Friday, March 16, 2012


If you live in a country that celebrates St. Patrick's Day, you are likely to be eating more green food on March 17 than on any other day of the year. And I am not referring to those healthy green vegetables. No, I was thinking of all those violently-green iced pastries and those cookies with green sprinkles on them - like the ones I bought this morning for our Irish neighbors.

In the U.S. it is estimated that over half the population will celebrate the occasion, spending several billions of dollars to do so - a good of it on green food. But is food that is loaded with that rather unnatural green coloring really unsafe to eat? Apparently not. At least in countries such as the U.S., all food coloring (including color additives used in beverages and in and animal food) is strictly regulated these days, and has to be tested before it is released into the marketplace. That includes FD&C Green No.3 which the FDA website lists as being approved.

Things weren't always that way. Food coloring has a long history. Naturally occurring substances such as paprika, turmeric and saffron color were used to color food and drink as far back as 300 BC. Synthetic dyes began to be used about 1896. By 1900, many foods, drugs, and cosmetics available in the U.S. (as well as elsewhere in the world) were artificially colored. Several of the dyes in food and drink later turned out to be very unhealthy substances - some even carcinogenic. When the U.S. federal government, through Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took over responsibility for color additives, it began to progressively tighten the regulations and safety improved.

That is not to say that we still don't have some unpleasant surprises when coloring that is believed to be safe suddenly turns out not to be so. Sometimes the FDA also has to take action when imported or even U.S.- made processed foods slip in banned synthetic dyes or don't declare the ones that are there. Such events can lead to recalls, or warning letters, detentions, issuance of import alerts, or even seizures of food products.

To my knowledge there has never been a recall of St. Patrick's Day cookies, McDonald's green Shamrock Shakes, Burger King's (special occasion) green dipping sauce for fries, Heinz's green St. Paddy's Sauce, Brueger's green bagels, green-iced doughnuts from Dunkin'Donuts, or any other special St.Paddy's day food or drink. That doesn't mean there won't be. In the meantime, some experts do say that getting a lot of this green dye could give you an upset stomach and maybe even diarrhea. That goes double for young children. So watch out!

To your good health,


No comments: