Food additives are ingredients added to foods for various reasons – for example, to add colour, enhance flavours or to make food last longer. All additives, including artificial sweeteners, are assessed for safety before they are used in foods.

An E number is a reference number given to food additives that have passed safety tests and have been approved for use in the UK and throughout the European Union (EU).1

The only additives for which evidence has shown a link with cancer are nitrites and nitrates, which are used as preservatives in processed meat such as ham, bacon and chorizo. Eating processed meat is strongly associated with an increased risk of bowel and stomach cancer.2,3

There is currently no other evidence linking food additives to an increased cancer risk. Not smoking, followed by maintaining a healthy weight, keeping active and eating well, are the most effective ways to reduce your cancer risk. 


  1. Food Standards Agency. Additives or E numbers. 2017.
  2. World Cancer Research Fund. Colorectal (bowel) cancer. 2011.
  3. World Cancer Research Fund. Stomach cancer. 2016.