A Colorful Past: The History of Artificial Yellow Dye in the United States

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The story of artificial yellow dyes in the United States, notably Tartrazine (Yellow No. 5 or E102) and Sunset Yellow (Yellow No. 6 or E110), is a fascinating journey through the intersection of science, industry, and food regulation. This article delves into the creation and introduction of these synthetic dyes into the American food supply, highlighting important historical milestones.

Creation of Artificial Yellow Dye

Tartrazine, or Yellow No. 5, was first synthesized in a laboratory setting in the late 19th century. It was initially developed in 1876 as a textile dye by Swiss chemist, Johann Heinrich Ziegler. However, its use expanded into the food industry as a cost-effective, vibrant, and stable coloring agent.

Sunset Yellow, or Yellow No. 6, also saw its inception in the late 19th century, first synthesized by the British company, B.A.S.F., as a coal-tar derivative. As with Tartrazine, Sunset Yellow found its way into the food industry due to its bright hue, stability, and lower cost compared to natural colorings.

Introduction of Artificial Yellow Dye into American Foods

Artificial food coloring, including yellow dyes, found their way into the American food landscape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the time, there was a significant surge in industrial food production, and artificial colors were an affordable means to make processed food more visually appealing.

However, the lack of regulation led to rampant misuse and adulteration, with some manufacturers even using harmful dyes in food. This era, often referred to as 'The Poison Squad' era, culminated in the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, which aimed to protect the public from harmful additives and mandated labeling of certain harmful ingredients.

However, it wasn't until the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 that artificial food dyes were subjected to pre-market testing for safety. Under this law, seven dyes, including Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow, were initially certified as safe for consumption.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, concerns about the safety of artificial dyes began to grow, leading to additional regulations and the delisting of some dyes. Today, the FDA continues to monitor and regulate the use of food dyes, including Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6, to ensure their safety for consumers.

In conclusion, the history of artificial yellow dyes in the United States is one of scientific innovation, changing industry practices, and evolving food regulations. It's a testament to the dynamic relationship between science and society, shaped by advances in research, consumer awareness, and regulatory oversight.


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