Happy St. Patty's Day! Even if you're not Irish, today is a day most Americans celebrate purely for the joy of wearing green and drinking. So pull out that green t-shirt and grab a pint of dyed green beer...or not. What exactly makes your beer green? We've become so accustomed to associating the color green with healthy or environmentally friendly things that it's pretty easy to gloss over that question. But on St. Patty's Day we find quite a few things dyed a neon green that are typically very different colors. It almost turns me off from the beer that flows on this day...almost.
So, really, what is that green dye made of? Green food coloring is also known as FD&C Green No. 3 or Fast Green FCF or E143 or Sea Green. It is one of the seven dyes that were originally approved in 1906 in the Pure Food and Drug Act. Yes, that's right, it's that old! But is it safe?
Well, that's relative. The US Food and Drug Administration would have you think so. But a study conducted in 1969 by Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (did you even know this existed?) found that injections of small amounts of the green dye in rats caused fibrosarcoma, a malignant tumor derived from fibrous connective tissue, and inhibited growth. But, then in a study in 1978, no tumors formed in hamsters that were injected with the green dye. In a study in 1966, rats were fed the green dye instead of injected, and they did not show growth or mortality effects. The result of the 1969 study reported that there was no evidence of green dye causing cancer if eaten and digested. However, they did state that the study was not thorough enough and results may have been inadequate to prove this, so another study would have to be completed by 1985. Additionally, the study assured us that the green dye is poorly absorbed by our bodies and most of it is excreted in our feces (yay!). Ok, sounds like we're in the clear!!
Or are we? I checked an MSDS safety sheet for the green dye and according to it's toxicology status, Fast Green FCF in solid form is considered an animal carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and it is a mutagenic substance. Mutagenic means that it actually changes your genetic material. It specifically states "mutagenic effects have occurred in humans" but it doesn't list what they were! It is also considered a skin, eye and respiratory irritant! Yikes. Here's another study conducted in 1984 that confirmed these scary findings!
Ok, ok, so maybe we'll be safe if we only have a little green beer on St. Patty's Day and then avoid green jelly beans for the rest of the year. But what else is Fast Green FCF found in? Well it comes in doses of up to 100mg/kg in typical things like:
- candied fruit
- fruit purees and toppings
- coconut milk
- fruit fillings for pastries
- hard candy
- pastas and noodles
- cereal and puddings
- frozen fish
- fried fish
- herbs, spices, condiments
- mayonnaise and salad dressing
So spit out your green beer and grab a draft of something else less dyed, put down Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham, and just wear green instead! Here are a few more ideas for St. Patty's day from one of my favorite environmental blogs, TreeHugger. And six green hangover remedies too!
Happy St. Patty's Day!