Artificial Colours Part 1

The food industry has a long history with food dyes, both synthetic and nature-derived. They are widely used because humans eat with their eyes. It’s important, however, to question and evaluate the safety of these synthetic food dyes. There are examples of food dyes widely used for years, then banned due to negative health effects, such as Orange 1. Today TellSpec is sharing the research on five synthetic food dyes possibly present in your food; with the exception of Orange 1, these are dyes that are currently approved as safe for use in noted nations.


Amaranth is a dark red to purple, synthetic azo dye derived from petroleum. Banned from use in US in 1976; banned in Austria, Russia, Norway. Allowed in UK, France, Italy. Carcinogenic and reproductive health effects in rats. Human gut bacteria can alter it to produce toxic byproducts. Found in: glace cherries, caviar, ice cream, fruit fillings, boxed cake mixes.

Other names: FD&C Red No. 2, E123, C.I. Food Red 9, Acid Red 27, Azorubin S, or C.I. 16185

Erythrosine is a synthetic cherry-pink dye. Second least common in US where Allura Red is favored. Heavily used in Europe where Allura Red is discouraged or banned. High doses associated with cancer, impaired liver function, body weight changes in animals. Considered safe in low doses. May interfere with white blood cells, may cause hyperactivity in children, associated with negative effects in asthmatic patients. Found in: candied fruit, processed meat, red pistachios, cake-decorating gels, chewing gum.

Other names: FD&C Red No. 3, E127, Food Red 14, C.I. Acid Red 51, C.I. 45430


Allura Red is a synthetic, orange-red azo dye derived from petroleum. Most commonly used red dye in the US, discouraged from use in EU, banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Switzerland. Considered safe in low doses, animal studies of high doses showed no significant effects. In combination with benzoates (common preservatives), may cause hyperactivity in children. Contains human carcinogen benzidene. Found in: soft drinks, fruit juices, frozen desserts, processed seafood, candies, fruit fillings.

Other names: FD&C Red 40, E129, Allura Red, Food Red 17, C.I. 16035


Citrus Red is a synthetic orange-yellow dye. Permitted with restrictions in the US. Used only to colour the rind of non-organic Florida oranges that haven’t developed a rich enough colour, usually early in the harvest season. In mice, increased mortality and liver damage was seen within weeks with a diet containing 0.1% Citrus Red. In mice injected with the dye, tumors appeared more often and were more severe compared to controls. Classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans by the International Association for Research on Cancer.

Other names: Citrus Red No. 2, , E121, C.I. Solvent Red 80, C.I. 12156


Orange 1 is a synthetic orange dye derived from coal tar. It was one of the original seven dyes approved for use in the US in 1906. It was banned in 1956, after extensive use in candies and popcorn, following reports of children becoming ill. Studies in adults found that eating twelve hard candies at the time was sufficient to cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms; studies in animals showed effects ranging from weight loss to death. This event, which occurred in 1950, was the first to prompt the FDA to reinvestigate the safety of their approved dyes. No longer in use.

Other names: FD&C Orange No. 1, Acid Orange 20, Orange I