PEZ and other candies may be hard to get in California in the coming years.

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published October 14, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • California is banning red dye 3 from food products come 2027.

  • While the chemical has been banned by the FDA in cosmetics since the 1990s, this will be the first major US ban of red dye in food products.

Four years from now, your favorite Halloween candies might not look the same—if you trick or treat in California.

This Saturday, California Governor Gavin Newson signed a bill to ban red food dye 3 from food products. The bill, which will go into effect in 2027, might spare people from unwanted health impacts of the chemical, which has been flagged as a potential risk factor for reproductive health issues and child behavioral issues. While California is the first state to ban red dye 3 as a food additive, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the substance from cosmetics since the 1990s.[] 

Red dye 3 is found in many food products—and in some Halloween candies, including candy corn, PEZ, and Sixlets, according to the Center for Science in Public Interest (CSPI)—and is used to increase shelf life.[] 

Along with red dye 3, the use of potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil, and propylparaben as food additives will also be prohibited by the new ban. Come 2027, violators of the ban can be fined up to $5,000 for a first violation and up to $10,000 for each subsequent violation.

If you don’t live in California, you might still want to avoid eating foods that contain red dye 3.

One way you can do this is by checking ingredient lists on packaged foods, which are required on FDA-approved food products.

Another way—particularly if you want to get the lay of the land before going to the grocery store—is to visit the Environmental Working Group’s website. The EWG provides a search tool with which you can look up common foods based on different additives. A search for red dye 3 brings up more than 3,000 results, including various flavors of Dole fruit cups, Atkins protein shakes, and Kroger ice cream.[]

And that’s not all: The EWG estimates that as many as 12,000 products sold nationwide could contain red dye 3, according to NBC News.[]

The good news is that several food companies have also already removed red dye 3 from their products in response to research or public criticism. Some brand-name candies like M&Ms, Skittles, and Starbursts do not contain red dye 3, according to the CSPI, and others, as a result of the bill, might be inspired to remove the chemical from their products.[]

The EWG is hopeful that the bill will inspire nationwide change. As “food and drink manufacturers are unlikely to make versions of their products just for California,” the group says, the ban could force manufacturers to change product formulas nationwide, according to NBC News.[]

While it might be disheartening to say goodbye to a favorite candy as a result of the ban, steering clear of red dye, 3 could be good for your health. Even during “spooky season,” it’s in your best interest not to put scary ingredients in your body.

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