Titanium dioxide, a vital colour ingredient

Titanium dioxide (TiO2), is one of the most widely used pigments and colourants for optimizing whiteness. Applications include paints, coatings, plastics, paper, inks, food, cosmetics and tablet medicines. TiO2 is also a key ingredient used in sunscreen for its UV absorption properties.

The European Food Safety Authority of the European Commission (EFSA) cites TiO2’s technological function as making food more visually appealing by giving colour to food that would otherwise be colourless or restoring the original appearance of food.

Bakery products featuring brilliant whiteness as an aesthetic (think white wedding cakes) or food formulators using it to maintain consistency and texture in creamy cake fillings have come to rely on TiO2 due to its stable nature.


European regulatory changes

EFSA recently concluded that TiO2 is no longer considered safe to use as a food additive (Regulation 231/2012). This revised opinion follows a request made by the European Commission in March 2020 to re-evaluate its previous assessment from 2016, highlighting the need for more scientific data to fill in the gaps.

Labelled as E171 when used as a food colourant, TiO2 was reassessed for safe use in foods by EFSA’s expert Panel on Food Additives and Flavourings. The scrutiny surrounding the use of TiO2 in food ingredients focuses on its potential genotoxicity (watch a video to learn more from EFSA) and whether it is harmful when ingested.

After evaluating more scientific evidence about TiO2 nanoparticles, EFSA determined that although the absorption of these particles is low, they can accumulate in the body, posing a risk to consumers. The authority says it cannot establish an acceptable daily intake – or safe level – for E171. It is important to mention that EFSA’s opinion on the safety of titanium dioxide as a food additive has not yet been defined outside of food additive use in terms of other markets and applications. It is equally vital to note that EFSA has not banned TiO2. The European Commission and the Member States are responsible for any legislative or regulatory decisions based on EFSA’s opinion. In January 2020, France banned the sale of food products containing TiO2 and has extended that ban through 2021.

What do formulators do next?

In response to the challenge of formulating without TiO2, Univar Solutions Colour business has developed “The Essential Guide to Reformulating without Titanium Dioxide.” The guide covers the background to the EU TiO2 changes, what to consider when formulating without TiO2, the different options available when reformulating, and an unbiased assessment of the associated pros and cons. Our guide ensures you are equipped with all the impartial information you need to navigate and select the correct reformulation path for you. You can find the guide here.