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

Author:

Ginny is passionate about eating healthy, sustainable foods.

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)

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.

Important Warnings

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

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 #5Yellow #6

Froot Loops

Keebler Crackers (3 varieties)

Doritos

Doritos

Lemon Jello

Lemon Jello

Starburst

Starburst

M&Ms

M&Ms

Knorr Chicken Bouillon

Knorr Chicken Bouillon

Where Is Yellow #5 Banned?

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.

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.

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?

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

Mouthwash

Toothpaste

Shampoo

Body Wash

Conditioner

Shaving Cream

Salves

Moisturizers

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.

What Is Yellow #5 Made From?

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!

Conclusion

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!

Comments

Marcus on August 21, 2020:

Google - Winsor Newton 1887 camel urine.

You'll see a PDF on a .gov website. Yellow 5 is worse than you thought

Kathy on April 14, 2019:

Oranges are also sprayed with tartazine to make them more visually appealing. My so is very allergic to this chemical . And its unfortunate how i have to learn what foods these chemicals are in.....what orange grower is going to post" sprayed with tartazine?"

summer on March 01, 2019:

I am going to die without pasta

Lynn Rogers on January 03, 2019:

My mother is very allergic to yellow dye 5 and 6. She was accidently given medication in the nursing home that had these dyes. We had notified them in advance about her allergy. I wish healthcare facilities could be more informed. It likely causes problems for the elderly population due to the high volume of medications they must take.

Jamie on October 31, 2018:

There is a link between reoccurring nasal polyps, sensitivity to aspirin, asthma, and sensitivity to tertrazine (yellow#5). I have all of these conditions but have not developed asthma. I have irritable bowel syndrome after consuming tertrazine. I am working on significantly reducing this from my diet and believe I will see improvement in all these areas from this.

peggy on June 20, 2018:

do not be surprised, do a little research and find out who owns kraft some of the other brands listed in your article above.

who's product kills thousands of people every year.

BIG TABACCO, according to wikipedia "In 2000, Philip Morris (renamed Altria in 2003) acquired Nabisco Holdings for $18.9 billion and merged the company with Kraft Foods the same year. In 2001, Philip Morris sold 280 million Kraft shares via the third-largest IPO of all time, retaining an 88.1% stake in the company."

obviously if they have no problem and arsenic to cigerattes and 1000's of other ingrediants they have no problem adding coal to to food!!

HoneyBae on May 16, 2018:

hello. sorry i might be out of topic but could anybody help me to explained about the ingredients in salted egg which cause to rancidity? and how to improve the shelf life for salted egg products? thanks and appreciate for the help.

Anonymous on May 01, 2018:

I have a severe allergy to tartrazine and I have to check he ingredients on everything I eat. I just devoloped this last year and people are teasing me and if I don’t have my epipen people try to do stuff that could possibly cause an allergic reaction. It’s happened before and I don’t know what to do. Can someone please help me?

virginia francisco on February 09, 2018:

hi i want to aware of this kind of allergy. ..i need some help or advice. my daughter having an allergys when she ates a yellow color food ..i need some help for other option of healty food to her shes very thin now ..

Claire Vautour on February 02, 2018:

I get hives after eating tartrazine sometimes, it's just an intolerance though because I don't get them every time I eat some. I try to stay away from it now by only cooking everything from scratch, it's just crappy for those nights where I don't feel like cooking, then I cheat a little bit.

Denise Brown on September 23, 2017:

Husband had a bad reaction to yellow aspirin ? He has no known allergies. But now we don't eat anything yellow .Only bananas

Amy on September 16, 2017:

Welcome to my world! 2 of my 3 children get terribly ill from any color of dye. We discovered it when my daughter at 9 years old started getting terrible migraines and vomiting! By logging her diet on the days she was sick, we figured it out. Her younger brother started to have the same reaction. Our whole family is now dye free and they never get migraines except on the rare occasion it is ingested accidentally at a restaurant or friends house. My daughter will even react externally with hives and swelling if anything with dye touches her topically, green or blue hand sanitizer for example! Keep it out of your life! It isn't good for anyone!

Michele on April 25, 2017:

What can we do to get this banned?!

Jade Hawthorne on January 24, 2017:

My mother is making the whole family go harmful-dye-free... so I decided to do some research and find out why! Well, I just found out why! This is great information and since i get school lunch, I can just look at the information I have written down and see if I can eat any of the food here. UGH! But thanks for the intellectual information!!

paul on August 07, 2016:

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?

Matthew Clemmer from NORTH TONAWANDA , NY on May 26, 2015:

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.

Samuel Barrett from Douglas County, Oregon on November 11, 2014:

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.

Alana on June 22, 2014:

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. :)

Robi on February 11, 2014:

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.

Judy Specht from California on August 13, 2013:

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.