Food Colouring in the Modern Food Industry, Safety and Control


Food industries use food colouring in various products to compensate for natural colour variation and to add aesthetic appeal for the customer. Colour is one of the most important factors contributing to consumers’ acceptance of the product. It also adds appetizing value to the product which results in better marketing. Food colours also play an important role in the taste perception of food.

At this point you have possibly thought is it “Food colour” or “Food color”. Well, both spelling works, so, I am going to use both spelling for the sake of pleasing everyone.

Why do we need to use food colouring in modern Industry?

Studies have shown that it takes only 3-7 seconds for an average consumer to make a purchasing decision. So, it is important for companies to attract their customer's attraction in that short period of time. Consumers develop almost an immediate perception of the taste, aroma and flavour and freshness of the product based on food colour. So, colour is one of the most important sensory attributes in the food and beverage industry.

Colour supplementation makes food informative and more attractive, and for consumers, it makes it easier to identify the product they desire. Desirable colours also make food more appetising. Food processing causes colour deterioration of the food products. Moreover, air contact, light exposure, moisture changes, and extreme temperatures all affect the colouring property of food in a negative way. So, to enhance the natural colour of food, and to cope with natural colour variation it becomes necessary to add extrinsic colouring compounds to the product.

It also helps organisations to build brand recognition by giving signature colour to the product. It helps to achieve decorative and aesthetic quality, masks defects and increases appetite. It has the ability to make less desirable food more desirable. In addition, Food colouring may help certain foods in tasting fresher for a longer time period.

No one would like to buy a bottle of tomato sauce if it looks brown on the shelf of a supermarket like Woolworths or Walmart. The same goes for if  your favourite beverage brand starts making drinks that look different in colour every time. You will not just feel hesitant to buy the product but will even question the recipe and the process. These simple examples are enough to state how important colour consistency is for food manufacturers. As colour consistency affect customers’ purchase decision, industries must control it in an objective way.

What are the types of food colors?

Nowadays, modern industries use many different types of food colors.  Coloring agents or food dyes are mostly natural or Synthetic (man-made) compounds that scientists and Food safety,  regulators and agencies like FDA (US Food and Drug Administration), FSANZ (Food Standard Australia New Zealand) and EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) consider safe for human consumption. In addition, we can also use whole extracts of herbs and plants for their coloring properties.

Food colors are divided into four main categories:

1.  Liquid Food Colours

They are consumers’ first choice due to their availability and low pricing. Liquid colours give optimum results when used in soft products. So, beverage industries use liquid colours very regularly. Liquid colours are ideal for candies, lollipops, frostings and cakes. In the baking industry, they often use liquid food colours for colouring batter and icing. Liquid food colouring are readily available in supermarkets and grocery stores like Costco and Woolsworth.

They are available in various colours and shades. Some of the most common are red, blue, pink, sunset yellow and green.

Black is by far the most difficult colour to achieve in food products. To get a black colour, you must mix equal amounts of red, blue, and green colour and then add black. Continue mixing till you get your desired shade of black colour.

2.  Powder Food Colors and Dyes

Powder food colors may be obtained from organic or inorganic materials. They are the most convenient to store and have a longer shelf life than other forms of food colors. Powdered food colours are mostly used for coloring dry products. Buttercream icing, white chocolate, compound coatings and various other related products also contain food colours in powder form.

3.  Gel Food Colors

These colors are usually not available in superstores such as Walmart, Woolsworth and Costco. Gel colours are readily available at specialty baking shops that sell baking products and tools.

Gel food colours are usually more expensive than liquid or powder food colours. These gel colours are better for colouring fondants. In bakeries, the baker can add gel food colours while leading in dough preparation.

Gel colours are ideal to achieve vibrant and radiant colours. Moreover, Gel food colouring are easier to store than liquid food colours and you are less likely to spill these by accident. They are the best choice for fondants in bakery products and are easier to store.

