Titanium dioxide in food

Titanium dioxide as the food 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 titanium dioxide are required to achieve the desired effect.

Known as TiO2 or in food as the food colourant E171, it is authorised under European legislation.

In decades of use as a food colourant, no verifiable link has ever been shown between general intake of titanium dioxide and harm to human health.

 

Why is E171 used in food?

E171 is used as an important colourant in foods to brighten or whiten the food products. E171 also adds texture to foods and is often used as an anti-caking agent. It also plays an important role in the pharmaceutical sector where the colour coding of tablets is essential for consumer safety.

 

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 European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reviewed the safety of E171 in 2016, 2018, May 2019 and June 2019. In all cases, the EFSA confirmed the safety of E171.

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 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 which 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.

The TDMA continues to stand behind the safety of E171 in all intended applications. The TDMA is addressing the EFSA’s opinion by updating its science programme to generate further data to confirm the safety of E171, to meet the EFSA’s new risk assessment approach for food additives, and to assist the EFSA with making a fully informed decision.