Food Colors — Ingredients, Laws and Standards

What are Food Colors?

Any dye or chemical that develops color when added to food, drink, or beverages is referred to as a food coloring agent or color additive.

Why are Food Colors Added to the Food?

  • Enhancing naturally occurring colors.
  • Decorative or artistic purposes, such as cake icing.
  • Masking natural variations in color.
  • Offsetting color loss due to light, air, extremes of temperature, moisture, and storage conditions.
  • To change the color of some food items.

What are Permitted Natural Food Colors?

Permitted Natural Food Color (INS163/E163) is water-soluble, the violet color derived from the cell sap of plants, vegetables and flowers. It functions as an antioxidant in fruits and vegetables and has anti-inflammatory characteristics. It is permitted for use as a natural coloring agent in foods and beverages by the European Union (EU). It is one of the most common food additives in the world, which is found in almost all foods and is used to impart color.

Laws Related to Food Color Regulation in the US

The Food Additive and Color Additive Amendment, the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2012, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) of 1966, and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act (Bioterrorism Act) of 2002 serve as the main foundations for the federal color additive regulation in the US. Under Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, the USFDA, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is in charge of enforcing the laws governing food colors. The specifications and guidelines for using authorized color additives are listed in Parts 70–82 and 101, with reference to Part 58 on acceptable laboratory practice for testing. These parts also contain rules on petitions and labelling. Additional limits for usage of certain goods are included in the standards of identity for over 300 foods, which are detailed in Parts 130–169 and Part 319 of Title 9 and are governed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Laws Related to Food Color Regulation in the EU

Regulation (EC) №1331/2008 (EC 2008a) sets out a common authorization procedure, and Regulation (EC) №1333/2008 (EC 2008c) on food additives and its amendment, Regulation (EC) №1129/2011 (EC 2011), include the rules for food colors. The annexes of Regulation (EC) №1333/2008 contain food categories and a positive list of colors permitted in the EU, including maximum quantities and instructions for use. Regulation (EU) №231/2012 (EC 2012) lays down the specifications for food additives listed in Annexes II and III to Regulation (EC) №1333/2008.

What are Synthetic Food Colors?

Synthetic food colors provide a number of economically significant advantages over natural colors, including low cost, resilience to light and pH, and good color stability. Chemicals used in artificial food coloring are derived from coal tar, and most of them have an azo group.

  • Powder
  • Lake Colors (Water-insoluble)
  • Food, drug and cosmetic Colors (FD&C Colors)
  • Drug and Cosmetic Colors (D&C Colors)
  • Blended Food Colors: These colors are made by combining various primary and secondary hues, either separately or simultaneously. Blended Food colors are unique in color property, and the chemical composition is CH2OH-NH2.
  • Lake Food Colors: Pharmaceutical, cosmetic, link, and plastic food container sectors can all benefit from the vivid consistency of lake hues. Lake food has the chemical formula C37H36AlN2O9S3.

Some Commonly Used Food Colors

Lake Tartrazine (INS 102/ E 102)

Drawbacks of Using Food Colors

Studies and research have linked artificial food dyes to:

  • Behavioral changes like irritability and depression.
  • Hives and asthma.
  • Tumor growth
  • Carcinogenicity
  • Allergic reactions


Modern consumers choose food products based largely on their aesthetic appeal, and color is an essential ingredient in both food and beverages. Food colorants are used in the manufacture of foods, necessitating the development of precise, sensitive, and accurate analytical techniques for their measurement. Artificial food colors are commonly found in processed foods, which gives us yet another reason to stay away from them. Even though food dyes haven’t had a bad effect on human health when used and ingested in ordinary amounts, it is better to prefer food with naturally colored ingredients.




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