A consumer has filed a lawsuit against Mars, Incorporated, alleging that the company’s rainbow candies, Skittles, contain a “known toxin” that makes them “unfit for human consumption.”
Titanium dioxide in Skittles
Jenile Thames, a resident of San Leandro, filed the lawsuit in Oakland, California on Thursday, claiming in court documents that Skittles contain “heightened levels” of titanium dioxide and people who consume the candies “are at heightened risk of a host of health effects for which they were unaware stemming from genotoxicity – the ability of a chemical substance to change DNA.”
Though Mars announced in February 2016 that it is “committed to phasing out” the titanium dioxide in its products, the lawsuit ― which is seeking class-action status ― points out that the chemical is still being used in Skittles today to create the candies’ wide array of artificial colors.
Mars does not comment on pending litigation, but the confectionery company said in a statement that its “use of titanium dioxide complies with FDA regulations.”
According to the FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations, titanium dioxide “may be safely used for coloring foods” but there a number of limitations, such as the quantity of the color additive should not exceed 1% of the food’s weight.
Europe bans Titanium dioxide
While the use of titanium dioxide in food products is still legal in the U.S., other countries, including the entirety of Europe, have already banned the use of the chemical. In May 2021, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced that titanium dioxide “can no longer be considered safe as a food additive” – noting the importance of genotoxicity concerns, among many others.
As mentioned above, genotoxicity is the ability of chemicals to damage genetic information. At the time of the announcement of the ban, Maged Younes, chair of EFSA’s expert Panel on Food Additives and Flavorings, said that the “absorption of titanium dioxide particles is low” after oral ingestion but they “can accumulate in the body” afterward.
According to the lawsuit, titanium dioxide is used in “paints, coatings, adhesives, plastics, printing inks, and roofing materials” and it “has demonstrated an ability to pass through biological membranes, circulate through the body and enter cells.”
Titanium dioxide in other candies
A lot of popular candies do not contain titanium dioxide. According to the lawsuit, Skittles’ rival products like Sour Patch Kids and Nerds do not contain the chemical. Even Skittles’ sister brand, M&M, does “not rely” on titanium dioxide.
Warning the consumers
In addition to Mars’ continued use of titanium dioxide in Skittles, the lawsuit alleges that the company is failing to inform consumers of the implications of consuming the toxin. The complaint goes on to claim that Mars does not appropriately tell Skittles consumers of this alleged unsafe additive, either before or at the time of purchase – nor did the company warn them that these candies “should otherwise be approached with caution.”
Thames particularly claims that the ingredients of the candy are hard to read due to the contrast in color between the font and packaging.
“Defendant relies on the ingredient list which is provided in minuscule print on the back of the products, the reading of which is made even more challenging by the lack of contrast in color between the font and packaging, as set out below in a manner in which consumers would normally view the product in the store,” read a portion of the court documents.
Thames is seeking unspecified damages for fraud and multiple violations of California consumer protection laws.
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