What Is Tartrazine Allergy?

  • Kim La Roche BSc Biomedical Science, University of Warwick, UK

Definition and overview of tartrazine allergy:

According to the FDA, a colour additive is any dye, pigment or other substance that is added to food , drug or cosmetic or to the human body. Tartrazine is a synthetic dye also known as yellow #5. Tartrazine is the most widespread colour used in food and drugs.  Tartrazine allergy Despite its widespread use, adverse effects observed with the use of tartrazine are rare, with reactions triggered by the immune system (immediate and delayed-type hypersensitivity) and non-immune (intolerance). However, allergic reactions may occur in atopic individuals. Documented reactions are mild and include mainly the skin and rarely anaphylaxis.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28407952/ 

The safety of tartrazine was conducted by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) in 1964.  Tartrazine identity, purity criteria and toxicological data and defined an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 0–7.5 mg/kg body weight (b.w.).  Among the many additives to food, such as preservatives, antioxidants, emulsifiers, stabilisers, flavours and sweeteners, colourants are usually added to food to impart colour.

Importance Of food  colour:

  • Colouring agents  (colourants) are added to food to improve its appearance and make it better appealing, attractive and appetising  to customers
  • To offset colour loss from exposure to extreme conditions of temperature or light, air, and moisture.
  • Enhance colours that appear naturally
  • Provide colour to colourless products *fun foods*
  • Colours are also useful for the identification of products on sight

What is tartrazine? 

Tartrazine is a yellow organic dye used to colour food. This could also be known as E number E102,  It belongs to a family called Azo dyes, they are artificial and do not occur naturally. These azo dyes are used in textiles, food, leather C.I.19140, FD&C Yellow 5, Yellow 5 Lake, Acid Yellow 23, Food Yellow 4, and  trisodium 1-(4-sulfonate phenyl)-4-(4-sulfonate phenyl azo)-5-pyrazolone-3-carboxylate

Importance of understanding tartrazine allergy 

Since tartrazine is commonly used in food , it is crucial to be aware if a person is allergic to it . Although tartrazine allergies are rare, they occur in atopic individuals that are individuals who are prone to allergies.  Allergies can increase the risk of several medical conditions, and in serious cases, they may lead to shock and death.  

Prevalence of tartrazine allergy

 Tartrazine appears to cause the most allergic and intolerance reactions of all the azo dyes, particularly among asthmatics and those with an aspirin intolerance. Symptoms from tartrazine sensitivity can occur by either ingestion or cutaneous exposure to a substance containing tartrazine. Symptoms appear after periods of time ranging from minutes up to 14 hours. According to the FDA, tartrazine causes hives in fewer than 1 in 10,000 people, or 0.01%, and is thus not commonly experienced .

Common sources of tartrazine 

Products in which tartrazine is used as a colourant are products that are green or yellow in colour. A list of products coloured with tartrazine includes: 

Tartrazine in food and beverages, when contained in food, is labelled as "Tartrazine or E102". 

  •  Soft drinks
  •  Processed snacks/ cereals
  •  Desserts and candies
  •  Food condiments

Non-food products

  • Medications
  • Cosmetics and personal care products

Signs and symptoms of tartrazine allergy:

Tartrazine allergies begin within minutes to 14 hours of exposure to the product. Allergic reactions range from Skin reactions (itching, hives), Respiratory symptoms (wheezing, shortness of breath), Gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting)

Delayed allergic reactions

  • Behavioural issues (hyperactivity in children)
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Asthma exacerbation

Managing tartrazine allergy

Total avoidance is the most common way to deal with tartrazine sensitivity. Preventive measures involve reading food labels, identifying hidden sources, informing your pharmacist about your allergies when selecting medications , and using alternative products or substitutions. Over-the-counter medications  such as antihistamines, steroids, and bronchodilators can be used to relieve allergic  symptoms like skin rash, and respiratory symptoms used for allergic reactions can be used in the management of individuals manifesting tartrazine allergy. 

Points to note

The most common manifestation of tartrazine allergy is hives ( urticaria) As a member of the azo class, tartrazine is still a potential food carcinogen.


A hypersensitive reaction to the artificial food dye tartrazine is called a tartrazine allergy, commonly referred to as a Yellow 5 allergy. A lot of food and beverage items, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics employ tartrazine as a colouring agent. 

Symptoms: Tartrazine allergies can present with a wide range of symptoms, from minor to serious. Skin rashes, hives, itching, nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, swelling of the face, lips, or tongue (angioedema), gastrointestinal disturbances, and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction characterised by difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness..

Causes: The primary cause of tartrazine allergy is an abnormal immune response to tartrazine, a synthetic azo dye. When individuals with this allergy consume or come into contact with products containing tartrazine, their immune system recognizes it as a threat and produces allergic reactions..


Can you be allergic to tartrazine?

Yes , it is possible to be allergic to tartrazine. some individuals can develop an allergic reaction when they consume food that contains tartrazine. 

How common is tartrazine allergy?

Tartrazine allergy is relatively rare compared to other food allergies , but it does exist.

What foods contain tartrazine?

Tartrazine (Yellow 5) is a commonly used food dye and can be found in a wide range of processed foods and beverages. Some examples of products that may contain tartrazine include Soft drinks and fruit-flavored beverages; packaged snacks such as chips, candy, and gum; Jellies, jams, and desserts; sauces and salad dressings, Cereals and instant soups; certain medications (check with a pharmacist), Cosmetics and personal care products (e.g., makeup, lotions, and shampoos). It's important to read ingredient labels carefully if you have a tartrazine allergy, as it can be listed as "tartrazine," "E102" (its European food additive code), or simply as "Yellow 5."

How does tartrazine affect the body?

The specific allergic symptoms can vary widely but may include skin reactions (rashes, hives), respiratory symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, difficulty breathing), gastrointestinal issues (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea), and, in severe cases, anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction.

How do I manage tartrazine allergy?

It's important for individuals with a tartrazine allergy to avoid products containing this dye to prevent allergic reactions and seek prompt medical attention if they experience severe symptoms.


  1. Feketea, G., & Tsabouri, S. (2017). Common food colorants and allergic reactions in children: Myth or reality? Food Chemistry, 230, 578–588. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2017.03.043
  2. JECFA . Specifications for the identity and purity of food additives and their toxicological evaluation: food colours and some antimicrobials and antioxidants, eighth report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives 8-17 December. Geneva: World Health Organization; 1964. [PubMed] [Google Scholar] [Ref list]
  3. https://www.fda.gov/industry/color-additives/color-additives-history
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28407952/
  5. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9241203099
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preservative
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Ihuman Patience

B. Pharm. Madonna University

Ihuman is a seasoned pharmacist with years of experience spanning community pharmacy, hospitals, and public health sectors. She is dedicated to improving healthcare outcomes and wellbeing supported by her depth of knowledge in these fields. She specializes in unraveling complex medical concepts and making health information simple, drawing on her strong pharmaceutical background. Her commitment to accessibility and health makes her a reliable resource for readers looking for insightful information on medicine, healthcare, and general wellbeing.

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