Food Additives Labeling

Food Additives Labeling: FDA Guidelines and Resources

It’s important to understand which resources to use when it comes to food additives labeling in order to safely include additives and coloring agents in your product.

It’s important to understand which resources to use when it comes to food additives labeling in order to safely include additives and coloring agents in your product. Image source: Flickr user Amy.

Dealing with food additives can be tricky, to say the least. When food manufacturers start using chemical additives and coloring agents, formulating a food product becomes a whole lot more complex and scientific.

This is because the FDA strictly regulates food additives to ensure the safety of the public. Many food additives, after all, aren’t safe for consumption in large amounts and therefore must be scientifically tested to determine the guidelines for safe use.

For food manufacturers intending to use food and color additives in their products, there is a lot of research to be done and it can be incredibly overwhelming. That’s why I created this food additives labeling guide packed with FDA resources on the topic. My hope is that it will make finding information on food additives much easier so you can create your product safely and in compliance with the FDA guidelines.

Understanding Food Additives Labeling: The Resources You Need

When it comes to using food additives, knowing where and how to look for the right information is key. The FDA has what is called a Food Additives List that includes all the food additives that have been approved for use in food products in the United States. It is organized alphabetically, and each additive has short notes next to it that indicate any limitations on its use. In almost all cases, these notes include numbers that direct you to more information in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

Let’s have a look at the notations for one of the additives pulled directly from the Food Additives List so you’re familiar with how it looks:

  • Acetone: SOLV, REG, 30 ppm – As residual solvent in spice oleoresins 173.210

The number at the end of the notation, which I’ve underlined, is the section of the CFR that details the permitted and prohibited uses of acetone.  

Once you find a particular food additive you’d like to know more about in the Food Additives List, all you need to do is enter that number into the CFR’s database. It will instantly pull up the detailed regulations on the particular additive and will include all the information you need in order to use that additive safely and within FDA guidelines.

It’s important to note that not every food additive is included in the Food Additives List. The FDA omits specific categories of additives, including:

  • GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) Foods: GRAS food additives have their own searchable database that includes all the food additives that have been determined safe since 1998. It also includes food additives that are pending FDA review for GRAS status.
  • Synthetic Flavoring Substances: Info for synthetic flavoring can be found in section 172.515 of the CFR.
  • Indirect Food Additives: These are substances that may come into contact with food but are not directly added to it, such as sanitizing solution for food processing equipment. Information on these can be found in the database for Indirect Additives Used in Food Contact Substances.
  • Food Additives Still Being Reviewed by the FDA: These are food additives that are currently pending, and their use has not yet been permitted or specified.
  • Color Additives: Color additives have their own separate list, much like the Food Additives List, called Color Additive Status List.

If you have trouble finding a particular additive, you can call (240) 402-1200 and speak to the CFSAN Office for Food Additive Safety. They’ll be able to help you find the information you need for the additive in question.

FDA Guidelines for Color Additives

Color additives are a bit more straightforward to use than other food additives because there are fewer of them. Essentially, you’ll follow the same process to find the details for using a specific color additive.

Once you find the color you intend to use in the Color Additive Status List, refer to the number at the end of the citation and enter it into the CFR. Again, you will find an entire document outlining the permitted use of the color additive in question.

Before you perform your search, though, it’s a good idea to understand exactly how the FDA deals with color additives. Essentially, the FDA separates color additives into two main categories:

  • Certified Colors: The FDA has certified the use of nine colors, such as “Green No. 2” and “Yellow No. 3.” These certified colors are chemically manufactured and intensely pigmented, making it easy to achieve a uniform, consistent color in food production. These colors must be identified by name in your product’s ingredient list.
  • Colors Exempt From Certification: These colors are naturally derived from animal, vegetable, and mineral sources such as beetroot powder or annatto. These coloring agents vary in their ability to impart consistent color and in some cases they can add flavor to a food product. These colors do not need to be mentioned by name on your ingredient list (with the exception of cochineal extract and carmine, which do need to be disclosed). In most cases, though, you may simply write “colorings” or “color added.”

Knowing the different kinds of color additives may help you determine what kind of additive you’d like to use in your product, saving you time and effort searching through the CFR.

The Importance of Food Additives Labeling

Perhaps the most important takeaway from all this is that it is incredibly important to understand how the food additives you intend to use in your product are regulated by the FDA and it is equally important to include any food additives in your product’s ingredient list.

Even the FDA admits that no food additive can be deemed 100% safe for certain, and we know that many people have allergic reactions to additives, so it is all the more important to follow FDA guidelines for food additive usage very carefully. Food manufacturers do, after all, have a huge responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

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