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Coloring Food Green for St. Patrick's Day Gets Scrutiny

USA Today, December 28, 2011

When Mom told you to eat your greens, surely she didn't mean this stuff.

For St. Patrick's Day, chains are temporarily turning some of their most popular items green with hopes that green-colored food will attract the culinary curious. Or, at least give a kid a reason to nag Mom to stop by.

Even then, green-dyed food and beverages may get some extra scrutiny this year. "Certainly, there is increased concern among consumers about additives, including colorings," says Joy Blakeslee, nutritional center director for Publicis Consultants.

Among things going green for St. Paddy's Day:

  • Dipping sauce. Burger King will hand out free fries — with green dipping sauce — on Saturday and Sunday. Heinz will supply some 7 million packets of the green "Heinz St. Paddy's Sauce," says Alex Macedo, senior vice president, North America marketing.
  • Shakes. McDonald's Shamrock Shakes — which mix vanilla ice cream and mint syrup — are going nationwide this St. Patrick's Day for the first time, spokeswoman Ashlee Yingling says.
  • Doughnuts. Dunkin' Donuts, through the end of March, offers the Green Shamrock Donut, made with green icing and shamrock-shaped sprinkles. Last month its heart-shaped doughnuts for Valentine's Day led to one of the company's top-selling doughnut days ever, says John Costello, chief global marketing officer.
  • Bagels. Bruegger's sold more than 100,000 green bagels last St. Patrick's Day, says Scott Colwell, chief marketing officer.

Nutritionists aren't seeing red over St. Paddy's Day green coloring.

"St. Patrick's Day is not the problem," says Michael Jacobson, executive director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "The problem is that a plethora of artificially dyed foods are marketed year-round, especially to children."

Nutritionist Robyn Flipse's warning to consumers isn't about green food coloring. Rather, she says, "Should any of these items be consumed in excess, the bigger concern is the calories."