2009-2010 Food Colours Used in the Production of Manufactured Foods

Executive Summary

The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system. As part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys are used to test various foods for specific hazards.

The main objectives of the food colours survey were:

  • To provide baseline surveillance data for synthetic colouring agents in food
  • To validate an analytical method for detecting fat-soluble food colouring agents

This survey looked to quantify food colouring agents intentionally added to products, not food colours that were naturally occurring in a commodity. One hundred samples were collected and each sample was analyzed for 194 water-soluble and 18 fat-soluble food colours. No fat soluble colours were detected using the newly validated analytical method; all residues detected were water soluble. Overall, 59% of samples did not contain detectable levels of food colours. Of the remaining 41%, 34 samples contained permitted colours below maximum levels established by the Food and Drugs Act & Regulations and seven samples contained levels of colours that were above the permissible levels and therefore were in violation.

Of the seven violative samples, four samples contained permitted food colours above maximum levels: chicken tandoori seasoning (USA), lumpfish (USA), horseradish with beets (Canada), and cheddar cheese (Canada). Two samples were in violation due to the presence of non-permitted food colours: almond paste (Belgium) and curing powder (Thailand). The last violative sample, dried papaya (Canada), contained both a permitted colour at levels exceeding regulations and a non-permitted food colour. Appropriate follow up actions were taken for each violative sample.

Many samples contained multiple food colours. Accounting for 93% of colours found in this survey were Sunset yellow, Tartrazine, Brilliant blue, Allura red, and Amaranth. Few food colours were detected in spices & flavours. It should be re-iterated that samples were selected due to their high likelihood of containing food colouring agents, and that prevalence in the food categories selected are not necessarily representative of the prevalence of synthetic food colours in all foodstuffs available at retail. That being said, the food categories sampled for this survey with the highest prevalence of food colours were sweets & jelly, beverages, animal-based foods, and sauces & condiments.

* Curing powder is generally used as a food preservative for meat and fish.

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