Cake Dusts and Glitters: Are You Eating Plastic with That Icing?
Warning: Some of those “non toxic” decorations are not edible
All that glitters is not necessarily. . . edible.
Dessert’s been getting glitzy lately as home bakers and professional decorators find new ways to put the icing on the cake — “disco dust” anyone? But when you take a bite, what are you really eating? The answer may be: plastic.
Some popular dust and glitter products are advertised as “non toxic” and “made for cake decorating and crafts.” Oddly, that doesn’t mean they’re safe for consumption. A look at the fine print may reveal they are “not for food use."
“I see this stuff being used on cake shows and I shout at the TV, ‘But that’s not edible! It’s ground plastic!’” says Stephanie Harkin, cake decorator for Cupcakes Actually in Fairfax, Virginia.
Harkin is not alone among bakers. “You know what really bugs me is when you see these top notch cake decorators on TV putting the stuff everywhere on a cake in places that you know are going to be eaten,” reads one post on the forum of Cake Central, a website for cake decorating professionals and enthusiasts.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cracking down. It’s advising bakers to avoid using glitter and dust products to decorate cakes, cupcakes, cake pops, etc. unless the products are specifically manufactured to be edible.
According to the FDA website, “The agency has become aware that some non-edible decorative glitters and dusts are promoted for use on foods. Home and commercial bakers need to be aware that these types of glitters and dusts are not intended to be used directly on foods and may contain materials that should not be eaten.”
“Many decorative glitters and dusts are sold over the Internet 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. A variety of online instructional videos, blogs, and articles promote the use of these glitters and dusts to decorate foods such as cakes, cupcakes, and cake pops.”
But if the product doesn’t say “edible” on the label, it may not be. According to the FDA, in addition to listing the ingredients, "most edible glitters and dusts also state 'edible' on the label."
In theory you could take these decorations off before eating them. But that’s not always possible. “Some decorators like to sprinkle it all over their cupcakes,” says Harkin, who notes that one of the shiny dusts that isn’t meant to be eaten “truly does look like ground plastic particles.”
Per the FDA, “If the label simply says ‘non-toxic’ or ‘for decorative purposes only’ and does not include an ingredients list, the product should not be used directly on foods.”
Edible cake décor may contain ingredients such as sugar, acacia (gum arabic), maltodextrin, cornstarch, and color additives approved for food use, including mica-based pearlescent pigments, according to the FDA.
So yes, it’s possible to have your cake glitter and eat it, too. But next time you see a baked good that reminds you of the days of disco, it couldn’t hurt to ask what the shiny stuff is made of before you buy.
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