Last week, a California resident filed a lawsuit against candy company Mars. The lawsuit was directed against their popular candy product “Skittles”, claiming it contained a toxin called Titanium dioxide. This toxin is used as a colour additive in Skittles. He claimed that consumers weren’t warned about the side effects of consuming Titanium dioxide. In the US, titanium dioxide is a legal food additive.
In 2016, Mars stated that it would gradually eliminate the ingredients from its products over the next five years.
Significance of Titanium dioxide in food:
Titanium dioxide (E171) is an odourless food additive found in coffee creamers, candies, sunscreens, cake decorations, chewing gums, and cakes. The titanium dioxide added to food has a size of 200-300 nm. This is the ideal size for light scattering, giving the best colour.
It is also added while packaging food to increase its shelf life.
Acceptable usage limit if Titanium dioxide in food:
Titanium dioxide should be 99% pure to be added to food. But sometimes, this may cause a slight chance of impurities like lead, arsenic, and mercury to be introduced.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) ruled that Titanium oxide is not a safe food additive, as it may cause inflammation and neurotoxicity.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listed titanium dioxide as a Group 2B carcinogen. This means that although titanium dioxide can be a carcinogen, there is not enough research to back this claim.
Side-effects of consuming Titanium dioxide:
There is very little research done on Titanium dioxide. There is no Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) available for it. The EFSA has previously concluded that Titanium dioxide absorption is very low, and it is excreted through faces.
However, to list a few known side effects of Titanium dioxide are:
Skin: Titanium dioxide may cause minor irritation.
Inhalation: Some studies conducted on animals have shown a risk of lung cancer.
Eyes: It can cause minor irritation.
There is not enough research to prove that Titanium dioxide, present in Skittles, is unfit for human consumption. The USFDA still considers it safe for consumption. It is also easily eliminated from the body and not absorbed, hence, not posing a very high risk.
If consumers choose to avoid this ingredient, they must carefully read the food labels. As it is found in most processed foods, one must watch what they eat.