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Are We Colorblind To The Hazards of Food Colorings/ Additives

Saturday, July 17, 2010
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Foods in which synthetic color additives are most often used:

  • Ice creams
  • Biscuits
  • Icing on cakes
  • Sweet meats
  • Fruit drinks
  • Seasonings
  • Pharmaceutical tablets
  • Syrups

It is therefore vital that people are educated on food colors and their safety and all foods with color additives should carry information about their source and safety.

For example Safety Ratings Key (US)

SAFE. The additive appears to be safe.
Caution. May pose a risk, needs to be tested. Try to avoid.
Cut Back. Not toxic, but large amounts may be unsafe or promote bad nutrition.
Certain people should avoid.
Avoid. Unsafe in amounts consumed or is very poorly tested and not worth any risk.

Apart from the safety rating shown above, it is also vital that the food color added, be mentioned. This will especially help parents of children with food allergies, as they quite often react to food dyes and additives. For example - colorant added Red dye # 6. This will enable them to either avoid foods/medications with that additive or if consumed, be prepared to administer anti-allergy medication. It is therefore an obligation by the food industry to educate people on the complications or consequences of adding food colors, be they food manufacturers or consumers.

For more information on guidelines and hazards of food colorants read the sequel to this article. `Food colors part II-guidelines and hazards.

By Vijaylakshmi Iyengar
Sr Dietitian,



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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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