Disclaimer: I am not a scientist and therefore this article should not be interpreted as a “scientific paper”. Also, it should not be interpreted that I am advocating the use of Titanium Dioxide (TiO2); nor am I calling for its ban. This article is written to share some basic information on TiO2 and its use in the dairy industry.
Recently a Facebook discussion centered on the use of Titanium Dioxide in the production of certain cheeses. I decided to do some research and find some answers to the questions and concerns of my fellow Cheese Nerds.
TiO2, the oxide of the metal Titanium, occurs naturally in several kinds of rock and mineral sands. Titanium is the ninth most common element in the earth’s crust. TiO2 is typically thought of as being chemically inert. (1)
Titanium Dioxide is an inorganic white pigment used to whiten certain cheeses, including cottage cheese, cream cheese and pasta filata style cheeses, particularly mozzarella and ricotta made from cow’s milk. (2)
Buffalo milk mozzarella, which is almost void of beta carotene, is naturally white and sets the standard for the consumer as to how mozzarella should “look”.
According to an article at Journal of Dairy Science written by Frank Kosikowski** and David P. Brown discussing experiments conducted at Cornell University in the 60s, mozzarella made from cow’s milk naturally has a yellow tint (from beta carotene found in the grass), which to the consumer appears “dirty”. (2)
In the Cornell experiments, various levels of Titanium Dioxide were added to different cow milks to ascertain what level achieved the desired color without presenting adverse effects. Because I am not a scientist, I will not delve into what amount Kosikowski and Brown determined to be the optimum. You can read their abstract titled Application of Titanium Dioxide to Whiten Mozzarella Cheese for more detailed information.
The Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association (TDMA), whose slogan is “for a brighter future”, states TiO2 is not classified as hazardous according to the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. (1) TDMA also states that in 2006, the International Agency for Research for Cancer evaluated TiO2 as “possible carcinogenic” based primarily on studies on rats, which inhaled TiO2 in powder form. The article states that rats are uniquely sensitive to the effects of “lung overload” which doesn’t occur in other species, including humans. (1)
Of course, inhalation of the powder would not affect the consumer of mozzarella as it is mixed into the milk before the addition of rennet in the cheesemaking vat.
According to TDMA, we are surrounded by TiO2; most any manufactured item that is white contains TiO2. It is used in everything from paint to toothpaste to yogurt. And has been used since 1927. (2) Their position is that TiO2 isn’t harmful to humans. (TDMA is the advocacy group for the people who make and sale TiO2.)
In an article published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) titled Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles in Food and Personal Care Products, dairy products had the lowest concentration of TiO2 while candy and chewing gum had the highest concentration of TiO2. Ironically, the “cheese” with the highest concentration of TiO2 was Albertsons American Singles… which we all know is not cheese but a cheese product and for the purposes of this article, I’m willing to bet no one reading this eats any type American Slices (unless you “sin” and grab a fast-food burger…but I digress). (3)
The NIH article expressed concerns about TiO2 nanoparticles, which is not the type used in cheese manufacturing, entering the environment from human waste, washed off of surfaces and disposed of into sewage and entering waste water treatment plants. Also, there has been some linkage found between TiO2 and persons with Crohn’s disease but no study has as yet been published.
I spoke with a manufacturer who acknowledged the use of TiO2 in some of his company’s pasta filata products. He stressed that it is approved by the FDA and has been used for more than fifty years with a safe record. He added that TiO2 is used to aid in color but also enhances the melting abilities of the cheeses. For clients who do not want TiO2 in their product, he produces the same cheeses without adding TiO2.
Another issue raised online questioned why the FDA doesn’t always require TiO2 be listed as an ingredient. I found this statement at the FDA website under Labeling and Nutrition (4):
FDA does not define “trace amounts”; however, there are some exemptions for declaring ingredients present in “incidental” amounts in a finished food. If an ingredient is present at an incidental level and has no functional or technical effect in the finished product, then it need not be declared on the label. An incidental additive is usually present because it is an ingredient of another ingredient. Note that major food allergens (as discussed under Food Allergen Labeling), regardless of whether they are present in the food in trace amounts, must be declared.
Sulfites added to any food or to any ingredient in any food and that has no technical effect in that food are considered to be incidental only if present at less than 10 ppm. 21 CFR 101.100(a)(3) & (4)
In a conversation with Dr. Mark Johnson at the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin, TiO2 is considered a process aid and as such the FDA does not require its listing in ingredients. Dr. Johnson told me that TiO2’s functional use is to make the cheese whiter; “it brightens the cheese” and the amount used is considerably less than that of pigments used to color food products. He also stated that the body doesn’t absorb TiO2 and is regarded as safe by the FDA.
I remember as a child, my grandmother drank non-fat milk which had a blue-tint, almost translucent. Today non-fat milk is just as white as whole milk and now I know why.
You as a consumer must choose for yourself if you want TiO2 in your food and if not, find the proper alternatives.
** Frank Kosikowski founded the American Cheese Society in 1983.