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Safety of emulsifiers

Before being authorised for use in foods, emulsifiers and all food additives come under rigorous scrutiny of national and international scientific expert committees. These independent bodies include the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives(JECFA) at international level, the European Food Safety Authority(EFSA) at European level, as well as national agencies.

In Europe, it is the responsibility of the European Food Safety Authority, (EFSA), formally the Scientific Committee for Food or SCF, to perform the necessary safety evaluations on food additives, mainly at the request of the European Commission. EFSA’s Scientific Committee and Scientific Expert Panels provide independent risk assessments on all matters linked to food and feed safety, including food additives; thereby providing the European Commission, the European Parliament and Member States with a sound scientific basis on which to base legislation and policies related to food and feed safety.

Following an initial discussion, a full evaluation is carried out, including toxicological testing. Only when EFSA has shown an additive to be safe for human consumption is it put forward for the Commission's approval. The process of approving a completely new additive can take 5-10 years. Approval of the use of an established additive in alternative applications depends on whether there is a documented technological need and consumer benefit. This procedure typically takes 2-3 years. In addition to the evaluation of their use, food additives are also assessed for their purity and processing properties.

Authorisation of emulsifiers

Once EFSA has given a positive opinion regarding the safety of a food additive, it is the responsibility of the European Commission to prepare the necessary EU legislation to authorise the use of this additive in particular foods. Food emulsifiers, like all food additives, remain under continuous evaluation during their use in order to remain approved.

EU legislation on food additives lays down principles for the use of additives. Only approved additives can be used at the dosages specified for each application. Good manufacturing practices should always be applied to the use of additives, even if their use is not limited. Manufacturers should use only as much as is necessary to achieve the desired effect.

Food additives are authorised if:
• there is a technological need for their use
• they do not mislead the consumer
• they present no hazard to consumer health

Emulsifiers were regulated at European Level under Directive 95/2/EC of 20 February 1995 on food additives other than colours and sweeteners and subsequent amendments.

More recently, the European Parliament and the Council adopted a framework regulation, Regulation 1333/2008, to consolidate all current authorisations for emulsifiers and other food additives into one legal text. Annex II of this legislation, established by Commission Regulation 1129/2011, provides a Community list of emulsifiers approved for use in foods and beverages and their conditions of use. Where appropriate, maximum use levels are specified.

More information on food additive legislation can also be found on the Commission website: http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/chemicalsafety/additives/new_regul_en.htm

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