Food Additives Banned by One or More Countries
Due to requests I have produced a list of additives which have been banned by various countries. I’ve gone through the book ‘E for Additives’ by Maurice Hanssen (1987) noting which ones have been singled out by governments for exclusion from diet.
I have done this so that it makes clear that large bodies of educated people in the employment of governments around the world have surveyed the available evidence on the properties of these chemicals and have for one reason or another decided that these should not be allowed in the food chain. In short, there is compelling evidence as to these being poisonous to our health.
This article has been written to teach some basic research skills to individuals wanting to make informed decisions on what food additives they want to avoid for the reasons of good health.
- How to find more reliable information on chemicals we encounter in our food,
- Where to find this information for free, and
- How we can read the safety record of a substance.
- This article encourages individuals to make their own notes on things they are researching in their diet or which they are consuming to arrive at their opinion on whether something is safe or not.
First a short introduction to food additives…
Food additives are used for various purposes; there are thousands now available for industrial food manufacturers to draw on to make a ‘shelf stable’ product. The more industrialised your food sources the more you are exposed to food additives. Some food additives are good for you (i.e. vitamin C is used as a preservative) and some food additives are not good for you (i.e. sulfites cause allergic reactions in asthmatics). How do we inform ourselves to make decisions on what is found in the food we buy ?
There is a lot of media around and videos like these, whilst informative, leave us with no information sources to refer to. Information sources which offer no accountability for their authorship but which are nevertheless interesting, edifying and entertaining.
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
In this age of information overload the skills of being able to get reliable information on which to make decisions about what we take in through our diet and its effects on health are vital. This article is about showing people how to access the toxicological information from the health and safety legislated Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) system as a chief free and reliable information resource.
I have been contacted by someone who has brought critical reflections to this article and suggested that the legislative information which I have quoted needs updated. I am very appreciative of this and have worked to incorporate the suggested points into this article. Incorporated in this article is work done many years ago for ‘hyperactive’ children’s support groups where parents were concerned and confused by clashing opinions and seeming constant pantomime of journalism surrounding health matters.
To assist parents I showed them how to use a particularly useful book ‘E for Additives’ by Maurice Hanssen which was published in 1987 but is still useful today. Despite time passing, Hanssen did a service to the information seeking community to distill into a single book a well categorised list of all the additives used at the time along with well written, simple overviews and the research associated with each additive.
The additive system came out of the pragmatism of food manufacturers as western worlds started transforming their food chain. Foods started to be designed from chemical matrices and the food chain was transformed into giant factories which change the nature of the stuff itself. Foods are now designed to last for long shelf lives and as the age of industrial chemistry went on food chemists created more and more additives and processes in order to make more mass produced products. The film Food Inc does a good job of showing how food is produced industrially:
Finding Independent Reliable Information Sources
Key here is being able to reference reliable information resources so that informed decisions on what to exclude in the diet can be made. Wherever a large amount of a chemical is produced there is legislation in place to say that when this is stored in a warehouse, and should there be an accident, certain health and safety information has to be understood by the people who work in the warehouse, firefighters, doctors and emergency workers.
This is stored on a document called the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which are freely available to download on the internet as a legislated part of the industry; having four tonnes of citric acid in a warehouse involves different precautions to having four tonnes of benzene when it comes to spillage and handling. This freely available public information source offers an encyclopedic information resource over a ‘Globally Harmonized System’ which contains the following details in each report:
- Section 1: Identification of the substance/mixture and of the company/undertaking
- Section 2: Hazards identification
- Section 3: Composition/information on ingredients
- Section 4: First aid measures
- Section 5: Firefighting measures
- Section 6: Accidental release measure
- Section 7: Handling and storage
- Section 8: Exposure controls/personal protection
- Section 9: Physical and chemical properties
- Section 10: Stability and reactivity
- Section 11: Toxicological information
- Section 12: Ecological information
- Section 13: Disposal considerations
- Section 14: Transport information
- Section 15: Regulatory information
- Section 16: Other information
Should you want to find solid and dependable (legislation linked) information on the toxicity of a substance (which is a good habit) I would recommend looking up the Material Safety Data Sheet on the chemical you are checking. All you have to do is type into Google “ascorbic acid material safety data sheet” and you will be able to access full reports on vitamin c (aka ascorbic acid, the same stuff as is found in oranges and a wide range of natural foods).
