Kraft takes food dyes out of Mac and Cheese

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Kraft is taking food dyes out of its character-shaped product lines for a healthier version of the classic pasta. (Photo by Samantha Williams.)
Kraft is taking food dyes out of its character-shaped product lines for a healthier version of the classic pasta. (Photo by Samantha Williams.)

Kraft will remove artificial food dyes from some lines of its macaroni and cheese in 2014. However, it is only removing the dye from the character-shaped product lines, which means SpongeBob SquarePants and Ninja Turtle-shaped macaroni will come without any food coloring.

Kraft will substitute the artificial dye with various spices to make the macaroni the bright, SpongeBob-yellow color.

Kraft has not said why it is only changing the character-shaped macaroni. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, wonders why Kraft won’t take the dye out of its classic elbow-shaped line. 

“I’m puzzled as to why Kraft would not make this change for the variety that kids likely consume the most,” Jacobson said in a statement on the Center for Science site. “It is clearly possible to make macaroni and cheese without these harmful chemicals.”

Yellow 5, labeled Tartrazine, is one of the food dyes that will now be banned. Tartrazine is an acidic dye that comes from coal tar, according to UpToDate.com and Wolters Kluwer Health. Tartrazine is used in foods and medications as a colorant and has been reported to trigger asthmatic reactions, which is why it has created concerns among parents.

Food blogger Vani Hari petitioned Kraft to stop using these potentially dangerous food dyes. Hari stated in her petition, signed by more than 348,00 people, that these food dyes are not used in European versions of the pasta and therefore, she sees no reason why the American versions must use these dyes. 

Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, both dyes used by Kraft, were approved by the FDA for use in foods in the United States. The FDA monitors levels of additives in foods and medicines to make sure they are safe for consumption, according to D. Keith Willmore, a physician in the student health center.

“The most common problem with additives in foods is going to be allergic reactions,” Willmore, M.D. said. “The FDA decides if something occurs enough to restrict it. That’s what they’re constantly evaluating.” 

However, the FDA doesn’t always ban additives that contain some potentially dangerous chemicals. Some additives are allowed to contain small amounts of metals and toxins such as mercury, arsenic and cadmium according to Gene Cole, a professor in the Department of Health Science.

Cole said Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are sometimes contaminated with chemicals such as benzidene, which is a known carcinogen.

“Based on available science data to this point, it seems very wise to begin to eliminate the majority and perhaps eventually all food color additives,” Cole said. “Some pre-disposed individuals, and perhaps those with diets heavy in those additives, could have a higher risk of adverse health effects. Kraft foods is being wise in removing Yellow 5 and 6 from its mac and cheese.”

Another step Kraft is taking in the right direction is lowering sodium and saturated fat and adding whole grains. Willmore said small steps like this can make a difference in the lifestyle of those consuming these products.

“The whole grain is much more nutritious than one that’s been bleached and refined,” Willmore said. “Making a little change like that, one that may not change the taste much and still improve the nutrition, I would be very much in support of this as a physician.”

Julie Hansen, a sophomore from Ankara, Turkey, eats Kraft Macaroni and Cheese at least once a week and is excited about the healthier new options that will be available.

“I think it’s awesome that they are trying to shift to healthier options,” Hansen said. “I am excited to see what they present in the future, and it would probably make me more comfortable with eating mac and cheese in the future and feeding it to my family.”