Australian children consume low levels of food colours

Australian children are consuming low levels of food colours, according to a survey of added colours in foods released by Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

FSANZ’s Chief Scientist, Dr Paul Brent, said the results of this survey are very positive and indicate that colours are not being used above maximum permitted levels, or at levels that would pose a risk to consumers.

“This survey provides significant reassurance that there is no public health and safety risk from the consumption of foods containing added colours as part of a balanced diet.

“The survey found that the concentrations of added colours in foods in Australia are very low, mostly less than 25% of the maximum permitted levels.”

The survey also showed that estimated dietary exposures to all permitted synthetic food colours were less than 10% of the Acceptable Daily Intake for all population groups assessed, even for high consumers of added food colour.

Additionally, the survey found that the average concentrations of synthetic colours in foods were well below the concentrations used in the recent UK Southampton study into colours and behavioural change, which found limited evidence that mixtures of certain colours and sodium benzoate had an effect on the activity and attention of children.

For example, the UK study assumed a concentration of 67 mg/kg of the colour tartrazine in confectionery, whereas the average concentration of tartrazine in confectionery in the FSANZ survey was only 10 mg/kg.

“Australian children are also consuming food colours at much lower levels than the amounts used in the UK Southampton study. For example, on average, 6 to 12 year olds in Australia are consuming the food colour tartrazine at 14% of the amount used for 8 to 9 year olds in the UK study and are consuming the colour sunset yellow at 21% and 8% of the amounts used in the UK study (in the two mixes).

“FSANZ does recognise that adverse reactions to foods and food additives occur in a small proportion of the population. These reactions are not the same as allergies but may include rashes and swelling of the skin, irritable bowel symptoms, behavioural changes in children and headaches.

“Additives (including colours) cannot be included in foods unless they are approved and included in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Food additives which are in a food or drink to perform a function must be identified on the label with either their name or its specific code numbers.”

The FSANZ survey found very good consistency with labelling requirements with nearly all colours detected listed on the food label.

“Parents can use food label information to identify when the additives included in the UK study are in their child’s diet, but it should not be assumed that simply taking these additives out of a child’s diet will eliminate these symptoms,” said Dr Brent.

“If you think you or your child has a food intolerance we recommend you seek advice from a medical practitioner or accredited practising dietitian.

“FSANZ has commenced dialogue with peak food industry bodies on the current and future uses of synthetic and natural colours in foods, to inform future work by FSANZ,” Dr Brent concluded.

Synthetic and natural colours are routinely added to food and beverages as a visual cue for quality, to induce the perception of flavour and to meet consumer expectations.

This analytical survey, commissioned by FSANZ, quantified actual levels of all permitted synthetic colours and two natural colours, annatto and cochineal/carmine in foods and beverages in Australia, in order to accurately estimate dietary exposure and assess the potential risk to human health for Australians.

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