Earlier this month, the Italian Ministry of Health issued guidance stating 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.
This guidance was particularly targeted at so-called ‘black bread’, or pane con carbone vegetale (bread with vegetable carbon), and came as 12 bakeries in Italy were reported to have been accused of selling bread colored with charcoal and claiming the products could help with digestive disorders.
Charcoal bread considered 'novel food'
Italian authorities have now updated the guidance to specify that any use of charcoal in bread would be considered a ‘novel food’ under EU law. Charcoal can be used as a color additive under the guidance, but only in ‘fine bakery’ goods - a category that includes both sweet and savory food such as biscuits and crackers.
The updated guidance has a more solid legal foundation and would be easier to enforce, according to Luca Bucchini, managing director of Italian regulatory consultancy Hylobates – who earlier this month told BakeryandSnacks the original ban had not been well-founded in law.
“The previous position had unclear regulatory grounds,” he said, “because EU Member States cannot ban a substance without complying with EU law. Now, Italy's authorities have determined activated charcoal used in bread (and by implication other foods) as a food ingredient is a novel food.”
A novel food is defined as one that has not been consumed to a significant degree in the EU before 1997, when regulation on novel food came into force. Businesses could attempt to prove activated charcoal was used in foods before 1997, said Bucchini, but he felt this would not be easy.
Restriction on health claims
Although the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has approved a claim that activated charcoal “contributes to reducing excessive flatulence after eating", Bucchini added that, by implication, the new guidance restricted the use of this claim to supplements only.
“This whole saga shows you need to do a lot of preparatory regulatory work if you wish to bring legal products to the marketplace, especially if you wish to bring new substances to established ‘ordinary’ products,” he said. “Moreover, Member States are constrained by EU law but you can't just go through the list of authorized claims and assume you will find there all you need to know.”