Sunday, April 19, 2009

Food Dyes

After our class on Food Safety, I was thinking of other things that might affect our health besides food-borne illnesses and I got to thinking about food dyes. Obviously with the abundance of overly processed foods, there are many disgusting and inedible things that go into our food that probably have negative consequences. The main foods including food dye that jump out at me are pretty apparent, skittles, starburst…(which actually have no artificial dyes in them in the UK) every kind of candy, gum, and beverages such as soda. But the reality extends much further. Is it really necessary to make an orange…even oranger? As a matter of fact, most farmers live by the phrase “the uglier they look, the better they taste”. In the US, there are nine legal food dyes used to color all sorts of food. Most of the dyes are water soluble and petroleum derived. They color things such as beverages and dairy goods. The rest are not soluble and color our hard candy and gum. Most processed foods with artificial flavors are in fact, colorless, before the adding of food dyes. I was surprised when I read that the number of food dyes has actually decreased significantly since the Food and Drug Act of 1906. The US congress banned 71 food dyes leaving only nine. The reason for this was because people were getting sick from substances in the food dyes such as mercury, copper sulfate and lead. Recently there have been cases which question the safety of these food additives. For example, there is currently an ongoing struggle to ban all artificial food dyes still existing in the US because of their contribution to the increasing hyperactivity of children. Studies and experiments have been done but keep showing mixed results. In the UK in 2005, an enormous recall of Sudan I, a dye used to color foods shades of red, pink and orange, worried consumers after scientists found dye caused malignant tumors in laboratory rats. In terms of alternative options, there is such thing. The UK is ahead of everyone in this aspect and has banned most food dyes and products that contain them from shelves in grocery stores, etc.. In fact, in order to accommodate for them, most companies now offer two products. One without food dyes, the majority purchased by the UK, and one with food dyes, for the US. A good way to avoid the intake of these seemingly trouble causing substances is to eat whole foods, such as fruits vegetables, whole grains and protein/dairy products. If you know where, who and what is involved in the making of your food, you have more reliable information about the amount of food additives actually in it.
As we know from reading Deborah Barndt’s book, Tangled Routes, the appearance of food in the market these days is so important it almost surpasses the actual quality of the food. In her book, Barndt talks about the rejection of the corporate tomato at the Mexican border due to appearance. If the wax substance that coats these tomatoes to provide a “glimmering shine” is not doing its job, the tomato is turned down and sold in local Mexican markets. Although this wax substance is not considered a food dye, it is surely not a natural part of tomato production and further annunciates the claim that our willingness to buy has a lot, probably too much, to do with appearance. But then again, I am being a hypocrite. I can’t say that I go to the grocery store and pick out the ugliest most beat up fruits to buy. I am just like everyone else, I search for the brightest, ripest fruit with the least blemishes without thinking twice about what makes them so appealing..and appetizing. After reading about these food dyes and their potential harmfulness, not to mention the fact that they are unnecessary and outright disgusting, I think I’ll be more careful.

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