WASHINGTON — The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) issued a warning Dec. 5 telling consumers to avoid products formulated with titanium dioxide. The nanoparticles found in food-grade titanium dioxide may accumulate in the body and cause DNA damage and is one way chemicals cause cancer and other health problems, according to the group.

“Unlike some other chemicals used in food, titanium dioxide has no nutritive, preservative, or food safety function — its use is purely cosmetic,” said Thomas Galligan, principal scientist for additives and supplements at the CSPI. “The prospect of titanium dioxide nanoparticles damaging DNA is concerning enough for us to recommend consumers avoid foods that have it.”

Titanium dioxide was approved as a color by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1966 and is mostly used to replace the white color associated with the absence of milkfat. The FDA limits its use to not exceed 1% of a food’s weight, and it is most used in confectionery, baked foods, frosting and filling applications.

In its warning, the CSPI noted the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded in 2021 that titanium dioxide was no longer safe and subsequently banned for use as a food additive. But on Nov. 23, the Court of Justice of the European Union overruled that decision and called into question the reliability of the studies used to support EFSA’s conclusion.

Titanium dioxide’s cost and functionality make it an ingredient that is difficult to replace. Alternatives include calcium carbonate, rice starch, sugar and polyol crystals.

This past July, a lawsuit was filed in San Francisco against Mars Inc. over the use of titanium dioxide in Skittles candy. While the FDA allows titanium dioxide in food, the lawsuit alleged Mars violated California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act. The plaintiff in the lawsuit later dropped the case.