Condemnable colours

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Condemnable colours


Instead of authentic food colours, some outlets are using substandard materials that put human health at risk

Condemnable colours

Some 10 to 15 years back, the use of food colours for domestic use was not so common, but now they have become an integral part of almost every household kitchen, Image: File

ISLAMABAD: Besides the taste, the colour of food makes it more attractive. And for this purpose, the usage of food colouring agents, especially at the commercial food outlets, is quite common.

But the worrying factor is that, instead of authentic food colours, some substandard materials that are used for textile dying and other purposes, are used to give colour to the food items, consequently putting the health of consumers at risk.

Some 10 to 15 years back, the use of food colours for domestic use was not so common, but now they have become an integral part of almost every household kitchen, said housewife Salama Aslam while talking to Bol News.

The growing demand for food colouring agents — both for domestic as well as for commercial use — and due to the lack of proper quality control check, a large number of substandard foods colour traders have flooded the local market, exposing the users to various stomach and skin-related diseases.

After the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture was devolved to the provinces and all the four provinces had established food authorities to regulate relevant affairs and to maintain the standard and hygiene of food items being sold in their respective provinces. But it was generally noted that the provincial food authorities did not have any set mechanism to regulate the sale and use of food colours, especially at the commercial level.


A wholesale food colour dealer at the Narankari Bazaar informed Bol News that he had been in the business for well over four decades and was dealing in the locally manufactured food colouring agents.

He said that right from sweets to beverages and locally made toffees and chocolates, the food colouring agents are an essential part in the manufacturing of products.

He added that there are people in the business who are selling textile dying agents in the guise of food colours.

Another shopkeeper in the Naswari Bazaar, who also deals in food colours, said that only a few major food outlets use authentic food colouring agents while others are using substandard food colours.

An owner of a restaurant said that he uses food colouring agents in items like chicken tikka, kebab and karahi to give a ‘mouth-watering’ look. He apprised that he uses permitted yellow food colour for chicken tikka to give it a golden look. However, he accused some other food sellers of using zinc-based dying colour for the said purpose, which is far cheaper than the quality ‘food grade’ colour.

Similarly, to give a golden-brown look to the naans and chapatis, the bakers use glucose-mixed water while baking them, Bol News has learnt.


A medical practitioner at the Mohalla Imambara has said that the use of colours, that are usually used for dying purposes, in the food items is hazardous for human health. Particularly, children who are consuming the locally manufactured substandard sweets and toffees are at a high risk of catching skin and stomach-related diseases.

To give the bright red colour to jalebi, a dying colour is used which is also used in the manufacturing of detergents, a shopkeeper dealing in food colours has informed.

He said that one can see people selling jalebi almost at every market of the city.

The officials at the Punjab Food Authority have said that they have strict regulations regarding the registration of food grade colours and all the brands of food colouring agents registered with the authority were adhering to the standard requirements.

The officials said that it was the duty of the officials of the metropolitan corporations and municipal committees to keep a watch on the food outlets to contain the use of dying colours or substandard food colouring agents that are not approved by the authority.

However, the traders in the wholesale business of food colours were of the view that without establishing strong and effective mechanism, the use of substandard food colours and dying colours, instead of authentic food colouring agents, in edible items could not be checked effectively.


The usage of colouring agents in food items dates back as early as 1600 BC when candy makers in Egypt used to add natural extracts and wine to improve the products’ appearance. The usage of food colours increased with growing urbanization at the beginning of the modern age when trade activities picked up pace, especially when the shipment of spices and colours gained popularity.

To regulate the usage of food colouring agents and their standards, the first food law was drafted in Augsburg (Germany) in 1531, mainly dealing with spices and food colours.


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