Are Skittles Fit For Human Consumption? A Lawsuit Says No

If you want to “taste the rainbow,” that bag of Skittles may be more than you bargained for. Those colorful, chewy candies with a sweet-tart flavor profile have prompted some consumers to take the candy maker to court over a potentially dangerous additive. A class-action lawsuit filed July 14, 2022 against Skittles maker, Mars, calls into question the additive titanium dioxide that’s used to manufacture Skittles and poses a known health risk to people. The dangers of titanium dioxide are so well understood that in 2016 Mars publicly declared that it would phase out the ingredient. Fast-forward to 2022 and there it still is: Titanium dioxide is listed on the candy’s label. So, exactly what is titanium dioxide and does it make Skittles dangerous to eat? Titanium dioxide is used as a whitening agent in commercially processed foods, as well as an ultraviolet-light filtering agent in cosmetics and personal care items like toothpaste and sunscreen. The issue, at least when it comes to using titanium dioxide in food production, seems to center on its nanoparticle composition — a human hair is the width of about 80,000 nanoparticles. The problem with these minute nanoparticles is that they can pass through the digestive system and be absorbed into the bloodstream, travel to other places in the body where they don't belong, and accumulate in and damage organs like the liver or kidneys. At high doses, titanium dioxide nanoparticles could potentially play a role in cell inflammation, and certain cancers. Therein lies the rub: Skittles — and thousands of other commercially produced foods — contain titanium dioxide as an additive. However, according to the FDA, when the titanium dioxide additive doesn't exceed 1% of the food's weight, it's considered safe for consumption. The dangers of titanium dioxide, based on available research, are not always a clear yes or no says Pierre Herckes, a chemistry professor at Arizona State University. In 2015, Dunkin’ Donuts voluntarily removed titanium dioxide from the powdered sugar topping on its doughnuts, and the European Union banned it as a food additive because it was unable to establish its safety at any level of usage. Want to remove titanium dioxide from your diet? That may be tough. Food manufacturers aren't required to list it in the ingredients, opting instead for vague terms like "color added." Unprocessed, whole foods may be your best bet for steering clear of nanoparticles.