Q. Why do food companies have to use additives? And how many are there?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Monday, 09 September 2013.
Tagged: additives, colours, food labels, label, preservatives

Q.  Why do food companies have to use additives?  And how many are there?
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A.  Additives are used to extend shelf life or make a food more convenient or attractive or to be lower in kilojoules/calories.  There are around 300 additives permitted for use in Australia and you can group them into around 20 different categories based on what function they perform.

On food labels, you'll find additives often listed under this functional name plus a code number eg. sulphur dioxide is commonly used to kill off unwanted bacteria and to prolong the life of wine and must be listed as on the bottle as PRESERVATIVE (220) or else as PRESERVATIVE  (sulphur dioxide).

Here's the list of these functions:

  1. anti-caking agents
  2. anti-foaming agents
  3. antioxidants
  4. colour retention agents/colour fixatives
  5. colours
  6. emulsifiers
  7. flavour enhancers
  8. flavours
  9. flour treatment agents
  10. food acids
  11. glazing agents
  12. humectants
  13. mineral salts
  14. modified starches
  15. preservatives
  16. propellants
  17. stabilisers
  18. sweeteners
  19. thickeners
  20. vegetable gums/gelling agent


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Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her award-winning book My Nutritionary will help you cut through the jargon. Do you know your MCTs from your LCTs? How about sterols from stanols? What’s the difference between glucose and dextrose? Or probiotics and prebiotics? What additive is number 330? How safe is acesulfame K? If you find yourself confused by food labels, grab your copy of Catherine Saxelby’s comprehensive guide My Nutritionary NOW!