Canthaxanthin in Food


  1. There have been media reports concerning the safety of canthaxanthin in salmon.

What is Canthaxanthin

  1. Canthaxanthin is a type of carotenoid pigment with an orange-red colour.
  2. It occurs naturally in many foods such as mushrooms, crustaceans, fish and eggs. The pigment has also been produced by chemical synthesis.

Use of Canthaxanthin

  1. Canthaxanthin (INS161g) is primarily used as a feed additive for animals. It can lead to a more intensely-coloured egg yolk and flesh from poultry, and a more reddish colour for salmon.
  2. It can also be used as a colour additive in foods. Nevertheless, its use for such purpose is less common than as feeding stuffs for animals.

Safety of Canthaxanthin

  1. Some studies have shown that a high intake of canthaxanthin would lead to deposition of the pigments in the retina.
  2. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has evaluated the safety of canthaxanthin and allocated an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 0 - 0.03 mg/kg body weight in 1995. ADI is an estimate of the amount of a substance in food or drinking water, expressed on a body weight basis, that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without appreciable risk.
  3. JECFA considered that indirect exposure to canthaxanthin from its use as a feed colourant is the major source of intake, and concluded in its evaluation in 2000 that use of this feed additive would not result in long-term dietary intake that exceeded the current ADI.
  4. The International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC) has not evaluated the carcinogenicity of canthaxanthin. Nevertheless, there was no evidence for its carcinogenicity in animal studies according to JECFA's evaluations.

Overseas Situation

  1. Canthaxanthin is a permitted colour additive in foods and animal feeds in many countries including the EU (European Union) countries, the US and Canada .
  2. The Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) of EU has assigned the same ADI of 0.03 mg/kg body weight in 1997.
  3. Furthermore, the EU has established maximum residue limits for canthaxanthin in food of animal origin based on the European Food Safety Authority's adopted opinion e.g. 10 mg canthaxanthin/ kg muscle (wet tissue) in salmon and 5 mg canthaxanthin/ kg muscle (wet tissue) in trout etc.
  4. Under the Codex General Standard for Food Additives, canthaxanthin is permitted in fresh eggs (for decoration, stamping, marking or branding the product) with Good Manufacturing Practice.

Situation in Hong Kong

  1. In Hong Kong , canthaxanthin is a permitted colouring matter for food use under the Colouring Matter in Food Regulations (Cap 132H).
  2. As canthaxanthin is also permitted for use in animal feeds in various countries, the public may be exposed to canthaxanthin from a variety of food including salmon, poultry and poultry products.

Advice to the Public

  1. To take a balanced diet so as to avoid excessive exposure to food additives from a small range of food items.
  2. Usual consumption of foodstuffs is not likely leading to adverse health effects arising from exposure to canthaxanthin.

Risk Assessment Section
Centre for Food Safety
January 2009