SME sector still 'needs' guidance on Southampton colour switch

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Colours E number Fsa

Smaller scale manufacturers of bakery, soft drinks, confectionery and ready meals are the target of new guidance from the UK’s FSA on alternative colouring options for the reformulation of products that still contain one or more of the ‘Southampton six’ colours.

As of July 2010, products containing any of these colours, which have been linked to hyperactivity in children, will have to carry a warning on packaging under European law.

Since this warning will be off-putting for consumers, food firms have been working hard to remove the colours in question: Tartrazine (E102), Quinoline Yellow (E104), Sunset Yellow (E110), Carmoisine (E122), Ponceau 4R (E124) and Allura Red (E129).

A spokesperson for the Food Standard Agency (FSA) told that while a lot of colour reformulation has taken place within industry, it tends to have been the larger brand owners who have taken the lead. She notes the SME sector has not been as swift in its migration to alternatives, and the guidance aims to assist them on making the switch.

Survey trigger

The FSA publication was, in fact, triggered by the results of a 2010 FSA Scotland commissioned-survey, continued the spokesperson.

The poll, undertaken in January to May 2010, showed that over one third of SMEs in Scotland were still using at least one of the Southampton Six colours foods, with tartrazine being the most common.

That review also revealed that while awareness of the reported link between the colours in questions and increased hyperactivity in children was high (80 per cent), awareness of both the voluntary withdrawal and the new labelling requirements was much lower: (35% and 33% respectively).

When the SME’s surveyed were given more information on the new labelling 61% indicated they would remove or replace the colours, whereas 22% indicated they would prefer to change their labelling in line with the new regulations.

For those SMEs that had already removed the colours, found the poll, formulation challenges flagged up were changes to the appearance of the products and a question mark over the availability of alternative colours.

Stability concerns

The FSA reports that while there is a selection of naturally-derived colours and colouring foodstuffs available to manufacturers, which produce colours in the same red, orange and yellow range as the Southampton six colours, some of them have stability issues.

Therefore, an understanding of the properties and the stabilities of these colours is crucial for successful replacement, notes the agency.

The guidance, it continued, thus sets out to provide technical advice as to which colours would be most suitable for a particular food application produced under particular manufacturing and packaging conditions with the required stability for the shelf life.

It is recommended that food manufacturers work closely with colour suppliers, in order to get the optimum replacement colour for their products,”​ said the agency.

Heat and light

Holly Hughes, new product development technologist at Campden BRI, told previously that different natural colours’ stability depends on what else is in the food, so every reformulation project has to be handled on a bespoke basis.

She explained that the challenge of replacing the Southampton colours is not so much a matter of some shades being harder than others, but rather what the customer wants to achieve. For instance, a product in a clear bottle that needs to have a long shelf life can pose problems as more natural colours may be less stable to heat and light.

The FSA guidance document can be read here​.

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