Marketer of the ingredient, LycoRed, had submitted a dossier of safety evidence to the UK's novel foods committee, which is charged with assessing the safety of ingredients not available in the European Union prior to 1997.
Although lycopene has been available before this time, it was most commonly used in more concentrated form as a food colour (E160d), falling under legislation for additives. This restricts the amount that can be added to foods.
The new opinion, which is open for comment before being sent to other member states and finally the European authorities for ratification, gives food makers the go-ahead to use lycopene in amounts of 5mg per serving, thought to be the dose required to produce a health benefit.
The carotenoid found in red fruits and vegetables has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant, with trials demonstrating protective effects against heart disease and prostate cancer.
Israel-based LycoRed developed a series of lycopene extracts for use in foods designed to take advantage of these benefits, but while some major brands in Japan are using the ingredient for health-boosting yoghurts, such as Nestle's 2B that targets skin protection, European food manufacturers have been slow to make use of the heart health ingredient.
"We don't need novel foods approval because the product was available before 1997. But we decided to go for it because it will then be considered as a food ingredient," Joost Overeem, sales manager at LycoRed, told NutraIngredients.com last year.
Novel foods approval will also allow for health claims not permitted on a colourant.
The ACNFP said it was satisfied that the range of uses for the extract is acceptable "provided its labelling indicates the products may not be suitable for children under three years of age".
Any comments on the initial opinion should be sent to the committee's secretariat by 16 June ahead of its final opinion.