Fun with E-numbers

Deirdre Cosgrove fact checks the notion that E-numbers - especially food colours - are bad for you.

When my children were small, Easter was one of the few times of the year when I fished out the oh-so-pretty bottles of food colouring and we’d all spend a messy afternoon decorating a basket of eggs, before heading off for the big Easter Egg Hunt. Not that they’d hunt for a boiled egg, of course. There’d be a riot if they weren’t chocolate eggs. Laid by a rabbit!

Decorating eggs with your kids is great fun, and if you feel like getting crafty, you’ll find some instructions here... 

What’s more some shops stock duck eggs for Easter which are bigger and usually white, so the colours look better. (If you decide to go that route, it’s worth checking the specific food safety advice on duck eggs.)

While our creations on plain old brown eggs wouldn’t have won any awards for artistic merit, my children certainly approached the task with gusto. Deciding, quite reasonably, that anything so delightfully coloured must taste delicious, paintbrushes were sucked and fingers licked. It’s food, I thought, no problem. 

 a messy girl with coloured eggs

Imagine my dismay, when I discovered that the stuff in these gorgeous little bottles was actually pure, unadulterated E-numbers! Flashbacks of my mother in the supermarket: “No, I am not buying that rubbish, it’s full of E-numbers. It’ll kill you!”

“Have I been slowly poisoning my children?” I nervously asked the toxicologist upstairs. No, he said. Well, he said many things and they’re all here in this guide: All About Food Colourings

coloured eggs

But the bottom line is, he said, E-numbers don’t deserve the bad rap they get. In fact, they’re safe to consume - by definition. 

The “E” in E-number stands for “Europe”, and that means the European Food Safety Authority has done rigorous safety tests on them all before approving them for use. And it doesn’t stop there. Under the EU system they’re reviewed constantly. If any new information casts doubt on the safety of a colour it will be removed from the “approved” list.

There’s an E-number for vitamin C. There’s even an E-number for Oxygen!  

So, we’re all a little guilty of telling our children fibs for one reason or another. Rabbits lay eggs. Not true. E-numbers are bad for you. Also, mother, not strictly true. 

Happy Easter!

Posted: 17/04/2019 09:04:43 by Deirdre Cosgrove
Filed under: Easter, Eggs, E-numbers, Food colouring, Food safety

About Me

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Deirdre Cosgrove
Hi, I work in the Communications team at safefood, mostly on the web site. When I'm not at work, I'm at home on Cape Clear island with my two daughters and Teddy, No 1 Doggo and Chief Happiness Officer of the household.