Why TikTok's 'Pink Sauce' Has Some Food Safety Experts Very Worried

The new viral condiment has sparked quite a bit of conversation—and concerns—online.

Pink Sauce
Photo: thepinksauce.com

Pink Sauce—a new Pepto-Bismol-colored condiment made famous by TikTok—has recently sparked a conversation around food safety, particularly regarding products made by small businesses.

The viral topping is the creation of Chef Pii, a private chef in Miami, who went viral on the social media platform after sharing a video of herself dipping a chicken finger into a bowl of the bright pink sauce. That video, shared on June 11, has gotten over 800,000 views—and it launched the journey of her Pink Sauce product.

Over the following weeks, Chef Pii and her Pink Sauce received quite a bit of criticism. The Pink Sauce label came under fire for misspelled words ("vinger" instead of vinegar) and a curious amount of servings per container (444 one-tablespoon servings—which amounts to 28 cups of product). Other users complained about shipping issues, including "bloated" or exploded bottles, or changes in color and texture upon arrival.

Chef Pii—who did not respond to Health's request for comment—attempted to clear some questions up in a live stream on YouTube and TikTok on July 21. She reminded viewers that her Pink Sauce is still "a prototype," meaning the product is still in its testing phase. Chef Pii also clarified the "444 servings" mix-up, saying that it was a graphic design error; and said that the color of the sauce changed due to user request.

Still, questions around the infamous Pink Sauce remain, like: What's really in the condiment? Why is it so pink? And how can the product—which is being sold online for $20 a pop—be given away to customers while it's "currently in lab testing"? Here's what you need to know—and why food safety experts have some very real concerns.

What Exactly Is Pink Sauce?

Pink Sauce—or, "the infamous dipping sauce everyone is raving about," according to its website—is, well, a pink-colored sauce. In an infographic describing what the sauce is made of, the ingredients listed include:

  • Dragon fruit
  • Sunflower seed oil
  • Chili
  • Garlic
  • Honey

The label gets a little more detailed. It specifically lists the following as Pink Sauce ingredients:

  • Water
  • Sunflower seed oil
  • Raw honey
  • Distilled "vinger"
  • Garlic
  • Pitaya (aka dragon fruit)
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt
  • Dried spices
  • Lemon juice
  • Milk
  • Citric acid

As for the sauce's nutrition content, a one-tablespoon serving of Pink Sauce clocks in at 90 calories and contains:

And regarding how it tastes? That's up in the air. "It's a little tangy, we got a little spice [...] it tastes like a little bit of ranch," one TikTok user said, adding that "it's everything combined in one."

Health Concerns Associated With Pink Sauce

In a screen recording from one of her live videos, Chef Pii is seen commenting that "the Pink Sauce [doesn't] contribute to your health," and therefore doesn't need to be vetted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), since it's not a "medical product." But that's not necessarily true—and food experts say there are a few (negative) ways Pink Sauce indeed can contribute to your health.

Botulism is one of the main concerns. Foodborne botulism specifically occurs when a food has been contaminated with botulinum toxin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne botulism is a product of homemade foods that haven't been properly canned, preserved, or fermented.

Benjamin Chapman, PhD, a professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, told Health that these concerns are valid.

"In food like this, when you see low-acid foods like raw garlic or dragon fruit being put in a high oil content, we've seen similar products lead to botulism in the past without any acidification of those low acid foods," Chapman said.

The unknown pH of the product—or how basic or acidic it is—has food safety experts especially worried. A pH reading over 4.6 specifically raises "real concerns" about botulism, according to Donald Schaffner, PhD, a microbial risk assessment and cross contamination expert at Rutgers University.

"What's really unknown or unclear is the pH of this product," added Chapman. "Some people say on TikTok that when the bottle is opened up, it pops or fizzes, or a gas formed. That's an indication that there could be a growth of pathogens."

The lack of refrigeration also raises eyebrows—and could potentially turn stomachs. "The fact that it's shipped unrefrigerated really concerns me," said Chapman; that's due to some ingredients, like milk, requiring refrigeration to remain fresh and safe.

Pink Sauce May Be Part of a Larger Food Safety Problem

Pink Sauce may be the most newsworthy food safety issue right now, but it's not necessarily the only one. According to Darin Detwiler, PhD, an associate professor of food safety at Northeastern University, there has been a "growing concern" in the food safety world about these types of direct-to-consumer products.

"Some people just start a business and hope no one catches on," Detwiler told Health. "This is a trend that is happening more and more. We haven't caught up in terms of changes and regulatory policies.

Those policies state that products sold in the U.S. in stores—including condiments—are regulated by the FDA, and that people who want to sell dressings and condiments to the public must have a food facility registration to do so, the FDA says online. Applicants also need to meet FDA standards around product labels, manufacturing processes, and more.

But the rules aren't so straightforward with direct-to-consumer companies—like Pink Sauce—which are often subject to state-by-state regulations.

"It really depends on the jurisdiction that the individual company is in," Chapman said. "Each state has slightly different rules about food entrepreneurs." In North Carolina, for example, where Chapman is based, "food like this could be made in someone's home but would require an assessment of the product to make sure it's considered to be low risk," he explained. "[That] would require an inspector showing up to someone's home and assessing whether the individual could make it safely," Chapman said.

Complications can arise when it comes to regulating smaller food makers—but it is possible (and necessary) for small companies to do things by the book. "The first place that anybody needs to start is by contacting their local health department to find out who would regulate them and what the rules are," he said. But, Chapman said, things get more difficult once someone sells to a wholesaler who then puts products on store shelves. "That's when the FDA's regulations kick in," he said.

Another reason the FDA would step in: If a product is sold across state lines. "[The] FDA gets involved in foods that are shipped through interstate commerce," said Schaffner. "It appears that Pink Sauce is shipped through interstate commerce, so FDA would have regulatory authority."

And Pink Sauce's label mishap isn't all that benign either. Detwiler said that "specific laws in terms of what is required to be on a label," and if someone claims that their product contains a certain ingredient, "there has to be actual evidence to prove those claims—you can't just put anything on a label and leave anything off a label," he added.

For now, until further testing is done on Pink Sauce—and the product gets out of "prototype" phase—it's best to be cautious before consuming and buying it and similar products, according to food safety experts.

"Buying food from a brand new company that has no reputation is akin to buying meat from the back of a pickup truck on the side of the highway down by the river," said Detwiler. "Until there's been enough information and data out there for you to make an educated decision, you need to really think about consuming something like this."

Was this page helpful?