A colorful controversy over a cheesy classic

It’s a food found in pantries across the country, but could an ingredient in it be bad for your health?

About 200,000 people are challenging Kraft Foods to remove the artificial food dyes from its macaroni and cheese, in a petition started by two food bloggers.

The two ingredients at the center of the debate are in the familiar fluorescent cheese sauce powder — Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6.

“For the most part, all of the dyes that are in our foods are very safe. It’s just that Yellow No. 5 is one that … some people have sensitivities to it,” said Tammy Clark, Viterbo University assistant professor of chemistry.

A report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, called Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks, found Yellow No.’s 5 and 6 can cause allergic reactions and contain carcinogens.


But Clark said as long as you eat foods containing those dyes in moderation, those cancer-causing substances shouldn’t worry you.

“There’s no reason to be afraid of any carcinogenic activity as long as you’re not eating boatloads at it,” said Clark.

But even if parents never feed their children foods with artificial coloring at home, they still could be getting them at school.

“We have a few students that do have dye allergies, but it’s not very many,” said La Crosse School District Nutrition Supervisor Joni Ralph. “We focus on the top eight food allergens for students. And then, when students have specific food intolerances or allergies after that point, then we’re working with the school nurses to help students with that.”

Some studies have indicated food dyes could cause hyperactivity in children, but Clark said she thinks there are too many variables to know for sure.

“If your child is hyperactive after he eats mac and cheese, well, is it all the carbs that he consumed?” said Clark.

A Kraft Foods spokesperson points out all the food dyes the company uses are deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration. Plus, Kraft offers 14 other mac and cheese options that do not contain artificial coloring

The version of Kraft mac and cheese sold in the UK does not contain artificial coloring because Kraft removed it after consumers there complained.