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Frequently Asked Questions

What does the E stand for in the food additives known as E numbers

Judith Kluin, United Kingdom

Today, food additives are strictly regulated and go through an authorisation procedure. Authorised food additives are clearly defined substances which have to fulfil strict purity criteria and maximum levels are fixed to protect the consumer. Above all there must be a technological need for their use and a clear benefit to the consumer.

The use of food additives is harmonised across the EU, and all approved additives are given an E number ("E" for "Europe"). Each has a specific name and number and their use is limited to particular foods. Permitted food additives are broadly classified into several categories according to the functions they perform.

The main uses of additives in foods are to:

  • Ensure safety and wholesomeness
  • Increase shelf-life
  • Amplify or promote sensory qualities (improving texture or consistency; enhance consumer acceptability; assist in food processing, etc)
  • Improve or maintain nutritional value

Links about food additives:

JECFA list:


The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) is a non-profit organisation which communicates science-based information on nutrition and health, food safety and quality, to help consumers to be better informed when choosing a well-balanced, safe and healthful diet.

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This site was last updated 19/05/2016
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