A Lawsuit Claims Skittles Contain a Toxin—What’s the Deal?

A new lawsuit filed in California claims that Skittles, everyone’s favorite rainbow-colored candies, contain a chemical that is “unfit for human consumption.” Skittles just wanted to let us taste the rainbow, but, alas, it seems human beings simply aren’t meant to know what rainbows taste like. Or, according to the lawsuit, humans aren’t supposed to be consuming titanium dioxide (the ingredient that helps make Skittles as brightly colored as they are, and also does the same for paint).

“So,” you may be asking, “What’s the sitch?” (Okay, Kim Possible.) Basically, Mars Inc. (Skittles’ parent company) is being sued by a consumer claiming that titanium dioxide (TiO2), a chemical found in Skittles, is a known toxin that is potentially dangerous for humans to eat. And, the lawsuit claims, consumers could unknowingly be putting themselves in danger by eating Skittles, without so much as a warning from the company. 

Apparently, Skittles has already removed TiO2 from the candy it sells in some European countries, while other countries have banned use of the chemical entirely, according to the Los Angeles Times. The lawsuit claims that TiO2 poses a risk of genotoxicity, meaning it can damage a person’s DNA and may cause cancer. Scary! The rainbow ain’t lookin’ too tasty right about now. 

A spokesperson for Mars, Inc. told TODAY, “While we do not comment on pending litigation, our use of titanium dioxide complies with FDA regulations.” And according to the FDA, TiO2 is deemed safe for human consumption as long as only a moderate amount of the chemical is used (less than 1% of the food). Now, I’m no expert, but this makes it seem like you would have to consume a fairly large amount of Skittles at once to do any damage. That being said, I generally prefer that my foods don’t contain anything potentially poisonous, no matter the amount.

Plus, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) disagrees with the FDA, claiming their experts “no longer consider titanium dioxide safe when used as a food additive.” Apparently titanium dioxide will be banned as an ingredient across Europe by the end of the year. Hmmmmmm. If an ingredient is potentially dangerous to the point of being banned in all of Europe, maybe we should…I don’t know…stop adding it to our foods

Apparently, there is precedent for the U.S. being more reactionary than precautionary when it comes to food safety. In an interview with The Guardian, a chemicals manager in the European Environmental Bureau said, “the U.S. often waits until the harm is done and the EU tries to prevent it to a certain extent. It often seems the U.S. favors the market over protection.” 

I don’t know what’s going to happen in this whole scandalous Skittles situation. But if the only tangible difference after taking this toxic ingredient out would be Skittles looking like, 20% less vibrant, that seems like the obvious choice. Because while tasting the rainbow might not be the worst way to inadvertently consume potentially concerning chemicals, I would much rather not and taste a less brightly colored, less toxic rainbow. But that’s just me.

About the Author

Jessica Block

Jessica Block is a freelance contributor to Sporked, a comedian, a baker, a food writer, and a firm believer that Trader Joe's may just be the happiest place on earth. She loves spicy snacks, Oreos, baking bread, teeny tiny avocados, and trying new foods whenever she can. Also, if you give her a bag of Takis she will be your best friend.

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