Practice food safety with holiday baking

As we move into the season of holiday baking, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds consumers that some decorating “luster dust” has been associated with toxic metal poisonings in children.

Decorating foods with luster dust or glitter is a current trend, popularized on television programs, instructional videos, blogs, and websites such as Pinterest. 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.” Non-edible dusts or glitter labeled as “non-toxic” are not harmful when touched, but can be harmful if eaten or ingested.  Non-edible luster dusts are intended to be removed before consumption, but bakers and consumers often do not understand this need for extra caution.

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. These luster dusts were found to contain high levels of copper, lead and other metals.

Reports of the investigations discussed children who became ill after consuming birthday cake. Illnesses in Rhode Island were associated with copper ingestion, and the case of illness in Missouri was associated with a child’s elevated blood lead level. A separate analysis of luster dust products sold in Rhode Island found high levels of multiple heavy metals.

An FDA advisory indicated that luster dust products should only be consumed if they are labeled as edible and contain a list of ingredients. By federal regulation under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA requires that food additives meet certain safety and labeling guidelines. Unless luster dust or glitters are labeled as ‘edible’, they are intended for decoration only and should not be consumed.

What you should do:

  • Purchase baking supply products from reputable sources. Only a small fraction of food items imported into the United States are inspected for safety.
  • Use luster dusts or glitters that are clearly labeled as ‘edible’ for cookies and cakes. Avoid non-edible glitters and dusts, even those that are labeled ‘non-toxic.’
  • Thoroughly cook all flour-based products to ensure a safe and healthy holiday season. See Handling Flour Safely: What You Need to Know
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