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Food Safety Focus (89th Issue, December 2013) – Food Incident Highlight

Copper Complexes of Chlorophyll and Chlorophyllin in Food

Recently, various food products available in Taiwan have been found to contain copper complexes of chlorophyll and chlorophyllin. The incident has raised public concern on the possible toxic effects due to the presence of copper ion in these complexes.

Copper is an essential nutrient naturally present in food. It plays a vital role in a number of important enzyme systems and is closely linked with normal cellular metabolism. The colouring matters chlorophyll copper complex (INS 141(i)) and chlorophyllin copper complex, sodium and potassium salt (INS 141(ii)) are derived from the plant pigment chlorophyll and are used to give green colour to foods such as snacks, cooked vegetables, soups, seasonings and condiments. Evaluation conducted by the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has shown that ingested chlorophyll is excreted in faeces. In addition, the copper present in these complexes is firmly bound, therefore, normal consumption of these colouring matters causes no adverse effects to human health.

In Hong Kong, INS 141(i) and INS 141(ii) are permitted colouring matters. The Codex Alimentarius Commission has also set up standards for these colouring matters in different food commodities. Traders are advised to use food additives in accordance with Good Manufacturing Practice to achieve the desired technological effect and label their food products properly.