Is caramel color safe? 

Is caramel color safe? The answer is yes – caramel colors have been deemed safe by all major global food regulatory bodies, including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee for Food Additives (JECFA)Codex Alimentariusthe European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Health Canada. Here’s why: 

Background 

The question around the safety of caramel color arose when California added a chemical found in class III and IV caramel colors called 4-Methylimidizole, or 4-MEI, to their Prop-65 list. Adding it was based on a controversial study by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) from 2007. The 2-year study on mice showed an increased incidence of certain lung tumors when they consumed 4-MEI. However, the levels of 4-MEI given to the mice far exceeded the normal amount humans would be exposed to when consuming food or beverages – an amount equivalent to a human drinking thousands of cans of cola every single day throughout their life. 

 What is 4-MEI? 

4-MEI is a chemical compound that naturally forms during the cooking of food and beverage items we consume on a regular basis: coffee, cooked meat, baked goods, etc. Since caramel colors are created by cooking sugars, 4-MEI is naturally formed during the manufacture of certain products – specifically class III and IV caramels. 4-MEI is not present in Class I and II caramels and 4-MEI itself is never added to foods or beverages. 

4-MEI occurs in very low levels in caramel colors. And since caramel is often used at dosage rates of around 0.1%-2.0% in final products, the occurrence of 4-MEI from caramel color in finished goods is miniscule. 

But since it was added to the Prop-65 list, in order to comply with California law, many caramel manufacturers (including us!) began to innovate new methods of cooking class III and IV caramel colors that resulted in even lower levels than already occur, called low 4-MEI caramels, some of which have levels so low they can be difficult to detect in the caramel color, let alone the finished product. 

 Safety Studies 

In order to ensure continued consumer safety, many studies on the safety of caramel color and the recommended daily intake levels on 4-MEI have been carried out since the controversial 2007 NTP study was published. 

In a review of the scientific literature on 4-MEI, EFSA found that the highest exposure level to 4-MeI that could result from the consumption of foods containing class III and IV caramels was not concerning. 

Interested in reading more about the safety of caramel color? Check out these resources: 

Related posts

Color Matching

Color matching is often necessary when customers switch natural color suppliers or move from synthetic to natural colors. In both cases, we need to match the original color as closely as possible. But how do we do this? We’ll show you using the example of

Video: How We Color Match

We often work with customers that are either switching natural color suppliers or moving from synthetic to natural colors. In both cases, we need to match the original color as closely as possible. Our Senior Applications Scientist, Katie Rountree, explains

Infographic
Top 5 Considerations When Choosing a Natural Color

There are hundreds of different types of natural colors from dozens of different sources and choosing the best natural color for your product can seem daunting. So, we’ve selected the top 5 key factors that influence color choice for a specific

Infographic
How is Caramel Color Made?

How is Caramel Color Made? In simple terms, caramel color is made by cooking carbohydrates. It is similar to how you would make caramel on a stovetop – you heat sugar until the color changes from white to dark brown. But in order to create large

What are
Natural Colors?

Unfortunately, there is no formal definition of the word “natural colors” by food authorities, like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States or the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Europe. To us, however, natural food colors are

How is Caramel Color Made?

In simple terms, caramel color is made by cooking carbohydrates. It is similar to how you would make caramel on a stovetop – you heat sugar until the color changes from white to dark brown. But in order to create large quantities that are stable

FEATURED CONTENT

Color Matching
Video: How We Color Match

SUBSCRIBE TO GET UPDATES WHEN WE POST NEW CONTENT!