Frequently Asked Questions

Additive questions

Why are nitrates and nitrites in processed meats harmful – but those in vegetables aren’t?

What exactly is a food additive?

How many additives are in our food supply and are they tested for safety?

There are a few differences between the list of additives to avoid in the RPAH Elimination Handbook and the list on the fedup website – can you help?

What’s in the popcorn they sell in cinemas? I’m sure it affects my 4 yo.

Does colour 133 cause problems? My medication contains Opadry Blue OY-B-30904 (includes colour 133).

Are additive numbers the same globally?

How do you know that whey powder or “cultured” on bread means a natural form of calcium propionate 282?

What is the colour in Marmite and is it safe to eat????

Does Rosemary Extract affect other people?

What is "1422 - thickener" please and is it a no no?

Could a nappy rash be a reaction to additive 635?

Do you know anything about brilliant scarlet 4R CI6255?

What are your thoughts on benzoic acid 210 and its effects?

What's happening in Australia about the carcinogen Sudan 1 in sunset yellow?

Which of the following numbers in pannacotta could cause a migraine?

Wouldn't food additives be banned if they were harmful?

Do sulfites mainly affect asthmatics or are they mood altering?

Who tests additives?

What are the ingredients in ‘flavours’?

Are these ingredients in my baby’s formula safe? The ingredients list include nucleotides guanosine 5’-monophosphate and inosine 5’-monophosphate. Aren’t they the same as flavour enhancer 635 (ribonucleotides) that causes Ribo Rash?

Do you know the number codes for soy derived emulsifiers etc?

What is your opinion about GM foods?

I saw Velcorin listed on a fruit juice label. Is it a safe additive?

Is colour 160c bad?

Can you publish a list of which additives cause specific problems?

My butcher asks: can he use saltpetre to make bacon without nitrates?

I was wondering what annatto colour 160b is and what reactions to annatto have been reported?

Is aspartame failsafe?

Which is worse: bread preservative 282 or bleached flour?


Q: Why are nitrates and nitrites in processed meats harmful – but those in vegetables aren’t?

A: The chemistry is complicated but logical. The harm from nitrates comes from their conversion into nitrites, in the food and in the gut.This nitrite then reacts with protein fragments which are plentiful in meat, activated by haem which is also prevalent in meat. Vegetables contain many natural antioxidants which suppress formation of the nitrite-protein complex that causes cancer. Much more detail 

Q. What exactly is a food additive?

A. Food additives are substances added to food to extend the storage life of the food or enhance its taste, appearance, or other qualities, particularly after processing.

Some additives have been used for centuries; for example, preserving food by pickling (with vinegar), salting as with bacon, using sugar for preserving or using sulfur dioxide as with wines.

With the advent of processed foods in the second half of the twentieth century, many more additives have been introduced, of both natural and artificial origin. Some of these appear as ingredients, and some have numbers and are regulated by government. Others do not.

Q. How many additives are in our food supply and are they tested for safety?

A. There are currently about 350 permitted food additives in Australia/New Zealand as regulated by government. About 50 are most likely to cause adverse reactions.

Government safety testing is deliberately limited to toxicological and allergic reactions. There is no testing for behavioural and learning reactions and scientific evidence of such harm, such as changes to gut microbiota, is routinely ignored. Food additives are only tested one at a time and not in the target foods despite scientific evidence of interactive effects.

For instance, we have known since Roman times that many people react with asthmatic symptoms to sulphite preservatives, and even the conservative World Health Organisation says 20-30% of asthmatic children react to sulphites.  Australian research has found that up to 65% of asthmatic children are affected. For this reason, any level of sulphites above 10 ppm must appear on the food Ingredients Panel.  Nevertheless, the drug company-sponsored National Asthma Council of Australia continues to say of asthma and food that “Food is not a common trigger for asthma”!

People with food intolerance can have a very wide and distressing range of symptoms, both physical and behavioural, but the absence of scientific evidence for food additives as a cause for many of these is taken to mean that the additives are not the cause.

 Q. There are a few differences between the list of additives to avoid in the RPAH Elimination Handbook and the list on the fedup website – can you help?

A. There are constant small changes to the food additive regulations that are never mentioned in the media or anywhere else that I can see - it's hard to keep up with them all!


