Preservatives E200-E290


A food preservative is a natural or synthetic chemical that is added to foods or pharmaceuticals to retard spoilage, whether from microbial growth, or undesirable chemical changes. Some methods of food preservation involve the use of salt, sugar or vinegar, which are sometimes considered to be foods rather than additives. Some people believe preservatives are harmful

Pickled cucumbers in natural preservativeFood preservatives have been around since centuries ago, as in pickled onions, salted meat and fish, sweetened fruit and spiced foods. As people move away from the countryside and demand for food increased many people rely on processed items as part of their daily sustenance. Food additives help maintain the freshness and shelf life of such food products because without them, they would spoil quickly due to exposure to air, moisture, bacteria, or mould. Either natural or synthetic substances may be added to avoid or delay these problems.

Food additives may be used in a variety of ways, including:

  • To maintain consistency or texture — to sustain smoothness or prevent the food from separating, caking, or clumping.
  • To improve or retain nutritional value: Enrichment replaces nutrients lost in processing — this occurs with grains, as some vitamins and minerals are lost in the milling process. Fortification adds a nutrient that wasn't there before and may be lacking in many people's diets. Iodized salt is an example. This has proven useful in preventing goitre, a thyroid disease caused by a deficiency in iodine. Enriched and fortified foods are labelled as such.
  • To delay spoilage
  • To enhance flavour, texture, or colour

When manufacturing companies introduced additives to the food industry, governing bodies took care that these were safe after passing safety tests of that time. However, years later some preservatives where taken off the shelf for health concerns after more sophisticated testing was introduced. This led people think that all preservatives are bad. As science continued to evolve and testing methods improved, changes were made. Technology has also assisted in the approval process as it has become more sophisticated over the years as well. In addition, Food Additive Laws are reviewed and revised according to advancing scientific research.

Food additives themselves don't connote something "bad." For example, ascorbic acid refers to vitamin C and alpha-tocopherol is actually vitamin E. Some uses and examples of food additives are:


prevent spoilage, flavour changes, and loss of colour caused by exposure to air. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are used as antioxidants.


used to keep water and oil mixed together. Lecithin is one example used in margarine, baked goods, and ice cream. Mono- and diglycerides are another found in similar foods and peanut butter. Polysorbate 60 and 80 are used in coffee lighteners and artificial whipped cream.

Thickening Agents:

absorb water in foods and keep the mixture of oil, water, acids, and solids blended properly. Alginate is derived from seaweed and is used to maintain the texture in ice cream, cheese, and yogurt. Casein, a milk protein, is used in ice cream, sherbet, and coffee creamers.

