The main aim of additives or E-numbers is to increase a foods shelf life, that’s the length of time it can be waiting in a store before it’s purchased. Processed foods (foods with additives and E-numbers) quite simply don’t spoil as quickly as fresh foods.
So how do I know what an E-number is.
E-numbers are given to additives that are considered safe for use in our food & drink by the European Community (e.g. E102 on food labels). Additives have to undergo tests and are regularly reviewed for any possible harmful effect to our health.
Some UK produced foods may have a number, with no E prefix; this means the additive is approved for use in the UK, but not for the whole European Community.
There are hundreds of permitted additives and they fall into 5 main categories:
1. Colours E100 – 180
These are used to make food or drink more attractive.
2. Preservatives E200 – 290
These are used to extend the life of the food and drink by protecting against bugs that can cause food spoilage and poisoning.
3. Antioxidants 300 – 321
These are used to extend the life of fatty food and fat-soluble vitamins by protecting the food against the chemical reactions that cause fats to spoil.
4. Emulsifiers and Stabilisers E322 – E483
Uses for these include: emulsifiers, which enable fats and water to be mixed, and stabilisers, which are used to keep them mixed.
5. Sweeteners E420 – E421
Although the majority of people are able to consume these additives with no ill affect, there will be a small percentage of people who are intolerant or allergic to some of these additives.
If you do suffer from a reaction to additives, it may be necessary to avoid them. This usually involves omitting those used as colourings and/or preservatives only.
I’ve heard that e-numbers can affect my children’s behaviour? Is this true?
There is little evidence linking artificial additives to poor behaviour in children. It is likely that any improved behaviour is due to a more balanced diet being eaten if additives are avoided, as avoiding additives usually results in less processed foods being consumed.