> Colour 104 is not on the RPAH list - I presume this is because this colour isn't allowed in Australia/New Zealand though notice that it's on your list?

Quinoline yellow 104 - was banned for years in Aust/NZ foods while permitted in pharmaceuticals. It is now permitted in Australia again so it should be on the RPAH list - they are out of date there. You can see the list of additives permitted by FSANZ at

And here is the story about 104 from our website:

Q. Do you know what colour is in Strepsils Honey/Lemon? Based on my son's reaction to one lozenge, there has to be an artificial yellow colour additive. Also, can you tell me why no ingredient listing is required for medications?

A. When I asked a few years ago they contained Quinoline Yellow (artificial colour 104), now subject to a voluntary ban in the UK due to its effect on children's behaviour. Why not list colours on medication labels? - in my experience the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration which regulates medication labelling) is extremely hostile to consumers and protective of Big Pharma. It is best to avoid all medications unless essential. For coughs and colds, Demazin Cough & Cold Syrup (2 years to adult) with butterscotch/vanilla flavour, no added colours, no preservatives, is suitable for failsafers (but beware of other Demazin syrups with additives).

> Brilliant blue 133 is listed on the RPAH list on page 12, but not on page 25 "Additives to be avoided"

We received a complaint from one woman that the diet wasn't working - she was taking medication every day coloured with 133, she had looked it up on page 25 and decided it was a safe colour!

> Also 107 is not on the fedup website but is on RPAH list, presume this may be an accidental omission?

107 yellow 2G has quietly dropped off the FSANZ list in the last few years - I suspect it happened about the same time that E128 red 2G quietly disappeared on the UK list due to the EU's decision in 2007 to suspend the use of the dye Red 2G due to fears that it breaks down to aniline - a known carcinogen.  I have seen reports that an EU ban on 107 is imminent but can't find any hard evidence, apparently the UK is the only country where it is still used (so we should have it on our list!)


>Parabens: RPAH says avoid benzoate preservatives 210 -218, fedup lists only 210 -213. I seem to recall that in your experience that 216 (propylparaben) is reasonably well tolerated and presume that this must be the case for the methyl version?

I'm not sure what you mean about our experience with 216 being well tolerated - 214-219 were previously not permitted in foods in Aust/NZ (except for 218 as an unlisted preservative in artificial colours so not a problem for us!), although used in cosmetics, ointments etc . That's why we haven't listed them so far but are about to update our list to include them. It seems curious that they are now permitted in Australia when the EU has gone the other way:

In September 2004, EFSA issued an opinion on the safety of parabens (E214-219) used as preservatives in foods following a risk assessment of its use in foods. As a result, Directive 2006/52/EC amending Directive 95/2/EC on food additives other than colours and sweeteners and Directive 94/35/EC on sweeteners for use in foodstuffs, deleted the preservatives, E216 propyl phydroxybenzoate and E217 sodium propyl p-hydroxybenzoate from the list of permitted preservatives).


>Flavour enhancers - RPAH lists avoiding flavour enhancers 621 - 635, fedup lists 620 - 635 - presume 620 is not used as an additive in Australia/NZ?

Yes, 620 is currently used in Woolworths 'No MSG' instant chicken flavoured noodles

I think this is a mistake by RPAH, as they include 620 in the guidelines for Healthy School Canteens p43 National Healthy School Canteen (2014)

>Flavour enhancers TVP - RPA lists avoid both HVP and TVP and Fedup only HVP.

Howard says that RPA are wrong about Textured Vegetable Protein, which is just soy protein usually. There is no flavour in plain TVP - according to Wikipedia "it is relatively flavourless" - although obviously flavours are often added, so flavoured TVP is not okay for us. But since it is possible to buy plain unflavoured TVP, what RPA say is a bit misleading. As it says in Wikipedia, "Not to be confused with Acid-hydrolyzed vegetable protein." - looks like that's what they've done.

