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Phosphates in the food & drink industry: properties, applications & examples

Phosphates are key functional additives used across a huge range of food and drink products, including processed meats, seafoods, dairy products, baked goods and beverages.


Phosphates are inorganic compounds based on the element phosphorus. To some degree, they have been used safely in food production and processing for over 100 years.

Since 1970, phosphates have been produced in ever larger quantities — nowadays, it is one of the central food additive categories. Over 100,000 tonnes of food phosphates are used across Europe every year.

We’re taking a look at their properties, applications and some examples of products used across the industry.

Key properties of phosphates for food production

Underlying the popularity of phosphates to food and drink manufacturers is their exceptional functional value. Sodium and potassium phosphates (like sodium hexametaphosphate and tetrapotassium pyrophosphate) impart a number of properties to improve the shelf life, taste, texture, colour, stability and even nutrition of a very wide range of foods. They help us to achieve a more reliable quality of product.

  • Emulsification: They help to combine ingredients that do not normally mix, like oil and water, preventing separation. This enhances appearance, taste, texture and shelf life.
  • Sequestering effects: Phosphates are ‘sequestrants’, which are preservatives — they form chelate complexes with metal ions, helping to prevent oxidation of fats in food. This has an antibacterial effect, extending shelf life, colour and preventing spoilage.
  • Buffering capacity: They also help to stabilise and maintain a certain pH in foods. This also helps to preserve taste, texture and appearance.
    Water retention: Phosphates can help foods to take on and retain more moisture — particularly useful for processed meats and seafoods.
  • Leavening: Certain types of acidic phosphates react with bicarbonate to produce carbon dioxide gas — this helps dough to rise.
  • Anticaking: Phosphates can prevent clumping and ensure a consistent, even texture in powdered products that are hygroscopic (likely to absorb moisture), such as baking powder and drink mixes.
  • Nutrition: Phosphorus is an important and necessary mineral for the human body; certain types of phosphate can be used to fortify processed food products to boost their nutritional profile.

Applications of phosphates in food and drink production

The key functional properties offered by phosphates — emulsification, sequestering, pH buffering and water retention — gives them a range of applications across a number of food and drink groups, including (but not limited to):

  • Processed meats: frankfurters, delicatessen, poultry, bacon, smoked meat, minced meat, ham, chicken, burgers.
  • Processed seafood: shrimp, scallops, fish fillets, fishsticks, shellfish and surimi-based products.
  • Dairy products: sliced cheese, spreadable cheese, powdered milk, canned milk, ice creams, imitation cheese, cheese powders, packaged egg whites, puddings and creamers.
  • Bakery products: breads, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, pastries, muffins, pancakes, waffles and frozen baked goods.
  • Powdered foods: dried soups, baking powder, dried milk, instant pasta, pharmaceutical tablets and powders.

Phosphates are also used in French fries, ready-to-serve sauces, baby foods, canned beans, fruits and vegetables.

They are also commonly used in beverages like sports drinks, fruit drinks, carbonated drinks, wines and juices. A key property here is phosphates’ ability to regulate acidity. In powdered drink mixes, phosphates can be used to improve solubility and prevent clumping.

The type and amount of phosphates to be used in each application depends on the type of product, texture requirements, pH requirements, your production process as well as the raw materials used. Our team of product experts would be delighted to advise you here — you can reach us through our contact page.

Minced meat, shaped into round hamburger patties, on a conveyor.

Examples of phosphates used in food production

There are many different types of phosphate; sodium phosphates are the most commonly used, with potassium phosphates continuing to grow in popularity. Each has a different pH; the properties of each depend on the mineral present and the amount of each mineral.

Particularly popular compounds for food production include sodium hexametaphosphate (SHMP), sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP), monosodium phosphate (MSP) and tetrapotassium pyrophosphate (TKPP). Generally, these products offer the properties of emulsification, pH regulation (buffering), water retention, sequestering and leavening.

  • Sodium hexametaphosphate: E-number E452i, used in processed meats, cheese and baked products. pH: 6.3–7.3 (1% solution).
  • Monosodium phosphate: E-number E339, in baked products, powders, dairy, meat and fish products. pH: 4.4–4.8 (1% solution).
  • Sodium tripolyphosphate: E number E451, in seafood, meat, poultry, soups, sauces and dairy products. pH: 9.5–10.2 (1% solution).
  • Tetrapotassium pyrophosphate: E-number E450 (v), in dairy products, canned seafood and some beverages. pH: 10.0–10.5 (1% solution).

Other popular phosphates across the industry include trisodium phosphate (TSP), sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP), dipotassium phosphate (DKP), potassium tripolyphosphate (KTPP) and ammonium phosphates, like monoammonium phosphate (MAP) and diammonium phosphate (DAP).

Calcium phosphates (like tricalcium phosphate) and magnesium phosphates have important roles in fortifying foods.

Phosphates are also manufactured in technical grades, with industrial uses across cleaning, water treatment, agriculture, oil and gas and many more. Technical grade phosphates are a lower spec of chemical, usually having more impurities. Food grade phosphates meet strict requirements for purity, making them safe for consumption.

After a little more information?

Phosphates have a huge range of uses across food and drink production and there are a number of different types. If you’re unsure which would be perfect for your requirements, our team of ingredient experts are only a quick phone call, email or message away. Get in touch through our contact page.

At Airedale Group, our Food & Beverage division is a BRCGS-accredited supplier of high-quality essential ingredients. We have over 25 years’ experience meeting the needs of customers across the UK and Europe.


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