Controls on chemicals in food

Food additives


Food additives are intentionally added to food for a technological purpose during its manufacture and processing. Additives in food may include:

  • antioxidants - used in food prepared with fats or oils to protect them against deterioration caused by rancidity
  • colours - used to make food look more attractive or to replace colours which have been lost during processing
  • emulsifiers, stabilisers, gelling agents and thickeners - used to help mix ingredients together that would usually separate, eg oils and water
  • flavour enhancers - used to bring out the flavour of food without adding a flavour of their own
  • preservatives - used to keep food safe for longer
  • sweeteners - used to replace sugar in certain foods, eg energy reduced products

Food additives and legislation

The EU law that continues to apply to Northern Ireland after 1 January 2021 is specified in Annex II to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Food and feed products produced in NI or placed on the NI market need to comply with EU food law. 

Only food additives listed on the European Union (EU) approved list may be used in food. Most additives are restricted to certain foods at maximum specified levels. EU law states that additives used in foods must be labelled clearly in the list of ingredients, with their functional class and either by name or by an E number.

You must ensure that any food additives you use in your food have been approved for use and in the particular category of food in which you wish to use it. You must also comply with all other conditions of use which include the levels at which the additives may be used in that food.

Labelling and food additives

Labelling and allergens rules state you must also ensure that any prepacked food you supply to caterers or consumers is clearly labelled with a list of the ingredients used, including any additives.

Specific labelling requirements apply for certain food additives, for example: 

  • food containing polyols must be labelled with 'excessive consumption may induce laxative effects'
  • food containing aspartame/aspartame-acesulfame salt must be labelled with 'contains a source of phenylalanine' or 'contains aspartame (a source of phenylalanine)'

The latter warning is particularly important for those suffering from phenylketonuria (PKU) which is diagnosed at birth by the NHS.

  • Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland
    028 9041 7700