Food additives play an important role in food industry in ensuring food safety, enhancing stability and taste, improving colour and appearance, and prolonging storage life to minimise food wastage. Many food additives have specific names, which are often long and complex. For the benefit of consumers, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has prepared the International Numbering System for Food Additives (INS), which provides an agreed international numerical system for identifying food additives.

Under the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) (Amendment) Regulation 2004Note, prepackaged food sold in Hong Kong should declare details of the food additives used on their labels, both by their exact names and by their functional classes so as to provide consumers with accurate and meaningful information on the exact type of additives present and their functions in the food.

Note: Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) (Amendment) Regulation 2004 came into operation on 9 July 2004 with a grace period of 36 months.

Functions of Food Additives

Different food additives have different uses. Some of them can be used to:

Composition of the INS

The INS is an internationally agreed means of identifying food additives. Not all chemicals present in the INS are allowed to be used in Hong Kong. Their use in food for sale in Hong Kong is still subject to regulations prescribed locally in Part V of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap.132) and its subsidiary legislations.

The INS does not include flavours, chewing gum bases, as well as dietetic and nutritive additives.

Layout of INS and its usage

Functional Class of Food Additives

For labelling purposes, the technological functions are grouped under more descriptive functional class titles, which are intended to be meaningful to consumers. Under Codex, there are a total of 23 class titles and they are listed below:-

01. Acid
02. Acidity regulator
03. Anti-caking agent
04. Anti-foaming agent
05. Antioxidant
06. Bulking agent
07. Colour
08. Colour retention agent
09. Emulsifier
10. Emulsifying salt
11. Firming agent
12. Flavour enhancer
13. Flour treatment agent
14. Foaming agent
15. Gelling agent
16. Glazing agent
17. Humectant
18. Preservative
19. Propellant
20. Raising agent
21. Stabilizer
22. Sweetener
23. Thickener

Lists of Food Additives

Two lists arranged in numerical and alphabetical order are available for easy reference.

  1. The "List of Food Additives" in numerical order.
    The three columns in the list describe the food additives in order of the identification numbers, the names of the food additives and the technical functions.
  2. The "List of Food Additives" in alphabetical order.
    The three columns in the list describe the food additives in order of the names of the food additives, the identification numbers and the technical functions.

Under the column listing the names of the food additives, some additives are further subdivided by numerical subscripts, such as (i), (ii), etc. For example, Curcumins are subdivided into (i) Curcumin and (ii) Turmeric. These identifications are not for labelling purposes but simply to identify sub-classes which are covered by separate specifications.

Further Information

Further information can be obtained from the following webpages:


Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
Hotline: 2868 0000
Communication Resource Unit: 2381 6096