Food (Standards & Composition)

Colours in food

In the guide

This guidance is for Wales

The Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (Wales) Regulations 2013 allow only certain colours to be used in food, restrict the use of some colours, and set maximum levels for some colours, particularly in relation to food sold in restaurants and as takeaway meals.

Traders should obtain written confirmation from their supplier that a product complies with the provisions of the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (Wales) Regulations 2013. The Regulations list some specific colours that are restricted in sauces, pickles, seasoning, etc. The use of these colours in food is controlled because excessive consumption has been linked to allergic reactions and sickness.

Which foods do the Regulations apply to?

The Regulations apply to all foods but make specific requirements for certain foods, such as rice, tea, coffee, fresh vegetables, meat, fish and shellfish, which cannot be directly coloured with artificial colours. Rice is only able to contain colour introduced by ingredients added to it, such as seasonings.

Of particular relevance to restaurant and takeaway meals are the additives used that relate to sauces, seasoning (for example - curry powder, tandoori), pickles, relishes, chutney, piccalilli, etc. In these cases, only 500mg/kg in total of the following permitted colours is allowed, whether used singly or in any combination:

  • E 100 - Curcumin
  • E 102 - Tartrazine
  • E 120 - Cochineal, Carminic acid, Carmine
  • E 122 - Azorubine, Carmoisine
  • E 129 - Allura Red AC
  • E 131 - Patent Blue V
  • E 132 - Indigotine, Indigo carmine
  • E 133 - Brilliant Blue FCF
  • E 142 - Green S
  • E 151 - Brilliant Black BN, Black PN
  • E 155 - Brown HT
  • E 160d - Lycopene
  • E 160e - Beta-apo-8'-carontenal (C30)
  • E 160f - Ethyl ester of beta-apo-8'-carotenic acid (C30)
  • E 161b - Lutein

The following colours are even more strictly regulated, with maximum limits in sauces as follows:

  • E 104 - Quinoline Yellow: 20mg/kg, and not permitted in tomato-based sauces
  • E 110 - Sunset Yellow FCF / Orange Yellow S: 30mg/kg, pickles and piccalilli only
  • E 124 - Ponceau 4R / Cochineal Red A: not permitted to be used in sauces

The maximum permitted amounts of these three colours is different in other types of food - for example, Quinoline Yellow is the only one of the three that is allowed to be used in seasonings, with a limit of 10mg/kg. For full details of the limits please see EU Regulation (EU) No 232/2012 amending annex II to Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 as regards the conditions of use and the use levels for Quinoline Yellow (E 104), Sunset Yellow FCF / Orange Yellow S (E 110) and Ponceau 4R, Cochineal Red A (E 124).

Why are these controlled?

The use of these colours in food is controlled because excessive consumption has been linked to allergic reactions and sickness.

Compulsory warnings

Compulsory warnings regarding the effect of colours on children are required on the labels of prepacked foods. These requirements also apply to edible ices, flour confectionery and other food items sold loose. The warning '[name or E number of the colour(s)]: may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children' is required for prepacked food containing any of the following colours:

  • E 102 - Tartrazine
  • E 104 - Quinoline Yellow
  • E 110 - Sunset Yellow FCF
  • E 122 - Carmoisine
  • E 124 - Ponceau 4R
  • E 129 - Allura Red 

For more detail on the additional information required if using these six colours, please see the Food Standards Agency's guidance on the labelling of certain food colours. There is no requirement for foods sold at catering establishments to state these warnings on the menu.

How can I avoid selling food with excess or non-permitted colours?

In each case you should obtain written confirmation from your supplier that a product complies with the provisions of the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (Wales) Regulations 2013.

Always ensure that you and any employees follow the instructions supplied with the seasoning / colour. If there are no instructions, or if the instructions are not clear, ask your supplier for further details in writing. Do not guess or rely on information given only verbally.

If you import the seasoning / colour directly, or manufacture it yourself, you should seek more detailed advice from your local trading standards service.

Penalties

It is a criminal offence to sell food that does not comply with the Food Additives, Flavourings, Enzymes and Extraction Solvents (Wales) Regulations 2013. The maximum penalty is a fine and two years' imprisonment.

What about other additives?

There are European regulations that control the use of all additives used in food*. It is important that you always obtain written confirmation from your suppliers that their products conform to the relevant requirements. If you import the products directly, ask your local trading standards service for further advice. You must always ensure that any instructions for use are followed and, if in doubt, check - do not guess.

[*EU Regulation (EC) No 1332/2008 on food enzymes; EU Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 on food additives; and EU Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008 on flavourings and certain food ingredients with flavouring properties for use in and on foods.]

Further information

Detailed guidance on food additives legislation, including colours, is available on the Food Standards Agency website.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: December 2016

PixelPlease note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

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