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California could ban Flamin' Hot Cheetos and other snacks in schools under new bill

California considers ban on some food additives
California considers ban on food additives linked to potential health risks 01:42

Snacks such as Flamin' Hot Cheetos may soon be banned in California schools. A bill proposed in the state assembly seeks remove foods from schools that contain artificial ingredients like red 40, blue 1 and titanium dioxide. Many child-focused foods like chips and cereals contain these ingredients.

Cheetos varieties, including the popular and spicy Flamin' Hot version, and other chips such as Doritos include colorings red 40, yellow 5 and yellow 6 – all on the list of ingredients that would be banned if the bill is enacted. Cereals like Froot Loops and Fruity Pebbles also include these yellow and red dyes as well as blue 1. Candies like Jolly Ranchers also contain these ingredients. 

Some soups, mac and cheese brands and other foods can contain titanium dioxide, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has long advocated for the banning of foods with the substance and synthetic dyes.

In existing California law, the state's education department must uphold nutritional guidelines when serving food on campus. Free lunch and breakfast is available to all all students kindergarten through 12th grade in the state.

The current rules state foods given to students must be a fruit, vegetable, dairy, protein or whole grain item. The rules also set standards for calories, sugars and fats in these foods.

Democratic California Assembly Member Jesse Gabriel wants to amend the rules so that all schools – public, charter or a state special school – cannot sell or provide foods with blue 1, blue 2, green 3, red 40, titanium dioxide, yellow 5 and yellow 6.

In a social media post announcing the bill, Gabriel said these chemicals are "linked to serious health concerns including DNA damage, cancer, hyperactivity, and neurobehavioral issues from food served to students."

A 2012 study by the National Institutes of Health found red 3 causes cancer in animals and red 40, yellow 5 and yellow 6 have been found to be contaminated with carcinogens like benzidine, which can increase risk of developing cancer. 

Blue 1, red 40, yellow 5 and yellow 6 cause hypersensitivity reactions – an exaggerated immune response to allergens – and rodent studies of yellow 5 were positive for genotoxicity, which cause cell mutations that could lead to cancer, according to NIH. 

NIH recommended that since these dyes don't improve nutrition of foods, they should be removed. They said, however, more toxicity testing is required. 

The Food and Drug Administration approves the use of dyes in foods and requires evidence that a color additive is safe before being added to products. It also requires manufactures to include on product labels which of these ingredients are used. 

The administration has sent out warning letters when dye usages were not disclosed – like when yellow 6 in dehydrated papaya or blue 1 in noodle products were undeclared. They have a list of products have have received warnings for not declaring use of these ingredients.

The FDA says they cannot be absolutely certain of the risk of these ingredients due to limits in sciene. "Therefore, the FDA must determine – based on the best science available º if there is a reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers when a color additive is used as proposed," the administration says. "The FDA does not approve the use of a color additive that is found to induce cancer in people or animals."

The FDA looks at several factors when considering these ingredients, including the amount that would typically be consumed and the immediate and long term effects. 

In 2023, California became the first state to ban four food additives – red dye no. 3, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil and propyl paraben – according to CBS San Francisco.

These additives are used in foods like Peeps, the sugar-coated marshmallow treats typical sold at Easter. An original version of that bill included titanium dioxide, which is found in Skittles, but it was amended in the Senate and taken out of the legislation. 

The European Union has banned several food additives that are allowed in the U.S., including titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil, azodicarbonamide and propylparaben.

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