Introduction to the Legislation of Food Colours in Europe

The history of the Food colours legislation can be found here.

At European level Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 lays down detailed rules on the use of food additives and Regulation (EU) 231/2012 defines specifications for food additives.

These Regulations define the term ‘colour’, list the permitted colours and the purity criteria with which they must comply, set down conditions of use for colours in food, control the sale of colours direct to the public and prohibit the sale and use of colours and the sale of food containing colours that do not comply with these provisions.

As with all other additives used in food, colours may only be used if they perform a useful purpose, are safe and do not mislead the consumer.

Colours may be used to:

  1. restore the original appearance of food whose colour has been affected by processing, storage, etc.
  2. make food visually appealing and give colour to otherwise colourless food.
  3. giving colour to food otherwise colourless.

Colours add or restore colour in a food. They are not substances that are normally consumed as foods by themselves or used as characteristic ingredients of foods. These would be regarded as ingredients, to be labelled as such, even when added principally for colouring purposes.

If the primary function of a substance added to food is anything other than as a colour, whether or not it has a secondary colouring effect, then it is not caught by the definition of colour.

In 2008, the Commission issued Regulation 1331/2008 by which all food additives must undergo a safety evaluation by EFSA prior to their authorisation by EU risk managers. According to Commission Regulation 1333/2008, all food additives authorised for use in the (EU) before 20 January 2009 should be subject to a new risk assessment by EFSA.

Commission Regulation 257/2010 established a programme for the re-evaluation of approved food additives. According to this programme, food colours have been evaluated as a priority as these were among the first additives to be assessed by the former Scientific Committee on Food many years ago. For some colours new studies have become available that need to be taken into account.  This work is ongoing and most of the scientific opinions are available via the EFSA website.