In January the European Commission announced that it is reviewing the maximum authorised levels of the red carotenoid lycopene in a slate of food categories, because an option from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) lycopene’s increasing use in functional foods, for its purported health benefits, could push consumption beyond existing limits.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency has said it wants to know whether food manufacturers believe the new – in many cases a fraction of the levels currently allowed – will mean they will incur extra costs.
Amongst the reductions, the Commission is proposing that lycopene as a colouring in biscuits and cakes be reduced from 200mg/kg to 25mg/kg; in edible ices from 150mg/kg to 40mg/kg; in desserts from 150mg/kg to 30mg/kg; and in jams jellies and marmalades from 100mg/kg to 10mg/kg; in sauces and pickles from 500mg/kg to 50mg/kg.
In confectionery the limit is currently 300mg/kg. The new limit excluding surface coating is 30mg/kg, but for red coating of hard-sugar coated chocolate confectionery, the proposal is to raise it to 400mg/kg.
The new limit for non-alcoholic flavoured beverages (except dilutable drinks) would be 12mg/l, down from 100mg/l.
Many of these products are not formats in which lycopene would typically be used as a healthy ingredient. However the FSA has said it believes that levels currently being used by manufacturers are below the proposed permitted levels.
The change comes at a time when there is considerable reformulation work underway by the food industry to remove the so-called Southampton colours, which have been associated with hyperactivity in children. Industry is looking for natural colours or colouring foodstuffs that work in their products.
As of July this year, products containing the Southampton colours will have to carry a warning label flagging the hyperactivity association, under a last minute clause inserted in the new additives regulation. However EFSA has not found evidence to attribute the purported effect to any one of the colours, and even when it examined them individually it found no evidence to justify changing the ADIs of these colours on these grounds (the ADI of some of the colours were changed due to evidence of other effects, however).
The Southampton Six are: Tartrazine (E102), Quinoline Yellow (E104), Sunset Yellow (E110), Carmoisine (E122), Ponceau 4R (E124) and Allura Red (E129).
Lycopene occurs naturally in certain fruits and vegetables (most notably tomatoes). Lycopene from tomatoes is permitted as a food colour, and bears the E number E160d. However new sources of lycopene as a colour (synthetic lycopene and lycopene fermented from Blakeslea trispora) have been held up on their route to market because of questions over ADI levels.
More details of the FSA consultation are available at this link. http://www.food.gov.uk/consultations/ukwideconsults/2010/proposedeuchangeslycopenelevels