What you need to know about California’s “Skittles ban”

skittles ban blog

The California government recently made news by proposing a ban on certain food chemicals. While these ingredients find their way into many different food products, they are most prevalent in a wide variety of candies and sweets.

The California Food Safety Act, which was signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newson in October, is designed to protect consumers from several common food chemicals.

Why the law isn’t really a “Skittles ban”

When the bill was first proposed, it listed five food chemicals the state intended to ban. These included:

  • Brominated vegetable oil (BVO)
  • Potassium bromate
  • Propylparaben
  • Red dye No. 3
  • Titanium dioxide

Titanium dioxide is an ingredient found in the candy Skittles (among many other products). And when the bill was introduced, Skittles somehow became the poster child for the ban. But the final version of the law only affects four food chemicals — and doesn’t include titanium dioxide.

It’s important to note that the intent of the new law isn’t to ban Skittles or any other type of candy or confection. The goal is to force food manufacturers to reformulate their products so that they no longer contain the banned food chemicals.

Many manufacturers have already done exactly that for the versions they sell in Europe — where many of these same additives are already banned. And since the new law won’t go into effect until 2027, candy makers have plenty of time to come up with new formulations.

Why California banned four food chemicals

Proponents of the new law say years of research has led to questions about the safety of these food chemicals. BVO, potassium bromate, propylparaben and red dye No. 3 have all been linked to a variety of health concerns.

Research (done mostly on animals) has provided evidence that these food chemicals can increase:

  • Cancer risk
  • Hyperactivity in children
  • Reproductive issues
  • Thyroid and liver problems

And while all these ingredients are currently FDA-approved, those in favor of the ban feel the ingredients’ status should be updated. The last meaningful FDA reviews of these ingredients occurred several decades ago — prior to much of the research on potential health risks.

How critics of the ban reacted

All the ingredients listed in the California ban are approved by the FDA, and they are still considered safe by that agency. Not surprisingly, the National Confectioners Association (a trade organization for the candy industry) is very much opposed to the California ban and a similar one being proposed in New York.

The trade group asserts that states taking it upon themselves to ban specific food ingredients leads to inconsistent laws and confusion among consumers. A statement from that group notes: “This law replaces a uniform national food safety system with a patchwork of inconsistent state requirements…We should be relying on the scientific rigor of the FDA in terms of evaluating the safety of food ingredients and additives.”

What precautions should you take to avoid banned food chemicals?

California’s ban could pave the way for these chemicals to vanish from the food supply nationwide. Manufacturers will have to reformulate products to sell them in California. That means new versions — free of the banned additives — will be on the shelves in every state.

Until 2027 when the ban goes into effect, you can avoid these potentially hazardous ingredients by being a careful label reader. If BVO, potassium bromate, propylparaben or red dye No. 3 are in a food, they have to be listed on the ingredients panel.

Take the Next Step

To learn more about banned food chemicals, reach out to your primary care physician.