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FDA approves use of higher levels of tomato lycopene to color processed meats, offering alternative to carmine, Red #40

LycoRed: Regulatory approval means manufacturers can now match vibrant pink/red shades they get from Red #40 or carmine using a more label-friendly alternative from tomatoes
LycoRed: Regulatory approval means manufacturers can now match vibrant pink/red shades they get from Red #40 or carmine using a more label-friendly alternative from tomatoes

The FDA has approved a petition from LycoRed seeking the green light to use higher levels of tomato lycopene to restore color to processed meats, giving manufacturers of sausages, deli meats and jerky an alternative to synthetic FD&C Red #40 and bug-derived carmine.

Cured meats, for example, can turn grey when exposed to light and oxygen, which is not a food safety issue, but can look unappetizing, and firms often add red color to restore the original color.

However, many manufacturers want to avoid using ‘artificial’ colors such as Red #40, and while carmine is an effective ‘natural’ alternative, it cannot be used in Kosher or Halal products because it is made from crushed cochineal beetles, LycoRed VP Business Development, North America Doug Lynch told FoodNavigator-USA.

Carmine is also on Whole Foods’ ‘unacceptable ingredients list'  noted Lynch, and while caramel colors can be added to many meat products, they deliver a more brownish than reddish hue, which is not right for every application, he said.

The new limits allow manufacturers to match the shades they get from Red #40 or carmine

“Tomato lycopene was approved in ready-to-eat meat products before, but at such incredibly low levels that the best you could hope for was to turn a product from grey to a super light pink shade, so up to this point we were really limited to coloring meat analogs.

“The new limits allow manufacturers to match the shades they get from Red #40 or carmine using a label-friendly alternative from tomatoes.”

While most other natural red colors change color when exposed to heat and light, LycoRed has developed tomato lycopene extracts and concentrates specifically formulated to withstand high temperatures in fatty food matrices, said Lynch.

From a pricing perspective, the aim is to be "cost-neutral to carmine", he said, noting that carmine prices have been extremely volatile in recent years, while it is relatively easy for LycoRed to grow more tomatoes to meet growing demand.

“We’ve been approached by some major players that are interested in our TomatoRed products for RTE meats.”

Click HERE to read about the FDA approval for the use of tomato lycopene extract and tomato lycopene concentrate as a coloring agent in RTE meat products.

Click HERE to read about the challenges around using natural reds in dairy and bakery applications.

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