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‘I WOULD LIKE ALL THE COLOURS OF THE RAINBOW…but I don’t want hyperactive children!’

Cupcakes isolated on white

Unicorn Cakes, Rainbow Cakes, Wild Wacky Bright and Fun, visually attractive cakes are what this year’s trends are when it comes to requests for celebration cakes. The phrase ‘you’ve been eating too much sugar’ comes to mind thirty minutes after a child has had a slice of birthday cake when they begin to start ‘climbing the walls’ – but perhaps it’s not the sugar – but the colourings in the cake!

Today, food colours are probably the most strictly regulated food ingredients all over the world. In the UK the ‘Southampton Six’, which refers to the university that completed the study, listed six colours that following a study, concluded that they may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children. They are

  1. Tartrazine (E102)
  2. Quinoline Yellow (E104)
  3. Sunset Yellow FCF (E110)
  4. Ponceau 4R (E124)
  5. Allura Red (E129)
  6. Carmoisine (E122)

Any food products made with or decorated using any of these colours must be clearly labelled with the E number of the colour, followed the prescribed warning, for example,

‘Colours (Allura Red (E110): may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’.

These dyes can be used in foods sold in Europe, but the products must carry the warning. No such warning is required in the United States, except for Yellow food dyes No. 5 (Tartrazine) and No. 6 (Sunset Yellow), and Red Dye No. 40 (Allura Red).  The US Food and Drugs Administration’s website says reactions to food colouring are rare but acknowledges that yellow dye No. 5 may cause itching and hives.

Restrictions for use are set for over 600 different colour additive-food category combinations in the EU while there are hardly any regulatory maximum limits set in the US. On the other hand, the US does not allow adding colour at all in over 200 foods while only few food categories are entirely excluded in the EU. There is a call for both the US and EU regulatory bodies to adopt consistent standards when it comes to colours and their control.

What can you do?

  1. Be careful ordering colours online – the rules are not the same everywhere and therefore exporters need to reformulate their products for the intended marketplace and demonstrate compliance with the applicable rules, not all suppliers may do this. Use reputable suppliers.
  2. No matter the quantity, ensure your customers are aware of any colourings you may use, you can do this both verbally when an order is placed, as well by providing information when the cake is collected such as by placing a sticker on your cake box, checking the colours included, so the consumer can see when receiving the cake (this can also be doubled up for allergen selection too). Be aware of labelling requirements for the products you produce.
  3. Try to source and use natural alternative colours

Got a question?

We are offering 15 minutes of free advice, whether via telephone or online using video conferencing platforms. Just drop us an email to [email protected], or call us on 01792 986089.