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E-numbers scrutinised via iPhone apps

By Jess Halliday , 03-Sep-2009

New applications for iPhone are giving consumers instant access to information on food additives by entering the E-number – but there are questions about the science used to support the safety opinions.

The European Food Safety Authority is currently reviewing the science behind all food additives, as new research has been conducted on many since they were first approved.

The emergence of new technologies mean consumers may have faster access to information, but the source of that information and methodology use to establish opinions may not be transparent.

A new application for the iPhone called E Numbers Calc has recently been launched by Czech company Sarsoft.

The application, which is available in English, Czech, French and Germany, lets users tap in one of over 500 E numbers for “decoding”. It then gives the user a safety ranking, from 1 meaning ‘good’ to 5 meaning ‘dangerous’.

According to the company, the ranking system is based on that used in a book by chemist Ing Vit Syrovy, whose career experience is said include a time working in a food lab in Prague and food manufacturers mostly producing health foods.

Syrovy had not responded to a request for information about his methodology prior to publication deadline for this article.

Accuracy concerns

A spokesperson for the European Food Information Council was not familiar with the new application not the science used to provide the ranking system.

But she told FoodNavigator.com: “We are concerned about the overall message that this sends to consumers particularly as it is taken out of the dietary intake context.

Food additives all serve a purpose, be it preservation, flavour or colour enhancement, extended shelf-life or optimisation of nutritional properties and this addition is governed by the additive legislation which is one of the most sophisticated systems in European food policy. Consumers should not therefore, be receiving messages that approved E-numbers are dangerous."

Other food-related applications

Jindrich Sarson, developer of E Numbers Calc, said there are other E number applications available for iPhone, but the advantage of his system is “the focus on quick checking during shopping”.

The iPhone has proved to be a platform for a host of other food related applications. These include iExpiry, which is intended to let consumers track when foodstuffs are about to pass their expiry date; and ShopALot, which give information such as price, ingredients and nutritional facts for thousands of US grocery products.
Some food manufacturers have also introduced their own applications. Kraft, for instance, developed one that provides recipes for consumers using its products – however consumers have commented that the US$0.99 download cost of this application is a put off, since other free recipe applications are available.

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