EFSA lowers ADI for food colour in re-evaluation

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags E number

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), in adoption of opinions on three further food colours used in bakery and confectionery products, has confirmed intake levels for one colour, halved the ADI for another and could not determine a risk assessment on the third.

As part of its ongoing re-evaluation of all food additives authorised for use in the European Union, EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources (ANS) added to Food was asked to deliver a scientific opinion re-evaluating the safety of Brilliant Black BN, (E 151), Brown HT (E 155) and Brown FK (E 154) when used as food colorants.

For the colour Brilliant Black BN (151) – which can be used in a range of different foods, including baked goods, desserts and soft drinks, the Panel confirmed the existing Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 5 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight established by the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) in 1984.

In terms of its findings on the colour Brown HT (E 155) – which can also be used in bakery products, confectionery and soft drinks, as well as sauces, seasonings and pickles – the Panel said it has halved the previous ADI to 1.5mg/kg bw.

“This is because adverse effects, such as slightly reduced weight gain, were noted in animals following long-term exposure to Brown HT at lower levels than those which were used to determine the ADI in previous evaluations,”​ noted the Panel.

And the ANS Panel said it was not able to reach a conclusion on the safety of the colour Brown FK (E 154) due to what it termed were significant limitations in the toxicological data available.

In November last year, EFSA adopted opinions on six food colours – five of which are azo dyes (food colours containing nitrogen) – in November 2009, and is due to assess around 30 remaining colours in the next few years.

The re-evaluations of two further azo dyes, Amaranth (E 123) and Litholrubine BK (E 180) are due to be finalised by June this year, stated EFSA.

There has been considerable public attention to food colourings in recent years since the publication of the Southampton study in The Lancet in September 2007, which saw a link between cocktails of certain commonly-used artificial colours and hyperactivity in children.

EFSA lowered the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for three of the notorious Southampton Six food colours in November 2009 but not for reasons associated with hyperactivity.

As of July 2010, products containing any of the so-called Southampton Six food colours, which have been linked to hyperactivity in children, will have to carry a warning on packaging under European law.

Since this warning will be off-putting for consumers, food firms are working hard to remove the colours in question: Tartrazine (E102), Quinoline Yellow (E104), Sunset Yellow (E110), Carmoisine (E122), Ponceau 4R (E124) and Allura Red (E129).

But Holly Hughes, new product development technologist at Campden BRI, said that every reformulation project has to be handled on a bespoke basis, and that manufacturers, aiming to cut out other ingredients as well as any of the Southampton six colours, should do so simultaneously.

Any changes aimed at ‘clean label’ products or improving the nutritional profile of products can, in fact, change the food matrix due to the fact that different natural colours’ stability depends on what else is in the food, explained Hughes.

The EFSA opinions can be read here​.

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