The most common food additives and ingredients.
Socioeconomic progress, diseases, and the constantly changing pace of life and lifestyles of consumers worldwide require food to be improved and tailored to meet the needs of purchasers. The produced food is functional, convenient, and enriched. This is achieved, i.e. with food additives. Nowadays, food additives are very widespread in the human diet, but not all of them are synthetic and invasive on human health. All food additives, and their application and dosage, are subject to strict regulations. The purpose of this work was to investigate which food additives are the most common in our everyday diet and how they affect our health.
- food additives
The history of food additives goes back to ancient times. As great civilisations developed, populations grew and so did the demand for food. In ancient Egypt, where the climate was not conducive to food storage, especially due to the heat, people started looking for ways to extend the usability life of products. Common practices included the addition of salt, drying in the sun, curing/corning, meat and fish smoking, pickling, and burning sulphur during vegetable preservation. The earliest preservatives included sulphur dioxide (E220), acetic acid (E260), and sodium nitrite (E250), while turmeric (E100) and carmine (E120) were among the first colours. Food preservation was also of immense importance during numerous armed conflicts. Both during the Napoleonic wars in Europe and during the American Civil War, seafarers and soldiers needed food. Limited access to fresh food at the front motivated the armed forces to transport their food with them. This is when cans were introduced for food preservation purposes. In the subsequent centuries, ammonium bicarbonate (E503ii), also known as salt of hartshorn, used as a rising agent for baked goods, and sodium hydroxide solution (E524), used in the production of salty sticks, rose to prominence [1, 2].
The nineteenth century saw considerable advancements in the fields of chemistry, biology, and medicine. A name that needs to be mentioned here is Louis Pasteur, a French scientist, who studied microbiology, among other things. He was the first to prove that microorganisms were responsible for food spoilage. At the same time, new chemical compounds were discovered that were able to inhibit the growth of microbes. Some substances, such as picric acid, hydrofluoric acid, and their salts, often had disastrous consequences when added to food. Insufficient knowledge of toxicology resulted in consumer poisonings and even deaths [1, 3]. At that time, food preservation was the number one priority, which was achieved, for instance, by using salicylic acid, formic acid (E236), benzoic acid (E210), boric acid (E284), propionic acid (E280), sorbic acid (E200) and its potassium salt (E202), and esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid. Later, food concerns also focused on improving the organoleptic properties of their products and started to enhance food with colours, flavours, and sweeteners, without first researching their effects on human health. For example, such practices involved the use of synthetic colours used in fabric dyeing. This desire to make money on beautiful-looking products led to adulterating food with copper and iron salts, which have a negative impact on the human body. It was as late as in 1907 that the United States studied 90 of the synthetic colours used at that time for food dyeing and found only 7 to be acceptable for further use. Detailed studies and strict regulations on the use of food additives were created almost a century later [1, 4].
Globally, food safety is ensured by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In 1962, these organisations established a special agenda—the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Commission has prepared and updated the Codex Alimentarius, which is not a legal Act per se, but provides a reference for standards on raw materials and food products, acceptable contamination levels, hygienic processing, research methods, and food additives for almost all countries worldwide . In the European Union, the body responsible for improving human health protection and food safety risk mitigation, as well as for taking care of purchaser interests, is the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). It is a scientific agency established in 2002 pursuant to the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2002. European legislation is based on the Codex Alimentarius but conducts its own complementary research. Therefore, the list of food additives permitted by the European Union is different from the American one .
The primary legal Act governing food in Poland is the Food and Nutrition Safety Act of 25 August 2006 (as amended). It specifies the requirements applicable to food and nutrition, concerning product labelling, hygienic conditions throughout the production process, and product replacement rules, as well as requirements concerning the use of food additives. The key document that pertains specifically to food additives is the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on food additives. The EU-approved list of food additives is presented in the Commission Regulation (EU) of 11 November 2011 [4, 5].
