Red Dye 40, it’s one of those weird-sounding ingredients you’ll find on many food and product labels. Also known as Allura Red, it’s the most common artificial food coloring (AFC). You’ll find it in candy, baked goods, and cosmetics. There are plenty of claims that AFCs can be toxic, so just how harmful is Red 40?

Red 40 is a certified color that comes from petroleum distillates or coal tars. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that it has to be listed by name on food and product labels. Additives that don’t need to be specified on labels are called “exempt.” These colorings are made from plant, animal, or mineral sources.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Red 40 and other AFCs can cause allergic reactions in some people. Research shows they can also cause hyperactivity in children and immune system tumors in mice. Red 40 contains p-Cresidine, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says is “reasonably anticipated” to be a human carcinogen.

One study found that Red 40 lowers reproductive success in rats. It also reduced parental and offspring weight, decreased brain weight, and lowered chances for survival in newborn rats. The authors said the colorant showed evidence of physical and behavioral toxicity in developing rats that consumed Red 40 as 10 percent of their diet. The Environmental Working Group lists the overall hazard level for Red 40 as low. Other entities claim it is highly toxic, most importantly because people are unaware of how much they are exposed to it.

FDA regulations mean that Red 40 must be listed on labels as "FD&C Red No. 40" or "Red 40." However, manufacturers don’t have to specify how much is in their product. In the European Union, warning labels are required on most dyed foods, which has caused a major downturn in their use.

Foods that aren’t red or orange can still include Red 40. You can find it, and other AFCs, in cheeses, peanut butter crackers, salad dressings, and marshmallows.

Red 40 goes by the following names:

  • Red 40
  • Red No. 40
  • FD & C Red No. 40
  • FD and C Red No. 40
  • Allura Red
  • Allura Red AC
  • C. I. 16035
  • C.I. Food Red 17

Here are just a few of the products on the market that contain Red 40.


Common products that are Red 40-free

Some products that are AFC-free or include natural dyes include:

  • Berry Berry Kix
  • Cheerios
  • Grape-Nuts
  • Post Shredded Wheat
  • Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
  • Kashi GoLean
  • Yoplait yogurts
  • Some Kraft Macaroni & Cheese products
  • Mott's Medleys Fruit Flavored Snacks
  • Ocean Spray Fruit Flavored Snacks
  • Special K Red Berries Cereal

To avoid Red 40, look for foods that don’t contain any artificial dyes. After receiving much backlash from concerned consumers, some companies are now using natural dyes as alternatives to Red 40. These Red 40 alternatives can be derived from natural products such as beets, elderberry, and purple sweet potatoes.