Titanium dioxide as the food colourant E171
Known in food as the colourant E171, its unique whiteness and brightness, stability to heat, light and UV absorbance make titanium dioxide the most effective white colourant in food. In fact, it’s up to five times more efficient than alternatives, so that relatively low levels of E171 are required to achieve the desired effect.
In decades of use as a food colourant, no verifiable link has ever been shown between a general intake of E171 and harm to human health.
Why is E171 used in food?
E171 is used as an important colourant in foods to brighten or whiten food products. E171 also adds texture to foods and is often used as an anti-caking agent.
Is E171 safe to eat?
E171 has gone through rigorous European testing and classification throughout the years, which have repeatedly confirmed its safety for consumers.
The latest EFSA opinion on E171 published in May 2021 finds no conclusive evidence showing harmful effects from the intake of E171. Yet, the EFSA concluded that it no longer considers E171 safe as a food additive because concerns for genotoxicity could not be ruled out. It comes after the EFSA previously concluded that ‘the use of TiO2 as a food additive does not raise a genotoxic concern’.
The TDMA assessed the EFSA opinion finding significant issues associated with the EFSA’s approach in reaching its conclusions.
Why did the EFSA change its opinion about the safety of E171?
The conclusion changed because the 2021 EFSA opinion is not based on all available data concerning the safety of E171.
The EFSA adopted a new approach to determine its latest opinion that excludes certain important components of the science dataset for E171 that show no harmful genotoxic effects. The EFSA reached its conclusion based on test materials that are not representative of E171, nor relevant for assessing E171 when used as a food additive.
The methods of oral exposure relied on by the EFSA, and the studies used to reach its conclusion, do not represent realistic or potential conditions of use, or reflect human exposures to the actual food additive.
Why is E171 no longer allowed in food in the EU?
The European Commission withdrew the approval for the use of E171 in food in the EU on 18 January 2022. The decision which entered into force on 7 February 2022 is based on the EFSA opinion that E171 can no longer be considered safe.
The Regulation states clearly that no immediate health concerns have been identified. This underlines that the decision is not based on any identified risks to human health from E171.
The act foresees a 6-months transition period from its entry into force. This means that until 7 August 2022 food products containing E171 are allowed to be placed on the EU market and marketed until their ‘use by’ date.
Products containing E171 can continue to be used safely during the transition period as no immediate risk to health has been identified.
What is the Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association (TDMA) doing about the situation?
The TDMA continues to stand behind the safety of E171 in all intended applications and disagrees with the decision to withdraw the approval of E171 in the EU.
The TDMA is addressing the EFSA’s opinion by updating its science programme to generate further data to confirm the safety of E171, and to meet the EFSA’s new risk assessment approach for food additives.