JECFA Affirms Carrageenan Safe for Use in Infant Formula and Formula for Special Medical Purposes
At its 79th meeting this June, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) completed an in-depth review of the science related to the safety of carrageenan affirming it to be safe for use in infant formula, including formula for special medical purposes.
JECFA is a respected scientific review panel that evaluates the safety of food additives. Its reports are used to guide food additive regulatory approvals around the world and are one of the most important testimonials that can be given to the safety of any food additive. Carrageenan was one of four food additives reviewed in 2014 for use in infant formula by a special JECFA committee.
After reviewing the available research on carrageenan safety, particularly a new study of piglets that is representative of human infants consuming carrageenan in infant formula, JECFA, “concluded that the use of carrageenan in infant formula or formula for special medical purposes at concentrations up to 1000 mg/L is not of concern” (emphasis theirs). JECFA also states that it “took account of the previous toxicological database on carrageenan, which did not indicate other toxicological concerns.” Given the high level of safety that must be demonstrated for a food ingredient to be used in infant formula, JECFA’s findings should help consumers of all ages feel confident about the foods they consume that contain carrageenan.
CLICK HERE to read the complete JECFA “Summary and Conclusions” document.
JECFA’s findings are the latest in a series of global reviews that have examined scientific research on carrageenan and reaffirmed its safety for continued use in food, including infant formula. The use of carrageenan to stabilize infant formula has significant positive impacts on the product, including ensuring vital nutrients remain stable and available to infants. As recently as 2013, U.S. regulatory agencies continued approval of carrageenan for use in organic infant formula and other organic food.
Some critics of carrageenan have cited scientific findings in regulatory comments or in social media that refer to animal testing using poligeenan, a substance sometimes improperly referred to as ‘degraded carrageenan’ that is never used in foods. Other critics have suggested that food-grade carrageenan might break down during digestion into a potentially harmful substance. Informed, carefully conducted science has consistently shown that food grade carrageenan is safe and cannot be broken down into poligeenan at temperatures or acidity levels found in the human body during digestion. The carrageenan used in food has undergone strenuous review by numerous regulatory agencies around the world and in every single case it has been declared safe. Consumers can feel confident in the safety of the carrageenan they consume in foods.
Carrageenan in its raw form, sometimes called ‘Irish Moss,’ has been eaten and used as a food ingredient for hundreds of years in different parts of the world. The name carrageenan is derived from the Irish word carraigín meaning “little rock” as the seaweed naturally forms on small rocks in coastal waters. Today, carrageenan is sustainably farmed and processed for use as a stabilizing ingredient in a variety of foods, including dairy, meat and drink products.