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Food coloring, or color additive, is any dye, pigment or substance that imparts color when it is added to food or drink. They come in many forms consisting of liquids, powders, gels and pastes. Food coloring is used both in commercial food production and in domestic cooking. Due to its safety and general availability, food coloring is also used in a variety of non-food applications including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, home craft projects and medical devices.
People associate certain colors with certain flavors, and the color of food can influence the perceived flavor in anything from candy to wine. Sometimes the aim is to simulate a color that is perceived by the consumer as natural, such as adding red coloring to glacé cherries (which would otherwise be beige), but sometimes it is for effect, like the green ketchup that Heinz launched in 1999. Color additives are used in foods for many reasons including:
The addition of colorants to foods is thought to have occurred in Egyptian cities as early as 1500 BC, when candy makers added natural extracts and wine to improve the products' appearance. During the Middle Ages, the economy in the European countries was based on agriculture, and the peasants were accustomed to producing their own food locally or trading within the village communities. Under feudalism, foodstuffs were mainly regarded as means to survive. Aesthetic aspects were not considered, at least not by the vast majority of the generally very poor population. This situation changed with urbanization at the beginning of the Modern Age, when trade emerged—especially the import of precious spices and colors from climatically favored countries. One of the very first food laws, created in Augsburg, Germany, in 1531, concerned spices or colorants and required saffron counterfeiters to be burned.
With the onset of the industrial revolution, thousands of people began to move to the new centers of industrialization. The act of feeding these workers changed fundamentally; suddenly, they became dependent on foods produced and sold by others. These new urban dwellers demanded food at low cost. Analytical chemistry was still in the process of development; on this basis, and especially in the absence of legal or administrative obstacles, the adulteration of foods flourished. Adulteration was driven by competition among the growing number of food producers and traders in the growing cities. Heavy metal and other inorganic element-containing compounds turned out to be cheap and suitable to "restore" the color of watered-down milk and other adulterated foodstuffs, some more lurid examples being:
Sellers at the time offered more than 80 artificial coloring agents, some intended for dyeing textiles, not foods.
...Thus, with potted meat, fish and sauces taken at breakfast he would consume more or less Armenian bole, red lead, or even bisulphuret of mercury. At dinner with his curry or cayenne he would run the chance of a second dose of lead or mercury; with pickles, bottled fruit and vegetables he would be nearly sure to have copper administrated to him; and while he partook of bon-bons at dessert, there was no telling of the number of poisonous pigments he might consume. Again his tea if mixed or green, he would certainly not escape without the administration of a little Prussian blue...
Many color additives had never been tested for toxicity or other adverse effects. Historical records show that injuries, even deaths, resulted from tainted colorants. In 1851, about 200 people were poisoned in England, 17 of them fatally, directly as a result of eating adulterated lozenges. In 1856, mauveine, the first synthetic color, was developed by Sir William Henry Perkin and by the turn of the century, unmonitored color additives had spread through Europe and the United States in all sorts of popular foods, including ketchup, mustard, jellies, and wine.
But as their use grew, so did safety concerns. This led to numerous regulations throughout the world, with each country developing their own legislation. German food regulations released in 1882 stipulated the exclusion of dangerous minerals such as arsenic, copper, chromium, lead, mercury and zinc, which were frequently used as colorants. In contrast to today, these first laws followed the principle of a negative listing (substances not allowed for use); they were already driven by the main principles of today's food regulations all over the world, since all of these regulations follow the same goal: the protection of consumers from toxic substances and from fraud. In the United States, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 reduced the permitted list of synthetic colors from 700 down to seven. Even with updated food laws, adulteration continued for many years and this, together with more recent adverse press comments on food colors and health, has continued to contribute to consumer concern about color addition to foodstuffs.
In the 20th century, the improvement of chemical analysis and the development of trials to identify the toxic features of substances added to foods led to the replacement of the negative lists by lists of substances allowed to be used for the production and the improvement of foods. This principle is called a positive listing, and almost all recent legislations are based on it. Positive listing implies that substances meant for human consumption have been tested for their safety, and that they have to meet specified purity criteria prior to their approval by the corresponding authorities. In 1962, the first EU directive (62/2645/EEC) approved 36 colorants, of which 20 were naturally derived and 16 were synthetic. This directive did not list which food products the colorants could or could not be used in. At that time, each member state could designate where certain colors could and could not be used. In Germany, for example, quinoline yellow was allowed in puddings and desserts, but tartrazine was not. The reverse was true in France. This was updated in 1989 with 89/107/EEC, which concerned food additives authorized for use in foodstuffs.
While naturally derived colors are not required to be certified by a number of regulatory bodies throughout the world (including the FDA), they still need to be approved for use in that country. The FDA lists "color additives exempt from certification" for food in subpart A of the Code of Federal Regulations - Title 21 Part 73. However, this list contains substances which may have synthetic origins, such as nature identical beta-carotene. FDA's permitted colors are classified as subject to certification or exempt from certification, both of which are subject to rigorous safety standards prior to their approval and listing for use in foods.
Food colorings are tested for safety by various bodies around the world and sometimes different bodies have different views on food color safety. In the United States, FD&C numbers (which indicate that the FDA has approved the colorant for use in foods, drugs and cosmetics) are given to approved synthetic food dyes that do not exist in nature, while in the European Union, E numbers are used for all additives, both synthetic and natural, that are approved in food applications. The food colors are known by E numbers that begin with a 1, such as E100 (turmeric) or E161b (lutein). The safety of food colors and other food additives in the EU is evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority. Color Directive 94/36/EC, enacted by the European Commission in 1994, outlines permitted natural and artificial colors with their approved applications and limits in different foodstuffs. This is binding to all member countries of the EU. Any changes have to be implemented into their national laws within a given time frame. In non-EU member states, food additives are regulated by their national authorities, which usually, but not in all cases, try to harmonize with the laws adopted by the EU. Most other countries have their own regulations and list of food colors which can be used in various applications, including maximum daily intake limits.