4.  Natural Food Colouring Material

Natural food colours have been a part of our food for centuries and hence form an integral proportion of human’s diet. In the food industry, there is always a desire to maintain the natural colour of the food. However, very often, food manufacturers use natural food colours to supplement the colour losses during the processing and handling of food products.

Contrary to the general view, we can use natural colours to provide a wide range of colours. The most common natural food colours are Anthocyanins, turmeric, carmine, annatto and beetroot. The commercial examples of these are Sunset Yellow (E110), Quinoline Yellow (E104), Carmoisine (E122), Allura Red (E129), Tartrazine (E102) and Ponceau 4R (E124). (Chaitanya, 2014), certain artificial colours use can be legal in some countires while illegal in others.

Food colouring types applied to donuts, uses and food safety - Food Surety Limited Blog

Food Safety and Control Issues Regarding Food Coloring

The food and Drug Administration (FDA) in USA assesses both natural and synthetic food coloring substances. In Europe, it is assessed by EFSA (European food safety Authority) and in Australia and New Zealand by FSANZ and MPI.

A lot of misconceptions about food colouring agents still exist despite all the reaffirmation provided by scientific research agencies, as well as government agencies like FDA. Around the world, FDA, European Union (EU), the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the European food safety Authority (EFSA) regulate food colouring.

There is a constantly increasing fear regarding the use of many legal commonly used food colours. Industries are also making efforts and taking initial steps for replacing these synthetic food colourants with natural and more organic options. Moreover, various food dyes that are suspected or are known to possess carcinogenic or genotoxic properties, are being used illegally. There is a need for robust and innovative programs, that can assure our food product does not contain any harmful colourant or dye, using reliable detection procedures.

Immediate Need to Control

The major food safety issues in the food colors field is the presence of illegal and harmful dyes, the replacement of natural colors with artificial colors and the lack of globally recognised uniform standards of food colors.

There has been a lot of concern regarding the possible harmful side effects artificial and synthetic colouring can cause. Synthetic colouring causing hyperactive behaviour in children is still an undefined and under-researched problem. Due to suspicions, there is a trend of removing such dyes from the food supply chain system. Especially in confectionery products, the UK Food standard agency has already supported the voluntary withdrawal of synthetic colour from products. However, it's not always an easy process to replace synthetic dyes with natural colours. Moreover, not all natural colours are better than synthetic, so a lot of work needs to be done.

There is also a high risk of Food fraud especially when banned synthetic dyes are in play, professionally trained auditors should be made aware of the risk of food fraud in their food supply chains including fraud related to food colors.

Issues Due to Globalization

The globalisation of food products has resulted in people consuming food from almost every part of the world. The lack of uniform regulations in the department of food coloring substances has caused disruptions and problems in international trade. In addition, there is a lack of uniform worldwide control policies regarding food coloring. So, we cannot rule out the possibility of harmful coloring agents present in locally produced food. The possibility of this happening is quite higher, especially in developing countries (Kumari and Meghwal, 2010).

Recent Advancements Toward Detecting Harmful Food Colors/Dyes

Several methods have been developed to check food products for harmful colouring agents. Recognised laboratories in the USA, across Europe, and in Australia and New Zealand provide their services to detect illegal dyes in food products.

Nevertheless, to protect the consumers’ best interests there is a real need for additional advanced research and enhanced monitoring activities.

The determination of new and emerging contaminants and adulterants in the food industry is another challenge. This problem must be addressed thoroughly and quickly, not only in developed countries but in developing countries as well, as a priority matter. Low-cost and rapid colour screening methods need to be developed to give surety food is free from harmful colorant and mitigating food fraud.


Food colouring plays an important role in the modern-day industry. It helps the manufacturer to make up for the colour loss during processing. Moreover, it helps in brand development, makes the products more desirable, attracts consumers and promotes marketing.

As global trade is on the rise, there is a need to develop internationally recognised standards for food colouring substances. Competent authorities should take serious actions and prevent the use of harmful dyes. More research and development are needed to develop quick procedures to detect harmful colour substances in food products to assure food safe production and consumption which is what customers want.