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Artificial Colors In Food: Is FDA Certification Enough?

Updated on January 2, 2011

This guide focuses on the 9 FDA certified artificial food colorings approved for use in food. Artificial food colors may be used in food only after FDA approval and certification. They are known most commonly as FD and C Colors, short for Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Colors. Two have very limited uses, while the other seven are commonly used in foods. It should be noted that this guide lists only artificial food colorings used in the USA. Different countries have different standards and laws. What’s banned in Australia may not be banned in the USA, or vice versa.

Research suggests that these artificial food colors, which are almost all coal tar derived, are potential carcinogens. Some studies link artificial food colors to hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder in children. Researchers at the National College of Technology in Japan, after studying 39 different food additives, including 7 different food colorings ( three of which are approved for use by the FDA) came to the conclusion that “Of all the additives, dyes were the most genotoxic” (1).


Coal tar is a brown or black thick liquid by-product of the coking process. Coking is the process of baking coal to drive off volatile matter such as water and coal tar. Coal tar, the by-product, is then used to make food dyes, adhesives, insecticides, phenols (used to embalm cadavers for study), woodworking, and synthetic flavors, among other things. It is number 118 on the CERCLA Priority List of Hazardous Substances (

Most coal tar colors are potential cancer causing agents, known to cause cancer in animals, and coal tar is a known carcinogen. Despite this, it is allowed in our food supply. It has been approved for use in food by the FDA.

How to make Coal Tar
How to make Coal Tar

FD and C Lakes

FD and C lakes are pigments manufactured to make insoluble colors. This is done by combining FD and C colors with a form of aluminum or calcium. FD and C yellow no. 5 Aluminum Lake and Red no. 40 Calcium Lake are some examples.

Health Risks: Ingestion of aluminum has been linked with lung & kidney disorders, and reduced skeletal mineralization. Alzheimer’s victims have been found with aluminum deposits in their brains, implicating aluminum as a factor in Alzheimer’s disease.

Citrus Red no.2: Coal tar derived. Used only as coloring on skins of Florida oranges not intended or used for processing.

Health Risks: Possible carcinogen. Tests on animals caused organ damage and cancer. Skin application may cause peeling. Deemed safe for use since, theoretically, peel is removed before eating.

Fact is, people do consume orange peels or use them in a way that, if coated with Citrus Red No.2, can be detrimental to their health. Some examples:

-Rubbing peel on skin to naturally repel mosquitoes (folk remedy)

-Candied orange peels -Homemade marmalade

-Orange Zest- Boiling with food to enhance flavor

Is it just me, or is this orange a little too orange?
Is it just me, or is this orange a little too orange?

Orange B: Coal tar derived. To be used only as coloring for casings or surfaces of frankfurters/hot dogs and sausages.

Health Risks: According to the FDA, use could result in exposure of consumers to beta-naphthylamine, a cancer causing additive. Special mention should be made of the fact that beta-naphthylamine is listed on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards.

FD&C Blue No. 1 – Brilliant Blue FCF, E133 (Blue shade): Coal tar derived. Used as a coloring in soft drinks, gelatin desserts, ice cream, drink powders, candy, bakery products, cereals, feta cheese, dairy products and pudding. Also used in toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorants, cosmetics and pet foods.

Used In: (Note that these are just a few examples of foods that use this food coloring) Nutri-Grain Blueberry Cereal Bar, Gatorade Blueberry-Pomegranate, Smucker’s Sugar Free Concorde Grape Jam, Froot Loops, Hawaiian Punch Green Berry Rush, Wrigley’s Winterfresh gum, Trident Splash gum, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Colors, Nesquik Strawberry, Wise BBQ potato chips, Skittles Original, Pop Tarts Frosted Blueberry, Lucky Charms, Mountain Dew Code Red, Starburst Original, Ring Pops, Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows.

Health Risks: Produces malignant tumors at the site of injection and by ingestion in rats. Possible effects include asthma, hives, hay fever, low blood pressure, allergic reactions. Caution is advised if aspirin sensitive.

In 2003 the FDA sent out a safety warning concerning the use of Blue no. 1 in a medical procedure. “There were several reports of toxicity, including death, temporally associated with the use of FD & C Blue No. 1 (Blue 1) in enteral feeding solutions. The dye was used to help detection and/or monitoring of pulmonary aspiration in patients being fed by an enteral feeding tube. Reported episodes were manifested by blue discolouration of the skin, urine, faeces or serum and were associated with serious complications such as refractory hypotension, metabolic acidosis and death. Seriously ill patients, particularly those with a likely increase in gut permeability, may be at greater risk.” (2)

Can you guess how many artificial colors are in this cereal?
Can you guess how many artificial colors are in this cereal?

FD&C Blue No. 2 – Indigotine, E132 (Dark Blue shade): Coal tar derived. Used as a coloring in soft drinks, bakery products, cereals, candy, drink powders, mint-flavored jelly, frozen desserts, pet foods, kidney tests and for testing milk.

Used In: (Note that these are just a few examples of foods that use this food coloring)Froot Loops, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Colors, Skittles Original, M&M’s Chocolate, Pop Tarts Frosted Blueberry.

Health Risks: Produces malignant tumors at the site of injection in rats. Possible effects include asthma, allergic reactions, hyperactivity, and heart problems, a skin, gastrointestinal, and respiratory tract irritant.

