E-Number System: How to Decipher Food Additive E-Numbers


The E-number system is used to indicate tried and tested additives that have been approved for use throughout the European Union. The ‘E’ stands for ‘Europe’ and the numbers are shorthand for the (often long) chemical name of the additive. Common E-numbers include:


E100-E180 Synthetic colourings used in processed foods, jams, margarine, sweets, confectionery, soft drinks. E102 is the yellow colouring tartrazine. E162 is beetroot red.
E200 Sorbic acid; a preservative used in soft drinks and fruit yoghurts.
E210-E219 Benzoic acid, benzoates; preservatives used in soft drinks, beer, and salad cream.
E220-E228 Sulphur dioxide, sulphites; preservatives used in dried fruit, fruit pie fillings, desiccated coconut, relishes, vinegar, alcoholic drinks.
E249-E252 Nitrates, nitrites; preservatives used in some cheeses, and cured and pickled meats, including ham, bacon and sausages.
E300-E304 Ascorbic acid, ascorbates; preservatives used to prevent tinned fruit, fruit juices and jams from turning brown.
E306 Tocopherols; antioxidants used to prevent vegetable oils from going rancid.

Sorbitol; a sweetener used in sugar-free confectionery.


food additives and e-numbersAll packaged foods must, by law, carry a label that contains a complete and accurate description of the contents. The product’s ingredients are listed in order of weight, from the most to the least proportion.

With rising public interest in healthy eating, most packaged foods and drinks now include nutritional information on the label. This includes such items as the energy value, or number of calories, the food provides, and the amount of protein, carbohydrates, sugars, saturated and unsaturated fats, fibre and sodium it contains.