Understanding Aluminium in Food


The authorities of Mainland China have announced the results of testing of local food samples. They have found that the residual aluminium level in sampled steamed buns has exceeded the reference limits. It is suspected that unscrupulous manufacturers may have put aluminium-containing food additives into the flour used for making the buns. Long-term exposure to food products with a high level of aluminium may have adverse health effects and is harmful to children during their developmental stages.


Aluminium is one of the naturally occurring elements with a broad usage, as in the manufacture of cookware and food packaging materials, etc. Moreover, aluminium-containing food additives (such as aluminium sulfate) are often used in the production of bakery products and traditional Chinese foodstuff like steamed buns and steamed pastries. They are also used as firming agent, stabiliser or leavening agent to leaven dough or batter so as to improve its texture by softening and lightening it. Steamed buns, steamed pastries, egg waffles, waffles, and (ready-to-eat) jellyfish are some of the food products containing higher levels of aluminium.


So far, use of certain aluminium-containing food additives is allowed in many countries, like the United States of America, Australia and member states of the European Union. According to evaluations on the safety of food additives by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) in 2011, the provisional tolerable weekly intake (PTWI) of aluminium (inclusive of aluminium-containing food additives) is set at 2 mg/kg body weight. In Mainland China where flour-based food products, like steamed buns, fried fritters and noodles, are the staple food, the residual level of aluminium in this type of food products is set at a level lower than the PTWI of JECFA (2 mg/kg body weight) and the use of aluminium-containing food additives in the production of leavened foods, like rice crackers and cakes, is strictly prohibited.


Though research reports have stated that when animals used for experiment are exposed to high doses of aluminium, their reproductive systems and developing nervous systems can possibly be affected, so far there is no scientific information indicating that the amount of dietary aluminium intake in humans will cause acute health hazard.


In general, occasional exposure to processed foodstuffs with aluminium-containing food additives is unlikely to cause significant health impact provided that a balanced diet is taken into account. But for those who consume them frequently, they have to be mindful that the risk of aluminium intake is heightened.


How to reduce dietary intake of aluminium

  • Advice to the public
  1. Maintain a balanced and diversified diet with different types of food, particularly for children in their developmental stages;
  2. Upon purchase of pre-packaged food products, read the lists of ingredients on their labels carefully for the name or identification number of any aluminium-containing food additives used in the products.


Names of common aluminium-containing food additivesin Chinese, Portuguese and English, as well as their identification number based on the International Numbering System for Food Additives



E Number


Sulfato duplo de alumínio e potássio, alumínio sulfato de potássio
Aluminium potassium sulphate




Sulfato de amónio e alumínio
Aluminium ammonium sulphate




Silicato de aluminio e sódio
Sodium aluminosilicate




Silicato de cálcio e aluminio
Calcium aluminium silicate




Silicato de alumínio
Aluminium silicate




  • Advice to the trade
  1. During food production, reduce the use of aluminium-containing food additives or replace them with other alternatives.