FDA allows natural blue from spirulina as food coloring

August 19, 2013

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has amended the color additive regulations to provide for the safe use of spirulina extract made from the dried biomass of the cyanobacteria Arthrospira platensis, as a color additive in candy and chewing gum. This action is in response to a petition filed by Mars Inc. in January 2012.

Spirulina is a blue-green filamentous cyanobacteria that occurs naturally in freshwater and marine habitats. It has a long history as a food in many countries. Spirulina contains chlorophyll and phycobilins, which absorb sunlight and have a role in photosynthesis. The phycobilins found in spirulina are phycocyanins, which are blue and, together with chlorophyll, give spirulina its characteristic blue-green color.

The FDA has determined that because the amount of the color additive used in food is self-limiting, there is no need for a specific upper limit for the color additive or phycocyanin content. Therefore, the FDA is limiting the use of spirulina extract in candy and chewing gum to amounts consistent with good manufacturing practice. In addition to specification limits for lead, arsenic, and mercury, the FDA requires that the color additive be negative for microcystin toxin, which is produced by some species of cyanobacteria that could be potentially present in the water where A. platensis is grown and harvested.

This rule is effective Sept. 13, 2013.

Federal Register notice