Food Additives in Japan – What is Really in Your Food?

Food additives in japan

Did you know that there are currently 454 designated food additives in Japan?  This article will delve into everything you need to know to stay safe and healthy when it comes to food additives in Japan.  Some of these additives are naturally derived while others are chemically derived.  Some are existing foods and some additives are considered a food alone, but also considered an additive.  It sounds confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. This article analyzes the different types of food additives and what they mean.  If you are what you eat, then don’t be an additive!

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) in Japan or the 「厚生労働省」’Kouseiroudoushou’ is a part of the cabinet of the Japanese Government.  It was formed in 2001 with the merging of the Ministry of Health and Welfare with the Ministry of Labour.  Within this body, the Food Sanitation Act (FSA) was created in 1947.  The Food Sanitation Act covers food safety, food hygiene and the system used to list food additives in Japan.  Originally, the FSA only covered chemical additives, but in 1995 it was broadened to include naturally derived additives too.

So what is a food additive? According to the FSA, food additives fall under two umbrellas:

  • ‘Substances used in or on food in the process of manufacturing food’, or
  • ‘Substances used for the purpose of processing and preserving food’

Also considered food additives by the FSA are:

  • Processing aids
  • Vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
  • Flavoring agents.

Processing aids are anything that is consumed by an ingredient, used to process raw materials or is unintentionally present during processing.  Based on this information from the FSA, additives encompass not only harmful chemicals, but also beneficial components of food.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and, Welfare, all food additives in Japan are subdivided into four types:

  • Designated additives
  • Existing food additives
  • Natural flavors
  • Ordinary food used as food additives

Any and all of these can be present in food produced in Japan from 1995.  Designated additives are deemed by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare as unlikely to adversely affect human beings.  Existing food additives are a list separate to designated additives.  These cover natural additives with a long history of consumption in Japan.  Natural flavors are additives such as vanilla which are derived from natural products for the purposes of flavoring food.  Ordinary food used as additives are already a food product of themselves, but are also used to flavor other foods, such as fruit juices.

All food additives from the four categories listed above are held to certain standards of use.  These encompass:

  • Which foods they are present in
  • Additive/residue limits

The lists of designated additives and existing food additives are constantly changing, however the former totals 454 as of October 6th, 2016 and the latter totals 365 as of the 30th of January 2014.  Both the list of natural flavors and ordinary foods listed as food additives were published by the (now merged) Ministry of Health and Welfare on the 23rd of May 1996.

It is quite overwhelming to see all the food additives in Japan, both chemically and naturally derived that could possibly be lurking in seemingly healthy foods, and it might even seem near impossible to find food that is derived from nature.  However, there are still companies that are committed to creating safe and healthy food.  Sugarlady is the leading purveyor of natural and additive free food and products in Japan.  Sugarlady food products do not contain additives and go through various screening checks to ensure they are completely safe.  If you are interested in moving toward a more natural diet, that is free from preservatives, additives, artificial colors, and flavors then Sugarlady is the choice for you.  Their range includes frozen vegetables that are GMO free and snap frozen to preserve freshness and in some cases organic, more responsibly raised meat from around the world, and healthy prepared foods for busy lifestyles.  Sugarlady also specializes in health supplements and additive free cosmetic products.  Sugarlady is constantly striving to expand their line of goods while maintaining the highest quality without compromising price. Check out the range of Sugarlady products on HealthyTokyo!

Related Links: 

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