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Is it safe to put food Colouring in drinks?

Adding a splash of color to drinks can make them more fun and appetizing. But is it actually safe to put food coloring in beverages? Here is a comprehensive look at the safety, uses, and effects of food coloring in drinks.

Is Food Coloring Approved for Use in Drinks?

In the United States and many other countries, most food colorings are considered safe for use in food and beverages when used appropriately. Food coloring additives must be approved by the FDA or other food regulatory agencies before being allowed on the market.

The FDA places approved color additives into two categories:

  • Certified color additives – Synthetic colors that are approved for use in food, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices. There are 9 certified color additives approved for use in foods and beverages.
  • Exempt color additives – Colors derived from natural sources like plants, minerals, and animals. There are more than 80 exempt additives on the FDA’s list.

Both certified and exempt color additives are regulated by the FDA for safety. Each approved coloring has an Allowable Daily Intake (ADI) limit that determines the maximum amount considered safe to consume per day. As long as coloring is used within the ADI limits, it is considered safe for addition to foods and drinks.

FDA-Approved Food Colorings for Beverages

Here are some of the more commonly used FDA-approved food colorings that are safe for use in drinks when not exceeded ADI limits:

  • FD&C Blue No. 1 – A bright blue synthetic color, typically used in baked goods, candy, cereals, and ice cream. ADI limit is 12.5 mg/kg body weight.
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5 – A tartrazine synthetic yellow, used in pickles, cereals, puddings, and confections. ADI limit is 5 mg/kg body weight.
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6 – A sunny yellow synthetic, often used in cereals, ice pops, candies. ADI limit is 5 mg/kg body weight.
  • FD&C Red No. 40 – A rich red synthetic coloring in fruit cocktail cherries, pie fillings, gelatins. ADI limit is 7.5 mg/kg body weight.
  • Caramel Color – An exempt dark brown liquid made from heated carbohydrates. Used in colas, soy sauce, beer, etc. No set ADI limit.
  • Beta-carotene – An exempt orange pigment derived from plants like carrots. Used in margarine, salad dressings, cheese. No ADI limit.
  • Grape skin extract – An exempt purple coloring from grapes used in beverages, jams, candy. No ADI limit.

The safety of these approved food colorings has been validated through extensive toxicological testing prior to market approval.

Do Artificial Food Dyes Cause Health Issues?

While FDA-approved food dyes are considered safe for most people when used properly, there has been some controversy around artificial food coloring’s impact on behavioral disorders in children.

Studies have associated artificial food dye consumption with increased hyperactivity in children with ADHD. An analysis of 24 studies found that artificial food colors may exacerbate hyperactivity symptoms in children with ADHD.

Based on these findings, the FDA requires warning labels on foods with synthetic colorings alerting that they may affect children’s behavior. The European Union requires products containing artificial dyes to carry a label warning of potential adverse effects on activity and attention in children.

That said, the evidence confirming food dyes definitively cause hyperactivity is not conclusive. The FDA states that a causal relationship has not been established between food coloring and behavioral effects. More research is needed.

While adverse behavioral effects from artificial dye consumption do not appear to impact all children, limiting food coloring may be beneficial for some hyperactive kids. But for children without sensitivities, the small amounts of dye used to color drinks are likely safe.

Are Natural Food Colorings Safer?

Since there are lingering questions around artificial food dyes, some people prefer using natural colorings made from fruit, vegetable, and mineral sources.

Natural colorings like turmeric, spirulina, carrot juice, and beet powder are exempted from certification since they come from safe, whole food sources. They are considered safe alternatives to artificial dyes.

However, natural colorings also have drawbacks. Plant-based colors may impart more subtle hues than synthetic dyes. And they can sometimes add unintended flavors to a dish or drink.

Nonetheless, health-conscious consumers often favor natural food coloring choices. When unsure, natural vegetable- and fruit-based dyes are smart options for adding color to drinks.

Daily Intake Concerns

While approved food colorings are considered safe at ADI levels, some health experts worry that people may regularly exceed daily limits, especially children.

Since colorings are added to many different foods and drinks, total daily intakes can add up. Combining colored foods and beverages throughout the day could potentially surpass ADI limits, particularly in kids with diets high in artificially colored foods.

Per capita, children consume more food coloring than adults since they tend to eat more brightly colored foods. One study found that children ages 2-5 consumed 75% more food coloring on average than older age groups.

Consuming food coloring occasionally in moderation is not a significant concern. But regularly exceeding ADI levels, especially in children with hyperactivity risks, may have health impacts. Monitoring overall dye consumption is prudent.