From eHow: TVP is found in almost as many flavors as real meat. Bacon, beef, barbecue, ham, chicken, sausage, pepperoni and taco flavors are all available in various sizes and shapes from small granules to meatball-sized chunks. These flavored varieties are made with natural and artificial flavorings and sometimes have added fat and salt. You can purchase unflavored TVP as well. Read more: What Is TVP Made Of? | 



 Q. What’s in the popcorn they sell in cinemas? I’m sure it affects my 4 yo.

A. At Hoyts the popcorn contains tartrazine (102). You’re right, it can affect your child. Any product containing this colour in Europe must carry a warning "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”. Regulators in Australia say parents who want to avoid this additive can choose to read labels:

 Q. Does colour 133 cause problems? My medication contains Opadry Blue OY-B-30904 (includes colour 133). I checked the RPAH list and only 131 and 132 were listed.

A. Colour 133 (brilliant blue) is an artificial colour and is definitely NOT permitted on the elimination diet. For some people colour 133 is the worst of all colours for example, see report below. That must be a mistake on page 25 of the RPAH Handbook because as you can see, it is listed in the table on page 12. You have to avoid ALL artificial colours on the elimination diet. In Australia there are currently 14 artificial colours permitted, including two relatively new ones not mentioned in the RPA lists: colour 104 Quinoline yellow and colour 143 Fast Green FCF. You can the full list of permitted colours around the world.

Reader report - a reaction to Colour 133 (brilliant blue: After one week on the additive free diet my 4 yo began sleeping through the night. Two weeks after that we went to a Joey Scout Night where the children were given blue jelly with colour 133 (brilliant blue). This had an immediate and shocking affect. Within 15 minutes, James' irises dilated fully and he started to run in circles making loud intermittent nonsense noises. He slept less than two hours that night despite being sedated with 10 mls of Phenergan.For five days straight he barely slept at all and was impossible to live with. The sixth night he slept but woke crying frequently. On the seventh day he went to bed at about 5 pm and didn't wake until almost 5 pm the next day ... I have never seen its like and wouldn't wish that experience on my worst enemy. - thanks to Michelle

 Q. Are additive numbers the same globally? We are taking our 5-year-old failsafe son on an overseas holiday.

A. In Europe, numbers are the same with an E for Europe in front, for example, tartrazine is written E102. In the USA, names are used instead of numbers. For example, ‘sorbic acid as a preservative’, or ‘TBHQ (to preserve freshness)’. There is a different classification for artificial colours so tartrazine is Yellow 5, see Additives in the USA, Food colours around the world ,and Food additives around the world.

Q. How do you know that whey powder or “cultured” on bread means a natural form of calcium propionate 282?

A. Bonita Glatz, professor of food science at Iowa State University, describes the disadvantage of propionic acids used as a preservative: "The pure acid or propionic salt must be labelled as a preservative when added to a food, thus precluding the use of the desirable term "all natural". She then provides an option: "Alternatively, the propionibacteria may be grown in a natural medium such as milk or cheese whey and the entire medium … may be dried and used as a natural preservative".

More recently, cultured wheat and cultured dextrose have started appearing in breads. They are sold as natural preservatives by the manufacturers and we have been unable to find out what they are cultured with. Propionibacteria seems the most likely. More information Quick Quiz.

Ref: Glatz, B. "The classical propionibacteria: their past, present and future as industrial organisms" American Society for Microbiology News, 1992, vol 58, no 4, 199-200.

 Q. What is the colour in Marmite and is it safe to eat???? I have recently started reading your website as my 11 month old son still doesn’t sleep through the night. I started to think that it was something that he was eating. I was pretty lucky that the first 2 things I took out of his diet, Vegemite and margarine, have helped dramatically. My son really enjoys his Vegemite so I read all the labels of other alternative products. On the Marmite label it says it contains caramel 111, I have not been able to find any information on this.

A. Caramel iii is another way of saying caramel 150c, also called ammonia caramel because of how it is made. However, caramel colour is not likely to cause your son’s sleeping problems. The culprit is most likely yeast extract which is essentially MSG in Vegemite, Marmite and many other products. See our recipe Vegemite substitute for an alternative and our MSG factsheet for how to recognize MSG in products.

 Q. Does Rosemary Extract affect other people? I seem to have troubling neurological symptoms due to this additive, commonly used as an antioxidant in almost all vegetable oils. The amounts are so small as to avoid labelling laws, yet enough to upset a sensitive soul like myself. Even rabid herbalists concede rosemary can cause gastric and neural problems in some people. Are you aware of any reports on reactions to rosemary?

