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Food Additives– Seeing Through the Eyes of Food Regulations


Food additives are “Any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result-directly or indirectly- in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food,” according to International Food Information Council (IFIC) and US Food and Drug Administration (2010). In other words, food additives are those substances that are intentionally added to food during production, processing, treatment, packaging, transportation or storage of food (FDA, 2015). .

Food additives have been classified as below:

  • Type of additives (FSSR, 2010, FDA 2015)

o Direct Additive: Additives added to food for a specific function e. g. xanthan gum – added in chocolate milk, bakery fillings, puddings

o Indirect Additive: Additives that comes in contact of food during packaging, storage or handling

  • Source of origin (BBC, 2015)

o Natural: Those additives that occur naturally in foods, e. g. caramelised sugar used for colouring in cola

o Artificial: Those additives that donot naturally occur, e. g. Tartrazine is a synthetic colouring agent

  • Function (Potter and Hotchkiss, 1995)

o Preservatives (b) Colouring (c) Flavouring (b) Emulsification

Food producers use around 3,000 natural and artificial food additives to preserve and improve foods. Salt and sugar are two most common examples of natural food additives, whereas synthetic food additives are made in a laboratory and they are not found naturally in the food. However the chemical nature of synthetic additives is similar to that which occurs in nature. The purposes of adding food additives are to improve storage properties, healthfulness (fortifications, restorations, enrichments, nitrification, etc.), appealing (colours, flavours, sweeteners, etc.), processing, preparation (stabilisers, thickeners, emulsifiers, anticaking agents, antifoams) of food items and many others. One class of additives called potentiators that enhance the flavour of the product, which are largely based on amino acid and nucleotides (savoury flavourants). Detailed description of different additives along with their functions is given in Table 1:

Table 1: List of food additives and their specific functions and examples

Function Purpose Examples Uses
Preservative Prevents bacteria, yeast,  molds growth Sodium benzoate, Sorbic acid, Soft drinks, acidic foods, breads, cake
Antioxidant Prevents oxidation of lipids BHA, BHT, Ascorbic Acid, Tocopherols Potato chips, breakfast cereals
Sequestrant Combine with trace metals and remove them from solution and prevent oxidation, off-colour reactions in foods Ethylenediamine Tetraacetic Acid (EDTA), Polyphosphates, Citric Acid Stabilises edible fats and oils, prevents weeping of butter, inhibits auto-oxidation of essential oils, retains flavour
Surface active agents Acts as emulsifiers to stabilise mixtures oil-in-water, gas in liquid, gas in solid Lecithin (Natural), Mono-glycerides and Di-gylceride, their derivatives Confectionery, chocolate, creamy product
Stabilisers and Thickeners They stabilise and thicken foods by combining with water to increase viscosity and to form gels Gum Arabic, Carboxymethyl Cellulose (CMC), Carrageenan, Pectin, Amylose, Gelatin Gravies, pie fillings, cake toppings, chocolate milk drinks, jellies, puddings, and salad dressings
Buffers, Acids, Alkalis They are pH-adjusting and pH-controlling chemicals Fruit juice and fermentation products (Natural sources), acids, alkali and other chemically synthesised substances In baking industries as leavening agent, flavouring agent in confection, in processing of chocolates
Food Colours Improve attractiveness of food product Annatto, Caramel, Carotene, Saffron Ice cream, butter, carbonated beverages
Artificial Sweeteners Sweet in taste with low or no calorific value Neohesperidine Di-hydrochalcone, Saccharin, Aspartame Manufacturing of low-calorie foods-candies, frozen desserts, salad dressings
Nutritional Additives Adds supplements and enrichment mixtures to a product Vitamins, Iodine, Lysine etc. Wheat flour, fruit juice, processed milk, margarine
Flavouring Agents They are the substance that gives another substance flavour Natural: spices, herbs, essential oils; Synthetic: Benzaldehyde, Ethyl Butyrate (pineapple) Ice cream, desserts, processed foods, puddings, bakery items
Flavour Enhancers/ Potentiators They donot have any flavour but enhance the flavours Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and the 5′ -nucleotides Processed foods like especially soups, sauces, sausages

Indian Food Laws, Orders, Acts and Regulations Regarding Food Additives 

According to Food Safety andStandards Regulations (FSSR) 2011, the following declarations have been made with respect to food additives: (i) food additives falling under the following class titles shall be used together with the specific names or recognised international numerical identification i.e. acidity regulator, acid, anticaking agent, antifoaming agent, antioxidant, bulking agent, colour, colour retention agent, emulsifier, emulsifying salt, firming agent, flour treatment agent, flavour enhancer, foaming agent, gelling agent, glazing agent, humectants, preservative, propellant, raising agent, stabiliser, sweetener, thickener