Ascorbic acid which is vitamin C is created in vast quantities and stored in its pure chemical form until manufacturers call upon warehouses to deliver so many kilos or tonnes of E300 to a given place. You can easily then look up the toxicological information with relative confidence in what information you can find. This information supplemented with reading from peer reviewed journals and textbooks as needed provides the basis from which you can make informed decisions through building up a picture of what is known about a substance from different sources.
Here, keeping excerpts and notes of what information you have found and saving them into a document allows you to build a picture of what you have researched over time allowing you to return to information you have already found; individuals need only have an internet connection but through that have all they need to develop a deep knowledge through dedicating a bit of time – an investment in your health.
There is so much information and science on chemistry available now it is simple for anyone to develop a deep and broad knowledge about the science of food and additives and health if they have put the necessary time into developing a set of notes over time. A novice can start with extracting some of the clearer information from a given information source and elaborate their knowledge by looking up the meaning of a word when they come to it – doing this will make you quickly progress.
Peer reviewed journals and textbooks come from a system of mutual critical assessment of individual findings – this means that they have gone through a general fact checking process which has long been associated with values of the publishing industry. I argue that what are considered professional and academic texts are better information sources because they follow the convention of containing inside them the information sources which led their authors to understand some piece of knowledge or make a certain argument.
The academic journal system is a valuable store of reports on the experiments and tests which have been done. A piece of writing or media which does not tell me who did the piece of science and where I can find that information and interpret it for myself is not something that I can base my decisions on with regards to my health.
Taking time to investigate what is listed on the sides of bottles and products gives you the chance to make decisions that affect your health. It allows you to have conversations with professionals which need to be had. For example you can use Material Safety Data Sheets to look up what is known about the toxicity of a drug as long as you search for the generic name. This means that rather than a brand name like Paracetamol you would look up Acetaminophen Material Safety Data Sheet.
The Material Safety Data Sheet. provides you with concise toxicological data – the type which you don’t need to be an expert to decode. You will find a short summary that can give you a clear indicator of how toxic something has been discovered to be.
In section 11 of the toxicological information given above we can see that .paracetamol aka acetaminophen “May be harmful if swallowed” and the “Target Organs Liver, Kidney”
Here is an example of one on Benzene:
Note that in ‘Section 3: Hazards Identification’ of the above Data Safety Hazard Sheet, anyone will be able to find clear information about what is known about the toxic nature of the substance. Material Safety Data Sheets are reliable sources of information on toxicology. So, in the above Material Safety Data Sheet we can read about the following:
- Potential Acute Health Effects: Very hazardous in case of eye contact (irritant), of inhalation. Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant, permeator), of ingestion. Inflammation of the eye is characterized by redness, watering, and itching. Potential Chronic Health Effects:
- CARCINOGENIC EFFECTS: Classified A1 (Confirmed for human.) by ACGIH, 1 (Proven for human.) by IARC.
- MUTAGENIC EFFECTS: Classified POSSIBLE for human. Mutagenic for mammalian somatic cells. Mutagenic for bacteria and/or yeast.
- TERATOGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
- DEVELOPMENTAL TOXICITY: Classified Reproductive system/toxin/female [POSSIBLE]. The substance is toxic to blood, bone marrow, central nervous system (CNS). The substance may be toxic to liver, Urinary System. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage.
It is short and tells you the points which you really want to know. Is this carcinogenic ? Is this toxic to any part of my body (or the environment) ? This information can help me make decisions about whether I want this in my food
An approach like this can help inform you about issues such as sources of benzene in soft drinks, for example. Sodium Benzoate is an additive which you can find in some soft drinks. Knowing what you know now (i.e. that benzene is confirmed carcinogenic for humans) would you want to drink a soft drink which uses benzene based preservatives ?
