July 20, 2022 – After a pause in the long-running debate over color preference for Skittles candy, a new dispute has erupted over the safety of the fruity vending machine staple.
A California lawsuit claims one of the country’s favorite multicolored candies is “unsafe for consumers”, citing “increased levels of titanium dioxide (TiO2)”, a possible carcinogen commonly called food additive E171. The chemical is often used in food and Solar cream products as color enhancer and UV filter.
Mars Inc. engaged 6 years ago to remove the activator from its products, a move the lawsuit said was misleading and unsuccessful.
“We are thrilled to see that Mars Inc. has taken a positive step toward eliminating toxic and unnecessary nanomaterials,” said Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, said at the time. “We urge the company to accelerate the phase-out of these additives, especially given the serious health concerns associated with titanium dioxide and other nanoparticles.”
The FDA allows the use of TiO2 as long as the levels do not exceed 1% of the food’s weight, according to federal regulations.
“Although we do not comment on pending litigation, our use of titanium dioxide is in compliance with FDA regulations,” a company spokesperson said in an email.
The lawsuit claims that, although compliant with FDA guidelines, Mars Inc. is not properly informing consumers about the use of the harmful additive and that the natural metal element is not necessary to maintain the quality of the product.
“[Skittles] relies on the ingredient list which is provided in tiny type on the back of the product, which is made even more difficult to read by the lack of color contrast between the font and the packaging,” the suit supports. “Many competitors do not use TiO2 in their products and yet are able to maintain the colorful impression that defendant hopes to achieve.”
In recent years, companies like Dunkin’ Donuts have removed TiO2 and other artificial colors from their products. And in 2021, the European Food Safety Authority declared the potentially toxic form of hazardous nanoparticles when used as food additive.
As international criticism intensifies, countries to be under pressure taking sides in the debate over the classification of titanium dioxide. While the European Commission has deemed TiO2 unsafe, the chemical is widely used in countries like the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Australia.