Taste the rainbow… taste the titanium dioxide. That chemical, which is present in Skittles and other artificially flavored food, is unfit for human consumption. That is according to a class-action lawsuit by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Filed against candy maker Mars Inc., it’s a “known toxin.”
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Mars has continued to use titanium dioxide in Skittles. The committed to phase the chemical out in 2016. A move, which the suit says, poses a “significant health risk to unsuspecting consumers.”
What Is Titanium Dioxide?
Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring white powder which is used to pigment many products, from make up to paint to candy — including Skittles. The powder scatters visible light, which enhances the brightness of whatever it’s added to.
Since 1966, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has okayed the use of titanium dioxide in food as long as it does not exceed 1% of the food’s weight. Its safety has been questioned for decades. Animal studies from 2015 and 2017 suggested potential dangers: possible damage to the spleen, liver, kidneys, and intestines — which may even lead to cancer.
In 2021, titanium dioxide was banned in the European Union. Though the substance could not be definitively classified as toxic, according to the the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). It may be genotoxic — which means it can alter the consumer’s DNA. Since many affects of titamium dioxide remain unknown, Agnes Ooman who co-authored the EFSA study, told Scientific American their decision airs “on the cautious side.”
Now, that cautious decision is serving as the basis for the class-action lawsuit in California.
What Will Happen To Skittles?
Mars is already in the process of phasing titanium dioxide out of its products in Europe. So, depending on the outcome of the lawsuit, a similar process could unfold here. A Mars representative told The New York Times that the company’s candy production is in compliance with FDA regulations.
In the meantime, those looking to avoid titanium dioxide should avoid any products that contain added coloring. In the U.S. products are not legally required to include titanium on ingredient lists.