As we get older, the things that scare us change. Fears begin as monsters under the bed and bumps in the night and transform into bounced rent checks and vaguely unfamiliar house parties. But there is no age that bright pink poop would not be downright horrifying. In the 1970s, it was practically an epidemic, and it was all thanks to a breakfast cereal.
This phenomenon was the result of eating a General Mills cereal called Red Razberry Zingers, which contained Red Dye Nos. 2 and 3. It was given the name “Franken Berry Stool,” a harmless diagnosis that probably wouldn’t make you feel any better because you already had to say the words “my poop is pink” to a medical professional. The synthetic colors found in the cereal pass through your digestive system undigested and unnoticed, except on their way out, when they’re literally all you can see.
This kicked off an era of pink poop panic. It all began when, according to Atlas Obscura, a concerned Maryland mother brought her 12-year-old son to the emergency room in February of 1972. He had been pooping pastel pink for the past few days, and the hospital admitted him, fearing he was bleeding internally. The doctors ran tests, but nothing turned up. The only thing that could explain it were the bowls of Red Razberry Zingers the boy had eaten during the days before he was admitted. Once he was sent home, after extensive experimenting that confirmed the theory, his mother found his sister experiencing the exact same thing.
Attending physician John V. Payne attempted to spread the word about Franken Berry Stool to put parents at ease, but enough patients continued to show up to the ER with the ailment that it was given its iconic name. Shortly after, General Mills began phasing out Red Dye No. 2. The dye was later banned in the U.S. in 1976 after being vaguely linked to cancer in rats. Instead, it was switched with Red No. 40, which is still used to this day, although General Mills hopes to switch to plant-based dyes by 2017.
This isn’t to say the era of brightly dyed poop is behind us, although I think most of us wouldn’t be heartbroken to say goodbye. Atlas Obscura reports that you can still achieve freaky hues (gross) by consuming a bowl of Boo Berry, a similar product to Red Razberry Zingers that’s responsible for colors ranging from blue to bright green. Meanwhile, I’ll be sticking to less vibrant everyday horrors, like running out of coffee.