyperactivity; tartrazine sensitivity is also linked to aspirin sensitivity; used to colour drinks, sweets, jams, cereals, snack foods, canned fish, packaged soups; banned in Norway and Austria
Quinoline Yellow
FD&C Yellow No.10; used in lipsticks hair products, colognes; also in a wide range of medications; cause dermatitis; banned in USA and Norway
Yellow 7G
yellow colour; the HACSG* recommends to avoid it; people who suffer Asthma may also show an allergic reaction to it; typical products are soft drinks; banned in Australia and USA
Sunset Yellow FCF, Orange Yellow S
FD&C Yellow No.6; used in cereals, bakery, sweets, snack foods, ice cream, drinks and canned fish; synthetic; also in many medications including Polaramine, Ventolin syrup; side effects are urticaria (hives), rhinitis (runny nose), nasal congestion, allergies, hyperactivity, kidney tumours, chromosomal damage, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, indigestion, distaste for food; seen increased incidence of tumours in animals; banned in Norway
Cochineal, Carminic acid, Carmines
red colour; made from insects; rarely used; the HASCG* recommends to avoid it
Azorubine, Carmoisine
red colour; coal tar derivative; can produce bad reactions in asthmatics and people allergic to aspirin; typical products are confectionary, marzipan, jelly crystals; banned in Sweden, USA, Austria and Norway
FD&C Red No.2; derived from the small herbaceous plant of the same name; used in cake mixes, fruit-flavoured fillings, jelly crystals; can provoke asthma, eczema and hyperactivity; it caused birth defects and foetal deaths in some animal tests, possibly also cancer; banned in the USA, Russia, Austria and Norway and other countries
Ponceau 4R, Cochineal Red A
FD&C Red No.4; synthetic coal tar and azo dye, carcinogen in animals, can produce bad reactions in asthmatics and people allergic to aspirin; banned in USA & Norway
FD&C Red No.3; red colour used in cherries, canned fruit, custard mix, sweets, bakery, snack foods; can cause sensitivity to light; can increase thyroid hormone levels and lead to hyperthyroidism, was shown to cause thyroid cancer in rats in a study in 1990; banned in January 1990, but not recalled by the US FDA**; banned in Norway
Red 2G
Banned in Australia and many other places except UK
Allura red AC
FD&C Red No.40; Orange-red colour used in sweets, drinks and condiments, medications and cosmetics, synthetic; introduced in the early eighties to replace amaranth which was considered not safe due to conflicting test results; allura red has also been connected with cancer in mice; banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway
Patent blue V
Banned in Australia, USA and Norway
Indigotine, Indigo carmine
FD&C Blue No.2, commonly added to tablets and capsules; also used in ice cream, sweets, baked goods, confectionary, biscuits, synthetic coal tar derivative; may cause nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, skin rashes, breathing problems and other allergic reactions. Banned in Norway
Brilliant blue FCF
FD&C Blue Dye No.1; used in dairy products, sweets and drinks, synthetic usually occurring as aluminium lake (solution) or ammonium salt; banned in Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Norway
Chlorophylis, Chlorophyllins
green colour occurs naturally in all plants; used for dyeing waxes and oils, used in medicines and cosmetics
Copper complexes of chloropyll and chlorophyllins
olive colour, no adverse effects are known
Green S
green colour; synthetic coal tar derivative; used in canned peas, mint jelly and sauce, packet bread crumbs and cake mixes; banned inSweden, USA and Norway
Plain caramel
dark brown colour made from sucrose; the HACSG* recommends to avoid it. used in oyster, soy, fruit and canned sauces, beer, whiskey, biscuits, pickles
Caustic sulphite caramel
see E150(a)
Ammonia caramel
see E150(a)
Sulphite ammonia caramel
see E150(a)
Brilliant Black BN, Black PN
coloor; coal tar derivative; used in brown sauces, blackcurrant cake mixes; banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, USA, Norway
Vegetable carbon
black colour, charcoal pigment; used in jams, jelly crystals, liquorice; only the vegetable derived variety permitted in Australia, banned in the United States
Brown FK
banned in USA
Brown HT (Chocolate)
brown colour, coal tar and azo dye; used in chocolate cake mixes; can produce bad reactions in asthmatics and people allergic to aspirin; also known to induce skin sensitivity; banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, USA, Norway
Carotene, alpha-, beta-, gamma-
orange-yellow colour; human body converts it to 'Vitamin A' in the liver, found in carrots and other yellow or orange fruits and vegetables
Annatto (Arnatto, Annato), bixin, norbixin
red colour; derived from a tree (Bixa orellana); used as a body paint, fabric dye, digestive aid and expectorant; used to dye cheese, butter, margarine, cereals, snack foods, soaps, textiles and varnishes; known to cause urticaria (nettle rash), the HACSG* recommends to avoid it
Paprika extract, capsanthin, capsorubin

red coloured carotenoid found in tomatoes and pink grapefruit, can cause decreasing risk of cancer
Beta-apo-8'-carotenal (C 30)
orange colour, no adverse effects are known
Ethyl ester of beta-apo-8'-carotenic acid (C 30)
orange colour, no adverse effects are known
Xanthophylls - Lutein
yellow colour derived from plants, naturally found in green leaves, marigolds and egg yolks
Xanthophylls - Canthaxanthin
yellow colour possibly derived from animal sources (retinol); the pigment is found in some mushrooms, crustacea, fish, flamingo feathers
Beetroot Red, Betanin
purple colour derived from beets; no adverse effects are known
violet colour matter of flowers and plants; seems safe
Calcium carbonate
mineral salt, used in toothpastes, white paint and cleaning powders; may be derived from rock mineral or animal bones; sometimes used to deacidify wines and firm canned fruit and veg.; toxic at 'high doses'
Titanium dioxide
white colour used in toothpaste and white paint, pollutes waterways; no adverse effects are known
Iron oxides and hydroxides
black, yellow, red colour used in salmon and shrimp pastes; toxic at 'high doses'
avoid it, banned in some countries
avoid it, banned in some countries
avoid it, banned in some countries
Latolrubine BK
avoid it, banned in some countries
Tannic acid, tannins
clarifying agent in alcohol; derived from the nutgalls and twigs of oak trees; occurs naturally in tea
* Hyperactive Children Support Group (HACSG)
** Food and Drug Administration
# Additives which probably or definitely animal (mostly pig) derivation.
N.B. This list is adapted from


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