ST. LOUIS — Think back to all those Valentine’s Day candies you may have enjoyed, especially the red ones. Some of them could have been made with a food coloring called Red Dye No. 3. While it adds vibrant color, Consumer Reports says it has potential health hazards as well.
Red No. 3 dye, also known as erythrosine, is a synthetic dye derived from petroleum, and it’s used in food and drinks to give them a bright cherry-red color.
Decades ago the Food and Drug Administration banned Red No. 3 dye from all cosmetics after studies showed it caused cancer in lab animals. Yet the dye is still lurking in thousands of varieties of candies, cakes, beverages, and even medicine.
So how is it possible that this coloring is banned in makeup but not from the candy that many of us eat?
That’s why last October Consumer Reports, along with more than 20 other advocacy groups, signed a petition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest to ask the FDA to prohibit the use of Red No.3 dye in food, dietary supplements, and ingested drugs.
In addition to the potential cancer risk, some studies have raised concerns that artificial food dyes, including Red Dye No. 3, contribute to neurobehavioral problems in children, such as hyperactivity.
The International Association of Color Manufacturers, an industry group, told Consumer Reports that there isn’t enough evidence associating the dye with behavioral problems, and maintains it’s safe at the levels most people consume.
To limit artificial colors, read the ingredients carefully. The FDA requires manufacturers to list Red Dye No. 3 dye on the label.
Food safety experts are also concerned about other artificial dyes. Studies of exposure to Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, and Yellow No. 6 have also shown neurobehavioral effects in children.