Foods and Beverages That Contain Red Dye 40

If you look at the labels throughout your local grocery store, you may be surprised at how many lists contain red dye 40.
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If you look at the labels throughout your local grocery store, you may be surprised at how many lists contain red dye 40. You may find this ingredient not only in red foods and beverages but also in products with all kinds of hues.


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What Is Red Dye 40?

Red dye 40 is an artificial food coloring that is in many foods found in grocery stores across the country, particularly in highly processed foods. This food dye also goes by other names on the labels of these foods, including:

  • Red 40
  • Red #40
  • Allura Red AC


According to the American Chemical Society (ACS), red dye 40 is the only artificial red dye in use in the United States. Food manufacturers also sometimes use natural red food dyes, especially because many people try to avoid artificial colors.

While both types of food dyes can give food an appealing look, the difference is in the source material. As the ACS explains, artificial food dyes used to come from coal. Today, manufacturers derive them from petroleum. Some such colorings are banned in Europe.


Natural food dyes come from plant and animal sources, including some from bugs. Vegetarians and vegans should steer toward foods with plant-based or artificial coloring. According to the Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Food Ingredients, red 40 is vegan in most cases. While red 40 is vegan, it may not be suitable for environmental vegans trying to avoid petroleum-based products.

Read more: 5 Health Risks of Eating Too Many Processed Foods


Common Foods With Red 40

The complete list of drinks and food with red dye 40 would include all types of processed foods, including some favorite childhood snacks. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves red dye 40 food only in specific categories:

  • Cereals
  • Confections
  • Gelatin
  • Dairy products
  • Drinks


Companies cannot sell foods with red dye 40 in the United States if they do not fit into one of these categories. The FDA also states that any foods that contain this additive must include it in the ingredients list. However, the organization does not regulate how much artificial food coloring can be in the products.

In September 2013, the Journal of Clinical Pediatrics published a study that looked into how much red dye 40 many popular foods contained and how it may affect children. The research showed that the United States consumed more than 20 milligrams of red dye 40 per capita per day in 2010, which is significantly higher than consumption rates in years past.


Read more: How to Avoid Processed Foods and What to Eat Instead

Why Avoid Red Dye 40?

If you are going to have a medical procedure soon, your doctor may instruct you on eating clear foods in the hours leading up to the procedure. Sometimes, this includes certain flavors of gelatin cups, but colonoscopy patients must avoid red dye 40 before their procedures.


While your doctor may keep people from food with red 40 for short periods before medical procedures, other people choose to cut red dye 40 out of their diets completely to avoid health risks. While red 40 is vegan, it's not without risks.

Read more: 10 Foods That Are Linked to a Higher Cancer Risk

A comprehensive review in the September 2012 issue of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health found that this coloring often contains carcinogens and can cause hypersensitivity reactions. Concerns also exist about the effects of food with red 40 on children's health.


A July 2012 article in _Neurotherapeutics _explains that the consumption of red dye 40 may cause some children to display behaviors that are similar to ADHD. For those who are on the edge of ADHD, this incremental change may cause them to cross over the line and get this diagnosis.