Those sneaky additives and dyes that are found in so many popular foods can be quite scary, but good news came out of California earlier this month regarding new safeguards against these potentially harmful chemicals. On October 7, 2023, Gov. Gavin Newsome signed the California Food Safety Act, which will officially ban the use of Red Dye No. 3, brominated vegetable oil, propylparaben, and potassium bromate—four additives found in a variety of processed foods like candy corn, Peeps, packaged muffins and baked goods, fruit sodas like Crush and Sun Drop, and even some WeightWatcher products.
Although the new law won’t go into effect until January 1, 2027, it represents a milestone in food safety, and it will likely impact Americans regardless of whether they live in California. Any product containing these ingredients will either need to be reformulated or pulled from shelves in California by that date; any failure to comply will result in hefty fines against the manufacturer, distributor, and even the retailer of said products. It seems reasonable to assume that most manufacturers will opt to change the current recipes to be compliant with the new law rather than producing different versions of the same foods across states. So whether you live in California or Kalamazoo, you should be paying attention.
We spoke to Susan Little, Environmental Working Group (EWG) senior advocate for California government affairs, who tells us, “The four food chemicals covered by the California Food Safety Act have been linked to a number of serious health concerns. They were banned by the European Union after it launched a full review of the safety of all food additives in 2008.” California has now become the first U.S. state to implement similar bans, and the hope is that more states will soon follow. In fact, similar legislation is already under review in New York, too.
The four banned additives and their possible health risks
As noted, these additives were already banned in Europe, but they are still used in a multitude of U.S. food products today:
What does this mean for the consumer?
We now know the potential protection that can come from such a bill, but what exactly does it mean for the consumer?
According to Little, “The passage of this bill represents a huge step toward protecting children and families in California from dangerous and toxic chemicals in food.” She says “The ingredients banned are often found in food marketed to children, so the ban will remove these ingredients from children’s food, especially by 2027.”
What comes next?
When asked why the law won’t go into effect until 2027, Little explains, “The purpose of the bill is for companies to make minor modifications to their recipes to remove these toxic chemicals from their products, so the bill does not go into effect until 2027 to give companies adequate time to modify.”
Now that the bill has been signed, what should consumers expect? For starters, Little believes that the legislation will have vast consequences beyond California.
“Given the size of California’s economy, it is unlikely manufacturers will produce two versions of their product—one to be sold solely in California and one for the rest of the country,” says Little. This means that major companies may make changes to all of their products, which would result in states outside of California being able to sell items without these chemicals. “As many as 12,000 products may be affected, based on EWG’s Food Scores Database.”
We will also most likely see other states begin to pass similar bans; as mentioned, New York is already on its way to banning these four additives, along with titanium dioxide.
While it’s alarming that these ingredients have been lurking in our food for years, despite the evidence to suggest the U.S. should have followed Europe’s lead long ago, the California bill is a promising step in the right direction. And, as Little points out, “Consumers consistently rank food chemical concerns ahead of other food safety issues,” meaning this issue isn’t going away anytime soon.