Monday, January 17, 2011


It is often said that consumers "eat" the foods first through their "eyes", then through the nose and finally through the oral cavity. While the color and appearance of food help to attract the consumer near to the food, the nasal tool provides a feed back regarding the smell or odor that emanates from the product. Of course oral cavity is the ultimate place where the food is eventually accepted or rejected. The food processing industry invariably tries to make the food desirable from all angles.

One of the moot questions regarding the relationship between color and food acceptability is whether the consumer has really any affinity towards particular colors or the industry is creating a situation where consumer is conditioned to choose foods which imitate the natural colors. It is understandable that red color is used to imitate natural fruits or vegetable based products by the processing industry largely because naturally grown produce does not give uniform color and for mere consistency and uniformity industry is tempted to use matching colors, most of which are synthetically developed. Slow realization has dawn on the industry that use of synthetic colors might not be desirable in the long run, seeking alternative means to achieve the goal of product uniformity. One of the earliest cases of artificial colors being phased out was in tomato products and to day suitable varieties have been developed with required color tint for giving bright red colored products.

Organically processed foods are made without use of unnatural ingredients and if there is a thriving market for these specialty products credit must go to the consumers for shunning artificial colors in large numbers. Often use of color is reported being used to camouflage inferior quality raw materials and deceive the consumer. It was the synthetic beverage industry that resisted banning of artificial colors used commonly to create products resembling natural juices. Probably they have a point in that it may be some what comical to offer an orange flavored beverage based on sugar and flavor as a colorless product. Here is a technological necessity to use external colors but such colors need not be synthetic as there are a few natural color sources already established for use by the industry.

While technical justification may be there for use of colors in products resembling natural ones, how can one approve many fabricated products which use a range of artificial colors with no real justification except to attract consumers, especially the kids. If to day the world has reached a stage where the safety of all synthetic colors is being questioned, only the industry has to blame itself because these colors were used indiscriminately in most products just to tempt the consumers. If these were used with moderation or eliminated from many products which do not need them, there would not have been any clamor for their ban. For example how any manufacturer can justify use of half a dozen colors in a chocolate based candy type of product targeted at children?

It is in this context one has to view the proposed action by the European Food Safety Authority which lowered the ADI for Ponceau 4R (E124), Quinoline Yellow (E104), Sunset Yellow (E110) some time back based on some valid scientific findings regarding their safety. How far the reported link between these colors as well as three other colors and sodium benzoate with hyperactivity in children is reliable, one does not know. But the benefit of doubt must be given in favor of the consumer safety and till more studies come out repudiating the linkage, it is better to err on the side of caution. The ADI lowering prompted the European Commission to propose amendments to currently permitted levels. This will become the subject of more wide-spread work with a view to remove them eventually from food products. But mandating the industry by the European Safety agency to insert warning label on hyperactivity risk on products containing any one of the three colors above is timely.


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