FD&C Green No. 3 – Fast Green FCF, E143 (Turquoise shade): Synthetically derived. Uses include mint-flavored jelly, frozen desserts, gelatin desserts, candy, baking products, and cereal.

Used In: Not very common in food products, examples not available.

Health Risks: Produced bladder tumors and malignant tumors at the site of injection when introduced under the skin of rats. Suspected of sensitization in allergenic people.

FD&C Red No. 3 – Erythrosine, E127 (Pink shade): Coal tar derivative. Used include canned fruit cocktails, ice cream, hot dogs, cereals, puddings, fruit salads, cherry pie mix, candy, toothpaste.

Used In: Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Colors, Ring Pop,

Health Risks: A confirmed carcinogen. May contribute to breast cancer (3). May cause asthma, hyperactivity, hives, learning difficulties, and lead to heart, liver, thyroid, stomach and reproduction difficulties.

FD&C Red No. 40 – Allura Red AC, E129 (Red shade): Coal tar derived. Used widely in many cosmetics. Food uses include cake mix, jelly, cereals, candy, powder drink mixes, gum, and pet foods.

Used In: Hershey’s Strawberry Syrup, Nesquik Strawberry, Nesquik Chocolate Syrup, Kool-Aid Cherry, Crystal Light Pink Lemonade, Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Lucky Charms, Doritos Nacho Cheese, Gatorade Fruit Punch, Powerade Fruit Punch, Mountain Dew Code Red, Crush Orange Soda, Welch’s Fruit Snacks, Skittles Original, Starburst Original, Twizlers Strawberry, Swedish Fish, Trident Strawberry Twist, Jell-o Strawberry, Sazon Goya seasoning.

Health Risks: A suspected carcinogen. Has been linked to hyperactivity, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and lower IQs in children. Some scientists question its safety since all tests were conducted by the manufacturer instead of the regulator, the FDA.

FD&C Yellow No. 5 – Tartrazine, E102 (Yellow shade): Coal tar derived. Uses include candy, cereals, spaghetti, bakery products, ice cream, soft drinks, jelly, drink powders, packaged soups, toothpaste, drugs, and pet foods.

Used In: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese original flavor, Captain Crunch, Lucky Charms, Doritos Nacho Cheese, Wise BBQ potato chips, Jell-o Vanilla Pudding, Crystal Light lemon flavor, Gatorade Lemon-Lime, Mountain Dew Code Red, Welch’s Fruit Snacks, Dots assorted fruit flavored gum drops, Skittles original, Starburst original.

Health Risks: Linked to thyroid tumors, chromosomal damage, asthma attacks, hives and hyperactivity. Caution is advised if aspirin sensitive. When ingested, some aspirin sensitive patients have been reported to develop life threatening asthmatic symptoms.

Better living through chemistry
Better living through chemistry | Source

FD&C Yellow No. 6 – Sunset Yellow FCF, E110 (Orange shade): Coal tar derived. Uses include sodas, candy, dry drink powders, bakery products, gelatin desserts, and cereal.

Used In: Hamburger Helper, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese original flavor, Captain Crunch, Froot Loops, Lucky Charms, Doritos Nacho Cheese, Keebler Cheese and Cheddar Sandwich Cracker, Jell-o Vanilla Pudding, Nesquik Chocolate Syrup, Tic Tac Orange, Skittles original, Starburst original, Orbit Bubblemint Gum.

Health Risks: Known to cause allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children. Caution is advised if aspirin sensitive.

My Opinion?

Read the label. It’s that simple. If you don’t know what it is and/or can’t pronounce it, it’s probably bad for you. If you do give in to your urges, seek out a natural alternative to that Red no. 40 containing orange soda you’ve been craving. It may not have that pretty orange color to match its flavor, but at least it won’t give you cancer. The good news is that most of these artificial food colorings are only found in nutritionally deficient, packaged foods. Foods that we should avoid regardless. Hopefully, with this new information, you’ll make more health conscience choices in the food you eat.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      If more people knew about this the FDA would have to make a change. Its been a known fact that Americans are killing each other off slowly but surely and making the rich richer by going to the Dr., being admitted to hospitals and of course medication. This is sickening

    • acaetnna profile image


      9 years ago from Guildford

      One should always realise that wherever possible we must avoid food additives and colourings.

    • eventsyoudesign profile image


      9 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      The FDA allows the food industry free rein. I don't understand what is wrong with our country. The American people do not seem to care what is put in their food, water supply(fluoride) or beauty supplies. This is a well written article. I enjoyed reading it. I believe the food industry has the FDA in their back pocket as does the drug industry hence the FDA's wanton desire to control herbal supplements. I will read more articles. Thanks for sharing. Teresa

    • Lady_E profile image


      9 years ago from London, UK

      Thanks, I believe this is what contributes to so many diseases people/kids have today. Food Colouring and Additives.

      Its good you raised the awareness.

    • Lady_E profile image


      9 years ago from London, UK

      Thanks so much - I believe these are part of what contributes to the increasing diseases people have to day. Good Colourings and Additives.

    • Set's All Set profile image

      Set's All Set 

      9 years ago from New England

      Good stuff! I had no idea how dangerous food coloring was. What a well thought out hub! Thanks for the info.


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