Foods Containing Yellow Dye 5 or 6 (Tartrazine, Sunset Yellow)

I am failing as a parent. Plain and simple. As much as I try to feed my son healthy foods, it seems like no matter where I turn, I find that one food or another may be causing him harm.

My family loves Kraft macaroni and cheese. It is a delicious, easy-to-prepare meal that I grew up with. I always kept a few boxes in the pantry for those nights when I just didn't feel like cooking. I even thought I was doing a good job by packing it in his lunch for school.

But after reading a blog post lambasting the dangers of the dyes present in Kraft's mac and cheese, I decided to do my own research on the health concerns of yellow dye #5 (tartrazine) and #6. The information I found was shocking!

The chemical structure of yellow dye #5 (tartrazine)
The chemical structure of yellow dye #5 (tartrazine) | Source

Do you check nutritional labels for these ingredients?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I will now!
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What's the Big Deal?

There are numerous conflicting studies available to read. Please look at the reference material provided in this article and draw your own conclusions.

I read several articles concluding that yellow dyes #5 and #6 cause (or exacerbate) various medical conditions. I am not a doctor or a researcher, but there are several studies completed and numerous anecdotal testaments regarding the following:

  1. Hyperactivity: This correlation was especially present in children. The blogosphere has numerous cases of kids whose behavior changed dramatically when these dyes were removed from their diet.
  2. Rashes and hives: This appears to be fairly uncommon but well documented.
  3. Depression: I saw accusations that these colorings cause depression and anxiety, but I did not find anything official; however, it doesn't take much imagination to see that if these dyes change children's behavior, then they may also change adults'.
  4. Cancer: It isn't clear to me if these dyes are carcinogens or not. Some of the literature states that other carcinogenic chemicals are created when making these colorings.
  5. Asthma: Some people claim that removing these food colorings from their diets improved their asthma.

Regardless of how many of these turn out to be proven or not, I am not sure how eating a product that was made from industrial coal tar can be good for you. At best, there is no nutritional value. At worst, it may be causing a whole host of problems.

Everything in Moderation

Do you ever use the saying "Everything in moderation?" I do! I use it in the context of eating well-balanced meals, comprising a mix of fruits, vegetables, dairy, breads, etc. I use it to stop my son from eating an entire half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting. (Yes! He has tried!)

So, my initial inclination in this research was that a little bit of yellow dyes #5 and #6 probably wasn't too bad for you. I thought that if you drank a gallon of the stuff, you would have problems, but who would do that? Again, I was wrong!

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the acceptable daily intake for yellow dye #5 is 5 mg/kg/day. For a 30 kg child, that is 150 mg/day. Is that a lot? A little? I have no idea! In fact, it has been almost impossible to find out how much tartrazine is included in products. There appears to be no requirement to report the quantity of this chemical in the food you feed your family.

What about yellow dye #6 (sunset yellow)? In 2011, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health voted to reduce the allowable level of sunset yellow to 20 mg/liter of soda. That was after the European Food Safety Authority found that exposure to this chemical was too high, especially in children.

So, how much is your family eating and drinking? Do you know? The next section will list some of the surprising foods and drinks that contain these chemicals.

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese

Lemon Flavored Jello in my Pantry
Lemon Flavored Jello in my Pantry | Source
Keebler Crackers
Keebler Crackers | Source

Foods Containing Tartrazine

The full listing is absolutely scary, but I will give a representative listing of some of the more commonly used foods that may have these colorings present.

  • Cubed or powdered chicken broth
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Jello
  • Kool Aid
  • Pasta
  • Pancake mix
  • Frosting
  • Pickles
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Creamy orange cheeses
  • Yogurt
  • Butter and margarine
  • Ice cream
  • Popsicles
  • Many sodas
  • Alcohol mixers and some beers
  • Boxed dinners (such as cheese-flavored rice or pasta)
  • Flavored milk
  • Orange-colored chips

I was absolutely stunned as I walked around my kitchen looking at the ingredients of the foods I use most often. Not surprisingly, it is found more frequently in processed foods such as boxed dinners. It is not found as often in the fruit, vegetable, or meat sections of the grocery store, but be careful and check the ingredients.

Foods in My House With Yellow Dye

Yellow #5
Yellow #6
Froot Loops
Keebler Crackers (3 varieties)
Lemon Jello
Lemon Jello
Knorr Chicken Bouillon
Knorr Chicken Bouillon

Banned Where?

Norway, Germany, and Austria banned tartrazine until the European Union overturned the decision.

In the UK, public outcry forced several manufacturers to remove the coloring from their product.

What About Restaurants?

Subway prides itself on being clean and healthy. It very well may be, but their ingredient list is easily accessible online—their M&M and raspberry cheesecake cookies both contain yellow dyes.

You would think that as long as you stayed with fresh fruits and vegetables, you would be not be exposed to these chemicals. You would be wrong.

In fact, both banana peppers and pickles contain yellow #5.

You certainly aren't going to know every single piece of food that has this coloring in it, but you can ask the restaurant for their ingredient list. Many people are allergic to things, and they should provide the information for you.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Sadly, it is present in Wkids vitamins as well.Here is the product that it was found in.
Sadly, it is present in Wkids vitamins as well.
Sadly, it is present in Wkids vitamins as well. | Source
Here is the product that it was found in.
Here is the product that it was found in. | Source

Even Vitamins?

