Never accept candy from a stranger?

This time I did. I was on a flight to Seattle and the nice Canadian man with a waxed mustache sitting next to me in Economy class offers a bag of Skittles with an insistent “no-no I don’t like candy.” The burble of an empty stomach encourages me to accept and thank him for the bag of Skittles. He beams back at me.

When I turn over the bag to read the ingredients label, here is what I immediately noticed:

skittlez

There’s Titanium Dioxide in Skittles? As confirmed by http://www.wrigley.com/global/brands/skittles.aspx, yes, there is TiO2 in Skittles.

TiO2 is an inexpensive semiconductor material used to construct solar cells and photocatalysts because of its favorable electronic properties. TiO2 nanoparticles are also a UV-blocking ingredient in sunscreens. Titanium, by mass alone, can compose anywhere from 1% to an upwards of 10% of the product.

So why are they in our candy? “Doctor / Professor” Wikipedia says,

Titanium dioxide is the most widely used white pigment because of its brightness and very high refractive index, in which it is surpassed only by a few other materials. Approximately 4.6 million tons of pigmentary TiO2 are used annually worldwide, and this number is expected to increase as utilization continues to rise. When deposited as a thin film, its refractive index and colour make it an excellent reflective optical coating for dielectric mirrors and some gemstones like “mystic fire topaz“. TiO2 is also an effective opacifier in powder form, where it is employed as a pigment to provide whiteness and opacity to products such as paints, coatings, plastics, papers, inks, foods, medicines (i.e. pills and tablets) as well as most toothpastes. In paint, it is often referred to offhandedly as “the perfect white”, “the whitest white”, or other similar terms.

So there it is. For pigment. TiO2 can also be found in certain brands of skim milk, where it is a used to improve “whiteness.” [Yummy.] Another site I visited estimates that children consume 1-2 mg of TiO2 per day via the consumption of candy containing TiO2 as a pigment agent.

How worried do we need to be? The ingredient has been extensively researched and we can find some articles here, that tell us we don’t need to worry about adverse effects on our health. But, if anything we should be wrinkling brows over how these nanoparticles interact with our environment, sloshing around in our oceans and being swallowed up by all varieties of creatures.

For a list of a few other cosmetic items and consumables containing TiO2 nanoparticles, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3288463/

Other sources:

http://www.nanolyse.eu/PublicDocs/2nd%20Open%20Day/WP3_EuroFoodChem%20lecture_RIKILT_abstract.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanium_dioxide

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