It's Your Health
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Food additives are chemicals that manufacturers or processors add to foods for various reasons, such as to preserve foods or improve their appearance. Although food additives have been used for many years, some people have become concerned about their safety and want to minimize the amount of food additives they consume.
Generally speaking, a food additive is any chemical substance added to a food during manufacturing or processing that becomes a part of the food or affects the food's characteristics, such as its colour or texture. Some food additives are derived from natural sources. Others are made synthetically.
The Government of Canada controls the use of food additives under the Food and Drugs Act and the Food and Drug Regulations. The Regulations list the food additives that may be used in Canada. They also specify in which foods the additives may be used, and the maximum amounts that may be used.
Food additives may be used for a variety of reasons, including:
Some specific examples of food additives and their functions include:
The following substances are not regulated as food additives:
Health Canada works to ensure that the food additives allowed in Canada do not pose a health hazard when used according to the established Regulations. Health Canada evaluates the safety of new food additives before they are listed in the Regulations. If new information raises concerns about a currently permitted food additive, the information is assessed. When necessary, Health Canada can either change the conditions under which a food additive can be used, or remove the food additive from the Regulations so it is no longer permitted.
Food additives allow manufacturers to provide a wide variety of convenient and enjoyable foods. However, if you want to limit additives in your diet, follow these steps.
Maintaining the safety of Canada's food supply is a shared responsibility among government, industry, and consumers. The Government of Canada is committed to doing its part to ensure Canada's food supply is safe.
Together, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) administer the Food and Drugs Act and Food and Drug Regulations. The Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada is responsible for evaluating and approving new food additives. The CFIA enforces Canada's food labelling laws and the food safety standards set by Health Canada.
For more information on food additives, check out these sources:
Health Canada's Food Additive Dictionary lists food additives that are allowed in Canada. The "Definition of Codes" describes the general purposes of various classes of additives.
The Bureau of Chemical Safety is responsible for policy, standard setting, risk assessment, research, and evaluation activities related to non-agricultural chemicals in foods in Canada.
Bureau of Chemical Safety, Food Directorate
Health Products and Food Branch, Health Canada
Sir Frederick G. Banting Research Centre
251 Sir Frederick Banting Driveway
Postal Locator 2203G2
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0L2
For information about food labelling, go to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Fair Labelling Practices Program
For information on Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide, My Food Guide and food recalls go to the Healthy Canadians Web site
For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web section
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735*
Original: December 2007
ęHer Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2007