Allura Red AC, more commonly known as FD&C Red 40 or just Red 40, is a red dye that can be found in many household products, especially processed foods. It also goes by the names Food Red 17, C.I. 16035, and in the European Union, E Number E129. Although many people believe it is made from insects, Red 40 is made mainly from petroleum (crude oil). This misconception is probably due to the fact that another red dye, Natural Red 4, is derived from the cochineal scale and Polish cochineal insects.
Although it has fewer associated risks than similar dyes, Red 40 has been the subject of a number of studies concerning potential side effects. In 2007, a British report published in The Lancet linked consumption of certain food additives, including Red 40, to increased hyperactivity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD in children. Red 40 also contains benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl, which are compounds that have been linked to cancer.
What Foods Have Red 40?
Red 40 can be found in virtually every aisle of the grocery store, including in foods that don’t have a red hue. For example, certain yellow cake mixes contain Red 40 along with yellow dyes to create a golden coloring. Other examples of foods that often contain Red 40 include:
• Fruit snacks
• Fruit drinks/juices
• Baked goods
• Children’s vitamins
• Chewing gum
• Yogurts and other dairy products
• Condiments like salad dressings
• Canned fruits
How Can You Avoid Red 40?
The list above is by no means all-inclusive, and the best way to determine if a particular food contains Red 40 is to look at the ingredients list on the label. Choosing certified organic foods is also a way to avoid Red 40, since these foods are not allowed to contain artificial ingredients, including artificial food dyes and artificial preservatives. However, non-certified organic foods “made using organic ingredients” may still contain artificial ingredients, so it’s still important to check the label. Natural alternatives to artificial colorings that are used commercially include: beet, carotenes, capsanthin (a paprika extract), and annatto.
Red #40 can also be found in a range of products outside food, from shampoo to tattoo ink, cleaning products, mouthwash, lipstick, and more. Specifically, it is approved by the FDA for use in cosmetics, drugs, and food. Again, checking the label or choosing certified organic products is the best way to avoid this dye in non-food products.
Red 40 Regulations
Although it is approved as a food additive in the European Union, Red 40 is banned in several European countries, including France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Denmark. In 2010 the European Union began requiring that foods containing certain artificial colors, including Red 40, display warnings on the label.
In 2008, the U.K.’s Foods Standard Agency called for the voluntary removal of food dyes, including Red 40, by 2009, and, many manufacturers such as Kraft Foods and Mars (the company that makes M&Ms) have reformulated their U.K. products to exclude the dyes and other artificial ingredients like sodium benzoate and aspartame. In recent years, there have been calls in the United States to ban the food additive, but as of this post, it remains Generally Recognized As Safe by the FDA.
Is It Worth It?
Products containing natural instead of artificial colors are sometimes more expensive and harder to find, and each person should carefully consider whether or not they want to make the effort to go Red 40 free. For many people, though, the choice comes down to one simple question: Are you willing to gamble with your health and that of your loved ones for the sake of cost and convenience?