There is a wikipedia article illustrating some of the controversies about benzene in our food chain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benzene_in_soft_drinks
Respond to Criticism by Researching
It has been suggested by William Leyland that “The idea that a benzoate compound is toxic because benzene is toxic is exactly as scientifically illiterate as saying that common salt (sodium chloride) is toxic because chlorine can be used as a chemical weapon. Sodium chloride is essential for life. Chlorine kills. Benzene is super hazardous. This tells you absolutely nothing about the hazards of benzoates”…
To pick up on this, when Mr Leyland suggests that chlorine kills it is also an element which is essential for life, it is just that culturally we have come to be affected more by the information that chlorine was used as a gas weapon, for example in the first world war. But this element of the periodic table plays a vital role in our health and wellbeing, as correctly he points out does sodium. Chlorine performs a vital function in the exchange of chloride and bicarbonate across the red blood cell (erythrocyte) membrane (the chloride shift). In its pure gas form it is indeed poisonous.
Without venturing into syllogisms and logical fallacies, the point which was made needs disambiguating (clarified): If sodium chloride (table salt) were put into some food stuff that had the potential to liberate the chlorine gas, it would be a matter of legitimate concern to investigate because pure chlorine is known and agreed upon to be toxic.
Salts of compounds sometimes change the action of their component parts in biological systems but sometimes they do not, so investigating further is a worthwhile investment of time.
Sodium acetylsalicylate the sodium salt of acetylsalicylate is still biologically a useful drug – it is just another form of aspirin. A salt in chemistry is a substance that can be formed by the reaction of an acid and an alkali.
Making an assumption is to base decisions on what is not known. If there is a situation where assumptions are temporarily useful, it might be in the precautionary principle which is commonly used in health and wellbeing contexts whilst an investigation takes place…
The important point being made here is to clarify what you are studying by supplementing what you know already with more information… So, benzoates have in them benzene which can be released when benzoates (i.e. sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate) are exposed to commonly occurring substances – specifically vitamin C, copper and iron which are essential and common nutrients in everyone’s diet.
Here is a paper published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry illustrating how the production of benzene occurs from benzoates such as sodium benzoate:
“The present study shows that hydroxyl radical, generated by the metal-catalyzed reduction of 02 and H202 by ascorbic acid, can attack benzoic acid to produce benzene under conditions prevalent in many foods and beverages. Since benzene has been shown to be carcinogenic its potential formation in foods during processing and storage should be of some concern”
Gardner, L.K.; Lawrence, G.D. (May 1993). “Benzene Production from Decarboxylation of Benzoic Acid in the Presence of Ascorbic Acid and a Transition-Metal Catalyst”. J. Agric. Food Chem. 41 (5): 693–695. doi:10.1021/jf00029a001
A key principle of the matter should be about focusing on amassing robust evidence and research to learn from the published peer reviewed science out there. A vast amount of information is available free on the internet by using search engines. A good simple way to find papers on the internet is by tagging for a pdf. For example, by putting the search term below in red into a search engine the results tend to be peer reviewed and legislation linked information sources, therefore more reliable.:
Benzene + toxicology + filetype:pdf
The chemistry is understandable through looking up the words and terms. If you don’t want to venture into the underlying chemistry you can always just look up the specific material safety data sheet to get a quick read..
We can logically deduce precautionary safety protocols as well as dispel concerns… If you have a diet which does not contain ascorbic acid (vitamin C), copper and iron; or if you do have a diet which has these things in but think you can keep those separate from the foodstuffs which have benzoates in them, then you may just want to pay attention to the legislation linked safety information for the chemical itself – in this situation we are looking at Sodium Benzoate…
As you can find in the Material Safety Safety Sheet on Sodium Benzoate available above:
Section 3: Hazards Identification
Potential Acute Health Effects: Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of inhalation. Slightly hazardous in case of ingestion. Potential Chronic Health Effects:
CARCINOGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
MUTAGENIC EFFECTS: Not available.
TERATOGENIC EFFECTS: Classified POSSIBLE for human.
DEVELOPMENTAL TOXICITY: Classified Reproductive system/toxin/female, Reproductive system/ toxin/male [SUSPECTED].
The substance may be toxic to blood, the reproductive system, liver, central nervous system (CNS). Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage.
