With a long history of safe use and broad global regulatory approvals for its use in foods and beverages, carrageenan is a unique and highly versatile food ingredient. Carrageenan, which is derived from red seaweed, has been consumed for centuries and used in foods for over 600 years. Carrageenan offers numerous technological functions in foods and beverages and is commonly used to bind protein, promote gel formation, thicken, stabilize, and replace fat. Carrageenan is used in conventional food, permitted in processed foods marketed as organic, and suitable in foods marked halal, kosher and vegan.
Despite its long safety record, some have alleged that food-grade carrageenan causes harm to human health and interested parties have called on food companies and retailers to replace carrageenan or not market products containing this important ingredient. Most misunderstandings about the safety of carrageenan are a result of misinterpreted research or a mischaracterization of the ingredient. Further, some scientific studies have used quantities that greatly overestimate the amount a person would ever consume, or administer CGN to test subjects in ways that are not representative of how humans consume it in food.
Scientific and regulatory authorities from around the world have reviewed the available scientific literature and safety data and have determined that carrageenan is safe for use in food. In July 2014, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)—an international expert scientific committee administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO)—determined carrageenan is safe for use in all populations, including very young infants. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Marketing Service and Food Safety and Inspection Services have codified provisions allowing the use of carrageenan in foods under their jurisdictions. It has also been approved by the Japan Ministry of Health, the Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency, Health Canada, Food Standards Australia/New Zealand, the China Ministry of Health and others.
In its April 2018 Scientific Opinion, the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS Panel) noted no safety concerns regarding carrageenan and processed Eucheuma seaweed (PES). While calls for technical and toxicological data on both ingredients were issued in October 2018 by EFSA and the European Commission to fill research gaps, neither additive has been declared unsafe and there have been no calls by regulatory authorities to limit its use. Food manufacturers, retailers, and consumers can remain confident in the safety of carrageenan.