Italian health ministry cracks down on use of activated charcoal in 'black bread'

By Vince Bamford

- Last updated on GMT

'Black bread' is known as  pane con carbone vegetale (bread with vegetable carbon) in Italy. Photo: iStock - Claudio Rampinini
'Black bread' is known as pane con carbone vegetale (bread with vegetable carbon) in Italy. Photo: iStock - Claudio Rampinini

Related tags Carbon

Italian health chiefs have taken a tough stance on the use of activated charcoal in baked goods – banning bakers from describing such products as bread and clamping down on health claims.

Following concerns raised by trade organizations believed to include the Coldiretti farmers’ lobby, the Italian Ministry of Health has issued new guidelines on the production and marketing of so-called ‘black bread’, or pane con carbone vegetale (bread with vegetable carbon).

Carbon Black (E153)

When derived from vegetable origin, Carbon Black is approved for use as a food additive in territories including Australia, New Zealand and Europe (where it is referred to as E153). Although a 2012 EFSA review of the safety of Carbon black found it was suitable for use in food, the additive remains banned in the US because of concerns over possible carcinogens.

The new guidance states that any product containing activated charcoal, which is one source of food coloring E153 Carbon Black, cannot be marketed as a ‘bread’, as the use of colorings in bread is not allowed under EU law. Activated charcoal can, however, be used in 'fine bakery' products.

Bakeries accused

The guidance comes as 12 bakeries in Italy are reported to have been accused of selling bread colored with charcoal and claiming the products could help with digestive disorders.

The European Food Safety Authority has previously rejected claims that activated charcoal could help reduce bloating, although it has approved the claim that it “contributes to reducing excessive flatulence after eating​".

In the new guidance, the Italian health ministry said bakers cannot make any claims about the health benefits of charcoal.

The ban on health claims was ambiguous, Luca Bucchini, managing director of Italian regulatory consultancy Hylobates, told BakeryandSnacks.

Legal challenge

My view is that the ban is not well founded in EU and national food law, and it may be challenged successfully in court, because it can be argued that vegetable carbon may be used for purposes other than a food additive, and member states cannot restrict the use of health claims on certain products, if they comply with EU food law​,” he said.

He added, however, that bakers might prefer to avoid the use of charcoal rather than be accused of making false claims about a product.

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