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Mon, Nov 21, 2022 6:31 PM

Chemical curios: Spooky Pumpkin Pie story resurfaces from two centuries ago

Waaaaay back in the 1800s, food standards were maybe not so well enforced. A spate of poisoning cases were reported in 1889, where pumpkin pies were coloured with perhaps Chrome Yellow or Aniline Yellow.
Favoured by painters, Chrome Yellow is a group of mildly poisonous chemicals that includes PbCrO4 , PbCrO4·xPbSO4, or PbCrO4·xPbO. 
However, Aniline Yellow (4-(Phenyldiazenyl)aniline, C6H5N=NC6H4NH2 ), an azo dye, might be the culprit. It was first produced in 1861, so the timing fits nicely with the pumpkin pie reports. Some azo dyes have now been banned worldwide because of their toxicity and mutagenicity, and there is continuing debate over industrial production, use and disposal.
One infamous example of food poisoning occurred in Spain in 1981, when more than 20,000 people fell ill and many died after eating (Edited per community guidelines)seed (canola) oil allegedly tainted with Aniline Yellow. Later investigations showed that the real cause may have been organophosphate insecticide residues on tomatoes.
• Find out more about the chemistry of pumpkins at Chemical & Engineering News

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