Understanding Food Additives: Positive and Negative Lists

Food additives are substances added to food to maintain or enhance its safety, freshness, taste, texture, or appearance. However, not all additives are created equal, and their use is strictly regulated. This is where the concept of positive and negative lists comes into play.

The Positive List of Food Additives

A positive list is a comprehensive catalogue of authorized food additives, each accompanied by its permitted uses and maximum allowable doses. This list is compiled by health authorities, in collaboration with other relevant bodies, including those involved in food production and additive manufacturing.

The positive list is a dynamic document that evolves over time. If new research surfaces indicating that an authorized additive's toxicity levels are no longer acceptable, it is promptly removed from the list. Conversely, the list expands to accommodate new, safe, and necessary molecules, or when the use of existing additives is extended.

The positive list serves two significant roles. Firstly, it protects consumers by providing them with information about the additives used in various foods, allowing them to make informed decisions based on the presence or absence of specific additives. Secondly, it benefits the food industry by simplifying the advertisement of untreated products or those treated only with natural additives.

In regions where the positive list is enforced, only the additives appearing on the list are permitted for use. There are a few exceptions where certain additives, under special regulations, may not be declared on the food label.

The positive list also outlines the purity requirements for each permitted additive, specifying the methods for researching and analyzing pure additives and their presence in foods. The onus of proving an additive's safety for food use lies with the applicant seeking authorization.

The Negative List of Food Additives

In contrast, the negative list comprises substances explicitly prohibited by current regulations. Advocates of this list argue that any compound not expressly forbidden should be considered authorized, with the responsibility of proving its safety resting with the state. This implies that all compounds, even potentially toxic ones, would be legal until their toxicity is experimentally demonstrated.

What Makes an Additive Safe?

For an additive to be deemed safe, its consumption at the indicated concentration should not pose any health risks. The legal maximum quantities of additive substances ensure the safety of long-term consumption of the food treated with the additive.

However, it's important to note that some individuals may experience allergic reactions or intolerances to certain additives. In such instances, they would need to avoid consuming foods treated with these additives.


Understanding the positive and negative lists of food additives is crucial for both consumers and food industry professionals. These lists serve as essential guides for safe food consumption and production, protecting consumers from potential health risks and assisting the industry in maintaining food safety standards. It's a dynamic and evolving process that continually adapts to new research and discoveries, ensuring our food remains as safe as possible.

Article Disclaimer