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Titanium dioxide (TiO2) : evidence of its toxicity

© INRAE, Toxalim
In an opinion published on 6 May 2021, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concludes that E171 (titanium dioxide) is no longer considered safe when used as a food additive. Their opinion is based in particular on pioneering research conducted by researchers of team ENTeRisk in collaboration with team PPCF at Toxalim (INRAE Occitanie-Toulouse).

E171 composed of particles of titanium dioxide (TiO2) is a leading food additive widely used worldwide for its coloring (white pigment) and opacifying properties. The use of this additive on the food market has been suspended in France since January 1, 2020, as a precautionary principle.

  • As early as 2017, work carried out at Toxalim (INRAE ​​Occitanie-Toulouse) by the ENTeRisk team (Endocrinology & Toxicology of the Intestinal Barrier) in collaboration with the PPCF team (Prevention and promotion of carcinogenesis by food) had shown for the first time in animals that E171 penetrated the intestinal wall and was found in the body. Reasearchers report disorders of the immune system associated with absorption of the nanoparticulate fraction of the additive and the development of preneoplastic lesions in the colon, a non-malignant stage of carcinogenesis.
  • Further, researchers from the ENTeRisk team provided evidence that titanium dioxide nanoparticles present in the additive E171 can cross the placenta and reach the fetal environment. Their results, published on October 7, 2020 in the journal Particle and Fiber Toxicology, alert on the importance of assessing the risk associated with the presence of nanoparticles in this common additive considering the known exposure of pregnant women.

EFSA's opinion of 6 May 2021, confirming the French decision of 2020, was built on these results and should lead to a change in regulations at European level towards a ban on the use of E171 as a food additive.