Tag Archives: additives

Popular foods taking on new hues without artificial dyes

Mozzarella cheese at Panera restaurants won’t be as glaringly white.

Banana peppers in Subway sandwiches won’t be the same exact shade of yellow.

Trix cereal will have two fewer colors.

Food makers are purging their products of artificial dyes as people increasingly eschew anything in their food they don’t feel is natural. But replicating the vivid colors Americans expect with ingredients like beets and carrots isn’t always easy.

In fact, General Mills couldn’t find good alternatives for the blue and green pieces in Trix, so the company is getting rid of those colors when the cereal is reformulated later this year. The red pieces — which will be colored with radishes and strawberries — will also look different.

“We haven’t been able to get that same vibrant color,” said Kate Gallager, General Mills’ cereal developer.

The shift away from artificial dyes represents the latest chapter for food coloring in the United States, which has had a rocky history. As recently as 1950, the Food and Drug Administration said children became sick after eating an orange Halloween candy that contained a dye. The agency eventually whittled down its list of approved color additives after finding several had caused “serious adverse effects.”

Now, more companies say they are replacing artificial dyes with colors made from fruits, vegetables and spices, which are widely considered “natural,” although the FDA doesn’t classify them that way.

But these present more challenges than artificial dyes.

In addition to costing more, colors from fruits and vegetables can be sensitive to heat and acidity. And since they’re used in higher doses to achieve boldness, tweaks to other parts of recipes may be needed. Such adjustments can be tricky for companies that manufacture on massive scales.

Still, companies want to court people like Heather Thalwitzer, a 31-year-old homemaker in Melbourne, Florida. Thalwitzer avoids artificial colors because she wants her 6-year-old son to eat quality food and she said red dye has been linked to “mania.”

She has tried alternatives like naturally colored sprinkles from Whole Foods, which her husband thinks taste like fish. But she can get along without such products. One year, she made cupcakes topped with a single blueberry for her son’s birthday.

There are times when Thalwitzer makes exceptions, such as when her son is at a friend’s party.

“I’ll let him have the birthday cake,” she said. “But I’ll cringe.”

THE EVOLUTION OF NATURAL

Part of the challenge with colors from natural sources is that the range of hues has been limited.

Blues, for instance, weren’t widely available the U.S. until 2013. That’s when the FDA approved a petition by candy maker Mars Inc. to use spirulina extract as coloring in gum and candy.

The alga can now also be used in ice creams, drink mixes and other products.

“That was a big thing for us,” said Stefan Hake, CEO of the U.S. division of natural color maker GNT.

At the company’s office in Tarrytown, N.Y., Hake demonstrated how to get blue from spirulina by pouring a liquefied version of it through a coffee filter to isolate the right color components.

The approval of spirulina extract also opened up the world of greens, which can be made by mixing blue and yellow. It turns out plants like spinach brown in heat and aren’t ideal for coloring.

Getting approval for a new color source can take years, but it’s one way companies can fill out their palette of natural hues. In coming weeks, an industry group plans to submit a petition to use the carthamus in safflower for yellow, according to color maker Sensient Technologies.

“It’s just one more that might be another crayon in the crayon box,” said Steve Morris, Sensient’s general manager of food colors for North America.

Sensient also developed a “deodorizing process” to remove flavors from ingredients. That allowed it to introduce an orange for beverages made from paprika.

Morris declined to detail the company’s process. But since the ingredient is not “fundamentally changing the form,” he said the ingredients are still within FDA guidelines of permissible color sources. 

Sensient said three-quarters of its new projects for clients in North America involve natural colors. Globally, its sales of colors — natural and synthetic — comes to about $300 million.

COLORING INSIDE THE LINES

There are seven synthetic colors approved for broad use in foods. But these dyes can be mixed to create a wide range of colors. The colors are made by synthesizing raw materials from petroleum, according to the FDA.

Synthetic colors still dominate in the United States, but some cite a study linking them to hyperactivity in children in calling for them to be phased out. Lisa Lefferts at the Center for Science in the Public Interest also says artificial colors can be used in deceptive ways.

“They mask the absence of ingredients,” she said.

Tropicana’s Twister in Cherry Berry Blast flavor, for instance, list apple and grape juice concentrates, but no cherries or berries. A synthetic color gives it the appearance of having the latter fruits.

Of course, colors also are used to make foods more appealing and send visual signals about the ingredients they contain. Subway says it will stop using a synthetic dye in its banana peppers, but will maintain their bright yellow look with turmeric.

Some say a switch to natural color sources isn’t yet possible because it might turn off customers, although they’re looking into how to change.

