The History of Green Dye Is a History of Death
The use of green dye has a deadly history. In Victorian days an “emerald green” was bringing nature and greenery into the dull drab Victorian cities that proved to be fatal. One of the first green dresses ever, from around 1778, at the Bata Shoe Museum was a bold shade of green and was so jewel-like that it quickly began being called “emerald green.” And women loved it. Before long, illustrations were being run in newspapers depicting skeletons dancing in green dresses. This green produced ulcers all over the skin and hair fell out. Vomiting of blood before shutting down their livers and kidneys was possible. Baby’s died in their nurseries after playing on green carpets or rubbing up against green wallpaper. Matilda Scheurer, a 19-year-old woman who applied the green dye to fake flowers, died in a way that horrified the populace in 1861.
Consumers throughout history have engaged in all manner of wildly unhealthy behaviors for the sake of fashion, and you cannot leave out eating pleasures here either. We all like color because it is pleasing to the eye and in my opinion the production of colors still remains a huge industry!
What could have caused such distress in all these cases? They tested positive for arsenic in the dye (acid green). It was public knowledge that arsenic was poisonous so it was certainly not a secret; every Victorian home had a bit of the powder lying around for rats and mice.(1)
Fortunately, by 1895, “in the absence of government intervention, the people of Britain had used the power of their pocketbooks” to demand alternatives to the arsenic-based dye. We have the same pocketbook power today.
I know I have veered a little from food color additives. If these color additives affect our physiology even in our clothing, imagine what these colors do ingesting them. We would be wise to know some of these things and take the time to research and understand it. We also need to keep our government and the industry accountable.
Green is strongly associated with health, renewal, nature, fertility, energy, and is the color of balance. It is a relaxing color that is pleasing to the eye.
Chlorophyll is natural pigment found in all green plants This Sea green colored synthetic dye is not permitted in the European Union due to animal studies showing Fast Green to be a possible carcinogen.
Here is a list of the following color additives is no longer authorized or has been restricted:
- FD&C Green #1 – Removed from list – Nov. 29, 1977
- FD&C Green #2 – Removed from list – 81.30(d)
- C.I. ACID GREEN 3 is a dull dark green powder. Used as a dye for silk or wool and biological stains.
- Green 4; E142 – Not permitted in U.S. or Canada.
- D&C Green #5 – exists and is used for drugs and cosmetics including drugs and cosmetics for eye area
- D&C Green #6 – Use in ingested drugs and ingested cosmetics is no longer authorized Mar. 27, 1981 – 81.10(o). Use in external drugs external cosmetics, and sutures is allowed
- D&C Green #7 – Sep. 4, 1966
- D&C Green #8 – a fluorescent green dye. Limited in Highlighter Ink, Leak Tracing, Dishwasher Liquid, etc
The meaning of the initials: Food, Drug, & Cosmetics (FD&C); Drug & Cosmetics (D&C)
Fast Green FCF, also called Food Green 3, FD&C Green No. 3, Green 1724, Solid Green FCF, and C.I. 42053, is a sea green triarylmethane food dye. Its E number is E143. (CI=Color Index) The color is principally the disodium salt. It is soluble in water, sparingly soluble in ethanol and insoluble in vegetable oils.
WHY BE CONCERNED?
According to Merck’s specification records we see the following information:
The molecular structure of Green 3: Triarylmethane a group of any of a class of basic molecules; acid, mordant acid, and direct dyes. (Solid dark powder or granules with a metallic luster)
The history of Green 3 has caution written all over it. Below is an abbreviated list of precautionary codes for Food Green 3:
- P201 – Obtain special instructions before use.
- P202 -Do not handle until all safety precautions have been read and understood.
- P280 – Wear protective gloves/protective clothing/eye protection/face protection.
- P282 – Wear cold insulating gloves/face shield/eye protection.
- P284 – Wear respiratory protection.
Health Hazard Category GHS08: mutagenic
> Respiratory sensitization, category 1
> Germ cell mutagenicity, categories 1A,1B,2
> Carcinogenicity, categories 1A,1B,2
> Reproductive toxicity, categories 1A,1B,2
> Specific Target Organ Toxicity – Single exposure, categories 1,2
> Specific Target Organ Toxicity – Repeated exposure, categories 1,2
> Aspiration Hazard, category 1
Carcinogens and mutagens: A carcinogen is a substance that may cause cancer or increase its incidence by inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption.
Understanding Category 1A and Category 1B: Known or presumed human carcinogens
A substance is classified in Category 1 for carcinogenicity on the basis of epidemiological and/or animal data. A substance may also be included in category 1A if it is known that it is a human carcinogen, based on the existence of human testing, or category 1B if it is supposed to be a human carcinogen, based on the existence of animal testing.
