In 2022, Europe banned the chemical titanium dioxide from being used in food. The decision sparked conversations in the U.S. about potentially harmful health effects of the chemical, which is used in popular foods like Skittles, coffee creamer and cake icing.
Now, some social media posts claim California is considering its own ban on titanium dioxide, red dye No. 3 and other chemicals commonly used in food products.
VERIFY reader Gabrielle also asked if a proposed bill in the state would ban the use of titanium dioxide and four other food additives.
Would a California bill ban chemicals found in Skittles and other foods in the state?
- California Assembly Bill 418
- California Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills)
- Ingredients lists for Skittles, Pez and Hot Tamales candies
- The Mayo Clinic
- Michigan State University’s Center for Research on Ingredient Safety
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Yes, a California bill would ban chemicals found in Skittles and other foods in the state.
WHAT WE FOUND
If passed, California Assembly Bill 418 would ban five common food additives: titanium dioxide, red dye No. 3, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate and propylparaben.
The proposed legislation prohibits any person or entity from manufacturing or selling a food product that contains any of the five chemicals.
California Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills), who introduced the bill, said in a press release that California would be the first state in the nation to ban the five food additives. The ban would take effect on Jan. 1, 2025, if the bill is passed into law.
Violators would be subject to a fine of up to $5,000 for their first offense and a fine of up to $10,000 for any subsequent offenses, according to the bill text. The state attorney general, a city attorney, a county counsel or a district attorney could bring action to enforce the law.
Two California Assembly committees have passed the bill as of April 28, but it has not yet become law.
A spokesperson for Gabriel said the bill has been referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. If it passes there, it would head to the Assembly Floor next. The bill would then go to various Senate committees, the Senate Floor and finally Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
Titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, propylparaben, brominated vegetable oil, and a handful of artificial colors are banned in the European Union over concerns that they could be harmful to human health, according to the regulatory technology company RegAsk.
More from VERIFY: Yes, Europe banned titanium dioxide, an ingredient in Skittles, from being used in food
Here’s a breakdown of the five food additives that could be banned if the California bill passes.
Titanium dioxide is used to enhance the color and sheen of certain foods. That includes some popular candies such as Skittles.
In Skittles, titanium dioxide is likely used as a primer to help the candy’s colorful hues stick, Kelly Johnson-Arbor, M.D., the medical director at the National Capital Poison Center, said.
Though some health experts have classified titanium dioxide as a potential human carcinogen, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it is safe for use in foods or food coloring as long as the quantity doesn’t exceed 1% of the total weight of the food.
Norbert Kaminski, Ph.D., the director of Michigan State University’s Center for Research on Ingredient Safety, previously told VERIFY that the current studies on titanium dioxide exposure have been limited to animals.
Red dye No. 3
Red dye No. 3, also known as erythrosine, is used as a red coloring in some foods. Some popular candies, such as Pez and Hot Tamales, and other food products contain the additive.
Red dye No. 3 is FDA-approved for use in food. But it has been banned from cosmetics and other limited uses in the U.S. since 1990 based on a potential link to cancer in animals.
Some researchers have also found that synthetic food dyes, such as red dye No. 3, can cause hyperactivity and other neurobehavioral issues in children.
Brominated vegetable oil
According to the Mayo Clinic, brominated vegetable oil is a food additive that can be used to keep citrus flavoring from separating in sodas and other beverages.
Health concerns about brominated vegetable oil stem from the ingredient bromine, which can irritate the skin and mucous membranes, dietitian Katherine Zeratasky wrote for the Mayo Clinic. Long-term exposure to bromine can cause headaches, memory loss, and impaired balance or coordination.
There have been reports of people experiencing memory loss, along with skin and nerve problems, after drinking “excessive amounts” of soda containing brominated vegetable oil, Zeratsky says.
The use of brominated vegetable oil is allowed in "small amounts," the FDA says.
Potassium bromate is an oxidizing agent that improves dough, according to Michigan State University’s Center for Research on Ingredient Safety. It’s used to make bread and other baked goods, but only limited amounts of the additive remain in products that are properly baked and heated.
The FDA regulates potassium bromate as a food additive, and allows specific amounts of it in flour and baked goods.
Studies have shown that “significant doses” of potassium bromate given to rodents can cause cancer, and harm cells and DNA. But “humans don’t regularly consume potassium bromate at the doses and exposure levels that lead to adverse health outcomes in rodents,” according to Michigan State University’s Center for Research on Ingredient Safety.
“Current research shows that potassium bromate doesn't cause harm in humans when consumed in properly heated baked goods and bread at normal levels,” the Michigan State University center says.
Parabens, including propylparaben, are commonly used in small amounts as preservatives in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.
Some research shows that parabens affect hormone function and the chemicals have been found in the breast tissue of patients with breast cancer.
The FDA says its scientists “continue to review published studies on the safety of parabens,” but the agency does not have information showing they have an adverse effect on human health.