E NUMBERS – what are they and what do they do?


What are they and what do they do?

Will Brexit mean changes??

All food additives, including artificial colours have an E number“, which means they have passed safety tests and are approved for use, (the E stands for Europe).

The “E numbers” in the ingredients list of your packaged foods replace the chemical or common name of food additives. These are used to enhance the colour, flavour, texture or prevent food from spoiling. Food additives have been used for centuries, even the romans used Sulphur Dioxide (E220) in wine, granted it was not called E220 then.

E- numbers are split into categories making it easy to identify the job they do.

They are coded in collective groups making it easier to understand the roles given to each additive:

  • E100–E199 Are colour additives – helping to give our food a more appeasing look for example
  • E200–E299 are preservatives – helping to give our food an extended shelf life for example
  • E300–E399 are antioxidants, acidity regulators – Protecting our food from other chemical reactions
  • E400–E499 are thickeners, stabilizers, emulsifiers – giving our food texture
  • E500–E599 are acidity regulators, anti-caking agents – helping to prevent the formation of lumps
  • E600–E699 are flavour enhancers – Used to bring out the Flavour in food
  • E700–E799 are antibiotics – added to medicines for stability, flavour, and reactive purposes
  • E900–E999 are a miscellaneous collection – includes gases, glazing agents and sweeteners
  • E1000–E1599 are additional chemicals – some are used to prevent unwanted flavours in food

Whilst these additives have been tested and passed there have been incidents and reports linking E numbers with behaviour problems in children, especially. For more information check the NHS website for more information

In reality, all foods are a combination of chemicals be they added or just part of the food’s DNA.

Whilst the Government has previously stated that they will enshrine many current EU laws into British law which at the moment includes the regulation of food additives and food labelling, what would happen when the EU changes its list of E numbers – will the UK adopt or ignore the new rules? Time will tell but for now E numbers will remain on all food packaging.

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Published on January 12th, 2021

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