Safe food additives

This Factsheet is to assist food manufacturers to choose safe food additives they CAN use, rather than just those to avoid. It is encouraging that such questions are now being asked by responsible manufacturers.

Of about 350 food additives approved for use under the Australian Food Standards Code, which mirrors international standards, only about 50 are known to cause problems according to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital research. You can see some of the science in this factsheet. The majority of food additives, while they may or may not be necessary, are not known to be harmful. This majority includes anti-caking agents, bleaches, emulsifiers, mineral salts, propellants, food acids, sweeteners, thickening agents, vegetable gums and vitamins.

The good news is that there are alternative safe additives that can be used to substitute for nearly all the harmful additives without loss of technological function.

There are new additives (in italics) emerging all the time. No additives are tested for health, behaviour and learning effects by FSANZ, so it may take some time for the Food Intolerance Network to encounter, identify and report new problems. Always check for the latest.





Natural colour

Artificial colours

Allura red AC 129

Amaranth 123

Annatto natural colour 160b


Brilliant Black BN 151

Brilliant Blue FCF133

Brown HT 155

Carbon black 153 (withdrawn in USA)

Erythrosine 127

Fast green 143

Fast green FCF 143

Food green S 142

Indigotine 132

Ponceau 4R 124

Quinolene yellow 104

Sunset yellow FCF 110

Tartrazine 102

USED IN a wide range of sweet and savoury foods, drinks, confectionery, medicines, US breakfast cereals. Rarely used in Europe.

SAFE ALTERNATIVES Betacarotene yellow 160a, Caramel brown 150a (b,d may affect some people), Riboflavin yellow 101, Calcium carbonate white 170, Titanium dioxide white 171, Iron oxides yellow, red black 172, Saffron, crocetin or crocin 164.Plant-based natural colours may be moderate in salicylates: Beet red 162, Anthocyanins red, blue, violet 163, Curcurmin (turmeric) yellow 100, Chlorophyll green 140, Copper chlorophyll green 141, Cochineal red 120 (some allergic reactions).

UNTESTED Alkanet or alkannin pink 103 not tested. Paprika oleoresins (capsanthin) 160c and Lycopene 160d not tested. Effects of Beta-apo-8’ carotenal 160e, E-apo-8’ carotenic acid 160f not known, nor a range of xanthins (Flavoxanthin 161a, Lutein 161b, Kryptoxanthin 161c, Rubixanthin 161d, Violoxanthin 161e, Rhodoxanthin 161f).






Calcium sorbate 203

Potassium sorbate 202

Sodium sorbate 201

Sorbic acid 200

USED IN processed fruit and vegetable products, drinks, wine.

SAFE ALTERNATIVES to many preservatives include refrigeration, freezing, ascorbates 300-304.


Benzoic acid 210

Calcium benzoate 213

Potassium benzoate 212

Sodium benzoate 211

USED IN most soft drinks, diet drinks, cordials, juice drinks.

SAFE ALTERNATIVES How is it that 7UP, some Schweppes products and non-diet Coca-Cola don't need this preservative? Ascorbates 300-304 can be used.



Calcium hydrogen sulphite 227*

Calcium sulphite 226*

Potassium bisulphite 228

Potassium metabisulphite 224

Potassium sulphite 225

Sodium bisulphite 222

Sodium metabisulphite 223

Sodium sulphite 221

Sulphur dioxide 220

USED IN wine, beer, bread, processed meat like sausages, seafood like prawns, dried fruit, prepared salads, fruit salads, fruit and vegetable products, like drinks.

SAFE ALTERNATIVES Include ascorbates 300-304 in some applications. Calcium sulphate 516 and ascorbic acid 300 are safe alternatives to sodium metabisulphite used as a flour improver. For sausages, freezing is a safe alternative.

Nitrates & nitrites

Potassium nitrate 252

Potassium nitrite 249

Sodium nitrate 251

Sodium nitrite 250

USED IN processed meats like ham, salami, devon.



