Mars Inc. is being sued for its continued use of titanium dioxide in Skittles in a class-action lawsuit alleging the rainbow candies are “unfit” to eat.
According to NBC News, California resident Jenile Thames alleges that he opened a Skittles package in April that still contained “heightened levels” of titanium dioxide (TiO2 or titania).
Insider reported that Mars Inc. agreed in 2016 to no longer use titanium dioxide and artificial colorings in its products for the next five years.
Thames said he would not have purchased the candy if he had known the mineral it contained, according to the lawsuit. He claims the ingredients on the packaging are difficult to read from the contrast in color between the font and packaging.
“A reasonable customer would expect that (Skittles) can be safely purchased and consumed as marketed and sold,” Thames said in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit notes that TiO2 was banned in France in 2019, and last May the European Food Safety Authority determined that the mineral “could not be considered safe for consumption.” The European Commission then announced that it would “adopt a ban on the use of TiO2 as a food additive.
Thames seeks unspecified damages for fraud and violations of California consumer protection laws.
Matthew Jorgensen, a Utah toxicologist who has no involvement in the lawsuit, said that the key concern the E.U. has with the mineral is with inhalation of titania rather than oral consumption.
“One of the key issues with titania and silica is the inhalation of these dusts in a factory setting. In these cases, though, the issue is related to physical action of dust particles on sensitive lung tissues. That same concern doesn’t apply when titania is consumed orally,” he said.
Jorgensen said that when titania is reported it often relates to the inhalation of titania, where the size of the particles is much smaller than what is used for coloration.
“In these cases particular size matters a ton, and I would agree that small size nanoparticles of any type should be carefully evaluated,” Jorgensen said.
Titania has not been banned in the United States, but federal guidelines restrict the use of the mineral to not exceed 1% by the weight of food.
The lawsuit claims that Mars Inc. “committed to phasing out” the titania in its products but has not done so. In the U.S., the company still uses titania in Skittles and has failed “to inform consumers of the implications,” according to the lawsuit.
According to researchers, oral exposure studies showed biochemical changes from ingestion but systemic toxicity was not demonstrated. Jorgensen said that was with doses up to 5 grams per kilogram for two weeks, which is a large amount considering an adult generally weighs 60 kilograms.
Titania is a mineral found in paints, sunscreens, plastics and cosmetics. According to The Hill, it has been used in food products like candy, chewing gum, chocolates and coffee creamers for a long time.
Jorgensen said the description of titania as a toxin is incorrect because a toxin is necessarily a poison or venom of plant or animal origin. “TiO2 (titania) is of mineral origin, quite rightly, so this material is very much like sand, which is SiO2 (silica),” Jorgensen said.
While it is true that a specific dose makes the mineral poisonous, most other ingredients can also be considered poisonous at high enough dosages.
“A classic example is Vitamin A, which is helpful at very low doses but becomes poisonous at moderately higher doses. Sixty-thousand cases of Vitamin A poisoning are reported each year in the U.S., causing pregnancy loss, headaches, skin problems and others,” Jorgensen said.