The re-evaluation, carried out by EFSA’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS), noted the absence of data on subchronic toxicity, chronic toxicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity of the fatty acid salts, and said there was no need to set a group acceptable daily intake (ADI).
The additives are used by food manufacturers as emulsifiers and stabilisers, and are usually labelled on pack as E 470a for sodium, potassium and calcium salts of fatty acids and E 470b for magnesium salts of fatty acids.
A spokesperson for the UK-based Food Additives and Ingredients Association said that none of the additives is widely used by the food industry but it nonetheless welcomed the positive opinion.
"FAIA members manufacturing and supplying these food additives are currently reviewing the EFSA recommendations for revising the specifications," the association said.
These fatty acid salts were first evaluated by EFSA's Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) in 1991, which did not specify an ADI for the fatty acids - myristic, stearic, palmitic and oleic acid - and their salts.
This time, the Panel confirmed there was no need for a numerical ADI and that the food additives sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium salts of fatty acids (E 470a and E 470b) were of no safety concern at the reported uses and use levels.
Using product information from market research company Mintel's global new product database, the EFSA scientists calculated it was unlikely that E 470a and E 470b would be used in combination in the same food product. Therefore, the exposure assessment of E 470a and E 470b was performed considering the maximum reported use level for either E 470a or E 470b per food category, and not together.
However, the panel recommended the European Commission consider revising the EU specifications for the additives, by including maximum limits for trans-fatty acids because sodium, potassium and calcium salts of fatty acids (E 470a) and magnesium salts of fatty acids (E 470b) can be manufactured by glycerolysis of hydrogenated fats or oils. These contain “significant amounts of trans fatty acids”, it said.
It also urged the Commission to rephrase the definition of the fatty acid salts in order to clarify that the fatty acids used as source materials be obtained only from edible fats and oils.