Common Food Dye Linked to Cancer
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: 2023

Common Food Dye Linked to Cancer

Back in the 80s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of the Red Dye No. 3 from cosmetic and externally applied drug products based on evidence that the colorant caused cancer in laboratory animals. Curiously, the banned use does not apply to food, medicine, and supplements and it’s now included in literally thousands of products, many of them targeted specifically at children.

Red Dye No. 3, also known as erythrosine, has been linked to health issues ranging from cancer to hyperactivity in children. While manufacturers are required to list the ingredient on the label—it appears as RED 3—it’s done nothing to limit the colorants use. That’s because the dye lends an almost radiant red to foods that might otherwise appear a bit  bland. The oomph to visual appeal is especially important for grabbing the attention of shoppers shopping for everything from candies and salad dressings to ‘healthy’ food options and even vitamin supplements.

Here’s just a sampling of the nearly 3,000 brand-name foods containing Red Dye No. 3:

  • Betty Crocker Cheddar & Bacon Potatoes
  • Ensure Milk Chocolate
  • PediaSure Grow & Gain Kids’ Ready-to-Drink Shake, Strawberry
  • Morningstar Farms Veggie Burgers
  • Xochitl Mexican Style Sea Salt Corn Chips
  • Dole Fruit Juice and Fruit Cups (Yellow Cling Diced Peaches, Cherry Mixed Fruit)
  • Splenda Strawberry Banana Diabetes Care Shake
  • Dubble Bubble Chewing Gum
  • Mike & Ike Original Candies
  • Jelly Belly Ice Cream (not all flavors)
  • Entemann’s Little Bites
  • Hot Tamales Candies
  • GoGurt Dunkaroos Yogurt
  • Popsicles
  • Kid’s vitamins

To see all the products containing Red Dye No. 3 as compiled by the Environmental Working Group, click here.

While occasional consumption of Red Dye No. 3 may not lead to a diagnosis of cancer, there’s no harm in taking steps to avoid it as much as possible. That’s easily accomplished by reading labels.

When shopping, scan labels for Red 3 in the ingredients list. Whenever possible, opt for products that don’t include it.  Alternatively, look for food labeled as USDA Organic, which does not allow any artificial dyes or use natural products, such as beet juice, to add color enhancement to traditionally used food coloring.

In addition to Red Dye No. 3, try to avoid foods containing Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, and Yellow No. 6 as studies have linked them to neurobehavioral issues in children. While there are a wide variety of food dyes used by the food industry to enhance the appearance of foods and medications, awareness and education can help support making more cognizant choices for you and your family.


Carley Colotti RD, LD SVMC Inpatient and Outpatient Dietitian


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