A new test developed by scientists in China will make the identification of Orange II, a toxic dye, much easier. The dye is used in OLEDs or organic light-emitting diodes and in manufacturing products in the textile industry. It is however, illegally used as a red color restorer in some chilies and sweets.
If consumed, the dye has numerous side effects, including affecting the red blood cell count and causing liver damage. It is essential therefore, to identify the presence of the dye in products that are intended for consumption. At the moment, this identification relies on scientific techniques such as polarography and mass spectrometry. These techniques use very complicated instruments and are unsuitable in certain conditions.
The new electromagnetic technique uses titanium-graphite electrodes to detect the dye. The method is more practical and can even identify very small concentrations in something like ketchup. However, further tests have to be carried out on the new technique to test its sensitivity. Gino Bontampelli, an expert in the University of Udine in Italy, said that quite a number of azo dyes (the class in which the Orange II dye belongs) share similar electrochemical characteristics. As a result of that, it would be rather difficult to differentiate the signals obtained using the new technique. The team has already started establishing the sensitivity of the electrodes to other azo dyes.
The chilies and sweets that have been found to occasionally contain the dye come from China and India and the new identification method will help food safety agencies protect consumers from imports that are potentially dangerous. With numerous alarming stories concerning food safety doing the rounds, this scientific achievement should come as good news, especially after it has been established that it is specific to the dye.