Typical Amounts of Dye in Beverages

Here are approximate amounts of dye per 8 oz serving of some typically colored drinks, according to CSPI estimates:

Beverage Food Coloring Approx. Amount
Soda (12 oz can) Caramel color 18.6 mg
Fruit drink powder Red 40, Blue 1 31.0 mg
Orange soda Yellow 6 15.3 mg
Gatorade (20 oz) Red 40, Blue 1 41.5 mg
Kool-aid (8 oz) Red 40, Blue 1 22.1 mg

A 12 oz can of soda with caramel coloring may contain around one-third of a child’s ADI for that additive. Drinking multiple colored beverages per day could lead to high cumulative intakes.

Alternative Uses for Food Coloring

While using dyes in drinks and other foods is common, food coloring can have many other fun, creative uses besides coloring foods. Here are some examples of alternative ways to use food coloring:

  • Tie-dye clothing – Make homemade tie-dye shirts by adding squirts of dye to damp clothing and covering with rubber bands.
  • Colorful play dough – Mix a few drops of dye into plain play dough or slime to make colorful, customizable play items.
  • Homemade fingerpaints – Add food coloring to cornstarch and water to whip up edible homemade fingerpaint.
  • Color mixing experiments – Mixing primary dye colors together makes secondary colors, teaching color theory.
  • Water coloring play – Add drops of coloring to water tables or bins for coloring and water play.
  • Colorful bathtub paints – Squirt bath-safe dye into the tub or onto wet fiber paintbrushes for colorful painting.
  • Rainbow writing – Use dyes to color water in small bowls and let kids paint with the colored water using brushes.
  • Colorful bubbles – Add some dye into homemade bubble solution and blow colorful bubbles.

Food coloring provides a vibrant, fun, and safe way to add colorful flair to many kids’ activities beyond just food. But supervision is still important to prevent accidental ingestion or stains.

Risks of Improper Food Coloring Use

Using food coloring correctly as directed carries little risk for most people. However, consuming food dyes improperly or in excess can potentially cause harm.

Some risks of improper food coloring use include:

  • Hyperactivity in sensitive children
  • Exceeding ADI limits from overconsumption
  • Allergic reactions in those with sensitivities
  • Harm if dyes not approved for consumption are ingested
  • Choking hazard from accidental inhalation of powders

To use food coloring safely:

  • Only use dyes approved for food use
  • Follow package instructions carefully
  • Avoid excessive consumption beyond ADI limits
  • Supervise children during use
  • Store away from children to prevent accidental ingestion

Additionally, anyone with known allergies to food dyes should avoid consumption. Check labels when uncertain if a product contains problematic dyes.

Natural Alternatives to Food Coloring

People wishing to avoid synthetic dyes can use natural alternatives made from colored fruits, vegetables, and spices to color drinks and foods. Some options include:

  • Beets – Grate raw beets or use concentrated beet juice to produce a pink/purple color.
  • Matcha powder – The green tea powder makes a light green coloring.
  • Carrot juice – Juice carrots for an orange coloring.
  • Turmeric – Turmeric powder or fresh root infused in water makes a vibrant yellow.
  • Spinach – Blend spinach leaves and strain to yield a green liquid.
  • Blueberry juice – Boil blueberries and strain to produce a purple-blue dye.
  • Paprika – Add paprika powder to make a reddish hue.
  • Cranberry juice – Pure cranberry juice has a bright red pigment.

Experiment with mixing these plant-based ingredients to create custom natural food colorings in any hue. Start with small amounts and adjust to the desired intensity.

Storing Food Coloring

To maintain freshness and color potency, be sure to store food coloring properly:

  • Keep dyes away from light exposure which can cause fading.
  • Store in a cool, dry place like the pantry or cupboard.
  • Keep bottles tightly sealed when not in use.
  • Refrigeration can extend shelf life after opening.
  • Throw out if coloring becomes darkened, smells odd or grows mold.
  • Discard synthetic dyes 2-3 years after opening.
  • Toss natural dyes after 1 year once opened.

Properly stored, unopened food coloring can maintain optimal quality for several years. But opened bottles have shorter shelf lives. dated and discard if old or expired.


Adding coloring to drinks using FDA-approved food dyes is generally recognized as safe, as long as ADI limits are not grossly exceeded on a regular basis. While risks to children still need clarifying, moderate use of dye to color drinks occasional likely poses little harm.

However, it may be prudent to limit artificial dye consumption in children who are sensitive. Opting for natural vegetable- and fruit-based colorings is an easy way to avoid synthetic dyes when uncertain. And supervising kids to prevent excessive ingestion of dye is wise.

When used properly following guidelines, food coloring can be a fun, safe way to brighten up drinks for special occasions or everyday meals. But be sure to store dyes safely and discard if old or discolored.