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E-numbers are reference numbers used by the European Union to facilitate identification of food additives. All food additives used in the European Union are identified by an E-number. The "E" stands for "Europe" or "European Union". Normally each food additive is assigned a unique number, though occasionally, related additives are given an extension ("a", "b", or "i", "ii") to another E-number.

The Commission of the European Union assigns e-numbers after the additive is cleared by the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF), the body responsible for the safety evaluation of food additives in the European Union. The convention for assigning E-numbers is:
100-199     food colors
200-299     preservatives
300-399     antioxidants, phosphates, and complexing agents
400-499     thickeners, gelling agents, phosphates, humectants, emulsifiers
500-599     salts and related compounds
600-699     flavor enhancers
700-899     not used for food additives (used for feed additives)
900-999     surface coating agents, gases, sweeteners
1000-1399     miscellaneous additive
1400-1499     starch derivatives
E-numbers are only used for substances added directly to food products, so contaminants, enzymes and processing aids, which may be classified as additives in the USA, are not included in the E-number system.

There is an EU directive on food labeling which requires food additives to be listed in the product ingredients whenever they are added for technological purposes. This includes coloring, sweetening and favor enhancement as well as for preservation, thickening, emulsifying and the like. Ingredients must be listed in descending order of weight, which means that are generally found close to the end of the list of ingredients. However, substances used in the protection of plants and plant products, flavorings and substances added as nutrients (e.g., minerals, trace elements or vitamins) do not need to be included in the ingredient list. Because of this, some substances that are regulated as food additives in other countries may be exempt from the food additive definition in the EU.

As it pertains to Halal, E-numbers have limited use. In general, the origin of the additive must be know to determine if it qualifies as Halal. (This article was extracted from a talk given By Prof. Dr. Gert-Wolfhard von Rymon Lipinski, Nutrinova Nutrition Specialties & Food Ingredients GmbH, Frankfurt, Germany at Halal Food Conference 2001 in Paris, France.)

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