How to read food labels?

E471, E322, E442 And E476 – Are They Safe?

No, these aren’t numbers of the inmates from your favourite prison drama, they are food additives displayed on labels. When buying packaged food, you may have noticed the food label with a list of ingredients arranged in descending order. Towards the end of the list, there are numbers like E471, E323 and E442. Now the question you must ask yourself should be – are they safe? Let’s find out. 

What are food additives? 

As we all know, apart from natural ingredients, packaged food contains a number of additives. They are used to add colour or flavour, to preserve it or thicken it. These food additives are represented by E-numbers and they mean the same universally. Let’s take a closer look at the 4 food additives you don’t have to worry too much about: 

• E322

E322 falls into the category of antioxidants and acidity regulators and is used to denote lecithin which is often found in packaged foods. When added to chocolates, it aids in the homogeneous mixing of ingredients and controls sugar crystallisation. In the case of spreads like margarine, lecithin stabilises the spread and reduces splattering when used for frying. It may also be used for baked goods as it stabilises the fermentation process and evens out the distribution of different ingredients. Lecithin may also be found in packaged dough where it is used to protect the yeast cells.

Is it safe? 

E322 has been passed by the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) as a safe food additive. However, it may cause allergic reactions in certain cases. This is a reaction not to the lecithin but to remnants of the protein it has been sourced from. This additive may be sourced from egg yolks, sunflower oil, cotton seeds, rapeseed, and soybeans. If a person is allergic to these foods, s/he may react to lecithin. So it is important to check the origin on the label.  

• E442

E400-E499 refer to thickeners, stabilisers and emulsifiers. E442 stands for an emulsifier called ammonium phosphatides. This is a mix of ammonium salts of phosphorylated glycerides. It is usually sourced from a mixture of plant oils and glycerol or made synthetically. In some cases, it may also be made from animal fat and is often found on food labels of chocolates and cocoa products. 

Does it pose any health risk?

It has no known side effects and according Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011, there was no ban on the use of emulsifying agents. 

• E471

It refers to mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (glycerol monostearate, glycerol distearate). This synthetic fat is a mixture of several products and has plant and animal origins. Glycerol monostearate is often found in fatty foods like ice cream and whipped cream. 

Does it pose any health risk?

This food additive is safe and has no known negative health effects. It may, however, be a cause of concern for vegetarians as the role of animal fats in its production cannot be ruled out. Ideally, the food label should specify whether it has been sourced from animal or plant fat.

• E476

E476 represents polyglycerol polyricinoleate (polyglycerol esters of fatty acids) an emulsifier made from fatty acids and glycerol. It is often found in combination with E322 in chocolates. This additive is also used in salad dressings and spreads. 

Does it pose any health risk?

The FSSAI, along with, FDA and Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives have recognised E476 as a safe food additive as long as it is taken in limited quantities. Studies on rats and chickens have shown that consuming an excess of E476 can cause liver enlargement. This is a reversible condition and believed to be the result of the liver having to work harder than normal to process it.  

To Wrap It Up

Food additives are often blacklisted simply because we do not understand them. A better understanding of additives and their effect on food enables you to make more informed choices. So, before you open a packet of chips, make sure you read the label. 

5 thoughts on “E471, E322, E442 And E476 – Are They Safe?”

    1. Thank you for the information
      You said its better to take a limited quantities of products that contains e476
      Could you please give how much that would be

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