Enforcing the Law: Illegal Use of Food Colours

The EU-wide food additive regulations are enforced in the UK by the Food Standards Agency and over 720 local trading standards officers . They work together to protect the public from any illegal use or potentially dangerous mis-use of food additives.

Surrey Curry Trouble

In 2004, Trading Standards Officers from Surrey tested over 100 takeaway Chicken Tikka Masala curries. A shocking 57% were found to contain illegally high levels of artificial colourings including tartrazine (E102), sunset yellow (E110) and ponceau 4R (E124).

Although the levels were higher than permitted, evidence from the Food Standards Agency suggests that they were not harmful. A person would need to eat more than 500g of the illegal chicken tikka masala every day for several years before the colourings caused health problems.

photo of chicken tikka masala (yummy!)

Chicken tikka masala

Chilli powder

Chilli powder

Illegal dye

In 2003, the European Commission was alerted to reports from France that an industrial dye called Sudan red had been discovered in Indian hot chilli powder. Some Indian spice producers were found to have been illegally adding the industrial dye to their chilli powder to make it look more red.

Sudan red is not on the permitted list of colours allowed in food in the EU. It is an industrial dye used to colour shoe and floor polishes. It should never be used in food.

When this illegal practice was uncovered, an EU regulation was issued to prevent further imports of the contaminated chilli powder.

In the UK, several hundred contaminated food products were traced by the Food Standards Agency and recalled from supermarket shelves.