Synthetic food colours

Learn more about synthetic food colours, why they’re used, and their safety.

Why synthetic colours are used in food

Synthetic or artificial colours are added to food to improve appeal and sense of flavour. For example, a strawberry flavoured drink will be more enjoyable if it is coloured red.

Synthetic colours have benefits over natural colours.

  • They stay vibrant in a range of storage conditions without fading over time.
  • They are cheaper.

Are synthetic food colours safe?

Research has shown that synthetic colours are safe to consume. They don’t cause adverse effects even when consumed in large amounts.

Colours such as tartrazine have sometimes been linked to adverse reactions like asthma, rashes, and headaches. But these cases are rare. They usually occur only in people who have other allergies.

Regulation of food colours

Any colour added to a food will be mentioned on the label.

All food additives, including synthetic colours, must be assessed for safety by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

Food colours – FSANZ

Science and research on food colours

The safe levels of food additives are calculated using a measure called the "acceptable daily intake" or ADI. ADIs tell you how much of a specific food additive you can safely eat each day, throughout your life.

ADIs for synthetic colours are set well below the level that could cause any adverse effects.

The ADI for artificial colours is 40mg for each kilogram of body weight. To exceed the ADI, a 70kg person would need to consume over 4 litres of soft drinks, or over a kilogram of sweets every day.

Find about reference health standards like ADIs

Reports and studies on synthetic food colourings

Studies have found the average child in New Zealand eats less than 5% of the ADIs for synthetic colours.

The European Union and United States food safety agencies have found no evidence that food colours cause hyperactivity.

Food colours – European Food Safety Authority

Who to contact

If you have questions about synthetic food colours, email info@mpi.govt.nz

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