Foods That Contain the Controversial Red Dye No. 3


Sep. 13 2023, Published 12:07 p.m. ET

Marshmallow Peeps have red dye No. 3.
Source: Getty Images

Many foods we eat have additives to help prolong their shelf life or make them more visually appealing to consumers. One of those additives is red dye No. 3. While the FDA banned the use of red dye No. 3 in cosmetics in 1990, the additive is still used in many packaged foods.

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However, the California state legislature wants to put a stop to that. In September 2023, state lawmakers passed a “first-of-its-kind” bill to ban foods with red dye No. 3 and three other additives by 2027, NBC News reports. Assembly Bill 418 just needs Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature to become law in California.

Let’s look at red dye No. 3, the associated health risks, and what foods have it.

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a podium.
Source: Getty Images

California Governor Gavin Newsom

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What is red dye No. 3?

Red dye No. 3, also known as erythrosine or FD&C Red No. 3, is a synthetic dye derived from petroleum that is used in foods to give them a bright red color. The dye was also used in cosmetics such as blush, lipstick, and some topical drugs until 1990, when the FDA banned its use after studies showed it caused cancer in laboratory animals.

Red dye No. 3 has also been linked to other health problems, such as child behavioral issues and reproductive health decline, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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Why isn’t red dye No. 3 already banned in foods?

The FDA was reportedly going to take separate action on banning red dye No. 3 in foods and pharmaceuticals after the cosmetics ban, but that action has yet to happen, reported FOX News.

"Separate action never came, so for 33 years, American consumers have been unnecessarily exposed to this cancer-causing color additive," Thomas Galligan with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) told FOX News.

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A sign outside FDA offices.
Source: Getty Images

In October 2022, CPSI sent a petition to the FDA urging it to ban the use of red dye No. 3 in food, oral medicines, and dietary supplements, FOX News reported. At least 20 other organizations co-signed the petition, including the Center for Environmental Health, the Center for Food Safety, the Children’s Advocacy Institute, Consumer Reports, and Health Babies Bright Futures.

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“Illogically, the FDA continues to allow manufacturers to put this color additive into foods and drugs that are directly ingested and represent a far greater source of exposure than had the uses the agency banned more than a quarter-century ago,” the petition states.

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These common foods contain red dye 3.

According to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Food Scores website, over 3,000 food products contain red dye No. 3. Some common foods that contains the color additive include:

  • Peeps
  • Hostess Ding Dongs
  • Betty Crocker Fruit by the Foot
  • Dubble Bubble chewing gum
  • Entenmann’s Little Bites
  • Vigo Saffron Yellow Rice
  • PediaSure Grow & Gain Kids’ Ready-to-Drink strawberry shake
  • Dole Fruit Packs
  • Brach’s Candy Corn
  • Jelly Belly candy
  • Trolli Sour Crunchy Crawlers
  • Archer Farms Hand Decorated Sugar Cookies
  • Betty Crocker Loaded Potato Casserole
  • Blue Bunny Chocolate Donut Ice Cream
  • Brach’s Star Brites
  • Dippin’ Dots Cotton Candy
  • Duncan Hines Deliciously Moist Cake Mix
  • Yoo-hoo Strawberry Drink
  • Necco Wafers
  • Pop Tarts Frosted Confetti Cake Bites.
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