Food additives are substances added to foods to enhance certain properties or to perform particular functions. Substances known as food additives are added to food to maintain or improve specific characteristics (WHO) such as
- Nutritive value
Food additives may be
- Natural additives, those which are obtained from food for example turmeric added for colour.
- Nature identical are additives which imitate the natural product but are made synthetically, for example, vanilla essence.
- Artificial additives are those which are not found in foods and are made in labs for example food colours (BNF).
Safety of food additives
Food additives are examined in a stringent manner to see if they are safe for human consumption. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), is the international body that is responsible for scrutinizing the food additives for any adverse effects they can have on human health when consumed.
Once the JECFA after thorough evaluation certifies that the food additive is safe based on the information provided the Codex Alimentarius Commission fixes the maximum levels the food additive can be used in foods. Foods that meet these criteria are given the go-ahead by Codex Alimentarius and can be traded international market (WHO).
Some of the commonly used food additives
Food colours are added to foods to make them look more appetizing or it may be to restore colour lost during cooking or processing. Natural and synthetic colours are used in food as food additives (Duyff). These give uniform colour and do not give any undesirable taste. Yellow #5 and red # 2 are examples of food colours used.
These are added to powdered or granular products to keep them from forming lumps. Anticaking agents absorb moisture and keep the product free flowing. They are added to products such as table salt and baking powder. Calcium silicate and silicon dioxide are commonly used two anticaking agents (Duyff).
A sweetener is a food additive, which has the effect of sugar on taste and are called sugar substitutes (Chat). Artificial sweeteners came into existence more as a replacement or alternatives for table sugar for diabetic people. Those who cannot take sugar in their tea and coffee which are taken on a daily basis started using these artificial sweeteners.
But these days demand for artificial sweeteners has increased by leaps and bounds not because diabetics have increased in number but more because they are low-calorie sweeteners. Saccharine and aspartame are examples of artificial sweeteners.
Antioxidants are added to prevent rancidity or discolouration in foods that have a significant amount of unsaturated fats. These antioxidants also increase the shelf life of the food product. Ascorbic acid and vitamin E are commonly used antioxidants.
Food additives should be used keeping in mind the safety of the consumer. They should be used strictly at permitted levels and they should be mentioned on the food label. The consumer should make it a habit of reading the food labels to see which food additives are added to the foods in case they are added.