Food colour linked to cancer

by SEAN POULTER, Daily Mail

Last updated at 15:05 16 September 2005

An artificial colouring used in children's sweets and processed foods could include a contaminant linked to cancer, food watchdogs have revealed.

Sunset Yellow is commonly used in sweets, soft drinks, chocolate snacks, sauces and pickles.

But the Food Standards Agency warned yesterday that the production process for Sunset Yellow could inadvertently create a second illegal chemical called Sudan 1.

Used in shoe polish and industrial products, this red dye is considered a cancer risk by Britain's Food Standards Agency and the EU.

Contamination cost millions

Thousands of food products were withdrawn by supermarkets earlier this year in a recall costing an estimated £100million because of contamination with the substance.

The Sudan 1 in that case came from contaminated batches of chilli powder imported from India.

A loophole in European food safety laws means the accidental presence of Sudan 1 as a byproduct of Sunset Yellow is perfectly legal.

There is currently no requirement to test for it or remove products which might contain it from the shelves.

Yesterday's FSA board meeting in London said any Sudan 1 in food products would be diluted to minuscule amounts.

But it is calling on manufacturers of Sunset Yellow to change production systems to ensure Sudan 1 is not created. It has also called for a change in EU law.

According to the FSA, Sunset Yellow - E number E110 - is most commonly used in confectionery, cooking sauces and relishes, soft drinks and chocolate products.

A snapshot survey by the Daily Mail found it in Smarties, Irn Bru, Lucozade, Haribo sweets, Sainsbury's jelly babies and strawberry jelly, although these products may not necessarily contain Sudan 1.

Sunset Yellow prominant in curry houses

Trading Standards officers have found curry houses use high levels of Sunset Yellow.

An FSA spokesman said: "We first became aware of this last August following tests by trading standards officers.

"The levels found were very low and they would be diluted further in any food product. We have contacted the manufacturer of the colouring, in India. It has agreed to modify its processes to ensure the creation of Sudan 1 is prevented.

"It has also agreed to test all colouring exported to the UK for the presence of Sudan 1 before it is shipped. We will ask other manufacturers to take the same action."

Sunset Yellow is thought to trigger an allergic reaction that may include hives, a swelling on the skin known as angioedema, gastric problems and vomiting.

It has been banned in Norway and Finland and the Co-op has removed Sunset Yellow from all own-label products.

Sunset Yellow contamination was discovered only last month.

Roha Caleb, the Indian company which imported the Sunset Yellow contaminated with Sudan 1, is one of the world's two largest manufacturers of artificial food colourings.

It has some of the most sophisticated manufacturing and testing laboratories in the world. A spokesman said only one batch in 15 of Sunset Yellow had been found to contain Sudan 1 and even then only at very low levels.

He said the amount of Sudan 1 in a final food product would be so low as to be virtually undetectable.

Roha Caleb has been praised by the FSA for its efforts in removing the Sudan 1 from the food chain.

A number of smaller firms also make Sunset Yellow using the same processes.

The Food and Drink Federation, which represents manufacturers, said it had only just been informed about the Sudan 1 risk with Sunset Yellow.

A spokesman said: "The FSA has said this is not illegal, but we have not been given any further advice than that.

"We always rely on the FSA for guidance and information in these matters."

Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.