Is ‘Food Colouring’ Safe?


When take a careful look at the ingredient list of food label on packaging, sometimes they may find names of food colourings it, such as tartrazine (also known as lemon yellow) and carmine (aka cochineal red). Indeed, where these colours are extracted from? Is it real that tartrazine and carmine are taken out from lemon insect ?


What is food colouring?

Food colouring, aka ‘colour’, is belong to a categories of food additives, which possess over 20 categories with different function applied to food. Colour additive is used to add or restore the colour to a food; so, it makes the s of food look attractive to consumers. Food that usually contains food colouring includes of snack, cheese, jelly, candy beverages, etc.


Why does the food industry add food colouring into food?

During the food processing, food is exposed to heat, light, dryness and storage conditions. These processes can cause discolouration of the food. In order to improve the colour quality of food products, the food industry adds an appropriate amount of colour into the food based on the characteristics of foods. Consequently, it helps to enhance the sensory properties of food products and increase its market value.


Is food colouring natural, synthetic or artificial?

In general, food colouring can be divided into natural and artificial. The natural pigments are extracted from plants, animals, bacteria and minerals, such as carmine (E120) and curcumin (E100), which are relatively safe for consumption. On other hands, artificial colourants are typically coal-tar dyes derived primarily from petroleum products, e.g., tartrazine (E102).


What are the long-term effects of food colouring on health?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of World Health Organization has already classified coal-tar dyes as ‘carcinogenic to humans’. Long term intake has adverse effects on human health. , the governments of many countries and regions worldwide have adopted stringent control on the scope and dosage of food colouring used.


What is the standard for the use of food colouring in Macao?

The Administrative Regulation No.30/2017 ‘Standards for Use of Food Colourings in Food’ has come into effect on 2017. It launches a specific standard to ensure food safety by defining the food colourings that are allowed to be used in food, their scope of application and complied with good manufacturing practices (GMP). This regulation also approves two lists regarding of food colourings permitted to be used in food; on the contrary, non-permitted colour by the regulation must not be utilized in foodstuffs.


Moreover, this regulation stipulates a ban on the use of food colouring for specific food types, including of:

  1. Using in raw or unprocessed meat, poultry, game meat, aquatic products, vegetables and fruit;
  2. Using in food intended for infants, such as infant formula, follow-on formula and baby food.

Therefore, food industry should use food colouring correctly in their food technology and comply with the provisions of Administrative Regulation No.30/2017 ‘Standards for Use of Food Colouring in Food’. Food grade additives are used in the minimum quantities at r so as to achieve the intended effects.


How can we check the food additives containing in food?

While selecting a packaged food products, pay attention to the content of ingredient list on the. The ingredients are listed in the predominance order of raw materials and additives containing in the food, and displayed by their common names, intention for use, code of food additives and so on, e.g.,  'preservative: benzoic acid ( INS 210)'.


How do we avoid taking less food additives?

Commonly, the minimum quantities of food additives are used to achieve the intended effects under normal circumstances; so, it is safe to use food additives based on international and Macao standards. However, sensitive people should be aware that ingesting a small amount of food additives may have acute health impact. Additionally, some studies indicate that certain artificial colourants in food are associated with behavioural changes in children, such as hyperactivity disorder and attention deficit. Thus, parents can choose fresh and natural food as their children’s staple food, and teach them to consume less confectionery and beverages, which contain food colourings.