FoodMail 2 United Kingdom Common Questions Answered; Vitamins

In a world where healthy habits are in the forefront of everyday life, having an experienced and knowledgeable laboratory team at your service will help you with the ever-changing lifestyles. Our ALS UK Vitamins Technical Specialist, Gemma Parr answers common queries.

Casually dressed male scanning the nutritional label in a supermarket
04 JUN 2024 ALS

What food additives does your lab class under the umbrella of vitamins and additives testing?

As part of our services in the Vitamins department at ALS’ Food Testing Laboratory in the UK, we also identify and measure additives used in manufacturing processes. Our Technical Specialist, Gemma Parr, answers this common question from our clients:  "Beyond vitamins, what food additives does your lab class under the umbrella of vitamins and additives testing?” 

Food additives are substances primarily added to processed foods, or other foods produced on an industrial scale, for technical purposes, such as improving safety, increasing the amount of time a food can be stored, or modifying sensory properties of food.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Nitrite/nitrate analysis used in the process of meat production and packaging processes.
  • Sweeteners/caffeine/theobromine/quinine/the preservatives sorbic acid and benzoic acid used in the flavouring and preservation of food.
  • BHA/BHT/ethoxyquin:   preservatives used in human and pet foods.
  • Amino acid additives used in animal feed to balance or supplement the nutritional substances required for a specific production purpose. Amino acids are the basic units that make up proteins.
  • Emamectin/flubendazole: used as insecticide and medicated premixture.
  • Biogenic amines (especially histamine) present naturally in many foods; however, high levels of histamine in fish can be an indication of spoiling.
  • Astaxanthin/canthaxanthin: used as antioxidants.

ALS offers a comprehensive range of accredited tests. Our services are designed to provide clients with fast and accurate analysis of their samples through use of a variety of advanced scientific technologies, including HPLC, GC-MS, GC-MS/MS, LC-MS/MS, UHPLC, ICP-OES, ICP-MS and ELISA. 

What is the difference in food products between naturally occurring and fortified vitamins? 

In food products, vitamins either occur naturally or can be added by the manufacturer.

  • Naturally occurring vitamins are exactly that naturally occurring, in nature these will be generally found in fruits, vegetables, grains or from animal-sourced products.  
  • Fortification is the process of adding a vitamin premix to a food product during manufacturing.

At ALS, we help you identify both naturally occurring vitamins in food and those that have been added to food products (known as “fortified foods”).  Naturally occurring vitamins may exist in different forms in the foods we test, depending on the sample type itself. This includes vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin B9 (folic acid), which are naturally occurring in fruit and vegetable products. In a fruit or vegetable sample, vitamin A will exist as beta-carotene (Pro-Vitamin A), and Vitamin B9 will exist as folate. In these cases, due to the nature of the differences in sample type, the extraction techniques will be slightly different. Each type of vitamin doesn’t occur in just one form, however; for example, in animal sources vitamin A will exist as retinol. We can help you test to identify these types of differences, which can support your need for accuracy in food label claims.

Vitamins added by fortification can be a little easier to identify, but identification is not always straightforward because of the differences in additive types and the differences in nomenclature – for example, vitamin K might be phylloquinone or menadione, etc.  If a manufacturer is fortifying a food product, the specific form of a particular vitamin should be known to them but may not be known to a third party that is marketing or testing a product.  It is important to identify with specificity anything added to a product to meet requirements, either the additives to be listed on the ingredients label and/or because additives may need to be tested to determine compliance with legislative limits. 

What are expected levels and why are they important?

A common misconception about providing expected levels to a testing laboratory:

“If expected levels are provided, the lab will aim for them.”

Our job as a testing laboratory is to optimise the extraction of samples based on the validated and documented procedures of our analytical methods. Our goal is to obtain unbiased data performed by trained employees to give reliable and honest results. In other words, we do not aim to verify an expected level, but rather to test whether that level is present.

Letting us know expected levels helps us provide you with validated accurate results because the expected amount of a vitamin will help us in determining the right protocols for analysing a given sample. If the expected level of a vitamin is high for a particular sample, that will help determine the weights and dilutions used, which must fall in a set range to be able to give actual validated result. As such, if no expected levels are provided, and the weights and dilutions taken fall outside this set range, then results will not be valid, and less than (<) or greater than (>) result may be the only information that can be reported. 

For most unfortified, naturally occurring vitamins, these levels are generally known, and samples can be easily optimised for extraction. However, fortified products – from premixes, food samples, feed samples, and supplemented products for multivitamins, to dietary foods that have requirements related to health-based illnesses – may contain a wide variety of levels of a given vitamin.
This spectrum makes the reporting of expected levels extremely important for informing the optimisation of extractions, as well as reducing the potential need for re-work and delays in reporting results.

What is a nutrition claim?

'Nutrition claim' means any claim which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular beneficial nutritional properties. Verification of a nutritional claim is essentially the same as that of a vitamin claim. 

“My product is high in vitamin A”

If this is your claim, it must be proven. In this case, the relevant European legislation states that to qualify as “high in vitamin A”, a product must be shown to contain twice the amount of the vitamin that is generally occurring in the natural source of that product.

If the product is fortified with a vitamin, it also needs to be done so according to a controlled amount established by legislation. Testing nutrition claims about fortified products helps ensure accuracy of the label declaration on the food/feedstuffs.

What are NRVs?

Nutritional reference values (NRVs) indicate the levels of vitamins and minerals needed to help avoid deficiency in the daily human diet. These were previous called RDA, Recommended Daily Allowance.

NRV’s are set for 13 vitamins and 14 minerals for the purposes of food labelling, and there are EU guidance levels on the daily amounts of vitamins and minerals that the average healthy person needs to avoid deficiency. Food supplement labels list the ingredients included in a product and identify the proportion of the NRV value (% NRV) for each ingredient that is contained in the product, eg, “vitamin C, 80mg, 100% NRV.” We can test to help determine the NRV values of your product.

Get in touch with us

Our technical experts and customer services teams are here to discuss your Vitamins and Additives testing needs, please contact us or email

About ALS Limited
A global leader in testing, ALS provides comprehensive testing solutions to clients in a wide range of industries around the world. Using state-of-the-art technologies and innovative methodologies, our dedicated international teams deliver highest-quality testing services and personalized solutions supported by local expertise. We help our clients leverage the power of data-driven insights for a safer and healthier world.