What is Aluminium, and where is it used? Aluminium, a lightweight and corrosion-resistant metal is a versatile food additive (E173) used in the food industry for its dual role as both a food preservative and a food colourant [1-3]. Classified under the code E173, Aluminium is widely utilised to enhance the shelf life, safety, and visual appeal of various food products . It is a lightweight and corrosion-resistant metal, and serves multiple purposes in the food industry. As a preservative, Aluminium effectively inhibits microbial growth, preventing spoilage and extending the shelf life of food products whilst enhancing the safety and visual appeal. Furthermore, aluminium is used alongside food colourants to enhance the colour of a food product . It is important to note however, that Aluminium (E173) itself does not impart a specific colour. It is primarily used as a colour carrier or a mordant, which means it helps to fix or enhance the colours of other food colourants that may be present in the product . For example, when used in baked goods, Aluminium may interact with natural or synthetic colourants, such as carotenoids, anthocyanins, or synthetic dyes, to stabilise and intensify their colours. The specific shade or hue of the colour imparted by Aluminium will depend on the particular food product and the combination of colourants used. Aluminium is commonly found in the form of Aluminium potassium sulphate or Aluminium ammonium sulphate [1-2]. Common applications of aluminium in food products are [1, 3]:
Baked Goods: Aluminium stabilises dough, improves texture, and adds appealing colours to baked goods such as bread, cakes, and pastries.
Beverages: Aluminium salts are employed in the production of certain beverages, including carbonated drinks, to maintain carbonation and enhance visual appeal.
Processed Meats: Aluminium is used in processed meats, such as sausages and canned meats, to extend their shelf life while also imparting desired colours.
Purported Health Implications
Neurotoxicity Concerns: Some studies have suggested a potential link between Aluminium exposure and neurotoxicity, particularly in individuals with impaired kidney function [1, 4-5]. However, the current scientific consensus is that the levels of Aluminium found in food and food additives are unlikely to pose a significant health risk to the general population.
Aluminium and Alzheimer's Disease: Claims linking Aluminium exposure to Alzheimer's disease have been made [1, 5]. However, extensive research conducted by scientific bodies such as the Alzheimer's Society and the World Health Organization (WHO) has found no conclusive evidence supporting this association .
Dietary Exposure: The overall dietary exposure to Aluminium, including that from food preservatives and colourants, is considered to be within safe limits. Aluminium intake primarily comes from natural sources such as drinking water, fruits, vegetables, and other food ingredients .
Recommendations for Safe Consumption
Regulatory Approval: Aluminium (E173) has undergone safety evaluations by regulatory authorities, such as Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [7-9]. It is approved for use as a food additive, both as a preservative and a colourant, within specified limits.
Permitted Levels: Specific guidelines and maximum permitted levels for Aluminium usage are set by regulatory agencies to ensure safe consumption [6-9]. Food manufacturers must adhere to these limits to guarantee the safety of their products.
Allergic Reactions: Although rare, allergic reactions to Aluminium can occur [1, 4]. Individuals with known allergies or sensitivities should exercise caution and carefully read product labels.
Potential Migration from Packaging: Concerns regarding the migration of Aluminium from food packaging materials to the food itself exist [3, 5]. However, stringent regulations and quality control measures are in place to minimise migration and ensure consumer safety.
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Yokel RA. Aluminum in food–the nature and contribution of food additives. Rijeka, Croatia: Intech; 2012 Feb 22.
Stahl T, Falk S, Taschan H, Boschek B, Brunn H. Evaluation of human exposure to aluminum from food and food contact materials. European food research and technology. 2018 Dec;244:2077-84.
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ALKAYA GB, DEMİRCİ Ç, ŞEVİK H. Aluminum in food and potential role on Alzheimer’s disease of aluminum. Turkish Journal of Engineering. 2022 Apr 1;6(2):118-27.
WHO | JECFA [Internet]. apps.who.int. [cited 2023 Oct 11]. Available from: https://apps.who.int/food-additives-contaminants-jecfa-database/Home/Chemical/6179
Food additives -alphabetical list Food additives -alphabetical list [Internet]. 2019. Available from: https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/additives/additiveoverview/Documents/Food%20additives%20-%20alphabetical%20May%202019.pdf
EFSA Advises on the Safety of Aluminium in Food | EFSA [Internet]. www.efsa.europa.eu. Available from: https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/news/efsa-advises-safety-aluminium-food
CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 [Internet]. www.accessdata.fda.gov. Available from: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=201.323
We do our best to source robust information from a number of credible sources. There is, however, a large amount of information on various aspects of nutritional elements along with claims in terms of their contribution to helping in body health which may contradict the above.