The European regulations on food additives apply universally across all European Union (EU) countries. The approved additives are provided in Regulation EU1129/2011 as a positive list defined for over 154 food categories. If the additives are defined for the foods described in this listing, then they are permitted for use in those foods (only) throughout the EU. Additives used in other countries that are not included in this list are forbidden in the EU, and food containing such additives cannot be legally sold. Many additives approved for some foods sold in the EU are not permitted in other foods sold. Unless an additive is approved specifically for a particular food, it may not be added to that food, even if it can be legally added to a different food.

Some phosphorus-containing food additives, such as riboflavin, lecithin, and the starches, are regulated separately. However, all the food phosphates (E338–E452) are combined into one group and all the nucleotides (E626–E635) into a second group for regulatory purposes. Apart from the nucleotides, phosphorus-containing food additives are quantified as P2O5 and this is used to establish maximum additive levels within foods. Each group of phosphorus-containing additives (i.e., phosphates and nucleotides) has a single maximum level assigned for each of the various food categories. This singular level means the maximum for any and all group additives used in combination, not a maximum for each additive.

The EU has defined an “Acceptable Daily Intake” (ADI) of 70 mg P/kg body weight/day for all phosphorus-containing food additives combined. This equates to 4.9 g P/day for a 70-kg man. Using consumption data from a small number of EU countries, it appears that phosphorus intakes for European adults are below the ADI, but a portion of children and adolescents may be exceeding their ADIs.