You often see the words “no additives” or “no preservatives“, but what do they actually mean?

Preservatives are a type of Food Additive that are added to food to prolong shelf life and prevent the products from getting broken down by microorganisms.

What are Food Additives?

A food additive is defined as any substance that is added to food to achieve a technological function, which could include preserving or altering factors such as taste, texture or colour. Food additives aren’t actually foods themselves, so they’re also not classed as ingredients. Food additives can be obtained from nature or they can also be synthetic (artificial). Some food additives that occur naturally in foods include vitamin C or absorbic acid (300) that is found in fruits.

In Australia, it is a requirement of the Food Standards Code that all ingredients are listed in descending order of the amount of the food they make up by weight. The food additives are required to be identified by their class name and individual name or code number.

Are Food Additives safe?

Most food additives are safe and have been approved for use in Australia, however there are a growing percentage of the population who have adverse reactions to food additives. One factor to consider is the increasing amount of allergies and intolerances in our society. The number of those with allergies to food ingredients such as peanuts, is steadily increasing. This might be because people are also experiencing reactions to food additives that are currently considered ‘safe’?

There are over 400 additives that have been permitted to use in Australia, and around 50 of them have been proven to cause some kind of adverse reaction. This can occur from natural and synthetic additives, as well as from the chemicals that are found naturally in foods such as salicylates and amines.

Common food additives that cause an adverse reaction include:

  • Nitrites 249, 250 and Nitrates 251, 252
  • Sulphur Dioxide 220 and Sulphites 221-228
  • Butylated Hydroxanisole (BHA) 320 and (BHT) 321
  • Tartrazine (102)
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) 621

It is amazing just how many products contain MSG and you don’t even realise. MSG can be labelled either as MSG, flavour enhancer, glutamate, 627, 631, 635, or ribonucleotide. Next time you pick up a packet of flavoured chips or flavoured biscuits, read the labelling, it will probably contain some form of flavour enhancer – MSG!

So why should we avoid MSG? It can cause:

  • burning sensations of the mouth, head and neck
  • weakness of the arms or legs
  • headaches
  • upset stomach
  • hives or other allergic-type reactions with the skin

Not every family can afford to buy organic produce, or have the ability to buy ‘health food’ products. However, it is easy enough to choose natural and fresh products when you do your shopping. Read the back of the labels and think to yourself, do you really want you or your children consuming these artificial chemicals? If your child hasn’t been sleeping well, or has been irrational with their behaviour, look back on what they’ve eaten that day. You might be surprised that just one pack of Pizza Shapes for example have caused this irrational behaviour.

Have you changed your family’s diet to include more natural and fresh products? Tell us about it below.

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  • yeah definately a great reminder to eat food in as close to natural state as possible, fresh really is best in this case


  • I get an incredibly itchy nose when I have MSG. I try to avoid it as much as possible but know that I have had it if my nose starts to itch, as it has when I’ve eaten dishes overseas.


  • I try to avoid all additives and preservatives. We have a vegie garden and grow a lot of our own produce both fruit and veg. so are always thinking up ways of using our own produce and freezing the resultant soups, fruits etc. Can’t get much more natural than that. And it’s wonderful to hear our grandkids tell us that they haven’t eaten an orange/apple/apricot, et. as nice as what we just gave them.


  • Sue Dengate “Fed Up” is an excellent book if you are interested in removing additives and preservatives from your diet along with other chemicals that can cause health and behavioural issues. Highly recommend this book- helped me out


  • Yes I’m very careful with what I buy.. we have a veggie garden


  • In some diet cool drinks there is 951 – an artificial sweetener which is very dangerous. It is known as “black death” by some oncologists as it can cause cancer on the kidney. Sometimes the growth can be removed from the outside surface but it bruises the “good part” of the kidney. In most cases the kidney is removed. It is sometimes only in one kidney. The good one has to work very hard to cope with what 2 would normally do. Patients are advised by Medical Professionals to cease drinking all soft drink and alcohol


  • A guidlines to additives and preservatives should also be available in the supermarket so that you can look them up when shopping.


  • Oh yeah, we buy mostly fresh and when possible organic food. I hardly use food out of a packed, box or tin and make mostly myself.
    Years ago I bought this wee book -“Additive Alert: Your Guide to Safer Shopping”, by Eady, Julie- which I have found very helpful info when doing your shopping.


  • The MSG is used so much in Asia. You really have to check and recheck all the food labels at the supermarket because MSG is still used there nowadays.
    I’m glad that in Australia they’ve talked so much about the bad effects of MSG that everybody knows it’s important to avoid it.


  • I do try to keep processed foods to a minimum.


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