E-numbers are reference numbers used by the European Union to facilitate identification of food additives. All food additives used in the European Union are identified by an E-number. The “E” stands for “Europe” or “European Union” or Edible.

Normally each food additive is assigned a unique number. However, in some instances where additives are related, such as different types of caramel colors, they may be identified by extensions (“a”, “b”, or “i”, “ii”) to another E-number.

The Commission of the European Union assigns e-numbers. This is generally done after the additive is cleared by the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF), the body responsible for the safety evaluation of food additives in the European Union. The convention for assigning E-numbers is as follows:

100-199  food colors 
200-299  preservatives 
300-399  antioxidants, phosphates, and complexing agents 
400-499  thickeners, gelling agents, phosphates, humectants, emulsifiers 
500-599  salts and related compounds 
600-699  flavor enhancers 
700-899  not used for food additives (used for feed additives) 
900-999  surface coating agents, gases, sweeteners 
1000-1399  miscellaneous additive 
1400-1499  starch derivatives 

E-numbers are only used for substances added directly to food products. As such, contaminants, enzymes and processing aids, which may be classified as indirect or secondary direct additives in the USA, are not included in the E-number system.

The EU has a directive on food labeling which requires food additives to be listed in the product ingredients whenever they are added for technological purposes. Such purposes do not only include common functions like preservation, thickening, emulsifying and the like, but also coloring, sweetening and flavor enhancement. Ingredients must be listed in descending order of weight as recorded at the time of the use in the manufacture of the foodstuff. This means that food additives, which are normally used in small quantities, are generally found close to the end of the list of ingredients.

However, substances used in the protection of plants and plant products, flavorings and substances added as nutrients (e.g., minerals, trace elements or vitamins) do not need to be included in the ingredient list. Because of this, some substances that are regulated as food additives in other countries may be exempt from the food additive definition in the EU. Recently some new directives were published relating to additives in infant products, minerals, vitamins, amino acids and some more specific nutrients in the foods for special nutritional purposes were published.

As it pertains to Halal, E-numbers have limited use. Food additives may be manufactured synthetically from petro-chemical raw materials or from plant and animal sources. Synthetic additives should qualify for Halal status. In general, the origin of the additive must be known to determine if it qualifies as Halal. The Halal/haram status of some E-numbers found in common products can be found later in this magazine. [RMO]