by Beth Bruno 03/30/2001

Readers Discuss Hazards of Food Dyes

Last week's question about the possibility of negative effects of food dyes on children prompted many responses from readers, some of whom reported allergic reactions to food dyes as adults! I plan to forward this information to the Federal Drug Administration, keeping reader names confidential, so researchers there know that some people are suffering negative reactions to one or more food dyes -- meaning, to me, that these additives are not entirely safe.


Dear Beth,

Interesting -- I had never had any food allergies until 3 years ago. I was driving from Connecticut to Pennsylvania and had a bag of "washed, peeled, ready-to-eat baby carrots" next to me. After eating about seven of them, my throat was becoming scratchy, my speech hoarse, and my lips and tongue began swelling and tingling. When I mentioned this to my wife she looked at me with mild horror and told me that my face was grotesque. It was swollen, puffy and red, and my eyes were red and almost closed. We continued a few miles and pulled into a hospital in Pottstown, Penn.

The triage nurse immediately recognized a bad allergic reaction and they hooked me up to IVs with adrenaline and Benadryl and other drugs to combat the reaction. After four or five hours of this, as I was being discharged with a prescription for Benadryl, a resident told me that the reaction was to some or all of the red, orange, or yellow dyes that keep the carrots looking fresh. He recommended that I avoid all foods that contain these dyes, such as some candy, soda, "fresh" fruits and veggies at salad bars, and lots of other foods.

About two weeks later, I was grilling salmon and started to get the same reaction, which I thought was from the BBQ smoke. When I tasted a tiny piece of the fish, I began to get a drastic reaction, just like all of the "carrot" symptoms. Fortunately, I was able to take the prescription-grade Benadryl and it subsided in about two hours. It turns out that farm-raised salmon are given feed with the same dyes that were added to the carrots, so that the flesh, which is normally greyish white, turns reddish orange when the salmon are harvested and cooked!

Today at the supermarket I asked if the roasted turkey breast contains any additives. (Read the cellophane label and see what is in cold cuts!) There were, indeed, dyes added to the turkey to impart the "roasted look," so I didn't dare buy it.


I was surprised to see that there are other parents and grandparents suffering through the same violent and sometimes frustrating behavior that my family went through. I have a daughter who is now 9 years old and it appears that she has outgrown the red #40 dye problems. We found out about her sensitivity to this dye when she was about 6 months old and very sick with pneumonia. By following the guidelines to figure out allergies to foods, we kept track of what she was getting with a diary and noted any symptoms. It didn't take long to pinpoint the red dye. We were giving her Pedialyte that contained red dye.

Lucky for us we found out then. It was almost like she had a relapse of colic. Red-dye induced tantrums continued until she was about 6 years old. We still monitor how much she takes, just to be on the safe side. I hope that more medical professionals will pay greater attention to this, as my daughter's doctor thought I was insane at first until she saw it first hand. I have often wondered if it has any relationship to being colicky.


When my eldest daughter was 4, she would become sick to her stomach after ingesting any "red" foods, such as Kool-Aid, fruit punches, red Jell-O, pink cookies, etc. She would become a bit hyper and then get sick to her stomach. We eliminated "red" foodstuffs and she grew out of this after about 2 years.


I would hope that the FDA is prudent on the use of various food coloring in the foods today. While it may make foods look better or taste better, there is the possibility that there may be a side effect that was overlooked and causing problems.

I remember when there was a saccharin scare, leading to a ban on this artificial sweetener. What they didn't tell you was that it took amounts that would take up to 150 years to build up in a human, assuming that none was excreted by the body's natural processes.

Then there was a red dye #4 cancer scare, so that was removed. Now it is red dye #40. IF we were to believe all that is bad about food today, there would be starving people in this country en mass because no one would eat any food bought from the local food store. Or worse yet, the food grown locally may be tainted by local ground contamination.

What about Mad Cow disease? Will our entire meat industry have to go bankrupt and cost the taxpayers billions of dollars because of something that has the possibility of transmuting into the human population?

All this is scary and dangerous, but if the proper safeguards are in place and are properly followed and, if greed and graft don't somehow become the way, we should have a safe food supply. Let us hope that there are whistle blowers out there who will help keep our food supply safe.

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