Alert notifications at Europe's RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) for week nineteen show that France pulled seven food products from the shelves because they contained "unauthorised colour annatto/bixin/norbixin" in palm oil, sweet chilli and chilli.
The notice has caused confusion among food ingredients suppliers and food manufacturers because annatto/bixin/norbixin are permitted colours under the European directive 94/36/EC on colours for use in foodstuffs.
"We have seen the alert, and were very surprised by the notice," says Anne McNair, regulatory affairs at number one natural colours company Chr Hansen.
According to McNair, NATCOL, a group of natural colour manufacturers in the EU to which Chr Hansen belongs, was equally stunned by the misleading text.
FoodNavigator.com contacted the European Commission for clarification. In short, the source of confusion is that annatto (E160b) is permitted in some foods (see list below), and not others. But this was not made clear enough by the rapid alert text.
"Annatto is authorised in some products, and not others. This colour has been found in unauthorised products, specifically detected in the chilli powder used in the recalled palm oil and chilli products," says the Commission.
Under the EU colour rules is a list of foodstuffs, generally known as the 'no colour list', that are not allowed to contain added colours, in whatever shape or form.
'Salt, salt substitutes, spices and mixtures of spices' are listed there, which explains the recent recall listed in RASFF following the detection of annatto in chilli powder used the recalled palm oil and chilli products.
In the spirit of clarification, the Commission told FoodNavigator.com that the alert on RASFF will be amended to clear up the confusion.
An illegal red colour, Sudan 1, ignited the biggest recall in the UK's history earlier this year, when retailers and food makers had to recall over 600 processed foods from the shelves.
The massive recall propelled by a banned colour, that could cost in excess of €200 million, has left the food industry nervous, and super sensitive to confusion.
As the repository of rules and whose role it is to offer a guiding hand, the European Commission must not repeat such a misleading text as that ound on the RASFF alert: it is in no-one's interest, least of all the consumer. Annex IV, European directive 94/36/EC on colours for use in foodstuffs. 'Colours permitted for certain uses only' E160b Annatto, Bixin, Norbixin:Margarine, minarine, other fat emulsions, and fats essentially free from water Decorations and coatings Fine bakery wares Edible ices Liqueurs, including fortified beverages with less than 15 per cent alcohol by volume Flavoured processed cheese Ripened orange, yellow and broken-white cheese,Unflavoured processed cheese Desserts 'Snacks': dry, savoury potato, cereal or starch-based snack products: - extruded or expanded savoury snack products - other savoury snack products and savoury coated nuts Smoked fish Edible cheese rind and edible casings Red Leicester cheese Mimolette cheese Extruded, puffed and/or fruit flavoured breakfast cereals