Food Additives - E200s

Number Name Comments
E200 Sorbic acid either obtained from berries or synthesised from ketene; possible skin irritant
E201 Sodium sorbate no known adverse effects
E202 Potassium sorbate no known adverse effects
E203 Calcium sorbate no known adverse effects
E210 Benzoic acid also known as flowers of benzoin, phenlycarboxylic acid, carboxybenzene; added to alcoholic beverages, baked goods, cheeses, gum, condiments, frozen dairy, relishes, soft sweets, cordials and sugar substitutes; used in cosmetics, as an antiseptic in many cough medications and an antifungal in ointments; can cause asthma, especially in those dependent on steroid asthma medications, is also reputed to cause neurological disorders and to react with sulphur bisulphite (222), shown to provoke hyperactivity in children; obtained from Benzoin, a resin exuded by trees native to Asia
E211 Sodium benzoate used as antiseptic, as a food preservative and to disguise taste, as of poor-quality food; orange soft drinks contain a high amount of it, up to 25mg per 250ml; also in milk and meat products, relishes and condiments, baked goods and lollies; used in many oral medications including Actifed, Phenergan and Tylenol; known to causes nettle rash and aggravate asthma
E212 Potassium benzoate people with a history of allergies may show allergic reactions. for using see 210
E213 Calcium benzoate see 212
E214 Ethyl p-hydroxybenzoate avoid it, banned in some countries
E215 Sodium ethyl p-hydroxybenzoate avoid it, banned in some countries
E216 Propyl p-hydroxybenzoate possible contact allergen
E217 Sodium propyl p-hydroxybenzoate avoid it, banned in some countries
E218 Methyl p-hydroxybenzoate allergic reactions possible, mainly affecting the skin
E219 Sodium methyl p-hydroxybenzoate avoid it, banned in some countries
E220 Sulphur dioxide derived from coal tar; all sulphur drugs are toxic and restricted in use (in USA, FDA** prohibits their use on raw fruits and vegetables), produced by combustion of sulphur or gypsum; known to provoke asthma attacks and difficult to metabolise for those with impaired kidney function, also destroys vitamin B1; typical products are beer, soft drinks, dried fruit, juices, cordials, wine, vinegar, potato products
E221 Sodium sulphite decontaminating agent used in fresh orange juice; see 220
E222 Sodium hydrogen sulphite see 220
E223 Sodium metabisulphite treating agent, see 220
E224 Potassium metabisulphite see 220
E225 Potassium sulphite see 220
E226 Calcium sulphite avoid it, banned in some countries
E227 Calcium hydrogen sulphite avoid it, banned in some countries
E228 Potassium hydrogen sulphite see 220
E230 Biphenyl, Diphenyl banned in some countries; can be used for agricultural purposes; typical products are citrus fruit
E231 Orthophenyl phenol banned in some countries; can be used for agricultural purposes; typical products are pears, carrots, peaches, plums, prunes, sweet potatoes, citrus fruit, pineapples, tomatoes, peppers, cherries, nectarines
E232 Sodium orthophenyl phenol see 231
E233 Thiabendazole banned in some countries, can be used for agricultural purposes, typical products are citrus fruits, apples, pears, potatoes, bananas, mushrooms, meat, milk
E234 Nisin antibiotic derived from bacteria; found in beer, processed cheese products, tomato paste
E235 Natamycin mould inhibitor derived from bacteria; sometimes used medically to treat candidiasis; can cause nausea, vomiting, anorexia, diarrhoea and skin irritation. Typical products are meat, cheese
E236 Formic acid avoid it, banned in some countries
E237 Sodium formate avoid it, banned in some countries
E238 Calcium formate avoid it, banned in some countries
E239 Hexamethylene tetramine avoid it, banned in some countries
E249 Potassium nitrite colour fixative and curing agent for meat; nitrites can effect the body's ability to carry oxygen, resulting in shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches; potential carcinogen; not permitted in foods for infant and young children
E250 Sodium nitrite may provoke hyperactivity and other adverse reactions, potentially carcinogenic, restricted in many countries, can combine with chemicals in stomach to form nitrosamine, the HACSG* recommends to avoid it
E251 Sodium nitrate also used in the manufacture of nitric acid, as a fertiliser and in fermented meat products (see 250)
E252 Potassium nitrate may be derived from waste animal or vegetable matter; used in gunpowder, explosives and fertilisers, and in the preservation of meat; may provoke hyperactivity and other adverse reactions; potentially carcinogenic; restricted in many countries (see 249)
E260 Acetic acid main component of vinegar, synthetically produced from wood fibres; used in pickles, chutneys, and sauces
E261 Potassium acetate food acid; should be avoided by people with impaired kidney function; typical products are sauces, pickles
E262 Sodium acetate, Sodium diacetate food acid, acidity regulator; no known adverse effects
E263 Calcium acetate food acid, acidity regulator; by product in the manufacture of wood alcohol; used to make acetic acid (vinegar) and in the production of dyers mordants
E264 Ammonium acetate can cause nausea and vomiting
E270 Lactic acid food acid, acidity regulator; produced by heating and fermenting carbohydrates in milk whey, potatoes, cornstarch or molasses; difficult for babies to metabolise; used in sweets, dressings, soft drinks (sometimes beer) infant formulas and confectionary
E280 Propionic acid all propionates are thought to be linked with migraine headaches; propionates occur naturally in fermented foods, human perspiration and ruminants digestive tract, also can be derived commercially from ethylene and carbon monoxide or propionaldehyde or natural gas or fermented wood pulp; produced when bacteria decompose fibre; commonly used in bread and flour products;
E281 Sodium propionate may be linked to migraines, typical products are flour products
E282 Calcium propionate see 281
E283 Potassium propionate see 281
E290 Carbon dioxide propellant, coolant, derived from lime manufacture; may increase the effect of alcohol; typical products are wine, soft drinks, confectionary
E296 Malic acid derived from fruit or synthetic; infants and young children should avoid it
E297 Fumaric acid derived from plants of the genus Fumaria esp. F. officianalis or from the fermentation of glucose with fungi; can be used to flavour, acidify, as an antioxidant or raising agent used in soft drinks and cake mixes

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