There is not a safe environmental or occupational exposure dose to carcinogens. Due to the severity of harm from exposure to carcinogens and mutagens they should be regarded as substances of very high concern, and their elimination/substitution should be promoted as a precautionary measure, following the principles of preventive action according to Directive 89/391/EEC on the safety and health of workers at work, that applies only to chemicals that meet the criteria for classification as carcinogens or mutagens of categories 1A or 1B (according to CLP Regulation) or 1 or 2 (according to DSD). (Please go to ISTAS and read more about these codes.)
Here is a list of some of the possible risks:
- Besides being used as a food dye, it is used to stain living cells. It is commonly used in ophthalmology to diagnose problems on the surface of eyes.
- In animal studies, Green #3, caused malignant tumors at site of injection. It may cause allergic reaction in sensitive individuals.
- Fast green is not absorbed by the intestines very well. This means most of what is eaten is excreted.
- However, there have been studies that show it might produced tumors in lab animals. In its undiluted form, it may pose a risk of irritation of eyes, skin, digestive tract, and respiratory tract.(3)
In 1906, federal agencies stepped in and Congress passed the United States Food and Drugs Act, which prohibited the use of poisonous or harmful colors in confectionery and the coloring or staining of food to conceal spoiling, damage, or inferiority. Today, the natural look of unadulterated foods is highly valued.(4)
So why is Green 3 approved by the FD&C and still allowed to be used in the U.S.? That is a good question!
WHAT GRADE DOES ARTIFICIAL GREEN GET?
According to Be Food Smart’s report card, FD&C Green no. 3 receives a failing grade: “F”. (click the “F” and find out why.)
WHERE IS GREEN FOUND?
Common uses for Green No.3 have been used in the US since 1927 to provide a pleasing sea green color to various foods including beverages, puddings, ice cream, sherbet, confections, candies, baked goods, cherries, dairy fats and oil, meat, seafood, snacks, dry mixes and seasonings, fruit preparations, convenient food, flavors and dairy products. It is also used in pharmaceutical products, personal care products, and cosmetics (lipsticks).(2) Green No.3 can be found to be used for tinned green peas and other vegetables, jellies, sauces, fish, desserts, mint Listerine, and dry bakery mixes at level of up to 100 mg/kg.(3)
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
1. Be your own investigator.
2. Use your pocketbook to speak.
3. Get your colors from natural resources. It can provide a little added nutritional benefit like added fiber, Vitamin C among other vitamins and minerals.
- liquid chlorophyll (see where to buy liquid chlorophyll)
- matcha powder (see where to buy matcha)
- Spirulina powder (see where to buy spirulina powder) – use sparingly
- parsley juice
- wheatgrass juice
- spinach juice
I do not benefit from sales from any of the above mentioned products.
Making your own green food coloring with Spinach:
- 1 cup (30 grams) spinach, fresh or frozen (if frozen, thaw and drain)
- 3 tablespoons water, plus more as needed
If using fresh spinach, in a small saucepan, boil the spinach in enough water to cover and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Cooking it too long will cause the spinach to lose its color. Drain, discarding the cooking liquid. If using frozen and thawed spinach, skip to the next step.
In a high-speed blender or food processor, blend the spinach and water together until completely smooth. If the mixture clumps or stubbornly refuses to blend, add more water as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time. Strain, if desired, and let cool.
Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator or freeze for up to 4 months. Add 1 teaspoon to icings, frostings or batter for starters to impart a green hue. Add more coloring, if necessary.
Spinach is not the only green food you can use. Any leafy green that has a rich color will be fine.
If you would prefer to buy it, here are a few places you can go.
- Color Kitchen Food Coloring
- Natural Baking Decorations
- India Tree
- Color Garden
- TruColor, King Arthur (but most they sell are artificial from Americolor)
- Uncle Roy’s (UK brand)
Using Color Kitchen colored powdered mixes won’t affect the frosting’s texture. Simply mix the blue and yellow together until you get a green you like.
With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner it may be challenging to avoid green food dyes. Believe it or not Green No. 3 has been linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer. Green food coloring is made by combining blue and yellow dyes and is always synthetic. Chlorophyll could work as a replacement but it’s not approved for use as a food coloring in the United States. Chlorophyll is ironically considered a superfood and has countless health benefits protecting the body. There are several reasons why green foods are considered as blood-building foods because of the similarity in structures of the two colored pigments, the red heme and the green chlorophyll.
Please take the time to read more about the benefits of the green color in natural foods in my blog post Put A Spring Into Your Step.
How do you dye your food naturally?
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