In vitro and in vivo indications of the carcinogenicity and toxicity of food dyes

Int J Cancer. 1978 Mar 15;21(3):361-7. doi: 10.1002/ijc.2910210318.


Eight food dyes or commercial color mixtures certified for use in the United States were tested for their ability to transform in vitro a serial line of Fischer rat embryo cells previously reported to be a sensitive indicator of chemicals having carcinogenic potential. Malignant cell transformation was induced by a commercial mixture (G2024) of two of these dyes (Blue 1 and Yellow 5) and by Blue 2, Green 3 (one of two experiments) and Red 4. Food dyes Blue 1, Red 3, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 did not induce cell transformation. One to 1.5 mg of each dye was injected into suckling LVG or Graffi hamsters which were monitored for tumor induction and/or death over a 330-day period. None of the non-transforming dyes (Blue 1, Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6) or Green 3 induced a significant increase in tumor (mostly lymphoma) incidence or animal mortality. Three of the transforming dyes (Blue 2, Green 2024, Red 4) did increase tumor incidence and/or mortality in at least one strain of hamster. We conclude the the in vitro assay suggested that certain food dyes were carcinogens and that in vivo studies in hamsters supported this interpretation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / chemically induced*
  • Clone Cells
  • Cricetinae
  • Food Coloring Agents / toxicity*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / chemically induced*
  • Rats


  • Carcinogens
  • Food Coloring Agents