Food processing aids and additives, between re-evaluation and novelties


Tiramisu cake

Centred on transparency, EFSA is re-evaluating current food additives in the light of recent studies. The current trend is to give higher priority to natural products, in line with the needs of consumers, which reduce fat intake, the aim being to lower costs while retaining all the natural characteristics of the food product.

Antioxidants, colours, emulsifiers, stabilisers, sweeteners are commonly added to food products. Under EU legislation, before they can be used in food, all food additives must be authorised according to a thorough safety assessment. In spite of this, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is re-evaluating food additives currently in use.

Reference to existing regulations
Already in the 60’s Italy had laid down a legislation in the field of food additives. With a view to harmonising existing laws in all EU member states, in the 90’s the European Union issued a number of framework directives and standards for each category of additives. More recently, and precisely in 2008,  a legislative package was issued, the “Food Improvement Agents”, on food enzymes (1332/2008), food additives (1333/2008), flavourings (1334/2008), and the EU authorisation procedure (1331/2008). Subsequently, other Regulations on this topic were published, as Regulation 1129/2011 establishing a list of authorised food additives and their conditions of use; Regulation 231/2012 laying down approved “purity criteria”, i.e. the chemical-physical characteristics of additives used in food; and Regulation 257/2010 establishing a programme for the re-evaluation of approved food additives, to be completed by EFSA between 2010 and 2020, by assessing any new scientific information available.


EFSA’s re-evaluation
EFSA is now re-evaluating all food additives authorised for use prior to 20 January 2009. In fact, the Commission required EFSA to re-evaluate all these additives – assessed decades ago – according to specific deadlines, in the light of new scientific evidence. EFSA will then point out whether present conditions of use for each additive must be changed, as for instance the acceptable daily intake (ADI), or if the additive has to be removed from the list of approved food additives. The re-evaluation of each additive according to the main functional class (preservatives and antioxidants, etc.) will take into account various criteria: the time since the last evaluation; the availability of new scientific evidence, the extent of use of a food additive, etc. EFSA will make public calls for new data. The re-evaluation of food colours has been given the priority, since they have the oldest evaluations, followed by  preservatives and antioxidants (which shall be evaluated by December 2015), emulsifiers, stabilisers, gelling agents (within  December 2016).