Food colors: Existing and emerging food safety concerns

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Feb 11;57(3):524-548. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2014.889652.


Food colors are added to different types of commodities to increase their visual attractiveness or to compensate for natural color variations. The use of these additives is strictly regulated in the European Union, the United States, and many other countries worldwide. There is a growing concern about the safety of some commonly used legal food colorants and there is a trend to replace the synthetic forms with natural products. Additionally, a number of dyes with known or suspected genotoxic or carcinogenic properties have been shown to be added illegally to foods. Robust monitoring programs based on reliable detection methods are required to assure the food is free from harmful colors. The aim of this review is to present an up to date status of the various concerns arising from use of color additives in food. The most important food safety concerns in the field of food colors are lack of uniform regulation concerning legal food colors worldwide, possible link of artificial colors to hyperactive behavior, replacement of synthetic colors with natural ones, and the presence of harmful illegal dyes-both known but also new, emerging ones in food. The legal status of food color additives in the EU, United States, and worldwide is summarized. The reported negative health effects of both legal and illegal colors are presented. The European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed notifications and US import alerts concerning food colors are analyzed and trends in fraudulent use of color additives identified. The detection methods for synthetic colors are also reviewed.

Keywords: Food dyes; detection methods; legal and illegal food colors; synthetic colors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Consumer Product Safety / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • European Union / organization & administration
  • Food Analysis / methods
  • Food Coloring Agents / chemistry*
  • Food Coloring Agents / standards*
  • Food Contamination / analysis
  • Food Safety*
  • India
  • Japan
  • Risk Assessment
  • United States


  • Food Coloring Agents