We are grateful to one of our readers, Brian, for bringing food dyes (scroll down for list) — specifically tartrazine, also known as “FD&C Yellow Number 5″ or “E-102″ — to our attention. Brian is one of many of the tens of thousands who suffered severe adverse effects from the food colorants/chemical additives prevalent in virtually all food retailed in the U.S. and beyond.
Tartrazine is a coal-tar derivative linked to asthma attacks and urticaria — an itchy skin eruption characterized by weals with pale interiors and well-defined red margins. Tartrazine is also linked to thyroid tumors, chromosomal damage, lupus and hyperactivity, and is banned in Norway and Austria.
“Tartrazine is a commonly used color all over the world, mainly for yellow, but can also be used with FD&C Blue 1, E133 or Green S E142 to produce various green shades.” The foods that contain tartrazine are too numerous to mention, but range from margarine to orange colored cheeses, Mountain Dew, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese — tartrazine is basically in any food that resembles a shade of yellow, or various shades of green, but can even be found in items like chocolate pudding and caviar.
Some twenty years ago, our friend Brian developed an underarm rash that was persistent for months, and plagued him around the clock. By the time Brian realized food colorants were at the source of his illness, his rash had expanded all the way to his waist, and parts of his chest and back. Brian resolved his food allergy by eliminating families of foods until the problem went away.
Needless to say, for years thereafter, Brian made a concerted effort to avoid food coloring at all costs. But as Brian points out, “While we can read a label on shelved foods in a store, often we never see or ask about the foods served us in a restaurant. Employees really don’t know about FD&C colors, and frankly many cook’s don’t know either.”
Recently, Brian was unwittingly exposed to tartrazine used as coloring in the pickles and sweet peppers from a submarine sandwich his friends bought at a grocery store. Brian ended up in the emergency room where he was administered steroids intravenously as well as Methylprednisolone, and Hydroxyzine HCL.
Brian’s experience is remarkably similar to what Margaret Collins describes on her website. “For about 10 years,” writes Collins, “I had mild eczema on one of my hands which came and went. I used a prescription cortizone cream which helped the itching some, but never got rid of the skin problem completely. When the condition started appearing on my face and neck, I started to worry.
“Every few weeks, I would get red circles and swelling around my eyes and mouth, as well as spots on my neck. These red spots would appear in the same places every time, and take up to 5 days to heal. After a few months, the redness never healed completely, it just varied in severity.”
Collins eventually discovered that the vitamins she was taking contained tartrazine. Once tartrazine was excluded from her system, her rash cleared up for the first time in several years. “But the prolonged daily exposure,” writes Collins, “has made me extra-sensitive to tartrazine. I have learned which foods to avoid in general, but every once in awhile something sneaks through and the symptoms come back. Unfortunately, now even a small amount of tartrazine triggers a painful (and unattractive) reaction that lasts for five days.”
Proposed Food Colorant Ban
U.S. food manufacturers are required to label products that contain tartrazine, and the FDA is expected to seize products found to contain tartrazine if the chemical is undeclared. In June of this year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged the FDA to ban three of the most commonly used dyes: Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.
A new CSPI report claims these dyes contain known carcinogens and contaminants that increase the risks of cancer, hyperactivity in children and allergic reactions. “These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody,” said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson, co-author of the report. “The Food and Drug Administration should ban dyes, which would force industry to color foods with real food ingredients, not toxic petrochemicals.”
The Food Standards Agency, an independent government agency in Great Britain, also suggests a link between hyperactivity in children and food coloring. Although last month in the European Union, foods containing some dyes began carrying warning labels indicating possible adverse effects of food colorants, “the European Commission — the EU executive, which proposes and administers legislation on behalf of EU countries — has opted not to push for a Europe-wide ban, contrary to the wishes of several influential consumer and health groups.”
Not surprisingly, the Grocery Manufacturers Association — who clearly have a vested interest — claimed that science shows food dyes are safe. “The safety of both artificial and natural colors has been affirmed through extensive review by the main global food safety bodies, including the US Food & Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority…It is important for consumers and policymakers to know that food dyes are widely studied and that the overwhelming majority of scientific evidence confirms the safety of artificial food colors.”
See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil
Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest notes in the Huffington Post that the FDA has recognized that Red food dye no. 3 is a carcinogen and that two widely used dyes contain cancer-causing contaminants, but has failed to take action. “In our new investigation,” writes Jacobson, “we found that Yellow 5 caused mutations in numerous studies and that most other food dyes have not been adequately tested.”
Jacobson claims Citrus Red 2 — known to cause bladder cancer in mice and rats — is used to color the skins of some oranges, and the abstract of one unpublished mouse study says that the dye Blue 1 caused kidney tumors. Furthermore, Yellow 6, Red 40 and Yellow 5, are all contaminated with illegally high levels of benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl, known carcinogens, yet the FDA has done nothing.
An estimated 15 million pounds of these food dyes are pumped into our food supply each year, and according to Jacobson, per capita consumption of food dyes has increased five-fold since 1955. Year after year, decade after decade, the federal agencies responsible for regulating and safeguarding America’s food supply have demonstrated that their true loyalties are in defending the interests of huge corporate food conglomerates and agribusiness, not protecting the welfare of the public.