EU legislation has approved approximately 330 food additives for use. The primary objectives behind the use of additives are to extend the shelf life and freshness of products, prevent product quality impairment, make the product more attractive to customers, achieve the desired texture, ensure specific product functionality, facilitate production processes, reduce production costs, and enrich the nutritional value of products. In order to harmonise, effectively identify any additives, and ensure smooth exchange of goods, each food additive has its own, standardised, code. This code is consistent with the International Numbering System (INS) and comprises the letter “E” and three or four digits. There are several food additive classifications. One is based on the regulation and differentiates between colours (approx. 40), sweeteners (approx. 16), and other additives (approx. 277) [8, 9].
Preservatives and acidity regulators—E200–E299
Antioxidants and synergists—E300–E399
Stabilising, thickening, emulsifying, coating, and bulking substances—E400–E499
Other substances—E500 and above
Food additives can also be divided into four major groups, based on their processing purpose. These are substances that prevent food spoilage, those which improve sensory features, firming additives and excipients. The most numerous group among additives that slow down food spoilage are
Other substances used as preservatives are
Not only microorganisms but also oxygen is responsible for food spoilage. Products such as oils, fats, and dry goods (flour, semolina) oxidise when they come into contact with atmospheric oxygen. Fat oxidisation (rancidification) occurs in oils, lard, flour, and milk powder. The browning of fruit, vegetables, and meat, on the other hand, is the result of non-fat substance oxidisation. These oxidisation processes can be slowed down or eliminated completely using
In order to extend the freshness of consumer goods, products are also packaged in a modified atmosphere. As part of this process, the oxygen content inside the packaging is reduced and replaced with other
The organoleptic properties of consumer goods are very important to consumers. Visual appeal is considered to be as important as taste or smell. This is where
Synthetic food colours are very competitive compared to natural ones. They offer a wide spectrum of colours, including those that are not available in nature, provide strong colouring, and are resistant to environmental factors, so they do not fade during processing. Furthermore, they are not expensive to produce, which contributes to low end-product prices. Synthetic colours can be divided into organic and inorganic, with organic constituting the considerable majority in terms of food colouring. In the past, chemical colours were made of coal, while now crude oil is used for this purpose. EU law approves 15 synthetic colours, including the so-called Southampton colours. A study conducted in 2007 in the United Kingdom (in Southampton, hence the name) showed the particularly negative effects of six colours on children’s health . Specifically, tartrazine (E102), quinoline yellow (E104), sunset yellow (E110), azorubine (E122), cochineal red (E124), and Allura red AC (E129) were found to cause hyperactivity. As a result, since 2010, manufacturers which add at least one of their products have been required to provide label information about their negative effects on concentration and brain functioning in children. Acceptable daily doses of these colours have also been reassessed and updated. Moreover, research conducted on lab animals has shown that the long-term use of synthetic colours, and especially the three that account for 90% of the use of all synthetic colours (Allura red, tartrazine, and sunset yellow), can cause cancer, allergies, and chromosome mutations. Products that are most often synthetically coloured include candy, wine gums, ready-made desserts, and refreshing beverages [8, 10].
During consumption, one can experience product taste, smell, and consistency. These three sensations are referred to as palatability and are caused by
A separate group that enhances the sensory properties of food are
The additives that are vital in terms of processing are
What is also important in creating product structure are
Nowadays, consumer goods are widely available, and consumers are provided with a broad range of products to choose from. The continuously growing number of world population (approximately 7 billion in 2011) has made supply on the food market exceed demand. This situation is characteristic of countries with a high GDP. Food producers examine consumer behaviour patterns to see what encourages them to make a purchase, and also the purchase itself and its consequences, and then analyse these processes to launch a new product or a substitute for an already existing one. To sum up, the market has provided more food products than consumers are able to purchase, which results in unimaginable food wastage. Each year, approximately 100 million tonnes of food goes to waste in Europe. This quantity does not include agricultural and food waste or fish discards .
2. Materials and methods
The methodology of this study was based on the information contained on the labels. The chemical composition of the investigated food products was presented. Interview with the store’s seller concerned the popularity and frequency of sales listed in the product tables. It should be noted that the examined store is representative when it comes to this type of stores in the majority of small towns in south-eastern Poland.
This study was based on data on the most frequently chosen consumer goods in a store in a small town in Poland. The town is located in a commune that has 5300 residents. Data were obtained by monitoring the sales over the course of 12 months. These products are presented in Tables 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and classified into the following categories: (i) meat and fish; (ii) beverages; (iii) condiments; (iv) ready-made sauces, soups, and dishes; and (v) sweets and desserts. The main classification criterion was segregation into primary food groups. The chemical composition of each product, as listed on the packaging, was included in a table and then assessed against the presence of any food additives. Sixteen most common additives were selected in all the investigated products; only chemical compounds that were found in at least four food products were taken into consideration. The most common food additives were highlighted in Holt in the “product composition” column and presented in Table 1, together with their E codes. Then, based on the literature, the study described the most common additional substances.
|Name||Symbol||Number of products|
|Glucose-fructose syrup||Not considered an additive||5|
|Soy lecithin||Not considered an additive||5|
|Maltodextrin||Not considered an additive||5|
|Glucose syrup||Not considered an additive||4|
3. Results and discussion
Table 1 shows 16 of the most popular substances found in food. The majority of these substances are food additives; four other substances are not considered in the European Union as food additives. The additives that are the most frequently found in the food products examined in this study are citric acid (E330), monosodium glutamate (E621), and guar gum (E412). In Ref.  it is reported that the most popular preservatives found in food are the mixture of sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, or potassium sorbate (E202) and sodium benzoate (E211) used separately, and also ulphur dioxide (E220). Data presented in Table 1 shows that, compared to citric acid, another preservative, sodium benzoate, is used rarer. No potassium sorbate was found in any of the products examined in this study. In Ref.  it can be concluded that the most commonly used preservatives and antioxidants are sorbic acid and its salts (E200-203), benzoic acid and its salts (E210-213), sulfur dioxide (E220), sodium nitrite (E250), lactic acid (E270), citric acid (E330) and tocopherols (E306). The majority of the additives listed in Ref.  can be found in Table 1.
Table 2 shows 10 meat and fish products and their composition, as specified on the label. Each of the investigated items contained at least 1 of the 16 most common food additives (Table 1). As much as 50% of meat and fish products contained four or more of such additives. The highest number of additives (seven) was found in “Z doliny Karol” mortadella. “Masarnia u Józefa” crispy ham and “Lipsko” Śląska sausage contained six different food additives. Seventy percent of the examined products had had sodium nitrite (E250) added. This means that this preservative is frequently added to meat products, as confirmed in Ref. . Other widespread preservatives mentioned in Ref.  include lactic acid (E270), sodium benzoate (E211), sorbic acid (E200), and sulphur dioxide (E220). In Ref.  it also mentions other additives frequently added to meat and fish products; these include carrageenan, gum arabic, and xanthan gum. In this study, 50% of the examined items contain one or two gums, and carrageenan is present in only three in ten products. A study in Ref.  demonstrates that fish products are the second leading food (after edible fats) in terms of preservative content.
