Ancient cultures employed naturally occurring color additives from mineral and vegetable sources to color meals, medicines, and cosmetics. Examples include paprika, turmeric, saffron, iron and lead oxides, and copper sulfate. Early Egyptians utilized synthetic colors in their hair dyes and cosmetics. At least 300 BC marked the origin of wine’s artificial coloring.

William Henry Perkin made the first synthetic organic food colour, known as mauve, in 1856. Similar dyes were soon discovered, and they were immediately employed to color foods, medicines, and cosmetics, These dyes were first referred to as “coal-tar colors” because they were made from waste materials from the processing of coal.

The 1880s saw the start of federal regulation of color additives. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Bureau of Chemistry started researching the use of colors in food in 1881, it was one of the first major public projects the country ever undertook. The first items for which artificial coloring was permitted by the federal government were butter and cheese.

By 1900, the majority of foods, medicines, and cosmetics sold in the United States had artificial coloring. However, not all coloring substances were benign, and some were being used to cover up subpar or flawed goods. When the chemicals used to color food were carefully examined, it was discovered that numerous obviously toxic substances, including lead, arsenic, and mercury, were added. The toxicities of the raw ingredients used to create coloring agents were often well recognized and might range from poisons to irritants to sensitizers to cancers.

Act on Food and Drugs. The Food and Drugs Act, approved by Congress in 1906, forbade the coloring or staining of food in order to hide flaws or defects as well as the use of dangerous or harmful colors in sweets. The first enforcement agency for this law was the USDA. Seven straight colors that were permitted for use in food were listed in Food Inspection Decision (F.I.D.) 76, which was published by the USDA in 1907. Early in the century, later F.I.D.s identified additional colors and introduced a procedure for optional certification.

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