EXTOXNET FAQs - The Safety of Food Additives The Safety of Food Additives

The safety of food additives is a subject of concern for consumers. In these pages we will provide science-based information about the safety of food additives: the history of the regulation of food additives, how the safety of a proposed food additive is assessed, and information about specific food additives which have aroused concern.

Food additives defined How is the safety of food additives assessed?
Why are additives necessary? Specific Food Additives
Good Information Sources on the Internet

(Reprinted from the International Food Information Council Foundation, 1992 )

What is a food additive?

Different governmental organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agroculture Organization (FAO) have different definitions of a food additive.

In its broadest sense, a food additive is any substance added to food.

The United States government defines a food additive as "any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result directly or indirectly in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food." This definition includes any substance used in the production, processing, treatment, packaging, transportation or storage of food.

The Food Protection Committee of the Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board defines an additive as "a substance or mixture of substances, other than a basic foodstuff, which is present in a food as a result of any aspect of production, processing, storage, or packaging. The term does not include chance contaminants."

A direct additive is a substance added to a food for a specific purpose, For example, the low-calorie sweetener aspartame, which is used in beverages, puddings, yogurt, chewing gum and other foods, is considered a direct additive. Many direct additives are identified on the ingredient label of foods.

Indirect food additives are those that become part of the food in trace amounts due to its packaging, storage or other handling. For instance, minute amounts of packaging substances may find their way into foods during storage. Food packaging manufacturers must prove to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that all materials coming in contact with food are safe, before they are permitted for use in such a manner.

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Prepared Summer 1997 by Bernadene Magnuson, Ph.D.
University of Idaho, Dept. of Food Science and Toxicology - EXTOXNET FAQ Team.