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Food additives

Important notice

On December 14, 2016, amendments to nutrition labelling, list of ingredients and food colour requirements of the Food and Drug Regulations came into force. Regulated parties have a five (5) year transition period to meet the new labelling requirements.

Consult the Former – Food Additives for information on the former requirements.

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A food additive (definition) is any substance that, when added to a food, becomes part of that food or affects its characteristics.

Food additives do not include:

General requirements

Food additives or classes of food additives can only be used in certain foods. Health Canada's 15 lists of permitted food additives indicate which standardized and unstandardized foods can contain a given food additive.

There are specifications in the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) for certain food additives. If there are no food additive specifications under the FDR, food additives, including most food colours must comply with specifications set out in the Food Chemical Codex (FCC) or the specifications of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) [B.01.045, FDR].

How food additives are regulated

Health Canada regulates food additive use under the FDR and associated marketing authorizations (MA). The CFIA is responsible for the enforcement of these regulations and MAs.

If the lists of permitted food additives do not allow for a particular use of a food additive, a manufacturer may file a food additive submission with Health Canada in order to use that food additive in foods sold in Canada. For additional information, refer to Health Canada's guide for the preparation of submissions on food additives.

Manner of declaring in the list of ingredients

As indicated in the section on manner of declaring ingredients, food additives must be declared by an acceptable common name in the list of ingredients of a prepackaged product. However, as per B.01.008.2(4)(d) of the FDR, they may be listed at the end of the list of ingredients in any order.

For all requirements and information related to the list of ingredients, refer to the List of ingredients and allergens page.

Use of optional class names

The FDR allows for the use of collective/class names to classify a group of similar food additives in the list of ingredients, without having to list each ingredient individually.

For example, any combination of disodium phosphate, monosodium phosphate, sodium hexametaphosphate, sodium tripolyphosphate, tetrasodium pyrophosphate and sodium acid pyrophosphate can be listed as "sodium phosphate" or "sodium phosphates" as shown under item 8 of the table to B.01.010(3)(b) of the FDR.

Similarly, when potassium bisulphite, potassium metabisulphite, sodium bisulphite, sodium metabisulphite, sodium sulphite, sodium dithionite, sulphur dioxide and/or sulphurous acid are used together as preservatives, they can be listed as "sulphiting agents", "sulfiting agents", "sulphites" or "sulfites" as shown under item 21 of the table to B.01.010(3)(b) of the FDR.

Note: Sulphites have been identified as one of the priority allergens in Canada. Please refer to the Food allergens, gluten and added sulphite declaration section regarding the regulatory requirements for declaration of sulphites in the list of ingredients.

Components of preparations

When food additives are used in preparations or mixtures and have a function or effect on the food, they are required to be declared in the list of ingredient as if they were ingredients.

For example, brominated vegetable oil and sucrose acetate isobutyrate are additives that are permitted solely in flavours for use in citrus-flavoured and spruce-flavoured beverages, and their maximum level of use is based on their concentration in the beverage as consumed. These additives are density adjusting agents and will have an effect on the final beverage. As these additives keep the flavour preparation in suspension and prevent the formation of an oil ring at the surface of the beverage, they must be declared in the list of ingredients as ingredients are declared (i.e. in the order of their proportion of the product) [B.01.009(3)(f), FDR].

Use of synonyms

For food additives, the names in Health Canada's lists of permitted food additives are always acceptable common names. In some cases, there are also permitted synonyms. Synonyms acceptable for use as common names for food additives may include names used by the international Codex Alimentarius Commission, names accepted by other regulatory authorities, names in specifications for food additives established by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), or names in food additive monographs published in the Food Chemicals Codex (FCC). Acceptable names can also include the name(s) by which the food additive is generally known in Canada.

Some alternate common names to the ones listed in Health Canada's lists of permitted food additives are recognized for use in the lists of ingredients of foods sold in Canada. The CFIA reviews and assesses synonyms for use as common names in the list of ingredients. Acceptable alternate common names are listed in the Permitted synonyms for food additives table.

The Codex Alimentarius International Numbering System (INS) for food additives or the numbering system used by the European Union (e.g., E 102) are not acceptable alone as the common name declaration for the food additive in Canada. They may be declared as supplementary information, when the food additive is already declared in the list of ingredients by its required common name or acceptable synonym.

Use of abbreviations

In some cases the use of abbreviations for food additives may be acceptable common names in the list of ingredients. For example, TBHQ is an acceptable synonym for tertiary butylhydroquinone. Acceptable abbreviations are also listed in the Permitted synonyms for food additives table.

Food additive preparations

Food additive preparations must include the following information on their labels:

Caffeine as a food additive

Health Canada's Marketing Authorizations allow for the use of caffeine and caffeine citrate as food additives in cola type beverages and "non-alcoholic carbonated water-based flavoured sweetened beverages" (this includes carbonated soft drinks). Additionally, Health Canada has provided preliminary guidance for industry on the labelling of caffeine content in prepackaged foods. While Health Canada's guidance reflects a best practice, it is currently a voluntary approach.

Caffeinated energy drinks are considered a food and require a Temporary Marketing Authorization Letter (TMAL) to allow for the use of caffeine. A TMAL may also include specifications regarding product composition and labelling. Refer to CFIA's guidance on the Transition of caffeinated energy drinks from NHPs to food using temporary marketing authorization letters (TMAL) for more information.

