Food additives are chemicals added to foods to:

  • Improve the taste or appearance of a processed food
  • Preserve the food by extending its shelf life
  • Improve the quality of the food

Common additives

  • Acids/Acidity regulators: chemicals which help to maintain a constant acid level in food
  • Anti-caking agents: chemicals which reduce tendency of foods particles to clump
  • Antioxidants: chemicals which prevent oxidation, which lead to rancidity and colour changes
  • Bleaching agents: chemicals used to whiten flours
  • Bulking agents: chemicals which contribute to the volume of the food
  • Colours: chemicals which are purely cosmetic; add or restore colour to food
  • Emulsifiers: chemicals which prevent oil and water mixtures from separating
  • Firming agents and stabilisers: chemicals which maintain uniform dispersion of substances in solid and semi solid food
  • Flavour enhancers: chemicals which enhance the existing taste and/or odour of a food
  • Humectants: chemicals which prevent food from drying out
  • Mineral salts: chemicals which improve water holding capacity – help with plumpness or firmness
  • Preservatives: chemicals which prevent spoilage of food
  • Propellants: chemicals used in aerosol cans to expel the contents
  • Raising agents: chemicals which liberate gases, thereby increasing the volume of a food and are often used in baked goods
  • Sweetening agents: chemicals which replace the sweetness normal provided by sugars in foods without contributing significantly to their available energy
  • Thickeners: chemicals which increase the viscosity of a food
  • Vegetable gums: chemicals which help improve the texture

What do the numbers mean?

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

100-180: colours
200-290: preservatives
300-385: acidity regulators, anti-oxidants, mineral salts
400-495: vegetable gums, thickeners, emulsifiers, stabilisers, gelling agents
500-586: mineral salts, anti-caking agents
620-641: flavour enhancers (621= MSG)
900-1521: thickeners, vegetable gums, humectants, artificial sweeteners (951= Aspartame)

Where are additives found?

Additives are found in the vast majority of processed and packaged foods, you rarely get one without the other. Keep mindful of the fact that many unpackaged food items sold at bakeries, cafes and restaurants do not require a label of ingredients and therefore they are not required to declare the potential hidden food additives. You will also find additives in:

  • Deli meats
  • Packaged processed foods
  • Medicine
  • Bread
  • Cheese
  • Shredded coconut
  • Margarine
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Dressings
  • Marinades
  • Sauces (BBQ sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce etc)

What are the effects of additives and are they safe?

There are many adverse reactions which can be caused by consuming some additives. The side effects will differ from child to child and they may be immediate or result due to a cumulative effect or in combination with other additives. The scariest part is that many of the effects, particularly long term side effects are currently unknown. Additive adverse reactions may include hyperactivity and behavioural and/or learning problems and should be avoided.

View the complete food additives list here.

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