What do E numbers do?

How are you supposed to differentiate between the additives in your food and drink? Chemicals can have such complex names that you can read the back of a crisp packet and be none the wiser to what it is you’re actually eating. E numbers are the codes given to these additives, helping to categorise them based on their characteristics.

Each category provides a different purpose for the food they are added to. This numbering system was put into place in the 1960s, with each additive given a unique number based on its properties. These are prefixed with an E for Europe, but many countries outside of Europe simply use the number. One example is aluminium, which is given the code E173. The numeric part begins with a 1, indicating that the additive is used as a food colouring. In this case it gives a silvery shine to food, sometimes seen on sugary confectionery. Some E numbers are deemed necessary to give foods the characteristics that make them appealing, but negative health impacts can be hidden behind the coded letters.

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