By Betsy Keller, MS, RD
This morning I reached into the deep recesses of my fridge to find Pillsbury Cinnabon buns with PINK icing. I realized I had purchased the can in October during Breast Cancer Awareness month and was fascinated that the expiration date could have lasted until late November. The canister had the obvious pink banners that clearly stated Pillsbury’s dedication to Breast Cancer Awareness month and announced their partnership with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. While I fully condone and appreciate corporate responsibility campaigns, this particular one was egregiously pink and ironic.
The irony was not lost on my 9-year-old daughter (yes the daughter of a registered dietitian) who exclaimed, “Mom isn’t that pink stuff from red dye number 40 which is a chemical that can cause cancer?” Hmmm. My daughter held up the peeled label and began reading the ingredients until she arrived at red dye #40 and yellow #5. It was her idea to open up the cabinet and see if we had other items with this known petroleum chemical masquerading as a food coloring. She then exclaimed, “Mom, we really don’t eat all that much fake pink and red stuff do we?” I smiled. My third and last child had been properly informed of the hazards of man-made chemicals that our government does not feel compelled to remove from our food. The only red item we could find in our cabinet was a box of red Jell-O which was left over after Halloween when we made fake blood for the haunted house. It was never meant to be eaten.
Every year in Australia, Bakers Delight bakery franchise holds their annual Pink Bun fundraising campaign and since 1999 has managed to raise over 5.5 million dollars for Breast Cancer Network of Australia (BCNA). From 28 April to May 18, Bakers Delight bakery franchise, the largest bakery chain in Australia, donated 100% of their revenue from sales of their pink finger buns to support the charity’s work in breast cancer. Once again, a noble cause in concept and spirit, but I sure hope it was beet juice they were squeezing in the royal icing mix.
In Europe, red dye #40 is not recommended for consumption by children. It is banned in Denmark, Belgium, France and Switzerland. The European Union approves red dye #40 as a food color, but EU countries’ local laws banning food colors are fortunately upheld. In the United States, red dye #40 is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in cosmetics, drugs, and food such as soft drinks, children’s medications, and cotton candy.
In 2010, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) called for the FDA to ban red dye $40 and Executive Director Michael Jacobson said, “These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children. And, possibly, cancer in anybody.”
Betsy Keller, MS, RD is a nutrition marketing and communications consultant specializing in sustainable food, nutrition and health-related issues. She is a freelance writer and also lectures in Fairfield County, CT.