If powdered donuts, complete with white stuff stuck to your fingers and sprinkled on your lap, inspire nostalgic memories of childhood, you might have been eating something you weren't quite intending. Luckily, that will soon change.
Dunkin' Donuts has agreed to gradually stop using titanium dioxide, the ingredient that makes powdered sugar doughnuts so white. The shift came after a request from As You Sow, a self-identified nonprofit that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility. The group published a press release along with a letter from Dunkin' Brands on their website on March 5.
Titanium dioxide is a common whitener in many processed foods. Many candies, pastries, chewing gums and processed foods Americans consume on a daily basis contain the ingredient. The FDA allows products to contain up to one percent of the ingredient without noting so on its label.
As You Sow has identified the whitening agent as a "nanoparticle" -- a substance that the organization claims can be toxic to humans. There hasn't been a conclusive study on whether titanium dioxide really does any damage, though preliminary research has linked the metal, when combined with other substances, to asthma, and when used topically (it's an ingredient in sunscreen), dry skin.
"The ingredient used in our powdered donuts does not meet the definition of 'nanomaterial' as outlined under FDA guidance. Nevertheless, we began testing alternative formulations for this product in 2014 and we are in the process of rolling out a solution to the system that does not contain titanium dioxide," a representative of Dunkin' Brands (the parent company of Dunkin' Donuts) told The Huffington Post.
Karen Raskopf, Dunkin' Brands chief communications officer, told USA Today that the move was made largely for the sake of investors.
"Dunkin' Brands understands that investors are increasingly interested in the sustainability of the companies in which they invest. As part of our ongoing stakeholder engagement process, we recognize the importance of engaging in productive, ongoing dialogues with our investors to understand and address their concerns, as appropriate," Raskopf wrote to USA Today.
For those concerned that they're beloved treats will get an unwanted makeover, a follow-up email to The Huffington Post on behalf of Raskopf assured that the "powdered donuts will look the same under the new formulation."