Food colours, or colours for short, are additives for imparting colour to foodstuffs.
Visual perception plays a major role in consumers’ acceptance or rejection of food products. During the production, packaging or sale of foodstuffs, colour changes may occur which adversely influence the consumer’s decision to purchase. Here colours are used to preserve the food’s appearance. Furthermore, foods can be made to look more visually appealing through the use of colours, which can also enhance the appearance of bland-looking foodstuffs.
Hence, one use of colours is to promote sales in the food industry. However, some foodstuffs such as chocolate and dried fruit1 may not be enhanced with colours due to legal standards.
Additives and colours are approved by the European Commission in accordance with a stringent scientific safety assessment. The 40 food colours currently approved are listed in Appendix II Part B No. 1 of the (EC) Regulation No. 1333/2008.2
Special case: Azo dyes
Azo dyes are synthetic food colours. Except for a few exceptions (six substances, see below), azo dyes have been classified as carcinogenic. 3 They can therefore damage health, hence the use of these colours has been prohibited. In some countries, however, the azo dyes which are prohibited in the EU, such as Sudan dyes, are used to intensify the colour of paprika powder or to level out light- or age-related colour losses.
Azo dyes permitted in the EU with warning
When using the following colours, the warning ‘May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’ must be included on the label:
- Tartrazine (E 102)
- Quinoline yellow (E 104)
- Sunset yellow FCF (E 110)
- Azorubine (E 122)
- Cochineal red A (E 124)
- Allura red AC (E 129)
At the ifp Institute for Product Quality, our highly-experienced experts test the addition of colours using HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography).
eans of HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography).