The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a study on cake decorating “luster dust” associated with toxic metal poisonings.

Decorating foods with luster dust and similar products is a current trend, popularized on television programs, instructional videos, blogs and in magazine articles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Luster dusts that are safe for consumption are typically marked “edible” on the label. However, some luster dusts used as cake decorations are not edible or food grade. These are labeled as “non-toxic” or “for decorative purposes only.” These luster dusts are intended to be removed before consumption. 

The CDC suggests that explicit labeling indicating that non-edible products are not safe for human consumption is needed to prevent illness from inappropriate use of inedible products on foods.

During 2018–2019, the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services investigated heavy metal poisonings associated with commercially and home-prepared cakes using luster dusts, which were found to contain high levels of copper, lead and other metals. 

The reports discussed children who became ill after consuming birthday cake. Cases in Rhode Island were associated with copper ingestion, and the case in Missouri was associated with a child’s elevated blood lead level. 

In Rhode Island, luster dust products that had been used in the cake frosting were found to contain high levels of multiple metals. 

Companies that make edible luster dust are required by law to include a list of ingredients on the label. 

According to the CDC, these events indicate that increased vigilance by public health departments and further guidance to consumers and bakeries are needed to prevent unintentional poisonings. Educating consumers, commercial bakers, and public health professionals about the potential hazards of items used in food preparation is essential to preventing illness and unintentional poisoning from toxic metals and other non-edible ingredients, according to the agency.

The full study can be viewed here.

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