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Introduction to International Numbering System (INS) for Food Additives

Food labels with nutritional information give us details about the food we choose to eat and give to others. Their significance arises from the fact that regular people can make informed decisions about their own health and customize their options to suit their requirements and preferences.

One of the most crucial elements of any food centered industry is food labelling. Beyond transparency and credibility, it gives people the freedom to decide, maintain, and customize their dietary requirements and health regimes. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act has provided the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with appropriate guidelines for food labelling. The basic guideline is straightforward: every prepared and packaged food item, including bread, canned goods, frozen goods, cereals, snacks, drinks, and desserts, have to list all of its nutritional information. Depending on the nature of the product, the FDA also regularly advises the food sector on any additions or deletions of information in the labelling. This kind of information is necessary to control caloric consumption and understand what exactly consumers are consuming. So, needless to say, food labels are useful for managing a healthy diet and way of life.

What are Food Labels?

The black and white grids, also known as nutrition labels, printed on the back or side panel of every single bag, box, or bottle of pre-packaged food that we purchase anywhere in the world, are called food labels.

Let us dive deep into how food labelling evolved over a period of time from something that merely served as a mark for food producers to a vital product panel that empowers today's consumers to make informed decisions about their health and overall lifestyle.

Food labelling was initially developed as a consumer safety measure in response to outbreaks of food-borne illness in the 1850s. President Zachary Taylor passed away from a food-borne illness after swallowing tainted fruit and milk during a picnic, which was one of the most noteworthy cases at the time. Following this widely reported death, President Abraham Lincoln established the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1862, which resulted in the development of stringent regulations for the storage and processing of food.

History of Food Labels

Here are some of the prominent and important developments in food labels over the years.


The Food and Drug Administration's forerunner, the Bureau of Chemistry, and the Department of Agriculture are established by President Lincoln.


The first Food and Drugs Act is passed. It forbids the interstate trade in tainted and contaminated foods, beverages, and medicines.


According to the Supreme Court, even if a statement, design, or gadget on a product's label is technically true, it is illegal under the Food and Drugs Act to use it to mislead or deceive consumers.


The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 is updated and expanded. Highlights include establishing appropriate tolerance levels for unavoidable toxic elements, establishing criteria for food identity, quality, and fill-of-container, and approving factory inspections.


The Food Additives Amendment, passed in 1958, mandates that producers of novel food additives demonstrate their safety. Manufacturers were required to list all additives in products.


The first list of food substances generally recognized as safe (GRAS) is published by the FDA.


The 1980 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were published by the USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center (FNIC). Every five years, the regulations must be updated.


Nutrition Labelling and Education Act (NLEA) is passed. All packaged goods must have standardized nutrition labels, and all food-related health claims must adhere to criteria established by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. As a concession to food manufacturers, the FDA authorizes some health claims for foods. Serving sizes, food ingredient panels, and phrases like "low fat" and "light" are all standardized. Essentially, this is the nutrition label as we currently understand it.


The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 mandates the inclusion of nutrition facts, or basic per-serving nutritional information, on food packaging. The most crucial nutrients must be listed on food labels in an understandable style.


The National Organic Program (NOP) is enacted. It restricts the use of the term "organic" to certified organic producers.


The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act was passed. It requires the labelling of any food that contains one or more of the following: wheat, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, soybeans, and tree nuts.


December. The USDA publishes final guidelines for GMO labelling. The term "bioengineered" will now be used to describe products manufactured with genetically modified substances. In 2022, the requirement will become effective.

January 2020

FDA's new nutrition label finally goes into effect, 6 years after it was initially proposed.

Standards for International Food Labeling

There are numerous labelling standards available, each with unique requirements based on the type of product. Governments reaffirmed that "empowerment of consumers is necessary through improved and evidence-based health and nutrition information and education to make informed choices regarding consumption of food products for healthy dietary practice" at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in 2014.

Further, each nation has its own laws and guidelines governing food labelling. Even the bare necessities can differ slightly from country to country. General food labelling standards have been set by an international organization called Codex Alimentarius, but because they are voluntary, each country is free to interpret and apply them however they see fit.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission

The Codex Alimentarius, or "Food Code", is a collection of standards, guidelines and codes of practice adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. It was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) jointly in May 1963 with the aim of protecting consumers' health and ensuring fair practices in the food trade.

What is an INS Food Labelling System?

The International Numbering System (INS) for Food Additives is a European-based naming system for food additives that aims at providing a short designation of what may be a lengthy actual name. This system identifies food additives, similar to the E-numbering system, which is accepted internationally. The INS is a flexible list that is "susceptible to the continuing insertion of new additives or the removal of current ones."

On food labels, ID numbers are used for labelling and have three or four digits. The subclasses of the product are denoted by alphabetical or numeric subscripts that can occasionally follow the numbers. The INS also takes into account the roles played by food additives. Twenty-three categories, including one specifically for modified starches are included in the list of additives.

What are E Numbers for Food Labels?

E numbers where "E" stands for "Europe" are codes for substances used as food additives, including those found naturally in many foods.

An additive that appears in the INS does not automatically have a corresponding E number but it is a general trend that the INS numbers correspond to E numbers for the same compound.


INS 102, which is Tartrazine, is also E102 in the E numbering system.

INS numbers are not unique and, in fact, one number may be assigned to a group of similar compounds.

Approximate INS Number Range

E Number Range










(antioxidants, acidity regulators)



(thickeners, stabilisers, emulsifiers)



(acidity regulators, anti-caking agents)



(flavour enhancer)






(glazing agents, gases and sweeteners)



(additional additives)

It is important to remember that not all examples of a class fall into the given numeric range. Many have variable purposes, so an exclusive class range cannot be provided.

Allergen Information

The following foods and ingredients are known to cause hypersensitivity or allergies and are always declared:

  • Cereals containing gluten; i.e., wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt or their hybridized strains and products of these;

  • Crustacea and products of these;

  • Eggs and egg products;

  • Fish and fish products;

  • Peanuts, soybeans and products of these;

  • Milk and milk products (lactose included);

  • Tree nuts and nut products; and

  • Sulphite in concentrations of 10 mg/kg or more.

Benefits of Food Labelling

  • Providing information about food items

  • Preventing frauds

  • Stopping food wastage

  • Educating the consumer

  • Motivating people to eat healthier

  • Awareness about nutritional values

  • Planning diets

  • Understanding the shellfire of food items


Governments, producers, industry, and consumers all share responsibility for ensuring food safety. One approach for consumers to learn more about the food they are considering purchasing is through food labelling. Consumers can avoid avoidable food-borne illnesses and allergic responses by correctly following the directions on food labels (such as expiration dates, handling recommendations, and allergy warnings).

Food labels with nutritional information give us details about the food we choose to eat and give to others. Their significance arises from the fact that regular people can make informed decisions about their own health and customize their options to suit their requirements and preferences. In the coming series of blogs, we will take you through different aspects of INS food labels. Stay tuned!



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