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Replacing the Southampton 6


This factsheet looks at the issues involved in product reformulation as they relate to replacing synthetic colours with more natural alternatives. At Campden BRI, we can offer help in this and the full range of product development activities, including trials at pilot plant scale.

In 2007, scientists at Southampton University published results of research carried out to determine the effect of certain artificial colours and benzoate on hyperactivity in children. The Food Standards Agency concluded from the findings that these synthetic colours should be removed from all food product types voluntarily by the UK food industry, by 2009. Subsequent to this study the European Parliament adopted new labelling regulations for foods containing any of the food colours; these must be labelled with not only the relevant E number, but also with the words “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”.

The colours concerned are:

Recently, there has been a recommendation to lower the Acceptable Daily Intake of three of the colours (quinoline yellow, sunset yellow and ponceau 4R). This may mean that levels allowed in foodstuffs, or the range of foodstuffs in which they are permitted will be reduced.


In light of these studies the drive to replace these synthetic colours with either purified pigments from foodstuffs or just a concentrated highly coloured foodstuff has gained much more importance for food manufacturers. Unfortunately, these replacements are inherently more unstable than the synthetic colours that they are replacing, with resulting problems for food manufacturers looking to retain the same colour for the same shelf–life in their existing products. This is particularly the case for heavily heat processed products in transparent packaging with a long shelf–life. It is more difficult to replace and match a synthetic colours in an existing product than it is to develop a new product using natural colours.

In addition, the alternatives will individually never be an identical match to the original, and considerable expertise and experience is needed to reformulate the entire product. The main factors to consider when selecting natural colours are: