Food safety and quality
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  • Background
  • About JECFA specifications for flavourings
  • JECFA specifications and the Codex Alimentarius Commission


The evaluation of food additives at the international level was initiated in 1955 as a result of a recommendation of the first Joint FAO/WHO Conference on Food Additives that the two organizations should convene one or more expert committees to address the technical and administrative aspects of chemical additives and their safety in food (Joint FAO/WHO Conference on Food Additives, Report. FAO Nutrition Meetings Report Series, No. 11; WHO Technical Report Series, No. 107, 1956).  The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) was first convened in 1956, and has met annually, with a few exceptions, since then.

As part of its work, JECFA establishes specifications of identity and purity for food additives, including flavourings used in food (or Flavouring Agents as has been the term until 2007).  These were originally published in FAO Nutrition Meetings Reports Series (NMRS), the WHO Technical Report Series (TRS) or as FAO Food and Nutrition Papers (FNP).  However many of these are now out of print.

The first edition of the Compendium of Food Additive Specifications (FNP 52) was published in 1992 in order to consolidate all of the then current JECFA specifications into a single publication.  Since 1992, thirteen separate Addenda to this Compendium have been published which contain both newly established specifications and revisions to earlier specifications, for food additives including flavourings.

A second consolidation of all current JECFA food additive specifications was carried out in 2005 – 2006 and resulted in the Combined Compendium of Food Additive Specifications. This has now been published in four volumes (JECFA Monographs 1, 2005 and 2006) to replace the earlier edition and it incorporates all the additions and revisions made since 1992, up to and including those contained in Addendum 13, published in 2005.

Substances which are flavourings, but which have additional food additive functional uses, are included in the Combined Compendium and can be found in the JECFA on-line edition for food additives available at They can be located by selecting Flavourings in the drop-down list of Functional Uses.

A flavouring which also functions as a food additive may have two specifications. For example, acetic acid is a flavouring but is also a food acidifier. Its specification when used as an acidifier will be found in the Combined Compendium as well as in the on-line edition of food additive specifications. Its specification as a flavouring, however, will be found in this Online edition of Specifications for Flavourings (see JECFA No. 81).



At its 44th meeting in 1995, JECFA considered a new approach to the safety evaluation of flavourings. This approach incorporated a series of criteria whose use enabled the evaluation of a large number of these agents in a consistent and timely manner.

Starting with the 46th meeting in 1996, JECFA began evaluating flavourings in groups having similar chemical structures using the criteria and approach decided at the 44th meeting. From that time through the 65th meeting in 2005, the Committee has evaluated 1615 flavourings. The specifications have been published in the Addenda of FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 52, from Addendum 4 onwards. The specifications for these flavourings are included in this Online edition of Specifications for Flavourings. The Online edition will only include current specifications, which means that those withdrawn by JECFA will not be available. In addition, following each meeting of JECFA, where flavourings have been evaluated, the Online edition will be updated to include the specifications of flavourings prepared or revised at the meeting.

The specification for an individual flavouring printed from this Online edition of specifications for flavourings will be in table format with two columns. The left column will have headings and the right column will have the information. The following table will outline what each specification includes:

Flavouring agent

The official JECFA name assigned to the compound


All other common and trade names

Latest JECFA evaluation

The date of latest evaluation (or re-evaluation) and the JECFA meeting number

Status of specification

The designation of status is either Full or Tentative (more information required)

Information required

When the “Status of specification” field is Tentative, this field with explanatory text will be displayed

Chemical name

The IUPAC name or a similar, more familiar, name

JECFA number

The sequential number assigned by JECFA before evaluation

CAS number

Chemical Abstracts Service registry number

FEMA number

The number assigned by the Flavour and Extracts Manufacturers Association of the United States

COE number

The number assigned by the Council of Europe

FLAVIS number

The number assigned by FLAVIS – the EU Flavour Information System

Molecular weight

The chemical molecular weight

Chemical formula

The empirical formula

Physical form/odour

Description of the physical form and odour of the compound


Solubility in water and liquids other than ethanol

Solubility in ethanol

Solubility in ethanol

Boiling point (°C)

At 760mm mercury unless specified otherwise

Assay minimum %

Minimum assay value – if less than 95%, other components are also specified

Acid value: maximum

Upper limit for acid value

Refractive index

At 20°C unless otherwise stated

Specific gravity

At 25°C unless otherwise stated

Other requirements

May include melting point and other significant descriptors

ID test

Identification test method (IR, NMR, MS), usually including spectra*


* - Copies of certain infrared (IR) and other spectra may be obtained from the Joint FAO Secretariat to JECFA.

The analytical methods used for the various physical and chemical tests may be found in Volume 4 of the Combined Compendium in the section entitled Specific Methods – Flavouring Agents.


The respective roles of JECFA and the Codex Committee on Food Additives (CCFA) (previously the Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants) have been extensively discussed in recent years in the context of the Codex risk analysis framework. The CCFA has developed risk analysis principles to be applied respectively by the Committee and JECFA. In this context, JECFA is regarded as the expert risk assessment body responsible for performing the risk assessment upon which CCFA, and ultimately the Codex Alimentarius Commission, bases its risk management decision.  Thus, CCFA endorses maximum use levels only for those additives for which JECFA (i) has established specifications of identity and purity and (ii) has completed a safety assessment or has performed a quantitative risk assessment.

In 2006, the Codex Alimentarius Commission approved new work on the development by the CCFA of guidelines for the use of flavourings. The guidelines, when completed, will provide principles for the safe use of flavourings evaluated by JECFA and determined to present no safety concern at estimated levels of intake and for which corresponding specifications of identity and purity have been established.

CCFA also makes recommendations to the Codex Alimentarius Commission on the adoption by reference of JECFA specifications for food additives and flavourings as Codex Specifications. National food control authorities use Codex Specifications for enforcement purposes, and for ensuring that additives in international commerce meet agreed standards. National governments may also draw on Codex Specifications when developing their own regulatory standards.