Stop Worrying About the Wrong Things!
by Ann Enverga
Propylene glycol is present in many foods that are consumed daily, such as frostings, candies, baked goods, alcoholic beverages, sweeteners and many more. It helps make food taste good as it distributes the flavor evenly in the product and allows the flavor to last for a long period of time. It also absorbs water that helps food products maintain their moisture. In addition to food products, propylene glycol is also used in pharmaceutical, cosmetic products and vehicles. It has been proven to be safe to use for more than 50 years. But 50 years of proven safety doesn’t seem to be enough to silence the voices of those who want to ban propylene glycol. Since it is used in cosmetics and vehicles, many fall under the impression that it is dangerous and should not be consumed. Is this also saying that since water is used in motor vehicles or cosmetic products, it shouldn’t be consumed as well?
Various websites have deemed propylene glycol as unacceptable. Food Babe believes that it makes logical sense to add it on the list of unacceptable ingredients. Saveourbones website placed propylene glycol in their “worst offenders” ingredient list due it being present in motor vehicles as antifreeze, which prevents vehicles from freezing during the winter. This antifreeze property can also be applied in food. For instance, propylene glycol is used in ice cream to prevent it from being too icy when stored in the freezer. Saveourbones website claims that with Americans eating ice cream 5 times more than they did 50 years ago, the long term effects of propylene glycol can kill a person slowly. Moreover, the Healthy Home Economist website claims that propylene glycol causes heart, kidney and brain damage. It is also contaminated with ethylene oxide, which causes development delay and cancer.
The Environmental Protection Agency states that propylene glycol is a type of antifreeze that is less toxic compared to ethylene glycol, which can damage the internal organs when inhaled. The LD50 (dose to kill 50% test sample) of ethylene oxide is 4.7g/kg body weight in rats while propylene glycol is 20g/kg body weight in rats. These values can be compared to the LD50 of table sugar, which is 29g/kg body weight in rats. Propylene glycol has a closer value to the LD50 of table sugar than ethylene glycol. Since ethylene glycol is a toxic antifreeze, it made some people to believe that all antifreeze products are toxic. The FDA categorizes propylene glycol as a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) ingredient. This means that the risk of propylene glycol toxicity is very low. It takes about 6g per kg body weight to cause acute toxicities in the body. This means that a 70kg person will need to consume about 420g of propylene glycol, an amount that does not even exist, since it is added in very small amounts in food products. Furthermore, once ingested, it is quickly removed from the body and does not accumulate.
Despite the proven safety of propylene glycol, many believe that it is harmful since it is used in cosmetic products and motor vehicles. Just because it is used in a non-food product doesn’t make a substance toxic. It is the dose that makes a substance toxic, similar to medicine. In reality, when is the last time one has heard of propylene glycol poisoning? There are more important issues to be concerned about instead of an ingredient in a food product that actually makes food taste good. How about foodborne diseases? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 out of 6 Americans get ill from foodborne diseases. 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from these diseases. Most of these were caused by improper handling or cooking preparations, such as undercooking food, that lets disease causing microbes, called pathogens, survive in the food. In fact, a co-worker of mine was absent for a week due to salmonella from eating unwashed grapes. Isn’t this a more important issue to be concerned about? Besides pathogens, food allergies cause more than 300,000 visits in ambulatory care for children under 18 years of age (CDC). How about malnutrition (over and under nutrition), poverty and hunger? Poor areas around the world don’t even know or worry about propylene glycol because they are busy worrying about their next meal in order to survive. We need to focus more on the important things in life that affect our health. There is a need for re-examining what the real concerns are in the food industry as well as the need to increase the trust of the organizations that safe guard the food system.