Red 3: A carcinogenic additive allowed to be in food products? 

Article Author: Lucy Watt, Biology Major, Class of 2024, POB Science Translator

Who doesn’t love some holiday-themed candy over the month of December? I know I do! But did you know that some of your favorite candies, along with a large variety of pre-packaged snacks and plant-based meats, contain a food dye that is known to cause cancer in animals? The use of Red dye 3 may make your candy and treats merry & bright, but at what cost? An important new Consumer Report from last month (November 2022) exposes the risks from our exposures. 

Since the 1980s the FDA has known, through laboratory evidence, that Red 3 caused cancer in animals. Red 3 is a “synthetic dye made from petroleum that gives foods and drinks a bright, cherry-red color” (Kirchner, 2022). Petroleum is made from coal oil, which is made up of a compound called benzene. Benzene and petroleum are known to cause cancer in humans.  Following this news, the FDA banned the use of Red 3 cosmetics and externally applied drugs. However, after promising to make efforts toward emitting Red 3 from foods, drugs, and supplements, the additive still remains on our grocery store shelves! Despite the FDA’s knowledge of this, there are “2,876 brand-name food products that contain Red 3- including hundreds of foods made by the country’s biggest food companies” (CSPI, 2022).

A policy called the Delaney clause bans the use of additives or food dyes in food products that are known to cause cancer in animals. Red 3 is a known carcinogen and is still allowed to be used in food products, violating this clause. The FDA’s lack of action has led to an uproar by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Along with 23 other organizations, the CSPI has signed a petition to ban the use of Red 3 in food products. The petition gives the FDA 180 days to make the decision whether or not to ban Red 3 from being an additive in food products. The hope is by this time next year, we will be able to enjoy a safer holiday without this dye.

You may think to yourself: if the FDA knows all of the harmful side effects of Red 3 consumption and it is still legal, then Red 3 must not be so bad. Sadly this is not the case. Multiple studies have found that long-term consumption of Red 3 causes adenomas (a non-cancerous tumor that has the ability to become cancerous) and carcinomas (a cancerous tumor) of the thyroid gland in mice. The chemical makeup of Red 3 is what is most concerning to human health. Benzene is a known human carcinogen and exposure to it elevates women’s chances of developing breast cancer. Not only is Red 3 used in candy but it is also used in best-selling ADHD medications. Another impact of consuming Red 3 is the development of behavioral problems in children, specifically neurobehavioral problems.

In order to stay safer during the holidays, and the seasons that follow, make an active effort to look at the ingredients of any dyed products you are buying. Along with Red 3, look out for Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, which are all also known carcinogens allowed by the FDA in food products. The best way to avoid these is by choosing USDA-certified organic products. This label ensures that your product does not contain any chemicals of concern. Check out our brand partners for delicious, safer alternatives to the chemically-filled snacks and sweets on most of our shelves! Keeping all of this information in mind, Protect Our Breasts is wishing you and yours a safe and healthy holiday season!


FDA says it causes cancer. yet it’s in hundreds of candies. Center for Science in the Public Interest. (2022, November 4). Retrieved November 21, 2022, from’s%20in%20hundreds%20of%20candies.,-SHARE&text=It’s%20illegal%20to%20use%20the,blush%2C%20or%20externally%20applied%20drugs. 

Kirchner, L. (2022, November 14). Why is red dye 3 banned in cosmetics but still allowed in food? Consumer Reports. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from’ll%20see,bright%2C%20cherry%2Dred%20color. 


Disclaimer: The information provided herein is the author’s opinion. Our authors are not scientists. We are not providing medical advice, but simply sharing publicly available information. When we reference data and databases, we do so with the caveat that most are only as good as the data they are based on. While POB strives to make the information as timely and accurate as possible, we make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the completeness, or adequacy of the contents of any site that is shared, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of these sites. POB goes to great lengths to avoid declaring shared products as “safe” as there is no legal definition of the word “safe” at this time.

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