Food colours are either produced naturally or derived synthetically. Like all food additives, colours must undergo a safety assessment by FSANZ before they can be used in food or drinks sold in Australia or New Zealand. This process sets a safety limit for food additives to try and ensure no one would eat an unsafe level, even if they ate a large amount of foods containing the colour over a lifetime.
The food colours currently approved have been used safely for decades and FSANZ reviews all new evidence about the safety of food colours.
Surveys undertaken by FSANZ have found that Australian children consume low levels of food colours.
Some people notice a reaction to either natural or synthetic additives. Reported reactions include rashes, irritable bowel symptoms, headaches, and behavioural changes in children.
If you think you or your child has a food intolerance seek advice from a doctor or accredited practicing dietitian who can tell you which additive to avoid, if any. To help you avoid additives, most additives in a food or drink must be labelled with either the name or the specific internationally recognised code number of the additive. Read more about food additive labelling.
How many food colours do we consume?
Recent dietary estimates reported in the Supplementary colours report (FSANZ 2012) confirm the findings of the Survey of added colours in foods available in Australia (FSANZ 2008). The updated exposure estimates show that the current projected dietary exposure of children to added colours in food and beverages in Australia remains well within the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). In all cases, including high consumers, the estimated dietary exposure was <5% of the ADI for all colours investigated.
The findings of this latest report confirm that dietary exposure to added colours in food and beverages does not pose a public health and safety concern for children in Australia.
In 2007, researchers at the University of Southampton looked at possible effects of artificial food colours on children's behaviour.
Like other food agencies around the world, FSANZ looked at this study and did not find evidence that would result in a lowering of safety limits for these colours.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published opinions on six food colours in November 2009, and a further seven food colours in 2010. EFSA concluded that the available evidence did not indicate a causal link between exposure to the colours, including those in the Southampton Study, and possible effects on behaviour.
However the European Union has required some colours to have the warning statement: 'may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children'.
In March 2011 a committee of the US Food and Drug Administration reviewed whether available scientific data supported a causal link between eating food colours and hyperactivity. The committee found that current data (including the Southampton study) did not support a link.