Food With Propylene Glycol

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The food you buy from grocery stores can contain many ingredients. Some additives enhance flavor, while others help in food preservation. One common ingredient is propylene glycol, primarily found in salad dressing. It’s also present in many cosmetics, dog food, and hygiene products.

Propylene glycol is a substance commonly used as a food additive or ingredient in many cosmetic and hygiene products.

The US and European food authorities have declared it as generally safe for use in foods.

However, it has become controversial since it is also an ingredient in antifreeze. This had led to health concerns about possible toxic effects from eating foods that contain it.

Food With Propylene Glycol

Many foods containing a laundry list of ingredients also contain propylene glycol. Some of the more common packaged foods containing it include dried soups and seasoning blends, marinades and salad dressings, and baking mixes for products such as cakes, pancakes, and muffins.

In the beverage world, soft drinks, flavored teas, powdered drink mixes and alcoholic beverages may also contain propylene glycol. It is also used in some flavoring extracts for baking, as well as in some types of food coloring.

Since propylene glycol has numerous properties potentially beneficial to packaged foods, its use is quite common in food products designed to have a long shelf life. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says propylene glycol is “generally recognized as safe” for use in foods, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

The United States government regulates how much of this chemical is deemed safe for food use stateside. In the U.S., up to 50 grams propylene glycol per kilogram of food product is considered a safe amount, while the European Union has stricter regulations, limiting it to 3 grams per kilogram for foods and beverages.

In one instance, an alcoholic beverage company received a bit of backlash in the European Union when it accidentally sent the U.S. version of a cinnamon whisky to several European countries. The drink was pulled from shelves in several countries for containing too much propylene glycol, even though that same formulation would be considered safe in the States.

Health Effects of Propylene Glycol

There is a lot of conflicting information about the dangers of propylene glycol.

Some websites state it is safe, while others claim it causes heart attacks, kidney and liver failure and brain problems.


Foods that Contain Propylene Glycol

Propylene contains many properties that are beneficial to packaged foods. Many food manufacturers use it to lengthen the shelf life of their processed foods. Examples of packaged foods that contain the product include:

  • Seasoning blends
  • Dried soups
  • Salad dressings
  • Baking mixes for foods like cakes, muffins, cinnamon buns, biscuits, cupcakes, and pancakes
  • Powdered drink mixes
  • Flavored teas
  • Soft drinks
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Food coloring
  • Flavoring extracts
  • Highly processed snacks
  • Fast foods
  • Flavored popcorn
  • Cake frosting
  • Ice cream flavors
  • Mass-distributed baked desserts
  • Marshmallows
  • Dried coconut shreds
  • Sauces
  • Sour cream
  • Potato salad
  • Macaroni
  • Cheese

How to Avoid Propylene Glycol in Your Food

Most processed foods contain at least some propylene glycol. While it is a low-toxicity substance, you may develop health complications if you eat foods that have it in large quantities. The best way to protect yourself is to avoid products that contain the substance. Instead, eat more fresh whole foods.

What are the symptoms?

Antifreeze poisoning can happen gradually over several hours, so you may not have symptoms immediately after ingesting the chemical. If you feel fine, you may even brush off the incident as nothing more than a close call. But the situation isn’t that simple.

As your body absorbs or metabolizes antifreeze, the chemical is converted into other toxic substances such as:

  • glycolaldehyde
  • glycolic acid
  • glyoxylic acid
  • acetone
  • formaldehyde

Your body slowly begins to react to the antifreeze in your system. The time it takes for the first symptom to appear varies. It depends on the amount swallowed.

The earliest symptoms can develop 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion, with the severest symptoms starting about 12 hours after ingestion, according to the ATSDR. Early symptoms of antifreeze poisoning may include an inebriated feeling. Other early symptoms include:

  • headache
  • fatigue
  • lack of coordination
  • grogginess
  • slurred speech
  • nausea
  • vomiting

As your body continues to break down the antifreeze over the next several hours, the chemical can interfere with your kidney, lung, brain, and nervous system function. Organ damage can occur 24 to 72 hours after ingestion.

You may also develop:

  • rapid breathing
  • an inability to urinate
  • rapid heartbeat
  • convulsions

It’s possible to lose consciousness and fall into a coma.

Kidney and Liver Concerns

Persons with kidney or liver disease should  limit or completely avoid products containing propylene glycol, as their bodies may not be able to process the chemical properly. High doses of some medications such as lorazepam may also be of concern for those with existing health issues, as the medicine may introduce potentially problematic amounts of propylene glycol into the body over the course of a few days.

Potential Dangers for Kids and Moms-to-Be

Propylene glycol should also be largely avoided by pregnant women, infants and toddlers. Compared to other people, these groups have low amounts of the enzyme that breaks down propylene glycol in the body, which means they could develop toxicity if exposed to large amounts of the chemical through medications. An infant takes three times as long as the typical adult to expel propylene glycol from the body. Even an oral or injectable vitamin solution containing large amounts of propylene glycol could cause seizures or irregular heartbeat, especially in young children.

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