Food additives you should avoid

Which ones pose a health risk?
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  • Updated:2 May 2008

07.Unlabelled additives

You can avoid specific additives in packaged foods by looking at the ingredients list.

Additives must be identified by their function, then by their name (for example, preservative: sulphur dioxide), or by their code number (for example, preservative 220).

But the fact that either the name or code number is listed means it can be hard to compare which additives are in different products. And there are some exceptions:


Whether they be natural, nature-identical or artificial, they don’t have code numbers and may be labelled simply as 'flavouring' or 'flavour'. According to FSANZ, the vast number of flavouring substances permitted in food means it wouldn’t be realistic to require the names to be listed individually.

5% loophole

If an additive is present in an ingredient and that ingredient makes up less than 5% of the complete food product — and the additive isn’t considered to perform a technological function in the final food — it doesn’t have to be listed.

Processing aids

These aren’t required to be listed, even though traces may be present in the food. Enzymes are an example — they have multiple uses in food production, including pumping up bread loaf volume, assisting with the removal of meat protein from bones and breaking down fruit to release more juice.

Ice structuring protein (ISP), a genetically modified fish protein used in ice cream to control the size and growth of ice crystals, is another.

CHOICE verdict

We want one clear labelling system for additives so it’s easier to avoid them and to compare what’s in different foods.

Food labelling should also be extended to include all additives, including processing aids, even if they’re present in very small amounts.


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