In a lawsuit filed last week, a consumer claimed that Skittles were “unfit for human consumption” because rainbow candy contained a “known toxin” — an artificial color additive called titanium dioxide.
Mars, the maker of Skittles, told multiple media outlets that the company could not comment on the pending litigation, but that “its use of titanium dioxide is in compliance with Food and Drug Administration regulations.”
Titanium dioxide is used in a wide variety of food products and consumer goods – from candy to sunscreen and home paint. The FDA maintains that regulated use of titanium dioxide, specifically as a color additive in food, is safe with some restrictions.
However, some experts and food regulators in other countries disagree – citing potentially serious health consequences and growing concerns about the additive. From August 7, for example, 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 range of consumer goods including cosmetics, paint, plastics and foodstuffs, according to the American Chemistry Council.
Titanium dioxide is often used in food as an artificial color additive. Titanium dioxide can generally be considered a “coating base” — often applied to hard-crust candy like Skittles before adding color to give it a “uniform shine,” says Tasha Stoeber, chief scientist at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group on Consumer Health.
Stoeber told USA TODAY that titanium dioxide “can also be found in dairy products to make them whiter and brighter… — the leavening agent.
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Titanium dioxide is used in an enormous variety of food products, which can feel overwhelming when looking at some of its other uses.
“It’s kind of ironic, and perhaps ironically the wrong word, that the ingredient in the paint that makes your kitchen shiny also makes your hostess cakes shiny,” added Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.
Is titanium dioxide dangerous? Has it been linked to any health problems?
While the US Food and Drug Administration maintains that regulated use of titanium dioxide is safe, the European Food Safety Authority and some other experts warn of potential serious health risks.
In particular, the European Food Safety Authority’s safety assessment published in May 2021 pointed to genotoxicity concerns, 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 ingestion, the absorption of titanium dioxide particles is low, however it can accumulate in the body,” Majid Younes, head of the European Food Safety Authority’s expert panel on food additives and flavors, said in a May 2021 statement.
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The FDA has not determined a safe amount of titanium dioxide that can be consumed.
Matthew Wright, chair of the authority’s working group on titanium dioxide, noted that “the evidence for general toxic effects was not conclusive,” but the committee could not completely rule out genotoxicity. He stated that there were also some current limitations to the data and the assessment “was unable to determine a safe level of daily consumption of the food additive”.
What candy and other foods contain titanium dioxide?
It is difficult to determine the total amount of food products containing titanium dioxide because not all producers are required by federal regulations to list its use on ingredient labels, but the list of foods that contain the substance certainly does not end with Skittles.
Among products that include the additive in their labels, Thea Burrian, senior manager at data advisor Label Insights, told Food Navigator USA in May 2021 that more than 11,000 products in the company’s database of U.S. food and beverage products listed titanium dioxide as an ingredient. . Non-chocolate candy led those numbers by 32%. Cupcakes and light scones make up 14%, It is followed by cookies 8%, pretzels and shredded biscuits 7%, baked garnishes 6%, chewing gum and mint 4% and ice cream 2%.
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In addition to Skittles, other candies that contain titanium dioxide include Nice! Mints, Trolli sour gum and Ring Pops, according to the Environmental Working Group.
Other food products that contain titanium dioxide are Lucerne cheese, Beyond Meat vegan chicken tenders, great value ice cream and Ahoy Chips! biscuit.
What is the FDA limit for titanium dioxide?
The Food and Drug Administration’s Code of Federal Regulations allows the legal and regulated use of titanium dioxide in food products, with some restrictions.
“The FDA continues to allow the safe use of titanium dioxide as a color additive in foods generally in accordance with specifications and conditions, including that the amount of titanium dioxide does not exceed 1% by weight of the food,” the FDA said in a statement. Statement to USA TODAY.
The FDA first approved the use of titanium dioxide in food in 1966, after it was removed in 1960 (along with the removal of other color additives) from the original agency’s list of “generally recognized as safe.” In 1977, titanium dioxide joined the list of color additives exempt from certification, which means that “titanium dioxide” does not need to be listed in the packaging of every product in which it is used, Faber noted.
“There are many uses for titanium dioxide that we don’t know about because it was excluded from the packaging in 1977,” Faber said, adding that “not much has changed” since then — other than FDA approval of some others. Uses of color additives, such as the expansion of the use of mica-based pearl pigments (prepared from titanium dioxide) as color additives in distilled spirits during recent years.
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Faber has argued that there hasn’t been enough change in these federal regulations in the decades since the Food and Drug Administration approved titanium dioxide—particularly as others are increasingly pointing to the potential health consequences.
“What titanium dioxide really stands for… is the FDA’s failure to reconsider these old decisions and to question whether its decisions made in this case… 56 years ago (in the 1966 approval) still stand,” He said.
In its statement to USA TODAY, the FDA emphasized that in all subsequent approvals for food additives, “our scientists continue to review relevant new information to determine if there are safety questions and whether use of this substance is no longer safe under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.” Federalist”.
When asked about Skittles’ latest lawsuit, the FDA said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
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Is titanium dioxide illegal in other countries?
Although regulated use of titanium dioxide in food products is legal in the United States and Canada, it is prohibited in some other countries, particularly throughout Europe. In May 2021, the European Food Safety Authority declared that titanium dioxide “can no longer be considered safe as a food additive”.
Six months after the additive was phased out, titanium dioxide will be completely banned in the European Union from August 7. France had previously banned the use of titanium dioxide in food from January 2020.
How can I tell if a product contains titanium dioxide? How can I avoid the ingredient?
Some food products will contain titanium dioxide on their nutrition label. But again, it can be hard to tell those who don’t list the ingredient.
If you want to avoid titanium dioxide, Stoiber and Faber urge consumers to try to avoid processed foods as much as possible.
“By reducing processed foods in your diet, you can reduce the likelihood of not only ingesting titanium dioxide, but ingesting other chemicals of concern,” Faber said, noting that consumers can also contact their elected representatives to urge them to support increased food safety legislation and take action. With regulatory alliances such as Toxic Free Food FDA. “America, once again, lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to chemical safety.”
“We’re not only interested in titanium dioxide, there are a whole host of other food additives that have also known adverse health risks associated with them as well,” added Stoeber.
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