Last month, California became the first state to enact a law banning certain chemicals commonly found in processed food. The law does not ban food, but only the additives. The law urges manufacturers to use safer alternative ingredients.

Dark chocolate pieces crushed and cocoa beans, culinary background, top view

What chemicals are banned?

The banned chemicals include brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propyl paraben, and Red Dye No. 3. All are used in processed food.

Why are the chemicals added to food?

Brominated vegetable oil is used in soft drinks. It keeps citrus flavoring from floating to the top of beverages. Potassium bromate is an oxidizing agent used to strengthen dough and help it rise. Propyl paraben is a preservative used to make food last longer. Lastly, Red Dye No. 3. Is a food coloring used to make food visually more appealing.

Why were the additives banned?

The chemicals are associated with a range of adverse health events from behavioral problems in children to cancer. Specifically, studies involving the safety of brominated vegetable oil show that it can have toxic effects on the thyroid. Potassium bromate is known to cause kidney, thyroid, and gastrointestinal cancers. Propyl paraben is an endocrine disrupter that can have negative effects on fertility, as well as the neurological and immune systems. Red Dye No. 3 has been linked to behavioral problems in children.

Are the chemicals banned by the FDA?

Unfortunately, the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) does not stringently review additives. Therefore, the FDA still approves them.

However, this month, the FDA announced a proposal to revoke regulation for brominated vegetable oil. The agency said that there is no longer a basis to conclude that the chemical is safe.

Interestingly, the FDA banned the use of Red Dye No. 3 in cosmetics and topical ointments years ago. The FDA’s decision was based on a study evidencing the dye causes cancer in rats. But, the agency still deems the dye safe in food.

All four chemicals have been banned in Europe since 2008.

Are the chemicals banned in other states?

Other states have not yet banded the chemicals. However, consumers of food produced in California and exposed to other states will be affected by the ban. 

Some states, such as New York, are following California’s lead. New York is currently working to pass legislation banning the same chemicals. Hopefully, the FDA will follow suit and get these toxic chemicals out of our products.

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