|Szynka krucha (ham) Masarnia u Józefa||Pork ham, salt, pork protein, ||Pasztet podlaski (pâté) 155 g Drosed||Water, mechanically separated chicken meat, rapeseed oil, chicken liver and skin, cream of wheat, salt, soy protein, potato starch, dried vegetables, spices, powdered milk, (milk) whey, sugar, |
|Kiełbasa śląska (sausage) Lipsko||Pork 60%, pig fat 17%, water, mechanically deboned chicken meat, fibre, pork skin emulsion, potato starch, milk proteins, ||Łuków przysmak kanapkowy (tinned meat) 300 g||Pork meat 30%, water, beef meat 18%, pig fat, soy protein, salt, beef fat, |
|Mortadela doliny (mortadella) Karol||Water, pork 20%, mechanically separated chicken meat 15%, pig fat, pork connective tissue, cream of wheat, acetylated starch, polyphosphates, ||Agrovit duże porcje konserwa tyrolska (tinned meat) 400 g||Water, mechanically separated chicken meat 23%, pork raw materials 23%, modified (corn) starch, wheat fibre, pea fibre, salt, |
|Mięso mielone wieprzowe (ground pork) Adrian||Pork meat 65%, pig fat 34%, salt, ||Euro Fish szprot w sosie pomidorowym (sprat in tomato sauce) 170 g||Fish—sprat without heads—tomato sauce, water, tomato concentrate, sugar, rapeseed oil, salt, modified starch, dried onion, |
|Parówki (frankfurters) Indykpol||Chicken meat 25.9%, mechanically separated turkey meat 17%, mechanically separated chicken meat 17.3%, water, poultry fat, pork, corn flour, chicken skins, pig fat, pork skins, potato starch, soy protein, salt, spices, spice extracts, flavourings||Graal Flet z makreli w sosie pomidorowym (mackerel fillet in tomato sauce) 170 g||Mackerel fillets 60%, tomato sauce, water, tomato concentrate, sugar, rapeseed oil, modified starch, spirit vinegar, salt, powdered tomatoes, dried onion, spice extract, spices, |
Table 3 shows ten non-alcoholic beverages, six of which contain at least one common food additive (Table 1). Foreign substances that are most frequently found in this food group are citric acid (E330), sodium benzoate (E211), and glucose-fructose syrup. A study in Refs. [18, 19] shows that the most popular sweeteners in non-alcoholic beverages are glucose, fructose, and glucose-fructose syrups. As shown on product label, 100% juice by brands such as “Hortex” and “Tymbark”, as well as “Cisowianka” and “Kubuś” mineral waters, is additive free. Pursuant to the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council (EC) of 16 December 2008, no food additives may be used in mineral and spring bottled water. The beverage to contain the largest number of additive substances was white orangeade by “Hellena”.
|Woda mineralna gazowana (carbonated mineral water) Cisownianka 1.5 L||Natural mineral water, unsaturated with carbon dioxide, moderately mineralised||Woda mineralna niegazowana (non-carbonated mineral water) Kubuś water|
|Water, cane sugar, apple juice from concentrated apple juice, lemon juice from concentrated lemon juice, flavouring|
|Sok jabłko (apple juice) 100% 1 L Hortex||100% apple juice from concentrated apple juice||Coca cola 1.5 L||Water, sugar, carbon dioxide, |
|Sok multiwitamina (multivitamin juice) 100% 1 L Tymbark||Juices from concentrated apple juice 60% and orange juice 22%, carrot juice from concentrated juice 12%, purées from banana 3%, peach, guava, papaya, juices from concentrated pineapple juice 2%, mango juice 0.5%, passion fruit juice 0.1%, lychee juice 0.05%, cactus fig juice, kiwi fruit juice and lime juice, vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, folic acid, pantothenic acid||Tymbark 2 L jabłko-pomarańcza (apple-orange)||Water, orange juice from concentrated juice 19%, |
|Volcano 2 L cola||Spring water, carbon dioxide, sulphite ammonia caramel, phosphoric acid, ||Volcano 2 L pomarańcza (orange)||Spring water, carbon dioxide, orange juice 0.3% from concentrated orange juice, |
|Hellena 1.25 L oranżada biała (white orangeade)||Sugar, water, ||Kubuś marchew, jabłko, pomarańcza, sok (carrot, apple, and orange juice) 330 mL||Purées and juices (59%), water, |
Table 4 shows 12 food items, such as ketchup, mustard, herbs and spices, and tomato concentrates, together with their composition. Only four products in this group contain a food additive, of which three are preserved using citric acid (E330). In this group of products, the products to contain the most common additive substances were the ketchup and the Kucharek seasoning by “Prymat”. Pursuant to the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council (EC) of 16 December 2008, tomato products (such as concentrates) must not contain food colours. They may, however, contain other additives. The ketchup has no colours, but contains other food additives. Studies in Ref.  demonstrate that mayonnaises and mustards are the fourth most often preserved product group, with ready-made concentrates ranking seventh. One of the two mustards examined in this paper contained a preservative, and two of the presented tomato concentrates had not had any food additives added to them.
