The holidays are coming to a full swing, and red and green cookies, orange cupcakes, and yellow and brown sprinkles are abundant. Every where you turn something is dyed in Hanukkah, Christmas, or fall colors.
But is all that food dye safe for you?
The answers are as mixed as the colors themselves. While normal food dyes increase, the Center for Science in the Public interest isn’t just concerned about the food dyes in the foods you consume. It’s also concerned about the amount of dyes in foods you don’t think have dyes in them or don’t realize may be harmful.
The Food and Drug Administration or FDA classifies dyes into two separate categories: Those that are derived from coal tar and petroleum and those that are natural dyes. Colors derived from a coal tar or petroleum base are labeled as FD&C, D&C or external D&C. Those natural dyes like orange annatto that dye cheese or the caramel that dyes Cola’s is considered safe and naturally derived.
But here’s the catch. The FDA requires that manufacturers pay a fee to the FDA for each pound of certified dye product that they use. In recent years, that has been twelve million pounds or more of food dye per year!
Food dyes are in everything. Wake up in the morning and take a shower. You’ve probably got some sort of dye in your shampoo or bar soap. Put on your makeup–you’ve got dyes in that. Get out of the shower and take your morning pills. Many pills have food dyes in them. Pour that bowl of cereal and you’ve probably got food dyes in your cereal. You are exposed to food dyes many, many times throughout the day. And is any of that safe for you?
The Center for Science in the Public Opinion says no. The CSPI was founded in 1971 and has led the way in requiring new laws and helping labeling efforts on products. Most recently, the CSPI was instrumental in getting Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to remove the words “all natural” from their ice cream products. Through their efforts they have also been able to enact a passage of laws that requires that food products be labeled for trans fat and is leading the way to get companies to remove trans fat and partially hydrogenated oils entirely from their products. They are also helping to redefine and distinguish the terms “all natural” and “organic.”
While both the FDA and CSPI claim that food dyes are better when taken from their natural state (from foods like beets, carrots, blueberries, etc.) they also state that in small amounts, they are safe to consume. But they don’t claim what small amounts are since they are in almost everything that we consume and use.
The FDA claims that many of the food dyes today are considered safe. They also claim that food dyes are some of the most highly regulated and studied of the many things they are responsible for maintaining. However, the CSPI argues that many European countries have phased out dyes entirely. That dyes make foods appear more attractive, and can be made to make even more natural food that contain fruits and vegetables more attractive.
For example, the CSPI did a study of strawberry Nutri Grain bars. In the US, the product strawberry filling contains Red No. 40, Yellow No. 6, and Blue No. 1. In Britain, the same strawberry filling in the Nutri Grain bar is colored with Beetroot, Annatto, and Paprika extract to achieve the same colors. Both products look identical to each other, but the later is able to obtain the color using natural ingredients. (CSPI, Food Dyes).
What we do know is this: Yellow No. 5 has been reportedly linked to itching and hives in some people. (A very small population of people). Some of the red dyes are are under watch and reportedly going through studies at this point and time. And some dyes have been banned in the past after many, many years on the market and usage in our foods. Never have they pulled carrot extract from usage because people are allergic to carrots. Or beet extract because people are allergic to beets. So while the FDA can claim that these food dyes are safe (and probably are in small dosages) nobody will dispute the fact that dyes from their natural states are worse to use than artificial colors.
So what’s the conclusion? The studies are still out. And will continue to be. For now, it’s personal choice as to if you should use or consume food dyes.
“Food Dyes, A Rainbow of Risks” by CSPI: http://www.cspinet.org/fooddyes/
“Color Additives in Food and Consumer Products and Your Health” http://www.ehso.com/ehshome/FoodAdd/foodadditivescolor.htm