The European Union has slapped a 138.4m euros fine on four companies involved in price-fixing food additive ingredients.

The EU said a cartel of Hoechst, Chisso, Daicel Chemical Industries, The Nippon Synthetic Chemical Industry and Ueno Fine Chemicals Industry were all involved in the scam to fix prices of sorbates between 1978 and 1996.

Sorbates prevent the development of moulds, bacteria and other micro-organisms in foods, such as in mayonnaise, sausages and beverages. They are also used for the coating of cheese wrapping paper or in cosmetics.

Competition Commissioner Mario Monti said: "I am determined that participation in a cartel should not pay. The only way for companies to avoid high fines is to come clean and stop participating in cartels whose only purpose is to extort from unknowing customers."