Skittles, colorful fruit-flavored candies, have come under fire after a lawsuit was filed in Northern California alleging people are tasting more than rainbows.
While most people can identify Skittles’ lemon, strawberry, and orange flavors, few can probably name titanium dioxide, the coloring agent that gives the candies their bright hue.
The ingredient is a “known toxin” and “unfit for human consumption,” according to a lawsuit filed last week against Mars confectionery company in the Northern District of California. It claims that US consumers are unaware of the health risks associated with artificial food colors.
According to the lawsuit, titanium dioxide, or TiO2, is listed as an active ingredient in Skittles sold in the United States, although it has been removed from candy recipes in several European countries and banned in several other countries.
In 2016 Mars Inc. vowed to phase out titanium dioxide and said that artificial colors such as TiO2 “pose no known risk to human health or safety”.
Around the same time, the European Food Safety Authority stated that there was uncertainty about the characteristics of the ingredient. But in May 2021, the EFSA concluded that enough research had been done to show that titanium dioxide was no longer safe when used as a dietary supplement.
The group said the TiO2 particles raise concerns about genotoxicity, which is a substance that can damage human DNA and cause cancer. The EFSA stated that once the ingredient is ingested, Absorption of titanium dioxide particles was low, but they could accumulate in the body.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday by San Leandro, Calif., resident Janille Thames, seeks to turn the complaint into a class action lawsuit against Mars confectionery company.
Mars Inc. did not immediately respond to an email from The Times asking for comment on the allegations, but in Appeal to the program “Today”the candy maker said, “While we are not commenting on the pending lawsuit, our use of titanium dioxide is in line with FDA regulations.”
Here’s what we know:
Is it safe to eat Skittles?
Insanely colorful candy ads urge consumers to “try the rainbow.” But it doesn’t get into the fine print about nutritional supplements.
Titanium dioxide was approved for human consumption by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1966. It is used in a variety of products including baked goods, sandwich spreads, and salad dressings.
The FDA says the ingredient not more than 1% by weight of the food product when used as an ingredientand as of March 29, the agency says titanium dioxide is safe as a food coloring.
However, the European Food Safety Authority treats TiO2 differently. In May 2021, its specialists were able to “Titanium dioxide is no longer considered safe when used as a dietary supplement.”
The agency said the ingredient’s overall toxic effects are inconclusive, but it cannot rule out harmful effects from food coloring and “cannot establish a safe level of daily intake of TiO2 as a dietary supplement.” The European Commission will ban titanium dioxidealso known as E171, by the end of the year.
Can Skittles be produced without titanium dioxide?
The concept of food additives includes preservatives that slow down the spoilage of the product, as well as vitamins and spices. According to the FDA, color additives include dyes, pigments, and other substances added to foods, drugs, or cosmetics.
Titanium dioxide is used to give Skittles their vibrant colors, but court records show there are other products on the market that don’t use this ingredient.
“Many of Defendant’s competitors do not use TiO2 in their products, and yet they are able to maintain the high impact that Defendant hopes to achieve with their products,” the lawsuit states.
Among the colorful candy names for suits that do not use titanium dioxide are bright red Swedish Fish Soft & Chewy Candy, Black Forest Gummy Bears and Sour Patch Kids. The lawsuit says even M&Ms, which Mars Inc. also sells, don’t use titanium dioxide.
Tatiana Santos, chemicals manager at the European Environment Bureau, a network of citizen advisory groups, told the Guardian that in the US “Wait and see” approach when it comes to regulating food ingredients.
“The US often waits until damage is done, and the EU tries to prevent it to some extent,” Santos told the Guardian. “It often seems like the US is prioritizing the market over protection.”