Activated charcoal is not a permitted food additive, say food safety officials

Black coffee with activated carbon. Photograph used for representational purposes only   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Some food trends become an instant hit, others not so much. However, the recent fad involving activated charcoal has prompted the Food Safety Department to step in. The department has now written to all food establishments in the city not to use activated charcoal in proprietary food. The reason: activated charcoal is not a permitted food additive, say officials and nutritionists.

A. Ramakrishnan, designated officer, Tamil Nadu Food Safety Department, Chennai, said the department has written to all food establishments in the city not to use activated charcoal in proprietary food. This would include all Indian recipes such as dosa, idli, sambar and pongal, and not snacks.

“Activated charcoal is not mentioned in the food additives list. It is not permitted as an additive for batter in the additive regulations,” he said.

A senior doctor of Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital said activated charcoal was a “universal antidote” for poisoning such as in the case of pesticide or plant poisoning. “It is powdered charcoal that is activated with nascent oxygen to increase its absorbing capacity. After a stomach wash, we give activated charcoal to absorb the leftover poison,” he said.

Meenakshi Bajaj, dietician, Tamil Nadu Government Multi Super Speciality Hospital, said activated charcoal was being used in food in different parts of the world, and as a “detox” drink.. “I have heard about black ice cream, black burgers, black pizza, black dosa, waffles, drinks and so on. It is a fad, but it is important to talk about the science. There is no research to say how safe it is when consumed. As per the US Food and Drug Administration, activated charcoal is not considered a valid dietary ingredient, or a food additive, and is not an approved colour additive,” she said.

The medicinal use of activated charcoal was to treat drug overdoses and poisoning. It has had environmental uses too in filtering water, purifying air, and historically in cheese making, she added.

She said that there are a list of certain medications that are known to have interactions with activated charcoal, and those with existing medical conditions involving the gastrointestinal tract could worsen their symptoms if they consume activated charcoal. “Activated charcoal sometimes has add on sorbitol when consumed in food may lead to diarrhoea. Certain other side effects on consumption of activated charcoal could be dehydration, vomiting, stomach pain or swelling and black stool. In addition, there are no studies that show it is safe in paediatrics and geriatrics,” she said.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 1:09:17 PM |

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