Intake of food additives mostly at safe levels

25.1.2018 13:22

The amounts of food additives consumed by people in Finland are usually safe. At population level, the intake of additives even among high consumers of foodstuffs containing food additives is estimated to remain below acceptable daily levels. This is one of the findings of a report on food additives recently released by the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira. According to the report, the highest levels used by the Finnish food industry often fall below the maximum amounts permitted under the food additive legislation.

Additives are used in foodstuffs to extend storage life or improve taste, colour or texture. In Finland, the intake of most additives is estimated to remain below the ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake) value even at assumptions giving the highest outcomes.

Evira's report addresses about 150 additives for which an ADI values have been specified.

"The exposure estimates are based on the maximum permissible amounts determined in the EU regulation on food additives. Additionally, we requested from the food industry data on the actual used amounts for about one third of the analysed additives in order to get more accurate intake estimates", says Senior Researcher, Docent Johanna Suomi, PhD, of Evira's Risk Assessment Research Unit.

Occasional intake peaks not a risk

Minor or random peaks in intake exceeding the ADI value pose no risk to consumers. When ADI values are determined on the basis of toxicity analyses, a dosage that does not result in any adverse effects in animals is still a hundred times higher than the ADI value specified for the substance involved.

People who follow a varied diet and eat in moderation are not likely to exceed the recommended intake level for any additive.

"However, some people in Finland may often consume large amounts of foodstuffs, such as sweets, that contain several additives. If so, the intake of additives may frequently exceed the ADI level. Even then the problem may lie in dietary deficiencies rather than an excessive intake of additives," Suomi says.

Useful for product development efforts

While the additive study was carried out for food control purposes, the industry may also make more efficient use of the list of the additives selected for closer scrutiny.

"One thing that the food industry could consider is whether the same standard of quality could be achieved with lower levels of additives. After all, the latest ADI values specified by the European Food Safety Authority EFSA may lead to lower maximum levels in the foreseeable future," Suomi says.

A more extensive study of adverse effects called for

The report showed that certain additives warrant further study. These include preservatives such as sulphites, benzoates and sorbates, some colouring agents, phosphates, glutamates and certain sweeteners like acesulfame K and cyclamate. For some of these, an ADI value was just recently specified by the European Food Safety Authority EFSA or it was reduced based on the latest research findings. At the EU-level, there has not been enough time to respond to the changed situation through legal amendments.

"For this type of additives, it is advisable to carry out further research into the extent of use and even prepare more accurate estimates of consumer exposure based on product-level data on the consumption of food and measured additive concentrations in food", Suomi says.

The now reported study also provides a basis for systematic monitoring of the use and intake of additives.

Food additives - a risk profile (description in English)

For more information, please contact:
Senior Researcher Johanna Suomi, tel. +358 (0)40 822 5629


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