California is moving to ban four food additives commonly found in fruit juices, candy, cookies, and other sweets, in a first for the United States.
As of Jan. 1, 2027, violators could face fines of up to $10,000 as part of a landmark law signed this month to purge brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propylparaben, and Red Dye No. 3 from the state’s food supply because of health concerns.
Why These 4 Additives Raised Red Flags
Brominated Vegetable Oil
Brominated vegetable oil is used in soda and other beverages to keep the citrus flavoring intact, according to the Mayo Clinic. In the short term, bromine can irritate the skin and the moist lining of the nose, mouth, lungs, and stomach.
Long-term exposure may cause neurological symptoms such as:
- Memory loss
- Impaired balance
- Impaired coordination
Potassium bromate is a substance added to dough to improve its strength, leading to increased volume and a better texture in baked goods. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an activist organization that co-sponsored the legislation, estimates that about 190 products such as packaged breads and frozen foods contain the chemical additive. It has been linked to:
- Lung irritation
- Irritability and personality problems
- Kidney damage and higher risk of kidney cancer
Propylparaben is a preservative that’s designed to prolong the freshness of packaged food by preventing the growth of mold and bacteria. It’s frequently used in items such as corn tortillas, baked desserts, and cake icing. Parabens such as propylparaben are associated with:
- Hormone system disruption
- Poor reproductive health
- Skin irritation
- Increased risk of cancer
Red Dye No. 3
Red Dye No. 3 is a synthetic red food coloring solely used to make foods such as candy, baked goods, and sodas look more appealing to consumers. Some studies have linked exposure to the artificial food dye to:
- Behavioral problems in children
- Hyperactivity and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
FDA Hasn’t Reviewed the 4 Chemicals in Decades
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of Assembly Bill 418, titled the California Food Safety Act, represents a “huge step forward” in protecting residents from dangerous chemicals in foods, Jesse Gabriel, chair of the state Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, said in a statement.
Mr. Gabriel called the bill’s passage significant progress and said it’s unacceptable that the United States lags behind other countries on food safety regulation. California is the first state to ban all four ingredients, following the lead of the European Union, the UK, Canada, Australia, China, and Japan.
“This bill will not ban any foods or products—it simply will require food companies to make minor modifications to their recipes and switch to safer alternative ingredients that they already use in Europe and so many other places around the globe,” Mr. Gabriel said.
Brian Ronholm, the food policy director of Consumer Reports, which also co-sponsored the bill, added that California took an important stand, criticizing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to act.
“We’ve known for years that the toxic chemicals banned under California’s landmark new law pose serious risks to our health,” he said in the same statement. “Safer versions of food products that are available in other countries should be made available to U.S. consumers too.”
The FDA hasn’t reviewed the four chemicals banned by the bill in at least 30 years, according to the statement.
“By keeping these dangerous chemicals out of food sold in the state, this groundbreaking law will protect Californians and encourage manufacturers to make food safer for everyone,” Mr. Ronholm said.
Bans on Other Food Chemicals Sought
The FDA’s slow pace of reviews for food additives is hampered by financial constraints, according to the EWG. But California’s law could prompt more rigorous federal oversight.
The EWG has petitioned to ban titanium dioxide, a whitening food additive, and Red Dye No. 3 from all food supplies nationwide. Titanium dioxide has been linked to respiratory issues and has been classified as a possible carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
“These petitions offer the FDA a chance to step up to the plate and do its job to protect Americans from toxic food chemicals,” Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs, said. “We urge the FDA to take action on these petitions and protect the health of all consumers across the country.”
The FDA didn’t respond by press time to a request for comment.