On April 20, 2015 Kraft Foods announced that starting in 2016 they will no longer produce their Kraft Original Macaroni and Cheese using artificial preservatives, or yellow #5 and #6 as synthetic colors. Instead, they will be replacing the colorants with non-synthetic colors like paprika, annatto, and turmeric (more information about food colorants and food additives can be found here and here).
Kraft has already made this same change in to their equivalent product sold in the United Kingdom. Additionally, they have increased the whole grain content, and decreased saturated fat and sodium content. They also plan on making the same changes to their macaroni and cheese products sold in Canada. However, in the U.S. , all Kraft macaroni and cheese “shapes” are already made without artificial preservatives and synthetic colors.
Although a few online bloggers have cited victory with this change to a very familiar food product, Kraft has said that they made the decision to remove the ingredients long before bloggers were signing petitions to have the ingredients removed. Kraft has said that their reason for removing artificial preservatives and synthetic colors was “to delight consumers with on-trend updates to meet consumers’ changing lifestyles and needs”. Although these changes correlate with the demands of consumers, it is important to note that the original product was not unsafe. Let’s take a closer look at the implications of these changes.
The main concerns surrounding the removal of artificial preservatives and synthetic colors include a reported link between synthetic colors to ADHD in children, allergies to the ingredients, and that the ingredients simply aren’t natural enough. Numerous studies have claimed to show that ADHD can be caused by many different sources. However, there has never been any evidence to suggest that synthetic colors can cause ADHD in children; yet they may account for some symptoms. Although there is a slight correlation in a small percentage of children, it is really difficult to tell if synthetic colors perpetuated the symptoms.
In addition, allergic reactions to ingredients are also a concern. A person can be allergic to almost anything, which is why it is important to note that people can have allergies to paprika, annatto, and turmeric as well. In fact, food colorants that have the designation of “natural” account for more allergies than synthetic ones. Less than 1% of adults have allergies to food additives, but of that 1% most are allergic to “natural” colorants such as annatto. As always, it is important to note that just because something is designated as natural, does not make it completely safe or free of adverse affects. The U.S. has a rigorous testing process for food ingredients and synthetic colors have not been found to have any harmful effects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have both approved yellow #5 and #6 for consumption. Kraft has even reported that it considers these ingredients safe to consume.
While Kraft is doing a great job appealing to their consumers and keeping up-to-date with trends, it is important to keep in mind that these changes to their perhaps most famous product don’t make it any safer than before the change.
Stevens, L. J., T. Kuczek, J. R. Burgess, E. Hurt, and L. E. Arnold. “Dietary Sensitivities and ADHD Symptoms: Thirty-five Years of Research.” Clinical Pediatrics 50.4 (2011): 279-93. Web.