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 natural, nature-identical or artificial, flavourings don’t have code numbers and maybe 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.
The 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.
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 the 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.
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.
How additives are regulated
The use of food additives in Australia is governed by the Food Standards Code and regulated by FSANZ. When applying to use a new additive, a manufacturer must provide evidence to FSANZ of its safety, as well as the technological reason for its use. FSANZ reviews the safety evidence before an additive is approved for use and reviews new research as it becomes available, but doesn’t undertake safety testing of its own.
On top of that, an exposure assessment estimates the likely amount that would be consumed if the food additive were permitted for use. This amount is compared to the acceptable daily intake (ADI) recommended by scientific experts, which is the amount you can consume every day without damaging your health. FSANZ then recommends a maximum level of the food additive permitted in particular foods, based on technological need and providing it’s within safe limits.