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Are We Colorblind To The Hazards of Food Colorings/ Additives

Saturday, July 17, 2010
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How safe are they?
Food colorings / Food Dyes

Colorful food has universal appeal. It's why Red Jell-o is the most popular flavor and why people never buy an over ripe, brown banana? It's all to do with color and how our mind assigns value to a food based on its color.

The human eye responds to brightly colored foods as it triggers positive emotions. It is for this reason that the food industry focused its product appeal using foods colorings and additive dyes.

A plate full of colorful food is not only appealing but also indicates the condition and quality of the food in question. It influences the sensitivity of its flavor, the degrees of sweetness, ripeness, or decay.

As the natural color of food is invariably lost during preservation, processing or storage, its discolored look may render the food unappetizing, hence food colors are added to increase aesthetic appeal or to mask less desirable defects in foods.

Where do food coloring's come from?
Food colorings are derived from natural sources (plant, animal, mineral) or synthetic dyes. Unfortunately as synthetic dyes are much less expensive, they are more popular with the manufacturers. However the safety and acceptable use of food colorants, especially the synthetic ones have always been controversial.

Naturally occurring colorants
Substance Colors Sources Used in
Anthocyanins orange-red to red to blue berries, grapes, apples, roses, hibiscus, red cabbage, sweet potato candy, fruit beverages, ice cream, yogurt, jams
Betacyanins Red red beets, red chard, cactus fruit, bougainvillea candy, yogurt, ice cream, salad dressing, cake mixes
Caramel Beige to brown heated sugars baked goods, gravies, vinegars, syrups, colas, seasonings, sauces
Carmine Red cochineal insects candy, dairy products, drinks, fruit fillings, surimi
Carotenoids Yellow orange to red saffron, tomatoes, paprika, corn, butter, palm oil, red salmon, marigolds, marine algae, carrots, annatto meat products, cheese, butter, spice mixes, salad dressings
Chlorophylls Green to olive green green plant leaves green pasta, dehydrated spinach
Riboflavin Yellow vegetable leaves, milk, eggs, organ meats, malt flour, bread, pastries, cereals, dietary products
Turmeric yellow curcuma longa rhizome pickles, mustard spices, margarine ice cream, cheese, all baked goods, soups, cooking oil, salad dressings



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User Comments

02 August, 2010 | Sujatha | Reply

Sujatha Hi,

I have the liquid orange color that I use for making jalebis. I bought it from a known bakery products shop here in the US. The bottle does not specify the expiry date. I bought it about 18 months ago, does this mean they do not have expiry date or please let me know if I can use it or have to throw it away.

Thanks in advance

04 August, 2010 | Kanika Jain | Reply

Kanika Jain Hello Sujatha,

Thank you for your query.Anything that is edible and is packed should have expiry date.Please check the pack again or from store where you purchased it.It would be safer to buy new pack in case you do not find expiry date.

Kanika Jain

04 August, 2010 | Sangeetha Narayana Swamy | Reply

Sangeetha Narayana Swamy Dear Sujatha,

The bottle should have the expiry date mentioned. Anything that is edible should have a expiry date. Please check again or ask the store supervisor about the same.

22 July, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Shocking to note that the very popular orange colour used in many Indian sweets such as jelabis and laddus is Metanil yellow powder, a carcinogen. When we expressed concern the local vendors laughed it off saying after all they use a pinch or so.Who is going to monitor this? Which organisation/body will take responsibility for stopping sale of these harmful food colours?

21 July, 2010 | Anita M, Passaic, NJ | Reply

Anita M, Passaic, NJ Our son is allergic to pink/red food coloring dye - but it is selective. I wonder why?
When he was younger he could have grape flavored Tylenol syrup which had a pinkish purplish tinge to it without any allergic reaction. But, he couldnt have the grape flavored chewable Tylenol tablets. His throat and lips would swell up right away.
Shouldnt both be the same colorings added with the same flavorings?
Still confused about it.
Now of course he is older and can swallow white caplets, so we dont face the grape flavor issue anymore.

21 July, 2010 | Rajani | Reply

Rajani A variety of dyes and colors are added to the locally available street foods, at quality restaurants to enhance the appeal. Is there a way to check this? Or its better to avoid them.

22 July, 2010 | Poonam Vaswani | Reply

Poonam Vaswani This is exactly where the role of the FDA becomes crucial, because it is difficult for the lay consumer to know whether a colour used is a permitted one or not. There are no home or quick tests to check if a permitted colour has been used in a food. It needs to go through proper lab tests. Till then we can only rely on the label of packaged foods which carry a statement that permitted colours have been used.

21 July, 2010 | Poonam Vaswani | Reply

Poonam Vaswani The safety ratings are a wonderful way to ensure safe use of food colours. Mentioning the name of the colour in the ingredient list is also vital for people with allergies and certain conditions. The government must introduce both these features in food labels.

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