Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Candy canes contain titanium dioxide, a cancer-causing chemical.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, December 2007]
Origins: In the latter part of 2007, the news of the day was filled with one tale after another about dangerous vendibles imported from China. Lead found in consumer products and contaminated pet foods grabbed the headlines, but that was just the tip of the iceberg as potentially dangerous levels of chemicals and toxins turned up in a variety of Chinese products, from toothpaste to
The "candy cane" e-mail quoted above, which began circulating in November 2007, plays upon the fear of dealing with consumer goods imported from China, but that fear is apparently misplaced in this case.
Titanium dioxide, the subject of the alert, is a naturally-occurring compound which (for the sake of purity) is refined for use in the manufacture of a variety of consumer goods, both domestic and international. Its chief use is as a pigment: it serves to color items a brilliant white and is therefore commonly found in toothpaste and just about any item where a bright white coloring is called for, such as paints, paper, various foods, and even pills and tablets. It also gets put to work in cosmetics and skin care products, where it is used both as a pigment and as a thickener, and is present in almost every sunblock, where it helps protect the skin from ultraviolet light. Beside imparting a brilliant white to products, the compound is also a noteworthy opacifier, which means it helps make items treated with it opaque (i.e., not allowing light to pass through them).
While we can't confirm that there was titanium dioxide in the candy canes purchased by the
Titanium dioxide is a potential carcinogen, but it hasn't been demonstrated as posing a cancer risk to consumers through ordinary consumption of food products. In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified it an IARC
Barbara "candy is still dandy" Mikkelson
Last updated: 11 December 2007
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