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In a lawsuit filed last week, a 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, the maker of Skittles, told multiple media outlets that the company cannot comment on pending litigation, but its “use of titanium dioxide is in compliance with FDA regulations.”
Titanium dioxide is used in a wide range of foods and consumer products – from candy to sunscreen to house paint. The US Food and Drug Administration claims that the regulated use of titanium dioxide, particularly as a color additive in foods, is safe with certain restrictions.
However, some experts and food regulators in other countries disagree – pointing to potential serious health consequences and growing concerns about the additive. From August 7th, 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?
Titanium dioxide (TiO2), sometimes referred to as E171, is an inorganic solid substance used in a variety of consumer products, including cosmetics, paints, plastics, and foods, according to the American Chemistry Council.
In food, titanium dioxide is often used as an artificial coloring additive. Tasha Stoiber, senior scientist at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group on Consumer Health, says titanium dioxide can generally be thought of as a “color primer” — it’s often applied to a hard-shelled candy like Skittles before the color is added to give it a “uniformity.” seem to bestow.”
Titanium dioxide “can also be found in dairy products to make them whiter and lighter…like icing or cottage cheese,” Stoiber told USA TODAY, adding that the additive is used in other products — like instant food or drink mixes — as a supplement anti-caking agent.
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“It’s kind of ironic, maybe ironic is the wrong word, that the ingredient in color that makes your kitchen shine also makes your hostess cupcakes shine,” added Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president of government affairs .
Is titanium dioxide dangerous? Has it been linked to health problems?
While the FDA claims the regulated use of titanium dioxide is safe, the European Food Safety Authority and some other experts warn of potential serious health risks.
Most notably, EFSA’s May 2021 safety assessment highlighted genotoxicity concerns, as evidenced by previous research. Genotoxicity is the ability of chemicals to damage genetic information, such as DNA, which can lead to cancer.
“After oral ingestion, absorption of titanium dioxide particles is low, but they can accumulate in the body,” said Maged Younes, Chair of EFSA’s Expert Panel on Food Additives and Flavorings, in a May 2021 statement.
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EFSA has not identified a safe amount of titanium dioxide that could be consumed.
Matthew Wright, Chair of EFSA’s working group on titanium dioxide, 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 assessment “failed to establish a safe level for daily intake of the food additive,” he said.
What other sweets and foods contain titanium dioxide?
It’s difficult to determine the total amount of food containing titanium dioxide because federal regulations don’t require all manufacturers to list its usage on ingredient labels, but the list of foods containing the substance certainly doesn’t end with Skittles.
Of the products that have the additive on their labels, Thea Bourianne, a senior manager at data consultant Label Insights, told Food Navigator USA in May 2021 that more than 11,000 products in the company’s US food and beverage products database contained titanium dioxide listed as an ingredient. Non-chocolate sweets led those numbers at 32%. Cupcakes and snack cakes accounted for 14%, followed by cookies at 8%, coated pretzels and trail mix at 7%, bakery decorations at 6%, chewing gum and mints at 4%, and ice cream at 2%.
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In addition to Skittles, candies that contain titanium dioxide include Nice! Peppermints, Trolli sour gummies and ring pops, according to EWG.
Other foods that contain titanium dioxide include lucerne cottage cheese, Beyond Meat’s plant-based chicken tenders, inexpensive ice cream, and chips Ahoy! Cookies.
What is the FDA limit for titanium dioxide?
The FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations permits the legal, regulated use of titanium dioxide in food products, subject to certain restrictions.
“The FDA continues to permit the safe use of titanium dioxide as a color additive in foods generally, subject to 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 to USA TODAY.
The FDA first approved the use of titanium dioxide in foods in 1966, after removing it (along with the removal of other color additives) from the agency’s original “Generally Recognized as Safe” list in 1960. In 1977, titanium dioxide was added to the list of color additives exempt from certification, meaning “titanium dioxide” need not be listed 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 exempted from packaging in 1977,” said Faber, who added that “not much has changed since then” — other than the FDA approving a few others Uses of the color additive, such as B. the expansion of the use of mica-based pearlescent pigments (made from titanium dioxide) as color additives in spirits in recent years.
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Faber argued that these federal regulations haven’t changed enough in the decades since the FDA approved titanium dioxide — especially as others increasingly point out possible health consequences.
“What titanium dioxide is truly emblematic of…is the FDA’s failure to look back at those old decisions and ask if their decisions made in this case…56 years ago (in the 1966 approval) still stand have,” he said.
In its statement to USA TODAY, the FDA claimed that for any subsequent food additive approvals, “our scientists continue to review relevant new information to determine whether there are safety issues and whether such substances are no longer safe to use under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.” .”
When asked about the recent Skittles lawsuit, the FDA said the agency is not commenting on the pending litigation.
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Is titanium dioxide illegal in other countries?
Although the regulated use of titanium dioxide in food is legal in the US and Canada, it is banned in some other countries, particularly across Europe. In May 2021, the European Food Safety Authority announced that titanium dioxide “can no longer be considered safe as a food additive”.
After a six-month phasing out of 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 can I tell 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 tell 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 make it less likely that you’re eating not only titanium dioxide but other chemicals of concern,” Faber said, noting that consumers could also call their elected representatives and ask them to make one Support stricter food safety legislation Act with coalition organizations such as Toxic Free Food FDA.
“It’s not just titanium dioxide that worries us, there are a number of other food additives that are also known to pose health risks,” added Stoiber.
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