October 22

1976 — FD&C Red Dye #4 Banned in U.S.


In the early 70s, a particular red dye was identified as a potential cause for cancer in rats, and was removed from ingested food and cosmetics.  That ingredient wasn’t actually present in a popular brand of candy-coated chocolates, but the manufacturer nonetheless eliminated red from their usual assortment, to comfort a nervous public.

Later the FDA approved an alternate red dye, made from natural ingredients.  The “natural” part turned out to be ground-up bugs.

You’re one of many people who’d been conditioned to mistrust red as an artificial color.  No strawberry sodas for you, or maraschino cherries atop a sundae.  And red velvet, with the highest dye-to-batter ratio of any cake, was definitely out of the question.

Funny thing was, nobody ever seemed to die from eating red food.  The warnings ebbed and flowed, and people tended to survive.

Until recently.

Current FDA alerts have grown much more dramatic.  Their wordings refer not to “potentially harmful side effects” but instead assert a direct and immediate danger.

Not hypothetical lab-rat fatalities, but actual people…dropping dead within minutes of ingestion.

Whole cities struck down by each bad batch, because large sections of the populace didn’t get the warnings in time.

FD&C Green 48.  FD&C Red 111.  FD&C Yellow 14.5, b variant.

So many colors, so many numbers.  The list changes each day.

Your kitchen cabinet is mostly bare.  During Alert Season, it’s hard to get out.  Money doesn’t work the way it used to — or the roads, either.

But hunger won’t wait.  You take down a box of Froot Poops cereal and shake out a portion onto the countertop, spreading out the puffs and rings and clusters.  Carefully, you separate the pieces by color, making five distinct piles.

Starvation pangs make it hard for you to concentrate, and the whole activity exhausts you mentally and physically.  You know you’ll feel better once you’ve eaten something.

The different-colored piles of sugar cereal call to you.  They blur and glisten, shining with the gleam of natural fruit.  Your stomach growls in anticipation as you reach toward the juiciest morsels.

You’ve lost track of which colors were supposed to be dangerous.