Like other food additives, azo dyes can be used in a range of foodstuffs, including soft drinks, bakery products, desserts, sauces, seasonings and confectionery. European Union legislation specifies in which foods they can be used and the maximum amounts that can be added per food type (see legal information).
Sulphonated mono azo dyes encompass a group counting six chemically related colours: Allura Red AC ( E 129), Amaranth (E 123), Ponceau 4R (E 124), Sunset Yellow (E 110), Tartrazine (E 102) and Azorubine/Carmoisine (E 122). In addition, azo dyes also encompass the food colours Brilliant Black BN (E 151) (diazo dye), Brown HT (E 155) (diazo dye) and Lithol Rubine BK (E 180) (mono azo pigment).
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) published a statement on azo dyes in 2013. The relevant committee concluded that, following the assessment of new scientific data and based on the carcinogenicity studies available, there is no evidence that azo dyes are carcinogenic. However, the EFSA recommended conducting new tests to clarify uncertainties in regards to possible genotoxicity. Genotoxicity is the ability of a substance to damage DNA, the genetic information of cells. To date, all the evidence points to azo dyes being non-genotoxic.
Furthermore, presumed connections between the ingestion of individual colourings and hyperactivity in children could also not be confirmed. In their expert report from 2008, EFSA experts came to the same conclusion as made in the later assessments, namely that the present scientific findings, including the Southampton Study, showed no evidence of a causal link between individual colourings and potential effects on behaviour (hyperactivity).
Link EFSA FAQs on colours in foods and feed