Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is authorised as the food additive E 171 and can be used as a white colour pigment in sweets and coatings, e.g. in dragees and chewing gum. The substance is also contained in cosmetic products such as toothpaste or as nanoparticles in sunscreen under the name CI 77891. The majority of titanium dioxide is used in technical applications, however, such as the manufacture of paints, varnish, paper and plastics.
Researchers and the general public are currently discussing the possible health risks which can occur through the uptake of titanium dioxide. The background of this are several new studies, the still pending decision on the classification of titanium dioxide as a hazardous substance on the basis of a recommendation made by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the ordinance recently pronounced in France according to which the marketing of foods containing the food additive E 171 is to be suspended for one year from 2020.
The experts distinguish between oral (via food), dermal (through the skin) and inhalative (breathed in) intake. Where inhalative intake is concerned, the ECHA Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) has proposed that titanium dioxide be classified as a hazardous substance along with the notice “presumably carcinogenic if inhaled” in line with the criteria of the CLP regulation. Where oral intake of titanium dioxide as a food additive is concerned, the current status according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is that the available data gives no indications of a health concern for consumers. An acceptable daily intake (ADI) cannot currently be derived for the food additive, however, as the data base on reproductive toxicity in particular is insufficient and/or inadequate.
The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) concluded in April 2019 that there is a lack of scientific data to dispel the uncertainties relating to the health safety of the additive E 171. In its recommendations, ANSES emphasised the need for data to characterise the various physicochemical forms of E 171 and additional toxicological data on the possible effects of its uptake. EFSA concluded in May 2019 that the ANSES opinion does not contain any essentially new findings which would cast doubt on EFSA’s current assessment of the use of titanium dioxide (E 171) as a food additive (EFSA, 2019).
The French ministries of the environment and economics announced in April 2019 that foods containing the additive E 171 may not be brought into circulation in France from 2020 for a period of one year.
EFSA and the BfR will continue to monitor titanium dioxide from a scientific point of view. The data on reproductive toxicity in particular, which is currently being collected in a new study in line with the recommendations of EFSA, will have to be verified. The BfR has compiled some frequently asked questions on the topic of titanium dioxide in food.