Propylene glycol is an organic compound that comes as a colorless liquid, which has a slightly sweet taste, but is odorless. Although it is used widely as a solvent, and added to cosmetics, shampoo, toothpaste, and so on, we also find propylene glycol in food, where manufacturers use it as a processing agent. Today, we are going to take a closer look at everything you need to know about propylene glycol in food. From what types of food you can find it in, to answering the question “Is it safe or not?”, read on for a comprehensive guide on propylene glycol.
Propylene Glycol in Food – Where Can I Find It?
We can find propylene glycol in ice cream, where manufacturers use it as an antifreeze. What does that mean, you ask? Well, do you know those ice crystals that sometimes tend to form on the surface of some types of ice cream? By using propylene glycol, the ice cream won’t form any ice crystals. That means that the ice cream will always be creamy, and once you pack it, it will maintain its shape.
Have you ever wondered how soft drinks preserve their delicious taste for so long? The answer is propylene glycol. Soft drinks manufacturers add propylene glycol to their products in order to suspend fatty acids in the actual liquid soda. Even more so, this compound adds flavor and stabilizes it. Which means that you can store a soft drink for a long time, and it won’t lose its taste.
Speaking of propylene glycol’s abilities to stabilize food, you should know that you can find it in icings. Here, it serves the same purpose. Since the icing has to be homogenous, that is where a stabilizer comes in. Furthermore, the icing should also foam. This is another benefit of adding propylene glycol to it, since this compound also has emulsifying properties.
Last but not least, you should know that manufacturers of artificial sweeteners also use propylene glycol. In the case of this product, the compound serves a completely different purpose, that of a humectant. A humectant is something that helps different types of food preserve moisture. Because of that, the product won’t get any mold or bacteria, and it will be much more hygienic. Moreover, propylene glycol also makes the product have a longer shelf life.
Is Propylene Glycol in Food Safe to Consume?
As with any compound added to the food that we consume in our day-to-day life, people are naturally concerned about the dangers it poses to our health. So, is propylene glycol in food safe for us humans to consume? The answer is yes.
When we ingest propylene glycol, our body metabolizes it and turns it into lactic, acetic, and pyruvic acids. All of these types of acids are completely non-toxic and safe to consume. Which means that propylene glycol is also safe to consume.
However, people are more concerned about a fourth substance that we call propionaldehyde. This one could indeed be toxic, but only if consumed in extremely large doses. This could only happen to us by accident. So if you eat ice cream, or use artificial sweetener, there is not enough of that substance to cause any kind of health issues. Furthermore, if you are concerned that it might poison you in the long run, that is something you shouldn’t worry about either. Why? Because our body metabolizes it very quickly, so it won’t stay in our system for too long.
Usually, people fear propylene glycol in food because of the fact that you can find the same substance in brake fluid, antifreeze, paint, airplane fluid, and so on. However, it is important to remember that its use in non-food related industries is not at all similar to its use in food.
Even more so, some people might confuse it with ethylene glycol, which you could find a while ago in antifreeze. However, manufacturers substituted this compound with propylene glycol precisely because the latter is much safer, while the former was very dangerous to humans.
What Does the FDA Say About Propylene Glycol in Food?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed propylene glycol in food safe to consume. This means that as long as you don’t consume large amounts of it in its natural form, you won’t be experiencing any health issues. What is interesting to note is that in the U.S., the concentration of propylene glycol in food that specialists deem safe is larger than the one in Europe. According to the FDA, you can consume up to 5% propylene glycol out of the total amount of food you normally eat.
Furthermore, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), has clearly stated that there are no cancer risks associated with the consumption of propylene glycol.
Summing Everything Up
We can find propylene glycol in many types of foods, serving different purposes. Even though the same compound is used for other industries, propylene glycol in food does not constitute a danger for humans. Unless accidentally ingested in a very large quantity, propylene glycol should not scare people into not purchasing products where they can find it. This idea is confirmed and strengthened by the FDA and the ATSDR. As a result, it should be enough to show people that they shouldn’t fear propylene glycol in food.