|Koncentrat pomidorowy (tomato concentrate) Aro 190 g||30% tomato concentrate||Koncentrat pomidorowy (tomato concentrate) Pudliszki||30% tomato concentrate|
|Ketchup łagodny (mild ketchup) 470 g||37% tomato concentrate, water, sugar, vinegar, modified starch, salt, ||Ketchup Pudliszki łgodny (mild ketchup)|
|Tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt, modified starch, natural flavouring|
|Musztarda Parczew kremska (Krems mustard) 180 g||Water, mustard seeds, vinegar, sugar, salt, spices||Musztarda Roleski stołowa (table mustard)||Water, mustard seeds, sugar, spirit vinegar, salt, spices, turmeric extract, |
|Zioła prowansalskie (Herbes de Provence) Prymat||Basil, marjoram, rosemary, savoury, sage, thyme, oregano, mint||Przyprawa do kurczaka (chicken seasoning) Goleo||Salt, garlic, white mustard seeds, sweet pepper, carrot, coriander, fenugreek, caraway, chilli, turmeric, cinnamon|
|Przyprawa Tzatziki (tzatziki seasoning) Prymat||Garlic, salt, sugar, onion, ||Kucharek Prymat 250 g||Salt, died vegetables, |
Table 5 shows 12 products categorised into ready-made dishes, soups and sauces, and their chemical composition. Each of these products contains at least one common additive. Citric acid (E330) was added to nearly 67% of the products in this category. Only five in twelve items (including four instant soups and stock cubes) contain the three most popular food additive substances (Table 1). A study in Ref.  shows that the most common additives in ready-made dishes are citric acid (E330), sunset yellow (E110), guar gum (E412), disodium guanylate (E627), disodium inosinate (E631), and monosodium glutamate (E621).
|Rosół drobiowy kucharek (chicken soup) 60 g||Salt, palm fat, partially hydrogenated, starch, ||Rosół drobiowy Winiary (chicken soup) 60 g||Salt, |
|Vifon kurczak Carry (curry chicken)||Noodles (92.1%), wheat flour, plant fat, tapioca, modified starch, acetylated starch, sugar, stabilisers (pentasodium triphosphate, ||Amino zupa błyskawiczna gulaszowa (instant goulash soup)||Noodles (85%), wheat flour, palm fat, modified starch, salt, rapeseed oil, |
|Sos Winiary Italia boloński (Bolognese sauce)||Dried vegetables, modified starch, sugar, salt, spices, flavourings, sunflower oil, ||Sos Winiary pieczeniowy ciemny (dark roasting sauce)||Potato starch, modified starch, salt, dried vegetables, flavourings, sugar, yeast extracts, fully hydrogenated palm fat, palm oil, rice flour, |
|Sos Winiary borowikowy (bolete sauce)||Corn starch, wheat flour, powdered cream, palm oil, sunflower oil, ||Zupa Winiary barszcz biały (white borscht)||Wheat flour, skimmed powdered milk, salt, potato starch, sugar, smoked pig fat, citric acid, dried vegetables, yeast extract, herbs, spices, smoke flavour|
|Zupa Winiary jak u mamy pieczarkowa (champignon soup)||Corn starch, skimmed powdered milk, wheat flour, powdered cream, dried champignons, yeast extracts, salt, potato starch, dried vegetables, flavourings, sunflower oil, wheat protein hydrolysate, parsley, black pepper, ||Łowicz sos boloński (Bolognese sauce) 350 g||Tomatoes, water, vegetables, |
|Danie gotowe Flaczki (ready-made tripe) Pamapol||Water, beef rumen 305, wheat flour, carrot, parsley, celeriac, tomato concentrate, onion, salt, pork gelatine, sugar, soy protein hydrolysate, dried vegetables, yeast extract, spices, ||Pomysł na soczystą karkówkę z ziemniakami (pork shoulder with potatoes seasoning) Winiary||Wheat flour, vegetables, salt, modified starch, yeast extract, herbs, |
Table 6 shows 10 food items classified as sweets and desserts. As many as nine products in this group contained at least one of the most common food additives (Table 1). Glucose-fructose or glucose syrups were found in six of the examined items. A study in Ref.  shows that sweets often include the so-called Southampton colours, such as quinoline yellow and tartrazine. However, the study reports that the amounts of these substances added to sweets are much lower than the maximum values allowed by the applicable law.