Addition of extraneous colouring matter to any food items should be mentioned on the label in capital letters just beneath the list of the ingredients in one of the following statements-

Contains Permitted Natural Colour(s) or Contains Permitted Synthetic Food Colour(s) or ContainsPermitted Natural and Synthetic Food Colour(s)

On infant milk substitute and infant food labelling as per Regulation 4.4.1 (FSSR, 2010), the specific name of the food additives, if permitted, shall be declared in addition to appropriate class names.

Food Additives (FSSR, 2010, 2015)

Allowed food additives are only those which are specified in these regulations and in Appendix A of this regulation.

Colouring matter (FSSR, 2010, 2015)

(1) The addition of colouring matter to any article of food except as specifically permitted by these regulations is prohibited.

(2) Except as otherwise provided in these regulations and appendices, the natural colouring principles whether isolated from natural colours or produced synthetically may be used in or upon any article of food.

(3) Inorganic colouring matters and pigments shall not be added to any article of food unless otherwise provided in these regulations and appendices.

(4) No synthetic food colours/mixture thereof except the given in these laws shall be used in food.

Artificial Sweeteners (Regulation 6.1.5, FSSR, 2010, 2015)

Artificial sweeteners mentioned in this Act, may be used only in the food articles and in quantities not exceeding given as per this Act 4.4.5 (24, 25, 26, 27, 28 & 29)

Preservatives (Regulation 6.1.5, FSSR, 2010, 2015) – “Preservative” means a substance which when added to food is capable of inhibiting, retarding or arresting the process of fermentation, acidification or other decomposition of food. No person shall use in or upon a food more than one class II preservative. No nitrate or nitrite shall be added to any infant food.


Antioxidant is asubstance which when added to food retards or prevents oxidative deterioration of food and does not include sugar, cereal, oils, flours, herbs and spices. No antioxidant other than lecithin, ascorbic acid and tocopherol shall be added to any food (FSSR, 2010).

Emulsifying and stabilising agents (Regulation 6.1.5, FSSR, 2010, 2015)

No emulsifying or stabilising agents shall be used in any food, except where the use of emulsifying or stabilising agent is specifically permitted.

Use of emulsifying and stabilising agents in fruit products – The following emulsifying and stabilising agents may be added to fruit products: (a) Pectin (b) Sodium alginate (c) Calcium alginate (d) Alginic acid (e) Propylene glycol alginate.

Use of emulsifying and stabilising agents in frozen desserts – The emulsifying and stabilising agents as defined under the Regulation 6.1.5 (1) may be added to frozen desserts.

Anticaking agents (FSSR, 2010, 2015)

Restriction on use of anticaking agents- No anticaking agents shall be used in any food except where the use of anticaking agents is specifically permitted.

Antifoaming agents in edible oils and fats- (1) Dimethyl polysiloxane, food grade, may be used as an antifoaming agent in edible oils and fats for deep fat frying upto a maximum limit of 10 parts per million.

Use of release agents in confectionery- Spreadasil silicon spray (Dimethyl polysiloxane) if used, as release agent in confectionery, shall not exceed 10 ppm of the finished product.

Flavouring agents and related substances (FSSR, 2010, 2015)

(1) Flavouring agents; (2) Use of antioxidants, emulsifying and stabilising agents and food preservatives in flavour; (3) Use of anticaking agent in flavours; (4) Restriction on use of flavouring agents; (5) Solvent in flavour; (6) Glycerol esters of wood resins (FSSR, 2010, 2015).

Negative effect of food additives on human health 

Strange rashes that appear on the body; Erratic behaviours and moods; Self stimulatory behaviours; Waking up in the middle of the night; Having a difficult time with their stools (constipation, diarrhoea, and undigested foods); Headaches; Allergies; Hyperactivity; Long-term illnesses; Negative Effects of MSG on Health; Toxicity and potent carcinogenic nature of nitrates (III); Toxicity of sulphur dioxide; Potent carcinogenic nature of saccharin.


The details of the food additive laws, regulations and orders can be obtained from official website of FSSAI, WHO, Codex Alimentarius. Natural food additives are always better, safer and easier than artificial. Even though some chemicals in food are approved but they are not free of adverse reactions. The use of food additives must be controlled and monitored by effective research and governmental regulations.


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