E numbers are number codes for food additives that have been assessed for use within the European Union (the “E” prefix stands for “Europe”).They are commonly found on food labels throughout the European Union. Safety assessment and approval are the responsibility of the European Food Safety Authority. The numbering scheme follows that of the International Numbering System (INS) as determined by the Codex Alimentarius committee though only a subset of the INS additives are approved for use in the European Union. E numbers are also encountered on food labelling in other jurisdictions, including the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, Australia, New Zealand and Israel. The “E” prefix is omitted in Australia and New Zealand. They are increasingly, though rarely, found on North American packaging, especially in Canada on imported European products.
In casual language in the UK and Ireland, “E number” is used as a pejorative term for artificial food additives, and products may promote themselves as “free of E numbers” even though most of the natural ingredients contain components that also have an E number such as vitamin C (E300) or lycopene (E160d). Because vitamin C has an E number (actually several E numbers, 300-305, for different chemical forms of the vitamin), it is impossible to live on a diet without any substances that have E numbers. “Free of E numbers” then simply means that pure forms of the substances are not intentionally added, even though identical substances certainly exist naturally in nearly all foods.
What Do E Numbers Do?
Additives may be natural, nature identical or artificial. Natural additives are substances found naturally in a foodstuff and are extracted from this food to be used in another, for example beetroot juice with its bright purple colour can be used to colour other foods such as sweets. Nature identical additives are man made copies of substances that occur naturally. For example, benzoic acid is a substance that is found in nature and is made synthetically and used as a preservative. Artificial additives are substances made synthetically and are not found naturally.
Additives are used for a variety of purposes including to keep food wholesome until it is eaten, make the food look or taste better, ensure that the food is convenient to store or use, keep the price of the food competitive, make the food healthier (higher in vitamins or lower in fat) and aid in processing and manufacture.
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Classification By Numeric Range
|130–139||Blues & violets|
|150–159||Browns & Blacks|
|160–199||Gold and Others|
|230–239||Phenols & Formates (methanoates)|
Antioxidants & acidity regulators
|300–305||Ascorbates (vitamin C)|
|306–309||Tocopherol (vitamin E)|
|310–319||Gallates & Erythorbates|
|330–339||Citrates & Tartrates|
|350–359||Malates & Adipates|
|360–369||Succinates & Fumarates|
Thickeners, stabilisers & emulsifiers
|420–429||Other Natural Agents|
|470–489||Fatty Acids & Compounds|
pH regulators & anti-caking agents
|500–509||Mineral Acids & Bases|
|510–519||Chlorides & Sulphates|
|520–529||Sulphates & Hydroxides|
|530–549||Alkali Metal Compounds|
|570–579||Stearates & Gluconates|
|New chemicals that do not fall into standard classification schemes|