|Lód Top milker (ice cream) Koral||Skimmed reconstituted milk, sugar, cocoa oil, ||Baton 3bit (candy bar)||Sugar, biscuit 14% [wheat flour, sugar, plant fat, powdered whey, |
|7 days||Wheat flour, cocoa filling 25% [(sugar, partially hydrogenated plant fats, water, low-fat powdered cocoa 7%, skimmed powdered milk, ethyl alcohol, emulsifier (lactic acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), vanilla flavouring, gelling agent (sodium alginate), preservative (potassium sorbate 0.1%)], margarine [partially hydrogenated plant fats, water, salt, emulsifier (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), acidity regulator, flavouring, preservative (potassium sorbate 0.1%)], sugar, stabiliser (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), ||Lód rożek truskawkowy (ice cream cone) Koral||Skimmed reconstituted milk, cornet 14% [wheat flour, sugar, palm fat, potato starch, emulsifier (|
|Baton Milky way (candy bar)||Sugar, ||Mlekołaki Lubella muszelki (cereal) 250 g||Wholemeal wheat, wheat, and corn flours, sugar, glucose, reduced-fat cocoa, cocoa, barley malt extract, milk chocolate, palm fat, salt, |
|Nestlé Corn Flakes 600 g||Corn grits, sugar, salt, glucose, brown sugar, invert sugar syrup, cane sugar molasses, sodium phosphates, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folic acid||Nestlé Frutina 250 g||Wheat flakes (wholemeal wheat, sugar, wheat bran, barley malt extract, invert sugar syrup, salt, cane sugar molasses, |
|Lays zielona cebulka (crisps) 150 g||Potatoes, palm oil, sunflower oil, flavouring, powdered onion, powdered milk whey, powdered milk lactose, sugar, powdered milk, ||Star chips paprika (crisps) 170 g||Potatoes, palm fat, flavourings, wheat breadcrumbs, glucose, sugar, |
A commonly found preservative is
A common ingredient in food is
What frequently occurs in consumer goods is
Another frequently added substance is
The most widespread natural emulsifier is
Common preservatives include benzoic acid and its salts, of which the most frequently used is
The external aspect that is most crucial for buyers when it comes to food selection is its freshness. Buyers assess the best before date against the possibility of consuming the food quickly or storing it for future use. Another determinant is the value of the item. Any consumer will pay attention to the price of the product they buy. Another factor is the product ingredients specified on the packaging. Buyers have been observed to have developed a habit of reading labels before buying anything. Some customers also pay attention to the country of origin or brand . Men and women who are determined to stay fit will also consider nutritional value. The factors that are not considered that are relevant include net product weight, information about any genetically modified raw material content, and notices about any implemented quality management systems. Moreover, consumers are likely to be affected by marketing devices, such as advertisements or special offers, used by producers. A temporary reduction in price, or the opportunity to buy two items for the price of one, encourages customers to make a purchase [3, 4]. What is also vital is whether the food is functional. Many people live at a fast pace, work a lot, or get stuck in traffic jams, and the lack of free time pushes them to buy ready-made dishes to be heated up at home or food that can be prepared in an instant [4, 13, 22].
Nowadays, food additives are very widespread in the everyday human diet, but not all of them are synthetic and invasive to human health. Products which must not contain foreign substances do not contain food additives. The explorations undertaken by this and other studies confirm the widespread use of the investigated additives, except for citric acid, which is less popular an additive than sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate. This study shows that when adopting a healthy lifestyle, consumers can choose from a range of food and pharmaceutical products that either contain a limited amount of unconventional substances or do not contain such substances at all.