Why do we choose the foods we eat? What makes this food more appealing than that food? What are the things you like about your favorite food? Take a look and you’ll see that the color makes a difference in what you choose to eat. Food colors provide a familiar look to foods and often function in food in other ways too. They enhance colors that occur naturally in food. They offset any discolor when food is exposed to light, temperature and storage conditions. Food colors are unique; they are classified as ‘color additives’ and are certified by FDA which confirms their safe use. They are listed on the food label and these resources are a guide for you to learn more about food colors, color additives and what they do to food.
For centuries, ingredients have served useful functions in a variety of foods. Our ancestors used salt to preserve meats and fish, added herbs and spices to improve the flavor of foods, preserved fruit with sugar, and pickled cucumbers in a vinegar solution. Today, consumers demand and enjoy a food supply that is flavorful, nutritious, safe, convenient, colorful and affordable. Food additives and advances in technology help make that possible. This brochure in partnership with the U.S. FDA is your guide to understand the role of ingredients, colors and flavors in food.
Did you know food coloring can be made using natural and artificial ingredients? Both of which are safe and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These colorings are used in a variety of foods, not just baked goods, but they are also safely used in ice cream, yogurt, soft drinks, cereals, sausage casings, cheeses and the list goes on. Three recent publications supported by the International Association of Color Manufacturers (IACM) explored and reaffirmed the safety of food colors that have been at the center of attention in recent years: Allura Red, Tartrazine and approved FD&C color additives.
Why are food colors used? Are they safe? Well, food colors, both natural and artificial, help to correct for color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, and moisture and storage conditions; correct natural variations in color; enhance colors that occur naturally; and provide color to colorless foods. And Yes! Food colors, both natural and artificial are safe. They are deemed safe by the U.S. FDA and have had federal oversight for more than 125 years and continue to be studied today.
Yellow, red, and blue are seemingly harmless primary colors when seen in nature or on a color wheel. But when talking about color additives in food, some people have questions about their safety. Are food colors really a threat to your health? Even more, do they belong in your family’s food?
In general, the ingredients in the Ingredient List on product labels, including colors, are regulated as either food additives or GRAS ingredients. GRAS stands for Generally Recognized as Safe. It is FDA’s process of ensuring food additives and ingredients are safe to use for a specific function in the food. Whether colors are classified as additives or GRAS, they all must undergo and pass the very same safety standards.
The debate surrounding food colors and hyperactivity began in the 1970s when Dr. Benjamin Feingold popularized his theory that artificial food colors (and other food additives) increased hyperactivity in children. Even though his theory was largely refuted by the scientific and regulatory community of experts for its methodology and inability to establish a link, the debate became so popular that it continues to be discussed today especially among parents and consumers who are concerned.