In the wake of the biggest recall in the UK's history due to the discovery of the red colour Sudan 1 in over 600 processed foods, Brussels asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to carry out a review on the seven illegal dyes found in food to date in the EU.
The dyes concerned are Sudan I, Sudan II, Sudan III, Sudan IV, Para Red, Rhodamine B and Orange II.
The food agency also set out to identify industrial dyes not permitted in foods which could pose a threat to the food chain in the future.
"The review confirms the suspected carcinogenic and/or genotoxic potential of those dyes which member states and the Commission already had on their target list of dyes not authorised for food," concludes Dr. Herman Koëter, EFSA's deputy executive director and director of science.
But they warn that there are "insufficient data on any of the illegal dyes" found so far in foods in the EU to perform a full risk assessment.
Following the first report in 2003 of the illegal presence of the dye Sudan I in some foods in the EU, member countries have notified Brussels on hundreds of occasions about the presence of this, and other illegal dyes, in chilli powder, curry powder, processed products containing chilli or curry powder, sumac, curcuma and palm oil.
EFSA's AFC panel said this week that these dyes are or may be both genotoxic and carcinogenic, with the exception of Orange II.
"While this particular dye is possibly genotoxic, data are lacking to determine whether it is also carcinogenic," says the panel.
The scientists also investigated a second group of dyes: industrial dyes identified by other international bodies as genotoxic or carcinogenic or both; and dyes that are illegal for food use in the EU but known to be in use in non-EU countries from which spices originate.
In addition, dyes that have been used in the past as food colours but withdrawn from food use following discovery of their toxicity.
The panel concluded that the following from the second group of dyes should be viewed as genotoxic or carcinogenic or both: Acid Red, Sudan Red 7B, Metanil Yellow, Auramine, Congo Red, Butter Yellow, Solvent Red I, Naphthol Yellow, Malachite Green, Leucomalachite Green, Ponceau 3R, Ponceau MX and Oil Orange SS.
The EFSA conclusions absolutely underline that for the health of the nations, and that of their bank accounts, food firms are under a total obligation to ensure that all ingredient stocks are tested, prior to use.
In February this year authorities detected Sudan Red in a batch of Worcester sauce supplied by the St.Albans-based firm Premier Foods. The cost? In excess of €200 million.
Prior to the recall, Brussels had imposed tougher rules on spice entries due to fears over the Sudan presence. The law requires that imports of chilli and chilli products - including curry powder - cross the EU border with proof - a certificate - they are free of the illegal chemical dyes.
Indeed, the European Commission recently warned the food industry of its responsibilities vis a vis Europe's extensive food law, encouraging firms to commit to massive testing, particularly of old stocks.
And as a warning to the food industry, the Commission stressed that the food law covers not only food safety, but also "fraudulent practices (Article 8)."