E Numbers – What are they?

What are E Numbers?

e numbers

Sample snapshot of ingredients with E Numbers

E Numbers are like a 'code'. Each individual E Number you come across stands for a specific food additive. It's important to know that they are only used for additives that are added directly to the food. The reason why we stress directly is because in the food making process other additives may be present such as contaminants, enzymes or processing aids. Some countries such as the USA may class some of these as additives but they are not included in the E Number system.

Who uses E Numbers?

The food industry uses them when they manufacture food/ drink products.

Who created the E Number system?

The European Economic Community (EEC) created the system, but it is used world wide by the food industry.

Are E Numbers safe?

Before an additive is given an E Number it is fully evaluated for safety. Once an additive is tested for it's safety it is given a convenient E Number.

What are the additives E Numbers refer to?

E Numbers are broken down into different groups. We've clarified them below:

100-199: Food Colours
200-299: Preservatives
300-399: Antioxidants, phosphates and complexing agents
400-499: Thickeners, gelling agents, phosphates, humectants, emulsifiers
500-599: Salts and related compounds
600-699: Flavour enhancers
700-899: Not used for food additives but for feed additives
900-999: Surface coating agents, gases, sweeteners
1000-1399: Miscellaneous additives
1400-1499: Starch derivatives

What if I can't see E numbers on an ingredient label?

EU Law, spefically Community legislation (Directive 2000/13/EC, Regulation 50/2000/EC and Directive 89/107/EEC), is about food labelling. It requires food additives to be listed in the product ingredients section. Most commonly you will see colourings, artificial sweeteners and flavour enhancers. You will also come across preservatives, thickeners and emulsifiers.

Ingredients are required to be listed in descending order of weight.

You may not sometimes see an E Number but the actual additive may be listed. For example you may see gelatine without an E number. Or 'aspartame' which is an artificial sweetener. The e number for aspartame is E951 which if cross referenced with the above groups comes into sweeteners.

Gummy box will do various blogs on this topic. Our next blog will be to highlight E numbers that are to be avoided by vegetarians and those on a halal diet. It is important to note that for those on a halal diet can have halal gelatine.

There are various website you can visit to keep up to date on changes in E numbers such as the Muslim Consumer Group and Sanha.

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