Artificial Smoke Flavoring in Food: EU Ban and Industry Impact

Artificial Smoke Flavoring in Food: EU Ban and Industry Impact

Processed foods that contain artificial smoke flavoring like chips, soups and sauces have a two-year phase-out period.

The European Union (EU) recently introduced a ban on eight artificial smoke flavorings used in various food products. This move is part of an effort to protect public health from potential cancer risks associated with these additives. The ban, endorsed by member states in April 2024, follows scientific research indicating harmful chemicals in smoke flavorings.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found that smoky flavorings can contain harmful chemicals formed during the smoking process. These chemicals, found in both natural and artificial smoke flavorings, have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. 

The ban targets artificial smoke flavorings linked to genotoxicity concerns. Genotoxicity involves damage to genetic material within cells, increasing cancer and inherited disease risks. The EFSA concluded that the majority of assessed smoke flavorings posed genotoxicity risks. This finding prompted the EU to implement a blanket ban as a precautionary measure.

Related: Top 5 Foods Banned in Europe

Timeline of the Artificial Smoke Flavoring Ban

The European Commission proposed the ban in November 2023. Once officially adopted, the phase-out period will vary by product category:

  • Traditional Foods: Products like hams, fish and cheeses using artificial smoke flavoring must comply within five years.
  • Processed Foods: Items such as chips, soups and sauces have a two-year phase-out period.

Impact on the Food Industry

The ban will significantly impact the food industry, as artificial smoke flavorings are widely used. Major producers, like Unilever’s Unox brand, which produces 16 million smoked sausages annually, will need to reformulate their products. In Ireland, the Kerry Group has warned of major economic harm, estimating that 40 percent of ham and bacon sold relies on these smoking methods.

Not all reactions to the EU’s decision to ban artificial smoke flavorings have been negative. Some companies see this as an opportunity to explore safer, natural alternatives. Sensient Flavors & Extracts Europe, a supplier of natural flavor alternatives, views the regulation as a chance to innovate. It recently released the SmokeLess Smoke range, which offers aromatic solutions with smoke characteristics from natural sources.

Other companies, like I.T.S Taste, have responded by creating smoke-free natural flavorings. These provide authentic smoky notes for various product applications while being labeled as natural flavorings. The new regulations have prompted food and beverage manufacturers across the EU to innovate and rapidly reformulate their products.

The EU’s ban on artificial smoke flavoring marks a significant shift in the food industry. Manufacturers face the challenge of meeting consumer demand for smoky flavors while ensuring the safety of their ingredients. The industry must adapt to the new regulations, balancing health concerns with the beloved smoky taste in many European culinary traditions.

The phase-out periods will allow time for manufacturers to transition to safer alternatives. Despite the challenges, this shift presents an opportunity for innovation, leading to a new era of cleaner, safer food products. The health concerns raised by EFSA have compelled the EU to take decisive action, forcing the industry to adapt and innovate.

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