Red is an eye-catching color and manufacturers of many products are quick to take advantage of that. Bright red is also appetizing. At a glance it can connote sweet and pleasant flavors like cherry, strawberry, and watermelon, as well as savory foods like fresh tomato, bell pepper, or spicy chili.
These and other factors have made the food and beverage industry one of the biggest users of Allura Red AC, which is more commonly known as Red 40.
Red 40 is a dye derived from organic compounds that fall under the class of Azo dyes. It’s not hard to find Red 40 listed on a wide variety of edible products that have a pink, red, or violet appearance. In addition to being a common type of red food coloring, it’s also used in some tattoo inks, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.
Although Red 40 has been a prominent additive for decades and it remains one of the most popular dyes in the world, there are concerns over its safety and the potential health effects of consumption.
Publicized studies and speculation on its potential as an allergen and possible cause of some behavioral disorders have caused many consumers to wonder what is Red 40 made of, why is it used so often, and more so, could it be dangerous?
What Is Red 40 Made Of And Why Is It Used?
Red 40 food dye is a synthetic product, meaning it is artificially derived. It’s mostly made from petroleum compounds. Synthetic acids are combined to create sodium, calcium, and potassium salts, which can be easily dissolved in liquid and incorporated into all types of substances.
The highly concentrated red color means that Red 40 solids can be efficiently portioned out to create a variety of shades and combined with other dyes for all types of colors—from bright orange to royal purple.
Since Red 40 is synthetic, it can be made to have virtually no taste and produced in quantities and consistencies that are favorable for large batches of uniform products.
Red 40 became a prominent food dye in the mid-1970s after the FDA banned Amaranth dye, also known as Red No. 2, which has been linked to adverse health effects when consumed in large amounts.
Later in the 1990s, a similar red food dye, known as Erythrosine or Red No. 3 was also banned as a food additive for its possible carcinogenic links. Red 40 is generally considered to be a safer alternative to both Red No. 2 and Red No. 3, but whether it’s completely benign or potentially hazardous is still questioned by some consumer advocacy groups and health organizations.
Red 40 Side Effects And Safety
To be used in any product meant for consumption in the United States, all red food coloring—or that of any other hue—must undergo certification by the FDA. The FDA and certifying bodies of the EU, as well as the WHO, have consistently confirmed that Red 40 does not present any significant health concerns to people at any age.
Studies have consistently shown that regular consumption of food, beverages, and medicine containing Red 40 does not directly lead to any adverse health effects.
However, some consumer advocacy groups have alleged that Red 40 side effects could include migraines, behavioral changes, and other symptoms in individuals who may have a sensitivity to food additives. Whether these side effects and symptoms qualify as red dye allergy is not yet confirmable through any test.
To yield on the side of caution—and make their products more marketable to consumers who are increasingly seeking all-natural ingredients—some food and beverage manufacturers are discontinuing their use of synthetic food coloring like Red 40.
Although artificial colors can offer many advantages for food and beverage processors, red food dye can be reliably made from natural sources, including cochineal extract derived from insects, as well as beets and other plants.