A. Rosemary is very high in salicylates, see the following figures from Swain et al's 1985 analysis of salicylates in foods: pears 0.00 (mg per 100 mg); carrot 0.23; strawberries 1.36; sultanas (dried grapes) 7.80; cinnamon powder 15.20; rosemary (dried) 68.00. Other reactions to rosemary extract have been reported to us, due to rosemary extract in plain rice cakes - supposedly the safest of all supermarket foods - and baby cereal, see story below

I started our 5 month old on solids. She had a few days of farex (ingredients: ground rice, vegetable oil, vitamin c, antioxidant (rosemary extract), mineral (iron)). I noticed that she came out in a rash on her legs, the bubble eczema type rash. She has always had some form of redness behind her knees under her chin and in the creases (wet areas I call them) but this was much more obvious and red. I stopped the cereal and it settled down. I started again yesterday and the rash is back. I am worried that she will have skin problems that may be food intolerance and I want to do the best thing for her from the start. I have a friend whose daughter has such severe eczema and I just don't want to go down that path of creams etc. – from story [841]

 Q. What is "1422 - thickener" please and is it a no no? I came across it in a packet of frozen meals. We really enjoy your informative site.

A. Thickeners are only a problem for coeliacs and others who are very sensitive to gluten. Also called modified starches, thickeners 1400-1450 may contain trace amounts of gluten if they have been derived from wheat.

 Q. Could a nappy rash be a reaction to additive 635? I have just read your fact sheet on 635 (riborash). It seems that any time we eat a food with this additive in it (particularly cream of chicken and corn soup used in risotto), my 16 month old gets severe nappy rash.

A. Yes. The rash can appear differently in different people. One of the original observations of ribo rash was in twin 10-month-old boys who suffered severe rash in the nappy area and extending down to their feet and on their faces when at its worst. We are concerned that some very young children who are exposed to 635 seem to develop true allergies. Flavour enhancers 621-635 are prohibited in foods for children under 12 months. See Ribo Rash factsheet.

 Q. Do you know anything about brilliant scarlet 4R CI6255? It is one of the active ingredients in Polaramine antihistamine tablets. I gave this to my son (10yrs) tonight under instruction from my pharmacist for sedative reasons. My son’s reaction to the tablet was very defiant/angry, definitely did not want to go to sleep etc and we could not reason with him at all.

A. That’s another name for artificial colour (124) also known as Ponceau 4R. As you describe, artificial colours have been associated with irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in children. Yet they don’t have to be listed on the label of medications due to TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) regulations which consistently favour Big Pharma. In my opinion this is outrageous – colours in medications should be clearly identified on medication labels using the same names and numbers required in foods. In Europe food with this colour would carry a warning “May have an adverse effect on behaviour and attention in children” Families in Australia deserve better protection than this. See our Failsafe Shopping List for alternatives.

 Q. What are your thoughts on benzoic acid 210 and its effects? Over the last two months I have consumed 4 bottles of a special juice from the Himalayas. Since taking this product my eyes have become very dry and sore and I had to go to an optometrist who advised I apply a solution to my eyes to get relief. My sister did a little research and discovered that one of the preservatives in this juice is benzoic acid, and that side effects of benzoic acid can include eye irritation as well as asthma, hives and hyperactivity. This was a shock to me as I have been taking the juice because I believed it to be beneficial for my health, containing natural ingredients

A. I agree with your sister. Benzoic acid and other benzoates (210-219) can be associated with a very wide range of adverse effects. Reactions are related to dose and delayed. The effects can build up so slowly so the effects will be worse when you are consuming a benzoate-preserved product every day. You would not be able to notice the connection between a new food and how it is affecting you, which is what has happened.

You could test this for yourself by avoiding your special juice until your eye symptoms disappear. Then reintroduce the special juice in the same doses that you have been consuming while keeping a diary of your eye symptoms. If you want to test the benzoates without the juice - there is always a possibility that something in the juice itself is affecting you - you could use Schweppes lemonade in cans that contain preservative 211, not bottles that are preservative free.

Feedback (two weeks later): As you suggested I went off the special juice. It has been 2 weeks now and my eyes have improved 100%. Who would have thought that something like that could do this? Thank you for your reply because if it was not for you and my sister I would probably still be taking it.

