The growing demand for ready-to-eat (RTE) foods in the country has thrown up a new problem. In an effort to make food items appealing, the use of synthetic colours has gone up.
If you consume excessive synthetic colours, even if they are permitted, there is every chance of toxic manifestation and impact on health.
Sounding this warning, a study by the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition points out the urgent need to have a re-look at the colour combinations in RTE foods, in line with the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (PFA).
The annual production of RTE foods in the organised sector in the country is around 3.45 lakh tonnes.
In the unorganised sector, the production of these foods, including bakery products, such as bread, biscuits, rusks and cakes, and potato chips, is estimated to be two to three times higher.
The study has found that in various RTE foods, excess colours than those permitted under the PFA Act are being used. These include a combination of permitted and prohibited colours.
The institute, however, felt a large-scale multi-centric study in the country is necessary to assess the usage of colours in RTE foods. Under the amended PFA Act of 1995, the use of colours is restricted to items such as biscuits, thread candies, sweets, dalmoth, fruit juice and ice cream.
But a variety of RTE foods still contain synthetic colours, implying that the implementation of food regulation needs to be tightened, the institute said.
Banned colours have been found in popular items such as laddus, toor dal and turmeric, where Metanil yellow is used. Similarly, in spices such as chilli powder, non-permitted colours, such as Sudan dye, are used.
Metanil yellow has been reported to cause giddiness and vomiting.
Interestingly, the number of synthetic colours permitted differs from country to country. While the US permits seven colours, Iran and Australia allow 13 each. In India, though the PFA allows eight colours, only six are used. These are tartrazine, sunset yellow, carmosine, ponceau 4R, erythrosine and brilliant blue F.C.F.
The study shows that in RTE foods, two colours — tartrazine and sunset yellow — were the most popularly used.
This could be for various reasons — to match with basic raw materials, to use as substitute for natural colours such as turmeric or to simply obtain a yellow colour in food.