Food colours

Colours that are acceptable for use as food additives are listed in the list of permitted colouring agents.

Most food colours must meet the specifications set out in the Food Chemical Codex (FCC) or the specifications of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). The two food colours Ponceau SX and Citrus Red No. 2 must meet the specifications set out in Division 6 of Part B of the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR). In the case where no FDR, FCC or JECFA specifications exist for a specific food colour, it must contain no more than 3 parts per million of arsenic, and 10 parts per million of lead [B.01.045, FDR].

Food colours must be declared by their specific common names in the list of ingredients of a prepackaged product (e.g., "allura red"). This requirement to declare food colours by their specific common name in the list of ingredients also applies to food colours that are components of ingredients not exempt from component declaration.

Similarly to other food additives, the names in Health Canada's List of permitted colouring agents are acceptable common names. Alternate common names that may be used are listed in the Permitted synonyms for food additives table, if any. For more information, refer to Use of synonyms.

With the repeal of the "colour" class name, the term "colour" may not be used in the list of ingredients to declare the presence of one or more food colours. As well, the specific common names of one or more food colours may not be grouped and listed within parentheses after the term "colour", as this is not in compliance with the manner in which ingredients and components must be declared.

Manufacturers may voluntarily choose to include a function descriptor within parentheses following the specific common name of a food colour (e.g., "iron oxide (a food colour)", "iron oxide (a colouring agent)", "iron oxide (for colour)" or simply "iron oxide (colour)"). This statement of a colour's function would be additional information only and is not mandatory.

The lake of a water-soluble synthetic colour is an oil dispersible version of the colour. Although lake versions are not included in Health Canada's List of permitted colouring agents, if a specific food colour is permitted, use of the corresponding lake version is also permitted. The common name to be used for the lake version of a colour may simply be the common name of the colour (e.g., "tartrazine") or alternatively "(naming the colour) lake" (e.g., tartrazine lake).

A preparation of colours for use in or upon food must carry the words "Food Colour Preparation" on its principal display panel (definition) [B.06.007(a), FDR].

Although a food colour preparation is exempt from declaring its components when used as an ingredient in another food [B.01.009(2), FDR], any colours it contains must be shown in the list of ingredients of the food to which the preparation is added, by their specific common names, as if they are ingredients of that food, since the colours perform a function in, or have an effect on, the food [B.01.009(3)(f), FDR].

Refer to List of ingredients and allergens for more information on requirements pertaining to list of ingredients.


Certain food additives in the List of permitted sweeteners have specific labelling requirements when used in prepackaged foods. Refer to Sweeteners for more information.

Processing aids

In Canada, there is no regulatory definition for processing aids. However, the Food Directorate of Health Canada has defined a processing aid as a substance that:

Food additives are not processing aids. Unlike food additives, processing aids are not considered to be ingredients, and are therefore not required to be declared on prepackaged food labels under FDR. Although there are no regulatory requirements for the preclearance of processing aids as there are for food additives, using processing aids is controlled by subsection 4(1) of the Food and Drugs Act.

Health Canada has developed a policy for differentiating between food additives and food processing aids. This policy provides guidance to determine whether or not a substance is a food additive or a processing aid.

The following table is a list of substances that are added to food during processing for a "processing aid" function, and are not required to be declared in the list of ingredients (because they are not considered food ingredients).

Processing aids that are not required to be declared on the list of ingredients
Item Substances
1. Hydrogen for hydrogenation purposes, currently exempt under B.01.008, FDR
2. Cleansers and sanitizers
3. Head space flushing gases and packaging gases Table Note 1
4. Contact freezing and cooling agents
5. Washing and peeling agents
6. Clarifying or filtering agents used in the processing of fruit juice, oil, vinegar, beer, wine and cider (The latter three categories of standardized alcoholic beverages are currently exempt from ingredient listing.)
7. Catalysts that are essential to the manufacturing process and without which, the final food product would not exist, e.g., nickel, copper, etc.
8. Ion exchange resins, membranes and molecular sieves that are involved in physical separation and that are not incorporated into the food
9. Desiccating agents or oxygen scavengers that are not incorporated into the food
10. Water treatment chemicals for steam production

Table Note

Table Note 1

Includes gases such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

Return to table note 1  referrer

Related links


Food additive

A food additive is any substance the use of which results, or may reasonably be expected to result, in it or its by-products becoming a part of or affecting the characteristics of a food [B.01.001(1), FDR].

Food additive categories

There are fifteen lists of permitted food additives, which are housed on the Health Canada website, and organized by major functional categories:

  1. Anti-caking agents
  2. Bleaching, maturing and dough conditioning agents
  3. Colouring agents
  4. Emulsifying, gelling, stabilizing or thickening agents
  5. Food enzymes
  6. Firming agents
  7. Glazing and polishing agents
  8. Food additives with other generally accepted uses
  9. Sweeteners
  10. pH adjusting agents, acid reacting materials or water correcting agents
  11. Preservatives (Classes I-IV)
    • Part 1 - Class 1 - curing preservatives;
    • Part 2 - Class 2 - antibacterial;
    • Part 3 - Class 3 - antifungal and antimycotic;
    • Part 4 - Class 4 - antioxidants
  12. Sequestering agents
  13. Starch modifying agents
  14. Yeast foods
  15. Carrier or extraction solvents
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