“We have to deliver bold colors and flavors, or people will stop buying,” said Will Papa, chief research and development officer at Hershey, which makes Jolly Ranchers, Twizzlers and Reese’s.

Mars, which makes M&M’s and Skittles, said it isn’t yet using the spirulina extract it petitioned to have approved.

Not everyone thinks getting rid of artificial colors hinges on finding exact matches with natural alternatives. Panera is betting people won’t mind that its mozzarella cheese might have a yellowish hue after the removal of titanium dioxide. For cookies with candy-coated chocolates, the natural colors Panera is testing are also duller.

Over time, people will get used to the more muted hues of foods with natural ingredients, said Tom Gumpel, Panera’s head baker.

“You have to remove some of your expectations,” he said.

Study: Federal protections fail to keep potentially harmful chemicals out of foods

A watchdog organization says federal protections intended to keep potentially unsafe chemicals out of U.S. foods are  nadequate and may be putting the health of Americans at risk.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says its recent investigation found the food safety protection system is: marred by minimal supervision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, rife with apparent conflicts of interest in safety evaluations and rendered “all but toothless by a gaping loophole that allows companies to simply declare as safe hundreds of chemicals added to our foods—without any notification to the FDA or the public.”

The organization’s health scientists and the co-author of the research, Tom Neltner, said, “Americans should expect that their food is safe to eat, but sadly today there’s no guarantee because safety oversight from federal agencies and food manufacturers is shockingly weak and hidden from public scrutiny. Congress should close the loophole responsible for this failing now. Until it does, FDA should strictly limit companies’ conflicts of interest and require them to disclose to the agency when they self-approve the safety of a chemical. And consumers should demand that their grocery stores and their favorite brands sell only food with ingredients deemed safe by federal food safety experts.”

The NRDC report, titled “Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the United States,” looked at the implications of a loophole in federal law known as “generally recognized as safe” or, in government jargon, “GRAS.”

The report shows:

• 275 chemicals used by 56 companies appear to be marketed as GRAS and used in many food products based on companies’ safety determinations that, pursuant to current regulations, did not need to be reported to the FDA or the public.

• Information obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act shows that because of the GRAS loophole a company is not bound to answer all FDA questions and not prohibited from continuing to sell the chemical for use in food

• Based on information from notices submitted to the FDA, but later withdrawn, companies have sometimes certified their chemicals as safe for use in food despite potentially serious allergic reactions or adverse reactions in combination with common drugs or have proposed using amounts of the chemicals in food at much higher levels than company-established safe levels.

• When companies seek FDA’s voluntary review of their GRAS safety determination, the agency rejects or triggers withdrawal of that determination in one out of every 5 cases. At least in some instances, companies may have withdrawn their notices in order to avoid having an FDA rejection made public.

• The public and FDA are in the dark about hundreds of chemicals found in our food because companies aren’t required to submit the safety determination to FDA for its review.

The NRDC said the problems stem from a 1958 federal law that included an exemption designed for common ingredients such as vinegar and vegetable oil. The exemption avoided an extended FDA approval process because there was a consensus in the scientific community that a chemical’s use was generally recognized as safe to consume.

In the ensuing years, however, companies have heavily used this GRAS exemption to self-approve hundreds, if not thousands, of ingredients added to food.

Companies also are allowed to hire their own experts to determine the safety of chemicals used in food. This can present a serious conflict of interest, especially when FDA does not review the GRAS decision, because the evaluators may have a financial incentive to provide positive results.

In four case studies, NRDC found that chemicals that were subject to a withdrawn GRAS notice have been listed as an ingredient in foods marketed to the public, despite FDA’s serious concerns about their safety.

They are:

• Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG): A company determined as safe for use in beverages including teas, sport drinks, and juices, despite FDA’s citation of evidence it may cause leukemia in fetuses in human cells tests and animal studies showing it affected the thyroid, testis, spleen, pituitary, liver, and gastrointestinal tract.

• Gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA): A company determined as safe for use in beverages, chewing gum, coffee, tea, and candy, despite FDA concerns that estimated exposure was well in excess of what the company itself considered safe.

• Sweet lupin protein, fiber, and flour: A company determined as safe for use in baked goods, dairy products, gelatin, meats, and candy, despite FDA-raised questions about whether or not the chemicals would cause serious allergic reactions in those with peanut allergies.

• Theobromine: A company determined as safe for use in bread, cereal, beverages, chewing gum, tea, soy milk, gelatin, candy, and yogurt and fruit smoothies, despite FDA’s question about the estimated consumption being five. times higher than the safe consumption level reported by the company.