Summary of eRumor:
Trisodium Phosphate, also known as TSP and paint thinner, can be found in Lucky Charms and other General Mills cereals, jeopardizing the health of kids and consumers.
It’s true that General Mills cereal (and many other consumer products) contain Trisodium Phosphate, but claims that it poses a threat to the health and wellbeing of consumers are unfounded.
It’s not clear where, exactly, rumors about Trisodium Phosphate lurking in Lucky Charms and other consumer products started, but they have been circulating on holistic health and wellness blog sites for years. These posts make the argument that because Trisodium Phosphate can be used as paint thinner, a degreaser, a cleaning agent and for other industrial purposes — there’s no way that it can be safe for humans to consume. But that’s not the case.
First off, it’s true that General Mills (and many other companies) add Trisodium Phosphate to cereal and other commercial food products. General Mills explained Trisodium Phosphate’s function in this 2015 tweet:
Posts appearing on holistic health websites, however, point out that although FDA and the EU classify Trisodium Phosphate as a safe additive in foods — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies Trisodium Phosphate (Anhydrous) as a hazardous material that humans should avoid all contact with. Because of that, these posts argue, there can be no way it’s safe to eat.
The answer t0 the riddle lies in the concentration levels. A material safety data sheet produced by a company that manufacturers Trisodium Phosphate spells out the affect of injecting different concentrations of phosphate salts;
Ingestion of large quantities of phosphate salts (over 1.0 grams for an adult) may cause an osmotic catharsis resulting in diarrhea and probable abdominal cramps. Larger doses such as 4-8 grams will almost certainly cause these effects in everyone. In healthy individuals most of the ingested salt will be excreted in the feces with the diarrhea and, thus, not cause any systemic toxicity. Doses greater than 10 grams hypothetically may cause systemic toxicity.
So, the reason why Trisodium Phosphate is safe for use in cereal and other foods is pretty simple: It’s used in much smaller concentrations than the 1 gram that can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea in adults. Now, when Trisodium Phosphate is used for cleaning, it’s mixed at a ratio of a one-half cup (170 grams) in two gallons of water.
We couldn’t find any studies or scientific research suggesting that Trisodium Phosphate is not a safe food additive. In the end, because Trisodium Phosphate is found in General Mills cereal but is recognized as safe, we’re calling this one “truth” and “misleading.”
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