I would have replied earlier, but, I was away in The Netherlands, as part
of the Malaysian delegation to the meeting of the CODEX Committee on
Contaminants in Foods from 29 March - 5 April.
I am not claiming to be an expert in this issue, but, I would like to
highlight some things that are, as far as I know (waulla hu alam),
accurate information on "food additives" so that you may be informed
consumers as I regard this as a fardu kifayah matter.This is my two cents
worth of comments.
Safety of Food Additive Issues
At the national level, we have a section in the Food Safety and Quality
Division in the Ministry of Health that is in charge of all the food safety
and quality issues, including the type, level permitted, and safety issues
pertaining to food additive use, in Malaysia. This division is headed by
Puan Noraini Othman. You can go to www.moh.gov.my and browse the
division's webpage and contact info. Any issues you may have, you can take
it up with them.
At the international level, we have the CODEX Committee on Food Additives
(CCFA), a division of the Codex Alimentarius, or food code, which is the
global point of reference for food processors, goverment and consumers.
CODEX is the organisation under the FAO/WHO that is responsible for setting
food standards, guidelines, and code of practice for the main purpose of
protecting health of the consumers worldwide (
We also have the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee in Food Additives (JECFA),
which is an independent scientific expert committee that advises the
FAO/WHO and its specialist committees on the safety of food additives used
worldwide (http://www.who.int/ipcs/food/jecfa/en). According to their
website JECFA has evaluated the safety of more than 1500 food additives,
approx. 40 contaminants and naturally occuring toxicants, and approx. 90
residues of veterinary drugs. They have also developed principles for the
safety assessment of chemicals in food which takes into account the most
recent developments in toxicology and other relevant sciences. For
information on their safety evaluations on these food additives, from their
first meeting in 1956 to their 68th meeting in 2007, you can go to their
website http://jecfa.ilsi.org. They will be sitting for their 69th meeting
sometime in June 2008.
Pertaining to the E number.
There are two things that I would like to highlight here, the prefix "E"
followed by the "number". The prefix "E" is only used for food products
that are destined for the EU market. The "number" is the INS (international
numbering system) number. This number belongs to CODEX,, and it is used to
identify food additives that are being used throughout the whole world.
CODEX has come out with its "Codex General Standard for Food Additives
(GSFA) database. This database contain iniformation on food additives that
are permitted by CODEX (type, level, function, etc.). It can be viewed at
Back to the "E number" issue, I would like to stress that any food sold in
the EU or to be exported into the EU market, the traders must have the
prefix E, followed by the CODEX's INS number, for all the food additives
used in the food listed on the package. Itu lah dia "E number"!!! If you
want to know why we have to use the "E number", you can check the EFSA's
(European Community Food Safety Authority) website at
http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_home.htm. You can
also go to http://www.foodnavigator.com/news/ng.asp?n=74575-codex-efsa-ccfa
, for more information on this issue.
FYI, food destinied for other markets, they do not need to use the prefix
"E" if they do not want to! They only use the INS number to designate the
food additives used in the food. Before any confusion starts, I would also
like to add that foods destined for the Australian and New Zealand market
must now have the prefix "A" followed by the SAME INS number.
As for the halalness of everything, including food additives, you have to
ask the JAKIM people! Maybe Dr Zainal Samicho, who is sitting in the JAIS
Halal Committee, can enlighten you on it.
I know there is a ton of information to chew here, but, there you have it.
I am not sure how all this information can be filtered down to the laymen
of our country, i.e. the kampung people, mothers, fathers, etc. I am open
to any suggestions; wild, revolutionary, whatever! As for me, I do my bit
by getting new information and imparting that knowledge in my Food Safety
and Toxicology class every year hoping that it will get filtered down to
the masses through my students. My wee bit of amal jariah, if you'd like to
I hope this info has been beneficial to you. I do appreciate it if you
filter it down to your friends and whoever else. Hopefully, we can make
more people be aware and knowledgeble in this matter.
15 Mei 2008
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