Controls on chemicals in food

Food colours


Food colours are used by manufacturers to change or enhance the natural colours of food. They are often used:

  • to mask natural colour variations
  • to replace colour lost in storage or processing
  • to make the food appear more appetising
  • for effect - eg in cake decoration

Food colours are used in both commercial and domestic food preparation. They can be either natural or synthetic (artificial).

There are rules defining which food colour additives may be used in the UK. They list the current approved additives and their E numbers, set down conditions for their use and specify which colours may not be sold directly to the public.

Food colours and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Research has suggested a link between food colours and hyperactivity. UK food manufacturers should work towards finding alternatives to these six colour additives. These additives remain permitted under law.

You should check whether your suppliers still use these colours, including those supplying you from abroad. The six food colours are:

  • sunset yellow FCF (E110)
  • quinoline yellow (E104)
  • carmoisine (E122)
  • allura red (E129)
  • tartrazine (E102)
  • ponceau 4R (E124)

An mandatory warning must be put on any food and drink (except drinks with more than 1.2 per cent alcohol) that contains any of the six colours listed above. The label must carry the warning 'may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.'

Many consumers now prefer to buy products with fewer artificial additives - especially in children's foods. You may want to consider reducing your general use of colours.

  • Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland
    028 9041 7700