MBS lifts ban on tartrazine found in SOBO Orange Squash


By Duncan Mlanjira 

Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) has lifted the ban on the use of food additive tartrazine that was being used by Castel Malawi in the production of the most popular drink SOBO Orange Squash that was pulled off the market.

When it was discovered last year that Castel was using tartrazine additive in the production of SOBO Orange Squash, MBS ordered the company to stop the practice, which Castel complied though it explained that use of tartrazine is not altogether banned worldwide.

The sediments that appeared after longer storage

Then in March, MBS further ordered Castel to withdraw all Sobo Orange Squash from the market after MBS had done laboratory tests on the product, following queries from the public that it was showing some suspension of sediments.

The public who had consumed the SOBO drink had complained that they were affected with some stomach upsets and that after a while of storage it had started to show signs of sedimentation and fermentation — a process that converts sugar to acids, gases or alcohol.

It has taken a year for MBS to investigate worldwide practice on the use of additive tartrazine, more so after concerned food manufacturers, importers and distributors themselves asked the regulator to reconsider its decision,  noting that tartrazine is permitted for use in beverages in some countries.


A press statement from MBS says it based its first order for Castel to stop using tartrazine based on MS 237:2008, Food Additives – General Standard, which is based on an international standard developed by the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) Codex Alimentarius Commission.

The standard provides a list of permitted food additives and the limits of their use in food, covering the following functional classes, among others; acidity regulators, anticaking agents, antioxidants, carbonating agents, colourants, colour retention agents, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, flour treatment agents, foaming agents, packaging gases, preservatives, raising agents, stabilizers, sweeteners, thickeners.

An MBS lab technician

Tartrazine falls under the functional class ‘colourants’ but based on the Malawi Standard MS 237, the MBS in 2018 banned its use in beverages because the standard did not permit its use. 

MBS says: “The standard at the time only allowed the use of tartrazine in the following categories of foods:

*Flavoured fluid milk drinks

*Smoked, dried, fermented, and/or salted fish and fish products, including mollusks, crustaceans, and echinoderms

*Fully preserved, including canned or fermented fish and fish products, including mollusks, crustaceans, and echinoderms; and

*Soups and broths

“The MBS therefore issued an Order to manufacturers, importers and distributors for them to withdraw from the market all beverages containing this food additive, because MS 237 did not permit its use.

“Following this ban, the MBS in 2019 received a request from affected stakeholders for the MBS to reconsider its decision of banning the use of tartrazine in beverages, noting that tartrazine is permitted for use in beverages in some countries.

“As part of our efforts to facilitate the development of Malawi standards, we gathered information on the use of tartrazine in beverages and other foods.

“The information gathered further indicated that while tartrazine may cause allergic reactions among asthmatics and aspirin intolerant people, it does not pose a significant health hazard.

“Examples of effects in people who consume a food containing the food additive include urticaria (allergic skin rash), rhinitis (runny nose), asthma and hyperactivity in children.

“It was further noted that countries that permit the use of tartrazine require that where tartrazine has been used in food, the expression ‘contains tartrazine’ should be included on the label, to ensure that those that may be affected by it should refrain from consuming foods that contain this food additive.”

Products that replaced SOBO Squash

MBS further says after gathering information, it convened a technical committee meeting on alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages on 4th October 2019, where it was recommended to adopt the provision to permit the use of tartrazine in some products covered by some Malawi standards based on the limits set by the European Union Registration (94/36/EC). 

“The committee further agreed that where tartrazine is used, the expression ‘contains tartrazine’ should appear on the label of the product.

“These recommendations were subsequently approved on 28 October, 2019 to permit the use of tartrazine in products covered by the following Malawi standards and within stipulated limits:

*MS 18:2010 – Carbonated soft drinks – specification (100mg/kg)

*MS 177:2016 – Fruit squashes – specification (100mg/kg)

*MS 208:2014 – Opaque beer – specification (200mg/kg)

*MS 619:2016 – Fruit juices and nectars – specification (100mg/kg)

*MS 623:2017 – Maheu – specification (100mg/kg)

*MS 747:2010 – Fruit flavoured drinks – specification (100mg/kg)

*MS 1383:2017 – Fruit cordials – specification (100mg/kg)

*MS 1387:2017 – Flavoured drink in solid form- specification (100mg/kg)

*MS 1392:2017 – Fruit juice drinks – specification (100mg/kg)

*MS 1393:2017 – Fruit based soft drinks with milk – specification (100mg/kg)

Consequently, MBS says it has now has lifted the ban on use of food additive tartrazine in beverages such as squashes, cordials and other flavoured drinks with immediate effect.

“MBS assures the General public that it will continue to monitor compliance do all relevant products on the market against the requirements of the applicable mandatory Malawi Standards,” says the statement.

Castel complied with the order not to use tartrazine as well as to withdraw the product from the market after it was showing some suspension of sediments, but stopped manufacturing much sought after and historical product even though the MBS did not order so.

Castel’s spokesperson Titha Mbilizi, in responding to our questionnaire sent to her on Thursday, acknowledged that MBS had furnished them with the lifting of the ban statement.

But her short response was: “As a company producing beverages, the reversal of this ban is a positive development.”

We wanted to find out if the suspension of sediments in the Squash packaging was due to fact that Castel stopped the use of tartrazine.

Meanwhile, the public is excited with this lifting of the ban on tartrazine, hoping that Castel will now start production of the SOBO Squash, which the public has missed since May this year.