Section 11: Toxicological Information
Special Remarks on Chronic Effects on Humans: May cause adverse reproductive effects and birth defects (teratogenic). May affect genetic material (mutagenic)
Special Remarks on other Toxic Effects on Humans: Acute Potential Health Effects: Skin: May cause skin irritation. Eyes: Dust may cause mechanical Inhalation: May cause respiratory tract irritation. Ingestion: Ingestion of large amounts may cause gastrointestinal tract irritation with gastric pain, nausea, and vomiting. May also affect behavior/central nervous system (tremor, convulsions, change in motor activity), and respiration (dyspnea).
Chronic Potential Health Effects: Ingestion: Prolonged or repeated ingestion may affect behavior/central nervous system (sypmptoms similar to acute exposure) as well as liver, metabolism, blood, and urinary system.
So, now you have read the discussion about sources of benzene, benzoates and sodium benzoate, are you in a better position to make your own informed decision about whether you want this in your food ?
Take Home Message
Key in all of this article is that the science is understandable and it is available in libraries and peer reviewed journals online, and even sometimes linked to in Wikipedia articles (if you check the references as the source of information).
Make your own notes and write down where you drew your notes from so you can go back and check the details when you need to; write down what has made sense to you and keep notes on the pieces of information which are useful to you.. Knowledge is not just for some people as some might have you believe; anyone can come to grips with tried and tested information with a little effort; research has much in common with jigsaw puzzles. Avoid pseudoskepticism and try to engage with genuine thinkers and educators.
Investigate, make notes, investigate
Google one technical word a day
It can be confusing trying to understand what is an impartial source of information on these matters. So for many people who did not want to read the book or invest in understanding the science, I wrote a list out of all the food additives which were banned by one or more country (at the time of publishing, 1987) which formed the original basis of this article.
This made a simple and conservative list to give people to consider removing from the diet. E For Additives is a good book and an interesting one to pick through as a reference. Even though it is an old book, a great deal of the science is still the same. Legislation sometimes does change but it is very rare, if known at all, that something has been banned from the food chain before being put back in by a country’s administration. I would certainly like to know of any cases.
List of Banned Additives from Book
This is not a specific section of the book but instead a series of verbatim quotes from the additives indicated in the book as being banned in one or more countries. Following will be a representation of how the information is presented in the published version, which will show how the author has laid out the data:
- E102 Tartrazine (C.I. 19140: FD and C Yellow 5); Synthetic azo dye; Yellow colour: Prohibited in Norway and Austria
- E104 Quinoline Yellow (C.I. 47005); Synthetic coal tar dye; dull yellow to greenish-yellow colour. Prohibited in Norway, the USA, Austria and Japan.
- 107 Yellow 2G (Food Yellow 5); Synthetic coal tar dye and azo dye: The Food Advisory Committee have recommended that yellow 2G should be withdrawn from use in Britain. Within the EEC, the UK is the only country to retain its use. It is prohibited in Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Japan and the USA.
- E110 Sunset Yellow FCF (C.I. 15985; FD and C Yellow 6); Synthetic azo dye; red colour: Prohibited in Norway and Finland.
- E122 Carmoisine (Azorubine; C.I. 14720); synthetic azo dye; red colour: Prohibited in Norway, Sweden, the USA and Japan.
- E123 Amaranth (C.I. 16185; FD and C Red 2); Synthetic coal tar dye and azo dye; purplishred colour: Prohibited in Norway and the USA. In France and Italy it may only be used in caviar.
- E124 Ponceau 4R (C.I. 16255); Synthetic coal tar dye and azo dye; red colour: Prohibited in Norway and the USA.
- E127 Erythrosine (C.I. 45430; FD and C Red 3); Synthetic coal tar dye; cherry pink to red colour: The 1987 Food Advisory Committee’s recommendation is that erythrosine should be permitted in cocktail and glace cherries only and limited to a maximum content of 200mg/kg. It is prohibited in Norway and the USA.
- 128 Red 2G (C.I. 18050); Synthetic coal tar dye and azo dye; red colour: It is used in no other EEC member state nor is it permitted in Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Austria, the USA, Canada, Japan, and Australia.
- E132 Indigo Carmine (Indigotine; C.I.73015; FD and C Blue 2); Synthetic coal tar dye; Blue colour and diagnostic agent: Prohibited in Norway.
- 133 Brilliant Blue FCF (C.I. 42090; FD and C Blue 1); Synthetic coal tar dye; blue colour: Prohibited in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and Germany.