This is one that flat out makes me mad. After reading about the various products that contain these chemicals, I walked around the house looking at medicine bottles. We were in the clear until I reached my son's bathroom. He has a bottle of chewable vitamins. Uh-oh, they contained yellow dye #6!

This is very upsetting. If there is no nutritional value to this coloring, then why on earth put it in a multi-vitamin targeting children? Isn't this the part of the population that may be sensitive to this dye?

If the entire purpose of the coloring is to make the product look better, then why put it in something like chewable vitamins for kids? What child has ever said "that bright yellow vitamin looks so good that I think I will have one today?" It doesn't happen that way. It takes nagging and complaining, before the child finally gives up and takes the vitamin. Little did I know that what I was forcing him to take might be harming him instead.

Do We Need Coloring in These Products?

Did you know that hand soaps, shampoos, creams, and other personal hygiene products may contain this coloring?
Did you know that hand soaps, shampoos, creams, and other personal hygiene products may contain this coloring? | Source

Personal Care Products Too?

I thought I could limit my food dye concerns to, well, foods! Unfortunately, that isn't the case. According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, yellow #5 and #6 may cause cancer when applied topically as well. Gross! It turns out that the process to make these colors includes petroleum products and even heavy metals.

Products That May Contain This Coloring

Hand Soap
Body Wash
Shaving Cream

For a Complete Listing

For a more complete listing, please look at the National Institute of Health's listing of personal care products for yellow dyes #6 and #5.

Several colorings are processed from coal.
Several colorings are processed from coal. | Source

Yellow #5 is Made from What?

Coal Tar. Yes, that's right. Good old-fashioned coal tar. The FDA has a long list of other dyes that are derived from coal tar.

It really makes you want to feed or wash your child in this, right? I just find it hard to believe that this produces a color that is edible and healthy for you!


My son isn't hyperactive and does not have ADHD. We don't break out in hives or rashes. We don't have any of the other ailments. But, I am left with the puzzling question of why we eat foods with these dyes in them. Frankly, it makes no sense.

These ingredients offer no nutritional benefits and don't improve shelf life. Several countries have banned them outright, and others are in the process of reducing the allowable quantities. So why should we keep feeding them to our families? The dyes' sole purpose is to make foods look more colorful.

It just isn't worth the risk to me. I highly doubt we can completely remove these from our diets, but with a little bit of effort, we can choose alternative foods that do not have potentially harmful chemicals.

I have no idea the quantity of these chemicals in the foods we eat, but I do know that it was found in several of the meals that frequented my table. Add up the portion sizes in the various products, and I suspect that we were eating a lot more than we should have.

The good news is that it is easy to fix. The only bad news is that it might take me a little more time in the grocery store, but that is a cost I am happy to incur!

More by this Author

What Products Were You Surprised to Find These Dyes in? 9 comments

tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 3 years ago from California

Great information about yellow number 5. Was searching for another hub to link to mine on asthma. Will be linking this hub to mine on treating asthma without medicine. Thank you.

Robi 2 years ago

There are huge public claim in Israel against M&M Importer and Mars world Claim no. 19576/02/14 regarding the Artificial colors values what create harmful for everybody and spacial children who eat it.

Alana 2 years ago

Thank you for the information! My daughter just turned one and I have been vigilant about her foods and environment. Since getting older, she had been slipped processed junk food from family members and depending on what it was - she would throw up within 5 minutes. I finally found the common factor (yellow 5/6), which has led me to research all the artificial colorings more in depth. I already make 98% of our household things from scratch, I just need to add this to my list of a million other things to check too. So frustrating but thank you for getting the word out there. :)

Samuel Barrett profile image

Samuel Barrett 23 months ago from Douglas County, Oregon

Wow, I am pretty sure Coal tar is carcinogenic if taken internally! A lot of anti dandruff shampoos (T-gel) are made from that. I try to avoid artificial dyes especially Yellow #5 whenever possible.

engineer-chef profile image

engineer-chef 17 months ago from NORTH TONAWANDA , NY

Great article and information about these color additives. Many food grade dyes that food processing plants use arrive in a concentrated form that can be lethal if ingested in pure form. Of particular interest to me is the flavored gelatin sector. Testing for dye concentration in finished goods is more of a research practice rather than standard testing - if too much dye has made it into a food product there is know way of knowing it unless the finished product color changed dramatically. The FSMA act of 2011 gives the government more regulatory oversight in food production plants. I believe taxpayer money would be better spent re-evaluating the need to ban these poisons from food products.

BRUH 12 months ago

I love it lol..

lolBRUH 5 months ago

We all love it and you know it

Aeva 4 months ago

The only health issue you discuss that has a link to a scientific source is hyperactivity. The other 4, you straight up said you didn't know or provided anecdotal evidence from the "blogosphere."

If you ever have the opportunity to talk to something in a scientific field, they will tell you that anecdotal evidence doesn't count for anything.

paul 2 months ago

My wife was told 3 years ago she was allergic to yellow dye we just thought it was her medicine that was yellow or a dye used at a hospital for tests the allergist just told her 3 days ago about foods so all this time she was eating foods with yellow dye in it she recently questioned it due to a severe rash on both arms probably an allergic reaction to all the yellow dye stuff the allergist apologized and said we should of told you about foods Healthcare today stinks the dr told her to Google tartazine she questioned the dr about skin products said that was a good point she didn't know that there are dyes in those products you have to educate yourself what if she was elderly and had no help wonder where I could complain about this allergist to?

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