Exploring the Legal Landscape of Polyols: A Global Perspective

In the ever-evolving world of food regulations, the status of polyols, also known as sugar alcohols, is a topic of interest and importance. These versatile sweeteners, embraced for their reduced calorie content and suitability for various dietary needs, navigate a complex legal framework in different parts of the world. Let’s unravel the legal status of polyols in the European Union (EU), the United States (USA), and Japan, shedding light on their authorized usage and regulatory nuances.

Polyols in the European Union

The regulatory journey of polyols in the EU commenced with the adoption of the Sweeteners Directive in June 1994. This directive, published in the Official Journal of the European Communities on 10 September 1994, outlined the legal standing of polyols as food additives. In the EU, polyols are identified by specific code numbers:

  • Sorbitol: E420
  • Mannitol: E421
  • Isomalt: E953
  • Maltitol: E965
  • Lactitol: E966
  • Xylitol: E967

These polyols find their place in two directives – the Sweeteners Directive and the Directive on Food Additives other than Colours and Sweeteners. Authorized for use at quantum satis (as needed) in 16 food categories classified as ‘energy reduced’ or ‘with no added sugar,’ polyols play a crucial role in crafting dietary options.

The term ‘energy reduced’ in the directive denotes food with an energy value reduced by at least 30%, compared with the original or similar products. ‘With no added sugar’ signifies products without any added mono- or disaccharides or other sweetening substances. Polyols are also permitted in specific categories such as confectionery (without added sugar but not energy reduced), sauces, mustard, products for particular nutritional uses, and solid food supplements/dietary integrators.

For non-sweetening or ‘technological’ purposes, the use of polyols is regulated at the EU level by the Directive on Food Additives other than Colours and Sweeteners. This directive, adopted on 15 December 1994, defines conditions of use in foodstuffs apart from drinks and unprocessed foods. An official publication of this directive in the Official Journal of the European Communities was anticipated in early 1995.

Polyols in the United States

In the United States, a working definition for sugar alcohols has been established. Polyols listed in the European sweeteners directives aligning with this definition undergo individual consideration. Sorbitol, among them, is acknowledged as a direct food substance generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Petitions have been filed for GRAS affirmation for maltitol, maltitol syrup, isomalt, and lactitol.

Mannitol holds the status of a food additive permitted in food on an interim basis. Xylitol, recognized as a food additive for special dietary uses, has expanded its footprint to include various food products, including chewing gum.

Polyols in Japan

In Japan, the legal status of polyols varies. Maltitol and maltitol syrups have secured approval as both ‘natural food’ and ‘chemically synthesized food.’ Sorbitol is approved as a ‘chemically synthesized food additive’ without restrictions. Mannitol is also categorized as a ‘chemically synthesized food additive’ and, until 1992, faced limitations, allowing usage up to 4%. However, a recent draft regulation proposes an expansion, permitting mannitol up to 20% in chewing gums and 40% in candies.

As for Xylitol, it is yet to receive official approval in Japan, signifying a dynamic landscape awaiting further regulatory developments.

In essence, the legal status of polyols unfolds as a nuanced narrative, shaped by regional regulations and evolving perspectives on sweeteners. As these sugar alcohols continue to carve a niche in the global food industry, staying abreast of their legal standing becomes paramount for both producers and consumers alike.

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