- E142 Green S (Acid Brilliant Green; Food Green S; Lissamine Green; Ci.I. 44090); Synthetic coal tar dye; green colour: Prohibited in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Japan, Canada and the USA.
- E151 Black PN (Brilliant Black PN; C.I. 28440); Synthetic coal tar dye and azo dye; black colour: Prohibited in Norway, Finland, Japan Canada and the USA.
- E153 Carbon Black (Vegetable carbon); Can be prepared from animal charcoal, furnace black, lampblack, activated charcoal or it can be prepared in a laboratory; black colour: Banned in the USA in 1976.
- 154 Brown FK (Kipper Brown; Food Brown); Synthetic mixture of six azo dyes and subsidiary colouring matters; Brown colour: Prohibited in all EEC member states bar the UK and Irish Republic, also prohibited in Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia.
- 155 Brown HT (C.I. 20285; Chocolate Brown HT); Synthetic coal tar dye and azo dye; brown colour: Prohibited in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, the USA, and Australia
- E171 Titanium dioxide (C.I. 77891); prepared from the mineral ilmenite; white colour: Prohibited in Germany
- E172 Iron Oxides, iron hydroxides (yellow/brown: C.I. 77492; red: 77491; brown: 77499); naturally occurring pigments of iron: Prohibited in Germany.
- E237 Sodium formate; sodium salt of formic acid; preservative: Prohibited in the UK.
- E238 Calcium formate; calcium salt of formic acid; preservative: prohibited in UK
- E320 Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA); A mixture of 2- and 3-tert-butyl-4-methoxyphenol prepared from p-methoxyphenol and isobutene; retards flavour deterioration in foods due to oxidation: Prohibited in Japan
Enjoy it like the puzzle it is
Even better is if you develop an enjoyment of the science, it’s not that hard to pick up and quite interesting to read about the tests which have been done and the things which are generally agreed about. Once you look up what a word means once it is often with you for life, things become a bit easier once you have done some decoding.
For example: Carcinogenic = causes cancer, Teratogenic = damages pregnancy or causes birth defects; it is just a matter of getting the lingo. You can draw your own conclusions from there, you don’t need a diploma from a medical school to understand this.
Once you start understanding some of the principles which are known you can start looking up the meanings of words and then searching for published peer reviewed papers on the internet and making your own notes.
The media is not accountable but the work of the likes of Professor Denis Corbet is. What I mean by this is that we can look up the documented investigations and thoughts of Prof Corbet by his published work. The media offers no connection to the deep information beyond a small sound bite:
Due to the technology of the internet and the widespread availability of sources of peer reviewed publishing, all we need to do is put the following into google: “Denis Corpet nitrate cancer + filetype:pdf” – which will return the whole papers for us to download. The second result offers us his work to read for ourselves:
Red meat and colon cancer – Archive ouverte HAL
Red meat and colon cancer: should we become vegetarians, or can we make meat safer? Denis E. Corpet
As an exercise pick an item of food or drink or a household good which has an ingredients list on it and then find all the Material Safety Data Sheets for each ingredient and copy all the toxicology sections into a basic document.
Search the internet for papers on any of the toxicology findings you found for the ingredients. (i.e. “substance” + toxicology + filetype:pdf) and if you find anything then copy the abstract onto your notes document along with the reference information about where the information came from so, if you need to, you can return to the original to check details of the findings.
In one sentence attempt to describe what your initial findings are about the toxicology of the product. – you can generally decide whether it is something you want to eat or have contact with. Continue your investigations over time looking up what ingredients and chemicals are; with time, practice and developing a good set of personal notes you should be able to create a clear understanding of what is good for you and what is not good for you. Textbooks are often very good sources of information to check as these have been developed from multiple rounds of fact checking and corroboration, so for the advancing reader this is an advised suggestion.
I hope this article has been of interest and help to you. Many thanks for all your emails. If you have any suggestions, questions or criticisms please leave them in the comments below or get in touch via the contact page – Alex Dunedin
Here is some of the governance about what is safe to have in our food chain:
Also, here is a great Masters thesis on the Toxicological Aspects of Food Colourings – interesting stuff