 Q: What's happening in Australia about the carcinogen Sudan 1 in sunset yellow? I see there have been food recalls and publicity in UK about the carcinogen Sudan 1 in artificial colour Sunset Yellow 110 and in some foods.

A: If a change is made in international specifications for an additive, which usually takes years through a committee known as JECFA, the new specification will be picked up when the Australia and New Zealand Food Standards Code is amended and updated.. For instance, the permitted level of lead in sunset yellow 110 has just been reduced from 10 to 2 mg/kg. Artificial colour 110 is one of the additives we avoid, another reason to go failsafe. There are a number of contaminants in articificial colours thought to be carcinogens see the CSPI report A Rainbow of Risks

 Q. Which of the following numbers in pannacotta could cause a migraine? I know I get migraines from MSG but I have had a migraine for two days so far from eating a Divine Classic Passionfruit Pannacotta by As it didn't have any flavour enhancers I thought it would be OK. It has 8 numbers including 1442 Halal Gelatine Thickener, 410 Vegetable Gum, 415 Vegetable Gum, 466 Vegetable Gum, 331 Food Acid, 120 Natural Colour, 160b natural Colour, 200 Preservative.

A. My first guess would be natural colour 160b (annatto), which has been associated with violent headaches and migraines, see story below. Preservative 200 (sorbic acid) would be another possibility. Vegetable gums, thickeners and food acids are generally OK. Another potential problem could be natural food chemicals called salicylates or amines. Passionfruit is very high in both and a syrup would be more concentrated than a fresh passionfruit. Migraines are traditionally related to amines but it would be unusual to experience a severe migraine after one dose. Further reading: Annatto factsheet, Introduction to Food Intolerance.

Through the elimination diet and challenges we found out that annatto 160b causes a severe reaction in our 7 year old daughter. Symptoms include migraine, loss of fine motor control, head banging, violence and aggression, screaming and yelling, loss of rational thought and temporary memory loss, beginning 24 hours after ingestion and gradually diminishing over two weeks. Luckily for us - and by chance - I seldom purchased products containing annatto prior to the challenge, I shudder to think where we would have ended up if she had been consuming annatto regularly all her life. – from story [611]

 Q. Wouldn't food additives be banned if they were harmful?

A. Food additives that obviously cause death, such as a gel that sticks in young children’s throats causing them to choke to death within minutes, are banned. Other effects such as itchy rashes, irritable bowel symptoms and asthma are well documented but regarded as minor by food regulators. Additives are not even tested for their effects on children's behaviour or learning ability. Consumers who experience these problems are warned to avoid food additives which cause them. Unfortunately, most consumers don't realise they are affected and don't know how to avoid food additives.

 Q. Do sulfites mainly affect asthmatics or are they mood altering?

A. Like other food chemicals, sulfites – also called sulphites or sulphur dioxide - can be associated with any of the symptoms of food intolerance including headaches, irritable bowel, itchy rashes and mood. This is particularly concerning as sulfites are the most commonly used preservative, present in nearly all processed foods.

 Q. Who tests additives? I recently asked our Swedish food safety authorities if they do tests on additives themselves, or do they rely only on the tests done by the producers of the additives? They answered that neither they, nor the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), do any tests at all. The approval of an additive is based solely on tests performed by the producer of the additive. Isn´t this a bit like asking Phillip Morris if smoking is safe? – Thanks to Stefan from Sweden

A. Thank you for this information. In my opinion, it’s even worse than that – before additives are approved there are no tests at all regarding their effects on children’s health, behaviour and learning – and there is no monitoring afterwards. When we have reported adverse effects, we have been advised to carry out our own double blind placebo controlled studies

 Q. What are the ingredients in ‘flavours’? I recently asked a big confectionery manufacturer what is in their chocolate frogs because they list 'flavours' on the ingredients list, but do not stipulate which flavours. According to them under legislation they are not required to divulge this information to consumers. I am utterly astounded and it certainly makes me suspicious - what exactly are they using?

