Health & Wellbeing

European food safety panel reclassifies common food coloring as unsafe

European food safety panel rec...
E171, or titanium dioxide, is commonly used as a whitening agent in processed food products
E171, or titanium dioxide, is commonly used as a whitening agent in processed food products
View 1 Image
E171, or titanium dioxide, is commonly used as a whitening agent in processed food products
E171, or titanium dioxide, is commonly used as a whitening agent in processed food products

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has reclassified food coloring E171 (titanium dioxide) after an expert panel concluded it “can no longer be considered safe as a food additive.” The announcement comes after years of research suggesting the additive may be unsafe.

In 2016, the EFSA re-evaluated the safety of E171 and controversially concluded there was no clear evidence confirming the food additive was carcinogenic or genotoxic. At that point in time a small, but growing, body of research was beginning to indicate the possible health dangers of titanium dioxide may be amplified when it enters a human body in the form of nanoparticles (particles less than 100 nm in diameter).

In 2015, Dunkin’ Donuts announced it was removing titanium dioxide from all its food products in the United States following pressure from public advocacy groups. And a few years later, at the beginning of 2020, France became one of the first countries in the world to broadly ban the food additive.

The EFSA’s 2016 assessment cited the need for more research into the health effects of E171, and over the subsequent years a large number of studies were published. The new research particularly focused on the novel health effects of nanoparticles.

Maged Younes, Chair of the EFSA’s panel re-evaluating the food additive, says there are still uncertainties in the research but concerns over genotoxicity cannot be ruled out, leading to the panel’s ultimate reclassification of the food additive.

“Taking into account all available scientific studies and data, the Panel concluded that titanium dioxide can no longer be considered safe as a food additive,” says Younes. “A critical element in reaching this conclusion is that we could not exclude genotoxicity concerns after consumption of titanium dioxide particles. After oral ingestion, the absorption of titanium dioxide particles is low, however, they can accumulate in the body.”

E171 is primarily used as a whitening agent in food products and can be found in hundreds of processed foods, including chewing gum, mayonnaise, confectionary, and ice cream.

The new EFSA classification does not lead to an immediate ban of the food additive in the European Union (EU), however, the advice does traditionally lead to regulatory actions by the European Commission and its member states.

Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, has already stated on Twitter that a complete ban on the use of E171 in the EU will be proposed as soon as possible.

The full EFSA safety assessment was published in the EFSA Journal.

Source: EFSA

does anyone know if this danger likely applies to toothpastes where titanium dioxide is also used or are those particles not in nano form or considered safe because they are (mostly) not ingested?
Brian M

Given that toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed would guess any risk is very small from ingestion, but does beg the question do the nano particles (if in that form in toothpaste) can enter the bloodstream via the gums when brushing?
DJ's Feed Me
Here we go again with that "White Thing"! :0
The last time this was raised the semi official advice was that products that were only in contact with your skin for short periods of time or were rinsed or washed off were much less likely to be ‘ingested’. But still might pay to rinse properly (which kind of negates the way fluoride toothpaste actually works). There is plenty of toothpaste in my supermarket that has it including many of the whitening or sensitive products sold by big brands. In toothpaste it seems to be listed as titanium dioxide rather than E171.
Ralf Biernacki
There is another way of looking at it. What if the genetoxicity has nothing to do with titanium dioxide as such, and everything to do with the size of the nanoparticles? What if just about any inert, non-biodegradable mineral substance has the same effect, if consumed in nanoparticles of just the right size? I am reminded of the fact that asbestosis, silicosis, and coal miner's lung have similar effects from totally unrelated substances, just because you have small, sharp-edged and non-biodegradable particles of a particular size accumulate in the lungs. This could be a similar effect, that just happened to have been incidentally discovered in relation to titanium dioxide.
I would suggest titanium dioxide is less of a health problem than eating too many Dunkin Dounuts.