Propylene glycol is used as an anticaking agent, dough strengthener, emulsifier, flavor agent, solvent, humectant, stabilizer and thickener in food formulas. The FDA lists it as generally regarded as safe (GRAS). Suggesting the current maximum level for use in confections and frostings is 24%, 2.5% in frozen dairy product, 947% for flavorings, 5% in nuts and nut products, and 2.0% in all other food categories.2
With a shift to cleaner labels and transparency in consumer packaged goods companies are taking a closer look at ingredients. Natural Grocers grocery chains have added propylene glycol to the list of unacceptable ingredients and will not allow them in products sold in their stores.
Here are 3 reasons you might consider removing propylene glycol from your baked goods:
- Clean Label Products – According to the Center for Science in the public interest, propylene glycol is placed in Tier 4. The clean label program has 4 tiers with tier 1 being ingredients that have major health concerns due to the excessive amounts consumed and number of people affected.1 Tier 4 items are Poorly Tested Substances and Other Safety Issues, including Allergic or Hypersensitivity Reactions.1 Examples in tier 4 are artificial colorings, artificial preservatives, flavorings/flavor enhancers, natural high-potency sweetener, preservatives, and thickeners.1
- Certified Organic or Made With Organic Products – According to the National Organic Program under the USDA, the current annotation for flavors, synthetics solvents such as propylene glycol and hexane are prohibited, as well as synthetic carriers and artificial preservatives.4
- Consumer Preference – Both Propylene glycol and ethylene glycol are used as deicers in antifreeze. Eating or drinking very large amounts of ethylene glycol can result in death. This confusion has led propylene glycol to become a consumer NO-NO ingredient much like high fructose corn syrup or carrageenan. A recent recall of Fireball Whiskey shipped to Europe was due to levels of propylene glycol in the product. The European Union’s stricter guidelines on recommended levels of propylene glycol forced state-owned retailers to yank the drink from shelves in Sweden and Finland.5
In a study reported in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, researchers finding no health hazards associated with propylene glycol stated “a long history of human exposure through industrial settings and consumer used provides evidence that there are no specific systemic toxicological concerns for propylene glycol.”3
Convincing consumers that a synthetic chemical has a place in their food is nearly impossible once the idea spreads across the internet.
The choice is yours. Propylene glycol used in the percentage recommended by the FDA poses no health risk in baked goods. If your company is moving toward clean labels or organic certification, alternatives depending on your use in formula are available. For example, flavors containing PG can use certified organic alcohol as a carrier or stabilizers such as organic locust bean gum or chickory root. Ingredient suppliers can suggest alternatives to suit your formula.
- Lefferts, Lisa. “Clean Labels Public Relations or Public Health?” Center for Science in the Public Interest. 12 Jan 2017. www.cspinet.org/sites/default/files/attachment/Clean%20Label%20report.pdf Accessed 22 Mar. 2017
- “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21.” FDA US Food and Drug Administration. US Department of Health and Human Services, 1 Apr. 2016. www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=184.1666 Accessed 21 Mar. 2017.
- Fowles, Jeff R., Marcy I. Banton, and Lynn H. Pottenger. “A toxicological review of the propylene glycols.” Critical Reviews in Toxicology 43.4 (2013): 363-390.
- “National Organic Program.” Agricultural Marketing Service. USDA. www.ams.usda.gov/about-ams/programs-offices/national-organic-program. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017.
- Kaufman, Alexander, C. “Fireball Whisky Recalled In 3 Countries Over Antifreeze Ingredient” Huffington Post. 29 Oct. 2014. www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/29/fireball-whiskey-recall_n_6067486.html. Accessed 23 Mar. 2017