Most concerns about food additives have to do with man-made ingredients that are added to foods. Some of these are:
- Antibiotics given to food-producing animals, such as chickens and cows
- Antioxidants in oily or fatty foods
- Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharine, and sodium cyclamate
- Benzoic acid in fruit juices
- Lecithin, gelatins, corn starch, waxes, gums, and propylene glycol in food stabilizers and emulsifiers
- Many different dyes and coloring substances
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Nitrates and nitrites in hot dogs and other processed meat products
- Sulfites in beer, wine, and packaged vegetables
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a list of food additives that are thought to be safe. Many have not been tested, but most scientists consider them to be safe. These substances are put on the "generally recognized as safe (GRAS)" list. This list contains about 700 items.
Congress defines safe as "reasonable certainty that no harm will result from use" of an additive. Examples of items on this list are: guar gum, sugar, salt, and vinegar. The list is reviewed regularly.
Some substances that are found to be harmful to people or animals may still be allowed, but only at the level of 1/100th of the amount that is considered harmful. For their own protection, people with any allergies or food intolerances should always check the ingredient list on the label. Reactions to any additive can be mild or severe.
It is still important to gather information about the safety of food additives. Tell the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) about any reactions you have to food or food additives. Information about reporting a reaction is available at www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/CentersOffices/OfficeofFoods/CFSAN/ContactCFSAN/default.htm.