Sunday, June 9, 2019

What are some food ingredients allowed in the USA but banned in other countries?

The USA is well known for its safe food supply.  But there are foods and ingredients in the USA that are banned in other countries.  Each country and the European Union have their own food standards so what can be sold in one country may be banned for sale in another country.  

Go on a trip to another country and you will see American food everywhere.  In France, you can easily stop at a McDonald’s for their coffee or food.  Our fast food restaurants seem to populate the globe.  But some foods you can easily buy in the USA are not sold in some other countries.  Or, there are some ingredients you can find on food labels in the USA but not in some countries.  What are some of these ingredients and what countries ban them?
     1.    Artificial Food Dyes:   Many candies and other foods are colorful because of artificial food dyes.  M&M’s – one of my favorite snacks, especially the Peanut M&M’s, are colored yellow, blue, red and green.  If you look at the ingredients the colors are noted:  Blue 1 Lake, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1.   The European Union requires a warning label on foods and snacks like M&M’s or other candies that contain the food dyes:  yellow 5, yellow 6, or red 40.  The European Union required warning label states: “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”.  Actually, in the USA, for 10 years there were no red M&M’s.  This was because in 1976 the Mars candy company decided to remove red colored M&Ms because of the controversy over the dye Red No. 2.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned Red No. 2 in 1976.  Even though Red No. 2 wasn’t used in M&M candies, the Mars company stopped making red M&Ms because of the concern over red food dyes and included orange M&M’s instead.  Interesting that Canada took no action at the time against Red No. 2.  And in many countries, such as all the European Union countries, Red No. 2 is still legal.   (For fun, look at this 1986 M&M commercial , sans red M&Ms:  (
 But banning a red food dye doesn’t mean red food coloring is banned forever.  After the ten-year ban (1976-1986), red M&Ms were back in 1987.  Why?    Although Red No. 2 is banned, there is now Red No. 40.  As noted above, the ingredient list for M&M’s contains Red No. 40. 
 There is no exact science for deciding what food color to ban and which to allow.  Although Red No. 2 is still illegal in the USA, it is still legal in other countries. In fact, the European Food Safety Authority declared it harmless in 2010.  On the other hand, the European Safety Authority recommends children limit their intake of Red No. 40. 
       2.  Preservatives – many food manufacturers add preservatives to foods for a longer shelf life. 
a.       One such preservative, Butylated Hydroxyanisole or BHA, can be found in many foods such as potato chips, cereals, cookies and some vegetable oils.  Again, countries differ in the regulation of BHA.  FDA has BHA on the GRAS list which is a list of ingredients Generally Recognized As Safe.  In contrast, the European Union has strict regulations on the use of BHA.  

b.       Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) – also used as a preservative in foods such as snacks and breads.  BHT is also on FDA’s GRAS list so in the USA it is recognized as safe.  In other countries, BHT is restricted and use is limited.  Some companies have decided not to use BHT.  In 2015, General Meals decided to remove BHT from all its cereals.  
Cinnamon Toast Crunch sans BHT
c.       Potassium bromate – used in some baked goods as it helps dough rise and improves the texture of baked goods.  The European Union, Argentina, Canada and some other countries have banned its use in food.  Potassium bromate is considered safe by the FDA.
It is interesting how different countries consider a food additive safe, while another country has banned it or restricts its use.  I am glad the red M&Ms were brought back in 1987 and remain in a package of M&Ms.  One doesn’t have to eliminate food dyes and additives in order to cut back on them.  Eating real food instead of fake food is one way to easily cut back on food dyes.  For example, Sunny D contains many preservatives and the food dyes, Yellow#5 and Yellow#6.  Replace Sunny D with real orange juice and you eliminated the preservatives and the food dyes.  Cut back on the sports drinks like Gatorade which contains Red 40 and hydrate with real juice or fresh fruit like watermelon or oranges.  Choose healthy whole grain chips like Sun Chips that have no BHT in the ingredient list.   
This week, take some time to read the labels of the foods you eat and check the ingredients to see what artificial colors or preservatives are in your foods.

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