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THE COLOURS IN FOOD REGULATIONS 1995

This leaflet has been prepared for the guidance of traders by the Northern Counties Chief Trading Standards Officers Group. It is not an authoritative document on the law and is only intended for guidance. 

 

This leaflet has been prepared for the guidance of traders by North Yorkshire County Council. It is not an authoritative document on the law. For further assistance, contact the Food Control Team, Trading Standards & Regulatory Services, Standard House, 48 High Street, Northallerton, Telephone: 01609 766416. Unless otherwise stated, compliance with this guide is a legal requirement.

 

WHAT DOES THIS LEAFLET COVER?

The use of colourings by food manufacturers and caterers.

The retail sale of certain food colours.

The labelling of food containing colours.

 

WHAT ARE COLOURINGS AND WHY ARE THEY USED?

Food colourings are used for adding or restoring colour to food which may have been lost by processing. These additives are not intended to serve any nutritional function, but are utilised to make products appear more attractive. They are often used in conjunction with other additives, such as preservatives, stabilisers and flavours.

Substances which are used for other purposes, e.g. to flavour food, and which have a secondary colouring effect, are not classed as food colours, e.g. sage used in cheese, turmeric when used as a spice.

 

WHAT COLOURS CAN BE USED?

At present there are over 40 permitted colours which satisfy specific purity criteria, each of which has been allocated an "E" number. This indicates that it has been tested extensively and accepted as safe throughout the European Community when used within levels imposed by the Regulations.

 

CAN ANY FOOD CONTAIN COLOUR?

Basic and unprocessed items, such as tea, coffee, meat, fish, fresh vegetables, are NOT permitted to contain colour. Only processed food products can contain added colouring.

Several of these foods are severely restricted in the amounts of colouring that can be added, e.g. beer, butter, jam, vinegar, whisky. The maximum concentration of colours in such food is either a specified limit or "quantum satis" (which means that the added colouring can be used only in accordance with good manufacturing practice at a level not higher than necessary to achieve its intended purpose).

Similar limitations are placed on the use of certain permitted colours in specified foods, e.g. E127 in cocktail cherries, E160(b) in desserts, smoked fish, snack foods.

Many foods can contain colouring within certain limits. For example, sauces, seasonings, decorations and coatings may contain up to 500mg per kg of added colouring, whilst confectionery, biscuits and cakes are only permitted to contain up to 200 mg per kg.

 

WHY ARE THERE LIMITS ON THE AMOUNTS OF COLOURS WHICH CAN BE USED?

Scientific research has determined the levels of food additives that human bodies can absorb without adversely affecting their metabolism. This is known as the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI’s).

 

MAY ALL COLOURS BE SOLD BY RETAIL?

Most can, but there are 8 colours which specifically need to be restricted because of their exceptionally low ADI’s.

These are:

It is ILLEGAL to sell any of these food colours directly to the consumer.

It is also an OFFENCE to sell any food having in it, or on it, any colour other than a permitted colour.

 

DO I HAVE TO DECLARE THE PRESENCE OF FOOD COLOURS?

Pre-packed food generally requires a list of ingredients, compiled in descending order by weight. The colours must be stated by their category name and specific name and/or "E" number, e.g. colours (E102, E110) or colours (tartrazine, sunset yellow).

Non-prepacked items require an indication of the category name of the additives used, e.g. "sausages contain preservatives and colour".

Many meals sold in restaurants, pubs and from take-aways contain colours. Whilst colouring in food sold from catering establishments does not have to be declared, the maximum limits must not be exceeded.

It is an offence to sell food containing excessive colouring.

 

October 2000


North Yorkshire County Council

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