If you have an occasional craving for macaroni coated in butter-y, bright orange cheddar-cheese sauce—not some ornate, from-scratch casserole, but the instant kind—you might want to reach for the box with the cartoon-shaped pasta come next year.
This isn’t a choice about fun, but rather artificial food coloring: Kraft announced this week that it will remove Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 from some versions of its classic blue-box macaroni and cheese.
Those without the artificial dyes—which have been linked, rather tenuously, to hyperactivity, asthma, skin problems, and cancer—will include those branded with characters from SpongeBob SquarePants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and How to Train Your Dragon 2. The reformulation will also add an additional six grams of whole grains and reduced sodium and fat content.
What’s not included in the health-conscious revamp is the classic mac n’ cheese, made with the all too familiar tubes of macaroni.
“I see this as a victory with more work to do,” says Vani Hari, who blogs at the website FoodBabe.com. Hari started the Change.org petition calling on Kraft to remove the dyes from its product. With more than 348,000 signatures, the petition helped push the company to change its formulation for its North American product. In Europe, beta-carotene and paprika are used to color the company’s mac n’ cheese—including the Classic version.
Vani Hari's video for her Change.org petition.
“I was outraged when I found out Kraft still uses harmful petroleum-based artificial food dyes here in North America even though they do not in Europe due to safety concerns,” Hari says of the impetus behind the campaign.
She also notes that the organic macaroni and cheese made by Annie’s was becoming increasingly popular. Knowing that there was an alternative brand and knowing that Kraft was making a product with fewer artificial ingredients overseas was a turn off to consumers Hari interacts with in her roll as a upstart industry watchdog.
“The double-standard angered people, and it made them frustrated to the point where they don’t want to spend their money on this company—where they don’t trust this company anymore,” she says.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest in applauding Kraft’s move away from artificial dyes, but executive director Michael F. Jacobson said in a statement yesterday that he’s “puzzled” as to why the classic elbow macaroni was left out.
“As Kraft has today shown, it is clearly possible to make macaroni and cheese without these harmful chemicals,” the statement reads.
Hari doesn’t plan on letting up until the Classic mac n’ cheese goes the way of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle version—and the whole industry follows Kraft’s lead.
“I will continue to hold Kraft and other companies accountable for this double standard by advancing awareness,” she says, definitely. “And I won't stop until I see the removal of all artificial food dyes from the American food supply.”