2011-2012 Food Colours in Selected 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 examine various foods for specific hazards.

The main objectives of this targeted survey was to provide baseline data regarding the presence and actual use levels of food colours in selected foods (candy, coloured snacks/chips, fresh oranges, marmalade, orange juice, ready-to-serve beverages, savoury sauces, spices, sweets and wasabi products) available on the Canadian retail market, and to compare current results with the results of previous FSAP targeted surveys on food colours, where feasible.

Food colours are widely used in the food industry for a variety of reasons, including: to compensate for the loss of natural colour(s) during processing; to achieve a uniform product colour; and to make the food more appealing and appetizing. Incorporation of food colours into processed foods makes them a food additive and as such, they are subject to premarket evaluation. Food additives are regulated in Canada under Marketing Authorizations (MAs) issued by the Minister of Health and the Food and Drug Regulations. Approved food additives and their permitted conditions of use are set out in the Lists of Permitted Food Additives on Health Canada's website that are incorporated by reference in the MAs. In Canada, ten synthetic colours have been approved for use in food, and are listed in Division 6 of the Food and Drugs Regulations. The presence of one or more approved colours in food is not unexpected.

Advances in detection methodologies have revealed the unexpected presence of non-permitted dyes in food. The presence of non-permitted colours may pose a health concern to the consumer, as some may be potential carcinogens. Also, while the biological mechanisms remain unclear, several reports have demonstrated hyperactive behaviour in children following consumption of mixtures of certain specific permitted food colours. Additionally, exposure to synthetic food colours has been reported to cause rash, flushing, asthma, dizziness and fainting.

In the current survey, a total of 1799 samples were collected and analyzed for up to 216 different food colours. Samples included 302 ready-to-serve beverages, 299 candy samples, 297 savoury sauces, 295 spices, 264 sweets, 145 fresh oranges, 52 marmalades, 49 coloured snacks/chips, 49 orange juices, and 47 wasabi products. Detectable levels of food colour(s) were found in all product types sampled. Twelve hundred and seventy-four of the 1799 samples (70.8%) did not have detectable levels of added food colours. Four hundred and eighty-six (486) samples contained detectable food colours in compliance with the List of Permitted Colouring Agents. Overall, the compliance rate in this targeted survey was 97.8%. When compared to the 2010-11 survey, these results show an increased rate of samples with no detectable food colours (64%) and a comparable rate of compliance (96.2%).

Thirty-nine samples were found to be in violation of Canadian regulations, totaling 41 violations (two samples had two distinct violations each). Coloured snacks/chips contained the highest percentage of samples with food colour violations at 10.2%, followed by sweets at 6.1%, savoury sauces at 3.0%, spices at 1.7%, candy at 1.0% and ready-to-serve beverages at 0.3%. Fresh oranges, marmalade, orange juice and wasabi products had no food colour violations in this survey.

All violations identified in the survey were minor and/or technical in nature and were referred to the appropriate program for potential follow-up. No product recalls were warranted.

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