Global trade requires harmonization of food regulations on a world-wide basis in order to abolish barriers of trade and to ensure that the economical and nutritional demands of all nations are considered. Since the beginning of the 1960s, JECFA has played an important role in the development of international standards for food additives, not only by its toxicological assessments, which are continuously published by the WHO in a "Technical Report Series", but furthermore by elaborating appropriate purity criteria, which are laid down in the two volumes of the "Compendium of Food Additive Specifications" and their supplements. These specifications are not legally binding but very often serve as a guiding principle, especially in countries where no own scientific expert committees have been established.
In order to further regulate the use of these evaluated additives, in 1962 the WHO and FAO created an international commission, the Codex Alimentarius, which is composed of authorities, food industry associations and consumer groups from all over the world. Within the Codex organization, the Codex Committee for Food Additives and Contaminants is responsible for working out recommendations for the application of food additives, the General Standard for Food Additives. In the light of the World Trade Organizations General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Codex Standard, although not legally binding, influences food color regulations all over the world.
As the 1900s began, the bulk of chemically synthesized colors were derived from aniline, a petroleum product that is toxic. Originally, these were dubbed `coal-tar' colors because the starting materials were obtained from bituminous coal. Though colors from plant, animal and mineral sources, which had been used in earlier times, remained in use early in this century, manufacturers had strong economic incentives to phase them out. Chemically synthesized colors are easier and less costly to produce, and are superior in coloring properties. Synthetic colors are also highly concentrated, there are no limits on dosage level, and they are widely available.
Seven dyes were initially approved under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, but several have been delisted and replacements have been found. Some of the food colorings have the abbreviation "FCF" in their names. This stands for "For Coloring Food" (US) or "For Colouring of Food" (UK).
In the US, the following seven artificial colorings are permitted in food (the most common in bold) as of 2007[update]:
The following dyes are only allowed by the FDA for specific limited applications:
As stated above, most other countries have their own regulations and list of food colors which can be used in various applications, including maximum daily intake limits. In the EU, E numbers 102-143 cover the range of artificial colors. For an overview of currently allowed additives see here . Some artificial dyes approved for food use in the EU include:
A growing number of natural food dyes are being commercially produced, partly due to consumer concerns surrounding synthetic dyes. Some examples include:
To ensure reproducibility, the colored components of these substances are often provided in highly purified form, and for increased stability and convenience, they can be formulated in suitable carrier materials (solid and liquids). Hexane, acetone and other solvents break down cell walls in the fruit and vegetables and allow for maximum extraction of the coloring. Traces of these may still remain in the finished colorant, but they do not need to be declared on the product label; this is because they are part of a group of substances known as carry-over ingredients.
Food colorants can sometimes cause allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock in sensitive individuals. Natural coloring agents known to be potential hazards include annatto, cochineal and carmine.
Dyes dissolve in water, but are not soluble in oil. Dyes are manufactured as powders, granules, liquids or other special purpose forms. They can be used in beverages, dry mixes, baked goods, confections, dairy products, pet foods, and a variety of other products. Dyes also have side effects which lakes do not, including the fact that large amounts of dyes ingested can color stools.
Lakes are made by combining dyes with salts to make insoluble compounds. Lakes tint by dispersion. Lakes are not oil soluble, but are oil dispersible. Lakes are more stable than dyes and are ideal for coloring products containing fats and oils or items lacking sufficient moisture to dissolve dyes. Typical uses include coated tablets, cake and doughnut mixes, hard candies and chewing gums, lipsticks, soaps, shampoos, talc, etc.
Because food dyes are generally safer to use than normal artists' dyes and pigments, some artists have used food coloring as a means of making pictures, especially in forms such as body-painting. Red food dye is often used in theatrical blood.
Most artificial food colorings are a type of acid dye, and can be used to dye protein fibers and nylon with the addition of an acid. They are all washfast and most are also lightfast. They will not permanently bond to plant fibers and other synthetics.
|This section needs more medical references for verification or relies too heavily on primary sources. (February 2014)|
Information concerning the negative effects of synthetic food colorants on human health, particularly children’s health, continues to be a major concern with respect to food chemistry. Though past research showed no correlation between attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and food dyes, new studies now point to synthetic preservatives and artificial coloring agents as aggravating ADD and ADHD symptoms, both in those affected by these disorders and in the general population. Older studies were inconclusive, quite possibly due to inadequate clinical methods of measuring offending behavior. Parental reports were more accurate indicators of the presence of additives than clinical tests. Several major studies show academic performance increased and disciplinary problems decreased in large non-ADD student populations when artificial ingredients, including artificial colors, were eliminated from school food programs.
Brilliant Blue (BBG) food coloring was cited in a recent study in which rats that had suffered a spinal injury were given an injection of the dye immediately after the injury, and were able to regain or retain motor control. BBG helps protect spine from ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which the body sends to the area after a spinal injury, which further damages the spine by killing motor neurons at the site of the injury.
Researchers at King Feisal University state that the use of synthetic color in various foods has adverse effects on some of biochemical analysis, specifically at high concentration and when administered for long periods of time. Changes in liver and kidney histopathological structure and increases in white blood cell count indicated that inflammation is specific to certain colorants.