Caramel colours are added to food to give a deeper shade of brown
and are widely used in a variety of foods including non-alcoholic
flavoured drinks, confectionary, soups, seasonings and alcoholic
drinks such as beer, cider and whisky.
Caramel colours are complex mixtures of compounds produced by
carefully controlled heat treatment of carbohydrates (sugars).
They are classified into four categories depending on the reagent
used in their manufacture (ammonia and/or sulphite or no reagent),
and generally known by the E numbers E150a, E150b, E150c, and
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has revised its estimate
of consumer exposure to three caramel colours (E 150a, E 150c,
E 150d) used in a variety of foods and beverages. Using new data
on the levels of three caramel colours (E 150a, E 150c, E 150d)
as they are used in food and drinks as well as new consumption
data, EFSA has concluded that consumer exposure to these colours
is considerably lower than that expressed in the Authority’s
2011 scientific opinion. In most cases, the revised exposure estimate
is below the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) established by EFSA’s
experts in 2011. However, for toddlers and adults whose intake
is very high, exposure may exceed the ADIs for the caramel E 150c.
The main sources of exposure to E 150c are bakery wares for toddlers
and alcoholic drinks for adults.
In its 2011 opinion, EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Additives
and Nutrient Sources Added to Food (ANS Panel) carried out a complete
re-evaluation of the safety of these three colours plus one other
(E 150b) and established ADIs for their use in food. Given their
similar chemical properties and uses in food, the ANS Panel also
set a group ADI of 300 milligrams per kilogram of body weight
per day (mg/kg bw/day) for combined exposure to all four caramel
colours (with a restrictive ADI of 100 mg/kg bw/day for E 150c
within the group ADI). Based on the more limited scientific information
available at the time, the 2011 opinion concluded that it was
possible that the use of caramel colours in foods may lead to
exposures in excess of the ADIs.
In its new statement, EFSA has refined its estimate of likely
exposure to caramel colours in food based on new data provided
by industry in 2012 on use levels in products ready to be consumed
and consumption data available in the EFSA Comprehensive European
Food Consumption Database. Estimates of consumer exposure through
the diet to the three caramel colours individually is considerably
lower than in the previous exposure assessment and – with
the exception of E 150c for toddlers and adults with high consumption
levels – no longer exceed the ADIs. The combined exposure
estimates of the four caramel colours do not exceed the group
ADI of 300 mg/kg bw/day for any population group.
This latest work reviewing consumer exposure to caramel colours
used in foods and beverages complements EFSA’s previous
risk assessment on these colours carried out in the context of
the Authority’s on-going re-evaluation of all food colours
currently authorised in the EU. EFSA’s scientific advice
will help to inform decisions of EU policy makers in relation
to food colours.