MULTI_EXP_ADD - Determination of the predominant (co-)occurrences and single and combined exposures of food additives in the diet of different groups of the Belgian population

Last updated on 10-1-2023 by Jill Alexandre
Project duration:
December 1, 2020
December 31, 2021

In short

The use of a food additive, and its consumption, is highly regulated. However, a food product may contain more than one food additive. This raises the question about the risk of these combined food additives. Therefore a new food additive database is build for foodstuffs on the Belgian market. In this way we can assess the exposure of different groups of consumers to food additives and draw conclusions about the risks.

Project description

Food additive co-exposure
To better monitor food additive (FA) consumption and their risks, this study’s objectives are to:

  • analyse the occurrence and co-occurrence of the food additives which are most frequently used in different categories of foodstuffs on the Belgian market
  • assess the exposure to these additives
  • draw conclusions about the risks.

Risk assessment
First we make database, based on food label information. This allows us to identify the occurrence and co-occurrence of food additives in the Belgian food market. 
Secondly we will identify the risks, based on:

  • the toxicological effects and impurities/contaminants
  • the combined assessment groups for the most frequent food additives used in Belgium 

In this regard an estimation of the single and combined exposure of different groups of consumers to the selected food additives can be made.

Enhance food safety
The success of the project enhances, on the long-term, the capacity of the Belgian food safety authorities in fully implementing the EU system and therefore contributing to its sustainability. This is in direct line with the recommendations made by the European Court of Auditors in their latest 2019 report.


The project involved the foodstuffs available in 2020 in Belgium covering >80% of the market share. A dataset with name, brand, shop and ingredient list of the products have been obtained. An in-house developed strategy identified frequencies and co-occurrences of 337 food additives (FAs) within the dataset. The most important results are:

  • 240 FAs were used at least 1 time
  • a maximum of 24 different FAs were reported in the ingredient list of the same product

Next, co-occurrences have been evaluated for all the FAs underlining combined use for 235 FAs.
An evaluation of the reported adverse effects to the most frequent FA/FA groups on Belgian market (n=51), was performed and 10 FAs with adverse effect have been identified. Afterwards, an analytical method was developed for the analysis of sorbates, benzoates and citrates using ion chromatography in combination with conductivity detection. The method was validated and applied for the analysis of more than 130 beverages. 

To evaluate the trends regarding the use of food additives, the results of a market study were compared with the available data for the last 5 years, revealing  a general reduction in the use of the most frequent FAs in the last 5 years. Additionally, some FAs have also been replaced by “clean” alternatives like the replacement of synthetic colours for colouring foods. Other interesting observations are changes from preservatives to antioxidants and the use of combinations of sweeteners. 

For the intake assessment, a first screening of the exposure revealed the large variability (3-4 magnitude orders) in estimated food additive exposure among the different FAs on the Belgian market. The largest food additive intakes are estimated for the E407 group and the E472e group by toddlers. Although they are not the most frequently used, they are present in the very consumed food.
The exposure to impurities present in food additives was estimated using a self-developed screening method. The results have highlighted major potential contributions to the exposure to Pb, As, Hg and Cd from:

  • processed fruits and vegetables
  • fine bakery wares
  • flavoured drinks 
  • bread and rolls 
  • fine bakery wares
  • processed food 
  • and certain meat products.

Associated Health Topics

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