Additives are added to food to perform different technological functions, for example, to increase shelf life (preservatives), or to protect against rancidity (antioxidants). The use of additives in food is controlled by separate legislation relating to, for example, colours in food, sweeteners, miscellaneous additives (other than colours and sweeteners) and flavourings. Most areas of food additives legislation (with the exception of additives in flavourings, additives in other additives (i.e. other than carriers/solvents) and controls on enzymes/processing aids) have been fully harmonised throughout the European Union for a number of years.
The initial groundwork for this was laid down by the Food Additives Framework Directive (89/107/EEC). Indeed, UK legislation covering the main groups of food additives is based on European Community Directives, which were agreed during 1994 and 1995. Under these legislative requirements (including amendments), most additives are permitted only in certain specified foods, at specified maximum levels (although some are generally permitted at levels of ‘quantum satis’). However, only additives that have been approved for safety by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food are included in the legislation and are identifiable by their designated E number in the relevant Directives.
Food additive-based research and surveillance carried out by organisations such as The Food Standards Agency aims to support consumer protection by providing the best possible scientific evidence to ensure that the use of food
additives does not prejudice food safety. Much of the Agency’s work has concentrated on developing and validating appropriate methodology to measure levels of additives in food.
This work has ranged from feasibility studies to acquire a better understanding of factors affecting additive intakes to the development of appropriate test protocols. Development of food surveillance methodology is also integral to improving understanding of additive exposure through collation of information on additive levels and usage. This information is needed to monitor additive levels in foods, changes in dietary behaviour and patterns of additive use, and to fulfil European Community legislation requirements for Member States to monitor food intakes.
A preliminary European Commission monitoring exercise carried out in the European Union has identified several additives or additive groups that require further review by Member States. To ensure consumer safety, existing intake estimations and safety monitoring of additives need refining, and information is required to compare actual levels of additive use and consumption with safety guidelines (acceptable daily intakes) set by the EU Scientific Committee on Food. To obtain this information, robust quantitative methods of analysis are required to measure levels of additives in a broad range of food matrices, as several additives or groups of additives with similar functions may coexist within a single food matrix.
A variety of published analytical methods are available in the literature, particularly for artificial food colours, preservatives and sweeteners. However, the availability of reliable methodology for some of the more analytically complex additives, such as emulsifiers, natural colours and polysaccharide gums is limited by the inherent compositional complexity of these substances and the variability of food matrices in which they occur. To meet this problem, a review of published analytical methods has been compiled which seeks to identify those additives for which methods are incomplete, i.e. protocols which only cover a limited range of permitted foods, or are missing. For this exercise, selection of additives for review was based on additive use in foods (at permitted levels and quantum satis), availability of dietary intake information and analyte complexity (chemical form).
Additives selected were those where more information is required in terms of additive level and usage to refine intake estimates. However, information is generally lacking for these additives because robust methods are not available for analysis due to the complexity of the additive/matrix. Therefore the law cannot be enforced.