In a lawsuit submitted last weekone consumer claimed that Skittles were “unfit for human consumption” because the rainbow candy contained a “known toxin” — an artificial color additive called titanium dioxide.
Mars, creator of Skittles, told several media that the company could not comment on pending lawsuits, but the “use of titanium dioxide complies with FDA regulations.”
Titanium dioxide is used in a wide variety of food and consumer goods – from candy to sunscreen and house paint. The US Food and Drug Administration states that the regulated use of titanium dioxide, especially as a color additive in food, is safe under certain restrictions.
However, some experts and food regulators in other countries disagree — pointing to potential, serious health consequences and growing concerns about the additive. For example, from August 7, the use of titanium dioxide in food will be banned in the European Union.
Here’s what you need to know about titanium dioxide:
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What is Titanium Dioxide? Why is it used in food products?
Titanium dioxide, or TiO2, sometimes referred to as E171, is an inorganic solid used in a wide variety of consumer goods, including cosmetics, paint, plastic and food, according to the American Chemistry Council.
In food, titanium dioxide is often used as an artificial color additive. Tasha Stoiber, senior scientist at the consumer health nonprofit Environment Working Groupsays titanium dioxide can generally be thought of as a “paint primer” — it often goes on a hard shell candy like Skittles before adding the color to give it a “uniform shine.”
Titanium dioxide “can also be found in dairy products to make them whiter and brighter…like frosting or cottage cheese,” Stoiber told USA TODAY, adding that the additive is used in other products — such as instant food or drink mixes — as a anti-clotting agent.
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Titanium dioxide is used in a huge range of food products, which can feel shocking when looking at some of its other uses.
“It’s a little ironic, maybe ironic is the wrong word, that the ingredient in paint that makes your kitchen shiny also Hostess cupcakes shiny,” added Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group.
Is titanium dioxide dangerous? Has it been linked to health problems?
While the FDA states that the regulated use of titanium dioxide is safe, the European Food Safety Authority and some other experts warn of potential serious health risks.
In particular a European Food Safety Authority safety assessment published in May 2021 pointed out genotoxicity issues, as suggested by previous research. Genotoxicity is the ability of chemicals to damage genetic information such as DNA, which can lead to cancer.
“After oral intake, the absorption of titanium dioxide particles is low, but they can accumulate in the body,” Maged Younes, chair of the European Food Safety Authority’s panel of experts on food additives and flavorings, said in a May 2021 statement.
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The authority did not identify a safe amount of titanium dioxide that could be consumed.
Matthew Wright, chair of the titanium dioxide authority’s working group, noted that “the evidence for general toxic effects was inconclusive,” but the panel could not completely rule out genotoxicity. There were also some current data limitations and the review “could not establish a safe level for the daily intake of the food additive,” he stated.
What other candies and foods contain titanium dioxide?
It’s difficult to determine the total amount of food products containing titanium dioxide because federal regulations don’t require all manufacturers to list its uses on ingredient labels, but the list of foods that contain the substance certainly doesn’t end with Skittles.
Of the products that contain the additive on their labels, Thea Bourianne, senior manager at data consultant Label Insights, says, told Food Navigator USA in May 2021 that more than 11,000 products in the company’s U.S. food and beverage products database listed titanium dioxide as an ingredient. Non-chocolate candies led those numbers by 32%. Cupcakes and snack cakes account for 14%, followed by cookies at 8%, coated pretzels and trail mix at 7%, baking decorations at 6%, gum and mints at 4% and ice cream at 2%.
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In addition to bowling other candies that contain titanium dioxide include: Nice! mints, Trolli sour gummies and Ring pops, according to the environmental working group.
Other foods that list titanium dioxide include: Lucerne cottage cheese, Beyond Meat’s chicken vegetable tenders, Large value ice cream and Chips Ahoy! cookies.
What is the FDA Limit for Titanium Dioxide?
The FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations allows the legal, regulated use of titanium dioxide in food products, subject to certain restrictions.
“The FDA continues to allow the safe use of titanium dioxide as a color additive in foods, generally according to specifications and conditions, including that the amount of titanium dioxide be no more than 1 percent by weight of the food,” the FDA said in a statement. a statement to USA TODAY.
The FDA first approved the use of titanium dioxide in food in 1966 after his 1960 removal (along with removing other color additives) from the desk original “Generally Recognized as Safe” list. In 1977 titanium dioxide joined the list of color additives that are exempt from certification, meaning “titanium dioxide” doesn’t have to be labeled on the packaging of every product it’s used in, Faber noted.
“There are many uses of titanium dioxide that we don’t know about because they were exempt from packaging in 1977,” said Faber, adding that “nothing much has changed since then,” except that the FDA approved a number of others. use of the color additive, such as: extend usage of mica-based pearlescent pigments (prepared from titanium dioxide) as color additives in spirit drinks in recent years.
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Faber argued that there hasn’t been enough change in these federal regulations in the decades since titanium dioxide was approved by the FDA, especially as others increasingly point to potential health consequences.
“What titanium dioxide is really emblematic of… is the failure of the FDA to look back on these old decisions and ask whether the decisions that were made in this case… 56 years ago (in the 1966 approval) were still hold out,” he said.
In its statement to USA TODAY, the FDA claimed that, in all post-approvals for food additives, “our scientists continue to review relevant new information to determine whether there are any safety questions and whether the use of such a substance is no longer safe under the Federal Law on Food, Medicine and Cosmetics.”
When asked about the recent Skittles lawsuit, the FDA said the agency does not comment on pending lawsuits.
Is Titanium Dioxide Illegal in Other Countries?
While the regulated use of titanium dioxide in food products is legal in the US and Canada, it is banned in some other countries, especially all over Europe. In May 2021, the European Food Safety Authority announced that titanium dioxide “can no longer be considered safe as a food additive.”
After six months of phasing out the additive, titanium dioxide will be completely banned in the European Union from August 7th. France had previously banned the use of titanium dioxide in food from January 2020.
How do I know if a product contains titanium dioxide? How can I avoid the ingredient?
Some food products contain titanium dioxide on their nutrition label. But again, it can be hard to say for those who don’t list the ingredient.
If you want to avoid titanium dioxide, Stoiber and Faber urge consumers to avoid processed foods as much as possible.
“By reducing processed foods in your diet, you can reduce the chances of you eating not only titanium dioxide, but other chemicals of concern,” Faber said, noting that consumers can also call their elected representatives to urge them to increase food safety. support legislation and take action with organizational alliances such as: Toxic Free Food FDA. “America is again lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to chemical safety.”
“We’re not just concerned about titanium dioxide, there’s a whole host of other food additives that pose harmful health risks as well,” Stoiber added.
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