Some glittery decoration is a great way to dress up a cake for a holiday, birthday or other special occasion. But the FDA warns that some of the glitters and dusts promoted for use on food should not be eaten—even if the label says “nontoxic.” Here’s how to know which decorations really are safe to eat…

Called “disco dust,” “luster dust,” “twinkle dust,” “sparkle dust,” “highlighter,” “shimmer powder,” “pearl dust,” “petal dust” and similar names, these food decorations are sold online and in craft and bakery stores. They’re also promoted in instructional baking videos, blogs and articles. But not only are the long-term health effects of consuming these decorations unknown—the products may contain plastic nanoparticles, which can be absorbed into your bloodstream…or larger particles if inhaled can cause choking or other respiratory problems down the road. And calling them nontoxic just means they’re not poisonous. Think Crayons and Play-Doh, which are both nontoxic but not intended for consumption (although it happens!).

To be safe: Choose only products made by reputable companies that follow FDA guidelines requiring that ingredients be listed on the label. Look for “edible” or “FDA-approved”—good indications that a decoration is safe to eat. Avoid products that say “nontoxic” or “for decoration only”—or if you do use one of these decorations, remove it from the food before it is served.

Ingredients for safe-to-eat glitters, dusts and powders aren’t exactly health food, but they are at least edible. These ingredients include sugar, acacia (also called gum Arabic), maltodextrin and corn starch…as well as color additives approved for food use, including mica-based pearlescent pigments and FD&C colors such as FD&C Blue No. 1.

Watch out for premade glittery foods: Decorative sparkle can top many treats, from lattes to smoothies to pizza to cake pops. Ask what’s in the product. Or ask to see the ingredient list…or ask for the name of the supplier and look up the ingredients on your smartphone.

Bottom line: No matter how pretty it looks, if it’s not meant to be eaten—don’t eat it.

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