There Are Tiny Pieces of Metal All Up in Your Dairy Products

I don't know about you, I love cheese and dairy products in general. The texture, the taste, their ability to blend with other flavors, their titanium dioxide content — heyyy, wait a second.

OK, yes, technically titanium dioxide isn't a metal in the same way rust particles aren't a metal, but still. An article on Mother Jones today talks about the sharp rise of microscopic nanoparticles in food (particularly dairy), as well as questioning as to the potential health risks associated with them. The rise of nanoparticles has been largely a recent phenomenon — as recently as 2008, there were only eight products available on US shelves that the public knew contained the things. Now, there are 96 — many of them dairy products, such as (SHOCKER!) Kraft American Cheese Singles, the preponderance of which feature titanium dioxide. Honestly, the surprising thing is that there's any part of those that AREN'T made of repurposed metal.

This isn't to say "ERMAHGERD THE PARTICLES ARE COMING, GOD HELP US ALL" and hold up a sign that says "THE END IS NIGH." It's entirely possible that there would be beneficial effects to nanoparticles even other than the ones we're aware of, which largely consist of food colorization — in other words, stuff that helps the company, but doesn't do a whole lot for the consumer. However, as Mother Jones reports, these things are kind of disturbingly unregulated at present:


Remarkably, the US Food and Drug Administration, which oversees the safety of the food supply, both 1) acknowledges that nanoparticles pose risks that are substantially different from those of their regular-sized counterparts, and 2) has done nothing to slow down their rapid move into the food supply.

Now, it's certainly possible that these risks are minor and that there's not much to worry about. But, you know...maybe we should look into that stuff first? Maybe we don't want to charge whole-hog into the nano-particle craze if we're not sure what (if any) side effects they actually entail. I'm just saying.

The really depressing thing is that the FDA, in lieu of requiring actual safety testing, has proposed "nonbinding recommendations" for that sort of testing — and even that recommendation isn't currently in effect despite it being proposed two years ago. Ahh, moving at the speed of government.


The worrying thing is that, at least with titanium dioxide, there's potentially reasons to be concerned. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health actually did do a study in 2011 about the possible effect of titanium dioxide dust on lung cancer — a study which led them to recommend a sharp reduction in the amount of titanium dust considered "acceptable" for worker exposure.

Now, eating a thing is NOT the same as breathing in a thing, and nanoparticles are definitely not the same thing as dust from the same compound, but...maybe we should still check it out, first?

Image via Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.