Nontoxic Food Decorations Aren’t Always Edible

I’m making a batch of holiday goodies, and I’m using several kinds of festive decor on the cakes, cookies, and pies. Some of this glitter and sparkly stuff is very pretty, but I’m wondering if it’s really safe to eat.

Photo: Getty Images.

That depends on what the label on its packaging says.

When baking fancy cookies, cakes, cupcakes, or other foods for the holidays—or for any occasion—it’s important that you are aware of which decorations are edible and which ones aren’t.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer alert this week that some glitters and dusts promoted for use in foods might, in fact, contain materials that should not be eaten.

In fact, the FDA says consumers might want to avoid using glitter and dust to decorate cakes, cupcakes, cookies, pies, and other food items unless the products are specifically manufactured to be edible.

While some glitters and dusts are sold online and in craft and bakery supply stores under names such as luster dust, disco dust, twinkle dust, sparkle dust, highlighter, shimmer powder, pearl dust, and petal dust, not all are safe to eat, the FDA says.

Some of the decorations might be labeled nontoxic, but that doesn’t mean they are meant to be eaten.

“Some decorative glitters and dusts promoted for use on foods may, in fact, contain materials that should not be eaten,” the FDA said in a written statement.

So how can you distinguish between glitters and dusts that are safe to eat from those that are unsafe to eat?

Food decorations that are edible must be clearly labeled as such. Companies that make edible glitters and dusts are required by law to include a list of ingredients on the label, per the FDA. If the label simply says “nontoxic” or “for decorative purposes only” and does not include an ingredients list, you should not use the product directly on foods.

Nontoxic glitters and dust, which are typically used to make crafts sparkle, are made out of plastic.

In contrast, some of the most common ingredients used to make edible glitter or edible dust include sugar, acacia (gum arabic), maltodextrin, cornstarch, and color additives specifically approved for food use, including mica-based pearlescent pigments and FD&C colors such as FD&C Blue No. 1.

If you are purchasing a professionally decorated cake or other food item, specifically ask the baker or cook if all ingredients are edible. To ensure that the decorative products are edible, you can also ask to see their labels.

If you do decide to purchase or decorate a food item with decorations that are not edible, you should be sure that you remove the decorations before serving or eating the food. You don’t want anyone who eats your treats to have any adverse reactions to your creations.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

Special Note: Chow Line is taking a two-week holiday hiatus. Look for fresh perspectives in the New Year on Jan. 11, 2019.

With Holiday Baking Season in Full Swing, a Reminder from CDC to Just Say No to Eating Raw Dough

My grandkids and I have a tradition of spending a Saturday afternoon this time of year baking pies, cakes, and cookies for the holidays. I’ve always let my grandkids lick the spoon from the raw cake batter and raw cookie dough, but now my son is telling me it’s not safe to do so. Why is that?

A little girl licks a spoon while baking cookies. Photo: Getty Images.

While many people (including me!) might love the taste of raw cookie dough or raw cake or brownie batter, eating it can make you sick. That’s because the raw eggs and uncooked flour that go into many recipes can contain bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella, which can result in a bad case of foodborne illness.

Most people know that raw or undercooked eggs can cause salmonella poisoning, which can result in fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea, but fewer people are aware that raw flour can also harbor dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli, which can also cause significant illness.

Symptoms of an E. coli infection can include severe stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Most people typically recover from illness associated with salmonella and E. coli within a week.

In a new warning issued recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), consumers are reminded that flour is derived from untreated grain and might be contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli.

“Harmful germs can contaminate grain while it’s still in the field or at other steps as flour is produced,” the CDC said.

For example, if an animal defecates or urinates in the field, bacteria from the animal waste could contaminate the grain, which is then harvested and milled into flour, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In fact, between December 2015 and September 2016, some 63 people across the United States developed an E. coli infection after eating raw flour. And in Canada, 30 people became sick between November 2016 and April 2017 after eating raw or uncooked flour contaminated with E. coli, according to the CDC.

To avoid any potential bouts of foodborne illness, it is recommended that you avoid tasting or eating raw dough or batter, regardless of whether it is for cookies, tortillas, biscuits, pancakes, or crafts such as homemade play dough or holiday ornaments.

Bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli that may be present in raw dough are killed in the cooking process, the FDA says.

Additionally, the CDC recommends that you:

  • do not allow children to play with or eat raw dough, including dough for crafts.
  • ensure that you bake or cook raw dough and batter, such as cookie dough and cake mix, before eating.
  • follow the recipe or package directions for cooking or baking at the proper temperature and for the specified time.
  • do not make milkshakes with products that contain raw flour, such as cake mix.
  • do not use raw, homemade cookie dough in ice cream.
  • keep raw foods such as flour or eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods. This is because flour is a powder and can spread easily.
  • follow label directions to refrigerate products containing raw dough or eggs until they are cooked.
  • clean up thoroughly after handling flour, eggs, or raw dough by washing your hands with running water and soap after handling flour, raw eggs, or any surfaces that they have touched. Also remember to wash bowls, utensils, countertops, and other surfaces with warm, soapy water.

For those of you (like me!) who want the taste of raw cookie dough without the worry of foodborne illness, you do have the option of indulging in cookie dough candies and cookie dough ice cream sold in stores. These items contain dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension.

Picky Eating a Normal Part of Early Childhood

My 4-year-old REFUSES to eat anything that is the color red — no red apples, tomatoes, red peppers or even pepperoni on his pizza. He didn’t used to care what color his food was, but within the past couple weeks, he’s taken a distain for red foods. Is this normal?

Little Girl refusing to eat healthy lunch/snack of fruit and drink her milk. Photo: Getty Images.

As frustrating as that may be for you when planning family meals and deciding what to feed your little one, picky eating habits are considered a normal part of a child’s development, according to health professionals.

In fact, up to half of preschoolers have exhibited picky eating habits, from wanting their foods prepared only a certain way, to not wanting to try new foods, and to, yes, refusing to eat foods based on color, research has found.

This could be in part because as a child’s growth slows between the ages of 2 and 5, most children experience a decrease in appetite, says Carol Smathers, a field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

“Picky eating may also be part of establishing independence during the preschool years,” she said. “The good news is that as long as a child is growing normally and has plenty of energy, chances are that his or her diet is providing the necessary nutrients.

“And fortunately, most children will become willing to eat a much greater range of foods over time.”

There are ways to encourage your little ones to expand their palates and savor a wider range of foods. For example, Smathers says, you can:

  • Take your children grocery shopping and let them choose fruits and vegetables.
  • Offer taste-testing opportunities as a way to introduce your child to new foods before they are served in meals. For produce, you can show your child how the food is grown and let your child compare how it tastes both cooked and raw.
  • Include your children in meal preparation, giving them as much responsibility as appropriate for their age and ability. Let them wash fruits and vegetables, measure and add ingredients, or help stir.
  • Offer realistic options, such as, “Would you like carrots or peas tonight?” instead of asking something like, “Do you want peas?”
  • Talk about how much you enjoy the different foods that are being served and what you like about them.

It may also help if you can focus on making mealtime fun and meaningful for your children and family. Ask your kids how their day has gone, or if they did anything fun that day. If your focus is on the foods they won’t eat and how their picky tastes negatively impact the meal, it could lead to unhealthy attitudes toward food and eating habits.

However, if you have a lingering concern about your child’s picky eating habits, it’s best not to scold your child or argue with them to eat. You could instead have a conversation with your pediatrician, nutritionist or other healthcare provider about your concerns. 

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.