What Are the Different Types of Food Additives Regulations?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Voight
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 30 May 2020
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Many countries around the world implement food additives regulations to protect public health and the food supply. Although food additives regulations differ, usually government regulatory agencies first test for possible short- and long-term health risks based on levels of the food additive likely to be consumed. Once testing is complete and the food additive is deemed safe, they form regulations to limit the amount of food additive to be used and the types of foods to which it may be added and designate how the additive will appear on food packaging.

A food additive is any substance added to processed foods to preserve food texture, enhance its flavor, or preserve food quality. These substances can be either natural food additives not typically used as food on a stand-alone basis or synthetic additives. Food additives regulations are controlled by government organizations to serve public welfare and are preceded by years of testing to determine any health risks or toxicity a food additive might present. As many substances are harmful to human health if consumed at high enough levels, food additive testing will also determine the levels that are harmful to people and compare those data against its intended use.

If an additive is harmful at levels only well above what a consumer might reasonably consume, it may still be deemed safe at low levels typically consumed. Food additive testing will also determine if long-term consumption might cause harm. Sometimes food additives can be safe in the short-term but may cause cancer or genetic damage if used over many years.

Once a food additive is considered safe, the governing agency will decide how to regulate it. For instance, the European Food Safety Authority bases its decisions on the results of specific tests. These will determine whether there is a need for the food additive, ensure that no health risks exist, and then make sure that information about the food additive is communicated clearly to the public. The US Food and Drug Administration sets regulations after it determines the composition of the additive, decides how it will most likely be consumed, and then determines health risks and safety.

Sometimes controversy develops when research is inconclusive on a food additive or preservative or when new information emerges. Food additives regulations organizations have the power to reconsider allowing a food additive and change how it may be used. Once it is approved, it is more difficult to change regulations, because frequently the burden of proof is on the activists who present the new information. Other commonly used food additives may fall through the cracks and avoid the approval process due to their specific definition. These may include certain vitamins, minerals, and supplements. Some food packaging products and seasonings may not be subject to food additives regulations in many countries.

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