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Food and Nutrition

Food Additives and Processing Aids

This section provides information on food additives and their regulation in Canada.

In this section

Join Health Canada's Food Additives e-Notice, a free service to stay on top of issued advice as well as regulatory and scientific developments in the area of food additives in Canada.

What is a food additive?

A food additive is any chemical substance that is added to food during preparation or storage and either becomes a part of the food or affects its characteristics for the purpose of achieving a particular technical effect.

Substances that are used in food to maintain its nutritive quality, enhance its keeping quality, make it attractive or to aid in its processing, packaging or storage are all considered to be food additives. However, some substances that aid in the processing of food, under certain conditions, are considered to be food processing aids, not food additives. Further information in this regard is available in the section below and in the "Policy for Differentiating Food Additives and Processing Aids".

Examples of food additives include colouring agents that give foods an appetizing appearance, anticaking agents that keep powders such as salt free-running, preservatives that prevent or delay undesirable spoilage in food, and certain sweeteners that are used to sweeten foods without appreciably adding to the caloric value of the foods.

Under the Food and Drug Regulations, food additives do not include:

  • food ingredients such as salt, sugar, starch;
  • vitamins, minerals, amino acidsFootnote 1;
  • spices, seasonings, flavouring preparations;
  • agricultural chemicals;
  • veterinary drugs; or
  • food packaging materials.

How are food additives regulated?

Food additives are regulated in Canada under the Food and Drug Regulations and associated Marketing Authorizations (MAs). All permitted food additives and their conditions of use are listed in the Lists of Permitted Food Additives.

If the Lists do not allow for a particular use of a food additive, the manufacturer is required to file a food additive submission in accordance with Section B.16.002 of the Food and Drug Regulations before that food additive can be used in foods sold in Canada. The submission must contain detailed information about the additive, its proposed use, the results of safety tests, and information on the effectiveness of the food additive for its intended use.

Scientists from Health Canada's Food Directorate, Health Products and Food Branch, conduct a detailed and rigorous pre-market evaluation of the submission that focuses on safety. The evaluation considers the toxicological aspects of the proposed use of the additive, as well as relevant microbiological and/or nutritional factors. Food additives must be of suitable quality, must be effective for their intended purpose, and, when used according to the Lists, must not pose a hazard to the health of the consumer.

The Bureau of Chemical Safety within Health Canada's Food Directorate coordinates the assessment of food additive submissions.

What are food processing aids and how are they regulated?

There is no explicit regulatory definition of a food processing aid in Canada. The Food Directorate informally defines a food processing aid as a substance that is used for a technical effect during food processing or manufacture but, unlike food additives, its use does not affect the intrinsic characteristics of the food and it results in no or negligible residues of the substance or its by-products in or on the finished food.

How a substance is used in food processing determines how it is classified. A substance that is regulated as a food additive in one situation may be considered a processing aid in a different situation. The "Policy for Differentiating Food Additives and Processing Aids" provides more detail in this regard.

There is no regulatory requirement for preclearance of processing aids by the Minister of Health. However, Health Canada offers opinions upon request on the acceptability of processing aid uses of specific chemicals and other substances during food processing. Such requests must be supported by a submission. The Guide for Preparing Food Processing Aid Submissions can be obtained from Health Canada.

Health Canada maintains a list of Antimicrobial Processing Aids for Which Health Canada Has Issued a Letter of No Objection (LONO). The list is provided as a resource for Canadian meat and poultry processing establishments in particular, as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency currently requires that processing aids used in these establishments be the subject of a LONO.

The Bureau of Chemical Safety within Health Canada's Food Directorate coordinates the assessment of food processing aid submissions.

Antimicrobial Processing Aids

To obtain an electronic copy of Antimicrobial Processing Aids for Which Health Canada Has Issued a Letter of No Objection (LONO) or an interim Letter of No Objection (iLONO) [Last Updated on December 17, 2015], please contact our publications office or send an e-mail to with the subject heading "hpfb BCS antimicrobial processing aids-eng".

Specific Topics on Chemicals Used in Food Processing


Footnote 1

Some nutrients may occasionally function as food additives. For example, ascorbic acid contributes vitamin C to foods and also acts as an antioxidant; dicalcium phosphate has several food additive functions but is added to products, such as infant cereals, because of its mineral content.

Return to footnote 1 referrer