What to know about the food additives now banned in California

In October, California banned the use of four food additives. Companies have until 2027 to reformulate—or stop selling—products that contain them. Here’s what to know about the four.

The European Union already prohibits nearly all uses of the four additives that were banned by the recent California Food Safety Act.

The California ban may push the FDA to follow suit. Until it acts, though, you’ll need to check food label ingredients lists.

Red 3

In 1990, the FDA banned Red 3 for use in cosmetics like lipsticks and blush and in topical drugs like ointments and lotions. That’s because studies found that rats developed thyroid tumors when fed the dye.

While the FDA also said that it planned to extend the ban to foods and drugs, 34 years later, the agency has yet to do anything. (In 2022, Nutrition Action’s publisher, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and 20 other organizations petitioned the FDA to ban Red 3 in foods, supplements, and drugs.)

Red 3 is in thousands of foods— everything from MorningStar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips, Vigo Saffron Yellow Rice, strawberry-flavored Ensure, some varieties of Peeps, and the cherries in fruit cocktail to many varieties of candy corn.

But it needn’t be. Companies could replace Red 3 with natural colors from foods like beets, red cabbage, or black currants...or could simply leave it out.


Propylparaben is a preservative that keeps mold and bacteria from growing. Studies suggest that it may also act as a hormone disruptor.

Propylparaben isn’t widely used in foods, though it does show up in corn tortillas, muffins, and some other baked goods. (It’s more often used in personal care products like makeup, moisturizers, and cleansers.)

Morning Star farms bacon strips, ensure strawberry shake, Vigo yellow rice
Check ingredient lists for Red 3 (and other additives). The dye isn’t only in candy and red-colored foods.
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

Potassium bromate

In 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared potassium bromate a possible human carcinogen after animal studies found that it increased the risk of kidney and thyroid tumors.

The additive is a “flour improver”— that is, it helps breads rise higher and improves their texture.

While not widely used, it’s in some breads, buns, crackers, other baked goods, noodles, and frozen dumplings.

Brominated vegetable oil

BVO acts as a flavor stabilizer in drinks, preventing citrus flavorings from floating to the top.

Major companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola have removed BVO from their beverages, but it’s still used in some smaller and store brands of citrus sodas like Giant Food’s Orange Soda. (It’s also used in a handful of citrus-flavored juices.)

In November, the FDA proposed banning BVO after its own feeding studies found that the additive led to thyroid toxicity and the accumulation of bromine-bound fats in the hearts, liver, and fat tissue of rats. If the ban is finalized, companies will likely have one year to get BVO out of their drinks.