Wednesday’s Ask Dr. Walt — Paint Thinner in my Cereal?

Dear Dr. Walt,

Trisodium phosphate (TSP) is apparently listed as an ingredient in some foods, including some of my favorite cereals. Isn’t this chemical found in paint strippers, and if so, why is it used in food? And why does the FDA allow it to be used?

Angry in Arizona

Dear Cautious,

I had to look around to find an answer for you. The most concise answer is found on Snopes.com, an Internet site I trust for rumors circulating around the web. Snopes writes:

The issue here is not whether these cereals contain TSP—They (and many other food items) do. The issue, similarly, is not whether TSP is used as a cleaning product—it is. The issue, instead, is whether or not a chemical used as a cleaning product can also be used safely as a food additive—it can.

An apt comparison for a number of reasons is the chemical sodium bicarbonate. This compound is used in heavy-duty cleaning, as an agent to de-tarnish silver, and even to extinguish fires. Sodium bicarbonate, however, is better known as baking soda, and it is instrumental as a leavening agent (something that makes dough rise) when baking, among other things, chocolate chip cookies.

Snopes concludes:

Because representing (TSP) as a paint thinner is a rhetorical device used to sow scientifically uninformed fears about a commonly used food additive without any concern for scale or mechanism, and because the compound itself presents no reasonable risk to humans, we rank this claim as false.

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2019. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.
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