A. It is true that flavours do not have to be listed, because they are considered to be a trade secret. There are over two thousand flavour additives permitted in our foods. It is also true that it would be difficult for manufacturers to list flavour additives and hard for consumers to understand, for example a strawberry flavour whether in real strawberries or made in a laboratory may contain twenty or thirty chemicals that sound more like a chemistry laboratory than a pantry. However, it is possible for these additives to contain unlisted artificial colours and preservatives under the 5% labelling loophole. I have also heard that plain chocolates may contain flavour ingredients such as cinnamon. Obviously cinnamon would not be failsafe. Failsafers are best avoiding all except vanilla flavoured products, and even then the amount is limited. For more information see flavours factsheet.

Q. Are these ingredients in my baby’s formula safe? The ingredients list include nucleotides guanosine 5’-monophosphate and inosine 5’-monophosphate. Aren’t they the same as flavour enhancer 635 (ribonucleotides) that causes Ribo Rash?

A. Yes. Ribonucleotides occur naturally in human breastmilk and are thought to boost immunity, which is why they are added to infant formulas. I know it seems odd that ribonucleotides can be added to infant formula while prohibited as additives in foods for babies and young children. However, with food intolerance, reactions are related to the size of the dose. Like you, I am concerned. How do they know they have the dose right? Since ribonucleotides boost the immune system, it seems possible that large uncontrolled doses (e.g. eaten by pregnant or breastfeeding mothers or in for example chicken flavoured chips often fed to babies during family meals, just look in any food court) or even smaller amounts in baby’s formula, could contribute to the development of allergies which are essentially over-functioning of the immune system. Ribonucleotides are used to increase the effects of MSG up to 15 times and in our experience they increase the adverse effects too. Some people in our network have started off with a food intolerance reaction to 635 that has developed into an allergic reaction; and some babies exposed early to 635 in food have developed allergies. Oh, and one more thing: since ribonucleotides occur naturally in the body, allergists can’t test for IgE mediated allergic reactions to nucleotide flavour enhancers. Further reading: low-birth-weight babies fed preterm formula with and without ribonucleotides: comparison with human milk Later studies increased the dose.

 Q. Do you know the number codes for soy derived emulsifiers etc? My son aged 12 months is allergic to soy.

A. From a reader who is sensitive to both soy and legumes:

As well as 322 (lecithin) I also avoid additives 476,471,492 (emulsifiers), vegetable gums 410,412,415,416,461 (not all soy but derivatives of various beans), vegetable gums & vegetable protein, TVP (textured vegetable protein) and vegetable starch (even if they do not specifically state soy, I don't take the chance). Soya beans, soya meal, soy flour (very common in breads and cakes), soya sauce, miso, tofu and chickpeas. In fact quite a lot of 'health foods' are grossly unhealthy for me. Packaged health foods nearly always contain a soy additive. – from story [314]

 Q. What is your opinion about GM foods? I found the following radio story a bit of a worry: - A leading CSIRO scientist says there is no reason to fear that future gene technology will threaten food safety. Deputy chief of plant industry research, Dr TJ Higgins, says consumers have been using oil from genetically modified cotton for the past 10 years. Most of the fish and chips that we eat are cooked in the oil from cotton seed, and there are 33 other foods have been approved for consumption. "So there are already many products that are in the food chain that we have been consuming safely."

A. I am worried too. Dr Higgins says there are strict regulations to protect consumer food safety. I disagree! In my experience, regulations about food additives haven't done anything to protect our children from the effects of additives on health and behaviour. One option is to vote for Green in the senate. The Greens have a strong policy about GM foods, including mandatory full labelling. If there are some Greens in the Senate, there is a chance of controlling what happens with GM foods.

 Q. I saw Velcorin listed on a fruit juice label. Is it a safe additive?

A. Velcorin is a new antimicrobial agent chemically known as Dimethyl dicarbonate (DMDC). It is used for the cold sterilisation of non-alcoholic beverages and can reduce the need for nasty preservatives such as sodium benzoate (211) or sodium metabisulphite (223). Once added to the product, Velcorin breaks down quickly into small amounts of carbon dioxide and methanol, which occur naturally in most beverages, including fruit juice. It is too early for us to be sure, but it seems highly likely that Velcorin will NOT cause children’s behaviour, learning problems and other symptoms of food intolerance. (Failsafers will still have to consider natural salicylates and amines in the juice itself). More information:

