The debate rages back and forth across the Internet: Since propylene glycol is commonly used in antifreeze for automobiles, why is it also added to many of the foods we eat every day? It’s well known that drinking antifreeze used for cars can easily kill you or your pet – so why do we see this very same ingredient listed on the labels of foods commonly sold in the grocery store?

Perhaps the reason for all the confusion, and fear, is understandable considering how easy it is to get befuddled over just what is going on here. On the other hand, too many people on the Internet are raising alarms and spouting off irresponsibly without knowing the facts behind the issue of propylene glycol in food.So let’s clean up the confusion right now.

human hand holding anditfreeze bottle

Government Says Its Safe

First, eating foods that contain propylene glycol (PG) is perfectly safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially approved PG as a food additive in 1973, giving it the status of GRAS, which means “generally recognized as safe.”

The FDA has also consistently updated and monitored propylene glycol in food over the past 40 years and continues to label it safe to eat.

Food scientist Dr. Sean O’Keefe, a professor with the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, agrees that PG is “perfectly safe.” He adds that it can only be harmful if injected intravenously or applied to infected skin burns. In terms of eating PG, it technically might be toxic if enormous amounts were ingested in one sitting, but that would be nearly impossible. But is propylene glycol actually used in antifreeze for automobiles? Well, the answer mostly yes, but read on.

Car Antifreeze Controversy

The substance that has historically been used for antifreeze is not PG, but ethylene glycol, which is a cousin of PG – but they are definitely not one and the same chemical. However, because ethylene glycol has proven to be so dangerous to pets (as when it leaks from an engine and a pet licks it off the ground), many antifreeze makers now substitute propylene glycol for ethylene glycol to make it less toxic.

As it turns out, PG can have the same effect as ethylene glycol for automobile antifreeze purposes – but that does not mean antifreeze is safe to drink for you or a pet! Antifreeze for automobiles contains many other harmful chemicals, so just because PG is substituted for ethylene glycol in antifreeze does not make it drinkable!

And so this is how the controversy gets started and is kept alive on the Internet. Often people take a picture of ingredients listed on the side of an antifreeze bottle, post it on the Internet and say: “See! Propylene glycol is used in antifreeze! And everyone knows that antifreeze is deadly poison!” However antifreeze also contains plane old water. That does not mean water is poison!

Still other alarmists say that propylene glycol in food is not allowed in Europe. This is also a false statement. Again, Dr. Sean O’Keefe assures us that PG is used in European foods, although in different amounts. Dr. O’Keefe explains that it is common for European and American standards to differ on food addatives, from artificial sweeteners to food dyes.

So Why Is it Used in Food

Why do so many food manufacturers put propylene glycol in food products? Propylene glycol in food makes it taste better and last longer. It is used to maintain flavor quality over long periods of time. It also makes foods taste slightly sweeter without having to add more sugar or artificial sweeteners. Finally, propylene glycol causes flavors to spread more evenly throughout food products.

Propylene glycol is not only used in foods, but a variety of other items of human consumption, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and a variety or personal care products.

Another major use of PG is an additive for the liquid used in e-cigarettes. Here again many people claim that e-cigarettes are deadly because they contain propylene glycol. Certainly, the jury is still out on the safety of e-cigarettes, but they contain many other substances and chemicals.

There will always be some health-conscious consumers who will never agree that propylene glycol in food is safe, no matter what the FDA or food scientists like Dr. O’Keefe say. They consider it unnatural. Many people are suspicious of today’s common food additives, especially various food dyes and artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame.

corn syrup with corn

How You Can Avoid It

Such health conscious folks can (and do) choose to eat only organic or natural fruits, vegetables and meats that are unprocessed, or not packaged in cans, or with other wrapping and preserving methods. Without a doubt, there is nothing wrong with checking food ingredient labels and avoiding propylene glycol in food if you are still not convinced. Many people just don’t trust government FDA regulators or giant food corporations driven by profit motives.

What can’t be disputed, however, is that millions upon millions of people eat propylene glycol in food every day, and they have done so for decades – and there is no scientific evidence that it has ever harmed anyone. Yet.

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