New research from scientists at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found no safety concerns with several ingredients commonly found in food. The research, which focused on ingredients known as emulsifiers and in particular, sodium carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) and polysorbate80 (P80), was conducted in response to research claiming these two ingredients have negative effects on the human body.
Emulsifiers are used in food to produce a consistent blend of two or more ingredients. They ensure the ingredients remain mixed and don’t separate at any point from processing to consumption, which reduces food waste and makes the food look and taste more appealing. Common examples of foods containing emulsifiers include ice cream, salad dressings, margarine, chocolate, breads and other baked goods, desserts, candy, cheese and some beverages.
Over the last two years, a few researchers have made claims about the potential impacts these ingredients may have on microbes in the human gut. Due to the importance of gut microbes in the digestive tract and on overall health, it was important to investigate these claims and ensure that the use of these common food ingredients remains safe.
To understand whether the researchers’ claims were valid, a team of scientists from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a review of several emulsifiers commonly used in food to determine whether these ingredients could pose any risk to human health. The study focused on CMC and P80, which were implicated in the negative research.
The FDA’s findings directly refute the earlier research linking these two ingredients to disruptions in gut microbes. These findings also raise serious questions about the validity of claims that CMC and P80 specifically, and all emulsifiers in general, cause other negative effects on the body.
The study reviewed dietary exposure to the emulsifiers over the course of two different time periods. It relied on Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels established by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, an international expert scientific committee that is administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The key findings from the FDA study included the following:
The amount of emulsifiers found in consumer food hasn’t substantially increased over the past 15 years.
Of the seven emulsifiers tested, both CMC and P80 were on the lower spectrum for exposure at their current levels.
The FDA’s findings provide significant evidence that emulsifiers remain safe at the levels currently consumed and that claims suggesting these ingredients are harmful are not valid. While it is important to continually review the ingredients used in food and ensure they remain safe, it is equally important to review new research that draws negative conclusions and validate it through additional research and investigation by qualified scientists like those at FDA.