Calcium propionate 282

Potassium propionate 283

Propionic acid 280

Sodium propionate 281

USED IN most bread in Australia and USA. Recently permitted in cheese, fruit and vegetable products. Very rare in Europe. Also added as fermented whey powder.

SAFE ALTERNATIVES In bread, a safe alternative is better bakery hygiene, such as wiping surfaces and machinery with vinegar, or cooling loaves before placing in plastic bags. Ascorbates 300-304 can be used in some other applications. Ethanol is a safe alternative


Butylated hydoxyanisole (BHA) 320

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) 321

Dodecyl gallate 312

Erythorbic acid 317

Octyl gallate 311

Propyl gallate 310

tert-Butylhydroquinone 319

USED IN oils and margarines to prevent rancidity, chips, fried snack foods, fast foods. Not necessarily listed on labels where vegetable oil is a component, due to the 5% labelling loophole.

SAFE ALTERNATIVES Ascorbates 300-304, Tocopherols 306-309.





Calcium dihydrogen diLglutamate 623

Disodium guanylate 627

Disodium inosinate 631

L-Glutamic acid 620

Magnesium di-L-glutamate 625

Monoammonium L-glutamate 624

Monopotassium glutamate 622

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) 621

Sodium 5' ribonucleotide 635

USED IN tasty foods like flavoured noodles, snack foods, chips, crackers, sauces and fast foods. Glutamates are in hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP), 'plant protein', yeast extract, caseinate, broth, stock and 'natural flavourings'. 635 is now even to be found in butter! 129 ways that glutamates are added to fool consumers

SAFE ALTERNATIVES salt. Glutamates were introduced into Western food after WWII and is now used at levels far higher than ever used in the East. Do we need hyper-tasty food?

Added flavours


USED IN many foods without regulation. Can be vehicles for artificial flavours and preservatives.

SAFE ALTERNATIVES some natural flavours including vanilla.

from Clarke, L and others, Dietitians Association of Australia review paper: 'The dietary management of allergy and food intolerance in adults and children', Aust J Nutr & Diet (1996) 53:3; Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Allergy Unit, 'The Simplified Elimination Diet', available from dietitians; Dengate, S 'Fed Up', Random House, 1998; and Swain A and others, 'Friendly Food', Murdoch Books, 1991 *Not permitted in Australia

September 2008: New xanthophylls colour additives

161a flavoxanthin
161b lutein
161c kryptoxanthin
161d rubixanthin
161e violoxanthin
161f rhodoxanthin
161g canthaxanthin
161j astaxanthin
161I citranaxanthin

Yellow, orange and red colours called carotenoids occur in nature in colourful fruits and vegetables as well as leafy greens where they are covered by chlorophyll. Carotenoids are also responsible for the colour of salmon flesh, lobster shells or the plumage of birds like flamingos. These colours have been used for years in poultry and farmed fish feed and are now appearing more frequently as ‘natural’ food additives. When used commercially these colours are usually synthetically or biotechnically produced, e.g. extracted from algae. In 2002, the European Commission realised that no risk assessment had ever been carried out for carotenoids other than canthaxanthin, which has been found to cause retinal damage when used in large doses in tanning tablets for humans. Safety testing is currently being carried out, but – as usual – it does not include testing on children’s health, behaviour or learning. These colours are too new for us to know whether they will cause dose-related food intolerance reactions. When astaxanthin 161j red colour used in farmed fish was tested on 35 healthy adults, there were small but significant increases in eosinophils (white blood cell associated with allergic reactions, and involved in eosinophilic oesophagitis, a new type of heartburn): We have received two reports of possible reactions to strongly coloured commercial eggs compared to natural eggs by extremely sensitive failsafers with a high egg intake. For colours in eggs see

While we expect these additives will be safer than the artificial colours they replace, we recommend caution and welcome feedback.

If you have further questions, please contact Dr Howard Dengate, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +61 2 6654 7500

See also an Introduction to food intolerance

The information given is not intended as medical or commercial advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians 

© Sue Dengate update January 2016