National Reference Laboratory for Food Additives and Flavourings
Food additives and flavourings can be found in a wide range of processed food products. According to EU law, the list of ingredients labeled on the packaging must contain any food additives and flavourings used. More than 320 food additives are approved for use in food in the European Union in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008. These may be assigned to one of 27 functional classes based on of their principal technological function, e.g. sweetener, colours and preservatives, etc.
According to Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008, there are currently around 2500 EU-wide permitted flavouring substances. Flavourings are made or consist of defined chemical flavouring substances, flavouring preparations, thermal process flavourings, smoke flavourings, flavour precursors or mixtures thereof, which are added to food in order to impart or modify smell and/or taste.
According to Article 27 (1) of Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008, the European Member States shall establish systems to monitor the consumption and use of food additives on a risk-based approach. The findings are reported with appropriate frequency to the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The monitoring and reporting of flavourings is regulated in accordance with Article 20 of Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008.
For this purpose, reliable data on the level of additives and flavourings in foods are required, which are produced using uniform analytical strategies. So far, only a limited number of suitable analytical methods are available. The German National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for food additives and flavourings at the BfR supports the national official control laboratories in the development, validation and implementation of analytical methods for monitoring and controlling the use of food additives and flavourings. The focus is on analytical methods for quantification detecting prohibited substances and proving natural flavourings.
The German NRL is located in the Unit “Product Identity, Supply Chains and Traceability” of the BfR department “Safety in the Food Chain”.
Analysis of food additives and flavourings
The classical methods for analysis of food additives and flavourings are wet-chemical methods as well as liquid or gas chromatography coupled to diverse detection techniques (e.g. mass spectrometry). However, the number of chemical classes of food additives and flavourings as well as the variety of food matrices result in a broad range of analytical methods for identification and quantification.
Main tasks of the German NRL for food additives and flavourings
According to Regulation (EU) 2017/625, the main tasks of the German NRL are:
- Collaboration with the future European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL), and participation in training courses and in inter-laboratory comparative tests
- Coordination of the activities of official laboratories with the aim of harmonising and improving the laboratory analytical methods and their use;
- Organisation and conduction of inter-laboratory comparative testing and proficiency tests between official laboratories
- Distribution of information from the future EURL to the German competent authorities and the national food control laboratories that are commissioned with analytical testing
- Scientific and technical support to the competent authorities for the implementation of control programs
- Conduction of training courses for the staff of official laboratories
- Development and validation of analytical methods.