Dunkin Donuts made coffee and doughnuts a national snack time favorite, but as the company spread its influence, more and more people started taking a look at what, exactly, was in a Dunkin Donuts doughnut.
That scrutiny has caused the company to announce they will be removing a specific ingredient–titanium dioxide–due to consumer concerns about potential toxicity.
Titanium dioxide is used as a whitening agent in the powdered sugar on some doughnuts, and the advocacy group As You Sow, a nonprofit organization developed to hold corporations accountable for their influence on public health, has been pushing the doughnut maker to remove it since 2013. The primary concern with the titanium dioxide, according to the group, was the presence of nanomaterials within the substance.
As You Sow states on their website: “In 2013, As You Sow commissioned independent laboratory tests of Dunkins white powdered donuts, finding they contained titanium dioxide nanomaterials. Nanomaterials substances engineered to have extremely small dimensions offer new food industry applications. However, the small size of nano-materials may also result in greater toxicity for human health and the environment. Insufficient safety information exists regarding these manufactured particles, especially for use in foods; preliminary studies show that nanomaterials can cause DNA and chromosomal damage, organ damage, inflammation, brain damage, and genital malformations, among other harms.”
Titanium dioxide in and of itself is a naturally occurring mineral primarily used in paint, cosmetics and food coloring.
According to the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Center, it is considered a safe and inert material, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows up to 1 percent of titanium dioxide in food without inclusion on the ingredient label as long as stringent levels of purity are maintained. Food-grade titanium dioxide should be larger than 100 nanometers in diameter, as this is the ideal size for creating a bright white color.
“The ingredient used in our powdered doughnuts does not meet the definition of ‘nanoparticle’ as outlined under FDA guidance,” Dunkin’ Brands chief communications officer Karen Raskopf said to USA Today. “Nevertheless, we began testing alternative formulations for this product in 2014, and we are in the process of rolling out a solution to the system that does not contain titanium dioxide.”
Though Dunkin Donuts was well within their legal rights to use titanium dioxide products, the Risk Science Centers indicates not much is known about nanotechnology in food and how it affects health. Concern about the amount of this mineral in products is legitimate; however, companies adhering to FDA guidelines are using quantities tested and found to be safe.
Still, Dunkin Donuts has chosen to acquiesce to the demands of As You Sow, indicating it wants consumers and investors to know the company takes their concerns seriously and wants only to provide quality, sustainable products.
“This is a groundbreaking decision,” said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow. “Dunkin’ has demonstrated strong industry leadership by removing this potentially harmful ingredient from its doughnuts.”