 Q. Is colour 160c bad? The new 'Explogo' dairy snack contains colour 160c, listed as not permitted in Australia.

A. The Food Standards Code changed recently to allow many more additives including more colours in Australian foods. Colour 160c is Capsanthin, a natural extract from red peppers. Since food additives are not tested by authorities for their effects on children’s behaviour and learning (or indeed, on asthmatics, people with eczema, irritable bowel symptoms or headaches), we do not know yet whether this additive is good or bad. It might be safe (such as 160a, betacarotene) or not (like 160b annatto). So far, RPAH guidelines list natural colours as high in salicylates ‘when concentrated’, so they are not suitable for your strict elimination diet. When 160c is in a product that is otherwise failsafe (Explogo is not), failsafers can test for themselves whether they can tolerate it.

 Q: Can you publish a list of which additives cause specific problems?

A: In Australia there are approximately 350 permitted food additives. While most are harmless, about 50 of these additives have been associated with adverse reactions. Effects are related to dose. Some people will react to even a tiny amount. Nearly anyone will react if the dose is high enough. Typical reactions include:

• Skin: itchy skin rashes, swelling

• Airways: asthma, stuffy or runny nose, frequent ear infections

• Gut: colic, reflux, bloating, stomach discomfort, cramps, diarrhoea, constipation, sneaky poos

• Neurobehavioural: headache, migraine, tinnitus, epilepsy, lethargy, impairment of attention, memory or concentration, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, restless legs, sleep disorders, irritability, restlessness and hyperactivity – and many more

You can see our list of additives to avoid.

Q. My butcher asks: can he use saltpetre to make bacon without nitrates? He has offered to make bacon and corned beef with saltpetre. He said this is what butchers would have used before nitrates. He wonders if it is nitrates under an old fashioned name.

A. Your butcher is right - saltpetre is another name for nitrates. Saltpetre is potassium nitrate (252) and Chile saltpetre is sodium nitrate (251). Both are naturally occurring minerals used in the manufacture of gunpowder, in metallurgy, as a fertiliser, preservative, colour-fixer and curing salt. Potassium nitrate can also be artificially manufactured. Processed meats made with saltpetre are not failsafe due to amines and nitrates. If you have passed your amine challenge, you can do a nitrate challenge (large serves of bacon or corned beef every day for three days) to see whether you react. You may be able to find preservative free certified organic ham etc. Expect it to be expensive, see Failsafe Shopping List and the Nitrates factsheet.

 Q. I was wondering what annatto colour 160b is and what reactions to annatto have been reported? We get vegetarian sausages (have been vegetarian since birth) from Sanitarium which have annatto and carrageenan (both listed as "natural" additives) in them. When I phoned Sanitarium they said they weren't aware of any negative reactions with either and were, therefore, not prepared to substitute them for something considered safer.

A. Annatto is a yellow colour made from the seed coat of a tropical tree. It is one of 50 additives identified by researchers at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital as most likely to cause adverse reactions. American researchers found more people with urticaria reacted to annatto than to any artificial colours. This network receives frequent complaints about effects of annatto including headaches, headbanging in young children, behaviour problems and irritable bowel symptoms. Beta carotene (160a) is a safe alternative and is used widely in Europe but our national food authority tells food manufacturers that it is too difficult and expensive to use 160a. See our Annatto factsheet.

 Q. Is aspartame failsafe?

A. Aspartame (951) and other artificial sweeteners are not recommended for your strict elimination diet. Approved sweeteners are white sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, caster sugar, golden syrup, glucose syrup, rice syrup and pure maple syrup. See our Sugar Free sweeteners factsheet.

 Q: Which is worse: bread preservative 282 or bleached flour? I have found a commercial bread, at a good price, made of unbleached flour but it contains 282. The ones I can find without 282 contain bleached flour. What is your opinion?

A: 282 is worse. The Bread Research Institute in Sydney confirmed that there is no bleached flour produced or sold in Australia, nor is there permission for it. The only exception is in commercial sponge flour, which you can't buy as a flour at the retail level. If you buy a cooked sponge cake there is a small chance that the flour will have been bleached to stabilise the protein so the sponge doesn't collapse. A lot of the claims on websites for bleaching of flour relate to US flours, which are made from red wheats which may be bleached to give a whiter appearance. See our bread preservative 282 calcium propionate factsheet.