- Candy maker Mars, Inc. is facing allegations that Skittles are ‘unfit for human consumption’ in a new lawsuit due to a food additive known as titanium dioxide.
- Titanium dioxide, or E171, is commonly used as a coloring additive in food products like candy, chocolate, coffee creamer, cake toppers, chewing gum, and even vitamin supplements.
- Although considered safe for consumption by the FDA, consumer advocacy groups are increasingly concerned about the safety of titanium dioxide, with European countries recently banning the additive.
You might be taking a second look at your favorite candy after hearing this week’s news on titanium dioxide. Recently, a lawsuit has been filed against Mars, Inc. based on claims that the manufacturer’s popular Skittles candies are “unsuitable for human consumption”. The class action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in mid-July, alleged the candy contained “high levels” of a “known toxin” called titanium dioxide – a food additive that the company previously committed to phasing out their products in 2016, according to the Center for Food Safety.
Some consumer advocacy groups and health organizations, particularly those from the environmental working group — have prompted federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials to reconsider their existing rules on the additive, which is commonly found in processed snacks and sweets.
But what is titanium dioxide, exactly? Here’s what you need to know about this popular food additive, including what products it’s used in and whether it’s safe to consume.
What is titanium dioxide and what is it used for?
According to american chemistry board, Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is an inorganic substance used as a white powder in a variety of industrial and consumer goods, including sunscreens, cosmetics, toothpaste, paints, plastics, foods, etc.
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Due to its ability to absorb UV light, it is particularly useful as an ingredient in sunscreens, while its light-diffusing properties are ideal for applications requiring white opacity and brightness, such as paint and paper .
Why is titanium dioxide used in foods, including Skittles?
When used specifically in food, titanium dioxide is known as an additive called E171 and can be found in products like candies, chocolate, coffee cream, cake decorations, chewing gum and even vitamin supplements. E171 is often used as a coloring additive in foods, to give the treated item a natural whiteness and opacity – such as in Skittles candies, where it is used as a white base to help give the candies their luminous hue and characteristic color.
Is titanium dioxide safe to consume in food?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers titanium dioxide to be safe for use in cosmetics and “can be safely used to color foods in general”, subject to a set of strict restrictions – including that the amount of the ingredient does not exceed 1% of the total weight of the product in question. Despite this, there are growing concerns about what titanium dioxide is doing to consumers’ bodies, says Amy Fischer, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian at the Good Housekeeping Institute.
“Whereas [titanium dioxide]is considered generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, it has been banned by many European countries,” notes Fisher.
Indeed, the The European Commission recently announced a ban on titanium dioxide as a food additive in the European Union, with the full ban taking effect after August 7, 2022. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that titanium oxide should not be considered safe as a food additive, due to uncertainties about its ability to damage DNA.
Other regulatory bodies have also issued warnings about the ingredient. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified titanium dioxide as a Group 2B carcinogen — in other words, an additive which may be “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. But the body argues that research currently lacks a sufficient link in animal and human cases to confirm long-term effects. The classification was given according to some animal studies which showed an increase in lung tumors in rats associated with inhalation of titanium dioxide.
What other foods contain titanium dioxide?
Right now, titanium dioxide is still used as an additive in thousands of food products in the United States. If you want to avoid foods containing this particular ingredient, you should be sure to check the label carefully for titanium dioxide, or “E171,” as a listed ingredient. Skittles isn’t the only product that reportedly uses titanium dioxide –the reports indicate there are over 300 edibles available at your grocery store that contain titanium dioxide.
Generally, foods that commonly contain titanium dioxide include heavily processed items in these categories:
- Candies and sweets (including Skittles, as well as Starbursts, Jell-O and Sour Patch Kids)
- Cake decorations
- Chewing gum
- Dairy products
- Vitamin supplements
Of course, if you’re looking to avoid potentially unhealthy or harmful ingredients in your food, Fischer also advises that it’s not just about reading the ingredient list – it’s also about understanding exactly what each the ingredient is. “A good place to start is comparing ingredients between rival brands,” she says. “Beware of buying foods that contain ingredients you don’t understand.”
The bottom line:
To date, titanium dioxide is considered safe for consumption by FDA officials. Despite growing concern about its safety in consumer products, there is currently not enough research to prove that it poses any immediate health risks if consumed or constantly exposed here in the United States. United.
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