July 16, 2024

Cake Decorating Luster Dust Associated with Metal Poisoning in RI and MO

Cake decorating luster dust was associated with toxic heavy metal poisonings in Rhode Island and Missouri in 2018 and 2019, according to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) for the week of October 29, 2021. The luster dusts in question contained high levels of copper, lead, and other heavy metals that can cause serious illness and health complications. As these ingredients are often used in holiday celebrations, consumer education about these items is needed.

Cake Decorating Luster Dust Associated with Metal Poisoning in RI and MO

During the time period of 2018 to 2019, the two states investigated heavy metal poisonings that were associated with commercial and home-prepared cakes made with luster dusts. The issue is that labeling stating that a product is nontoxic does not mean that is is safe to eat.

Several items of glitters and dusts, which are collectively known as “luster dust” for use on prepared foods, were investigated. This trend has been popularized in magazine articles, in blogs, and on television programs. While some luster dusts are made with edible ingredients that can be safely consumed, some are not. The companies that make these products must have a list of ingredients on the label. Luster dusts that can be eaten are usually marked “edible” on the label.

But some luster dusts are not edible or “food grade,” but can still be labeled “nontoxic.” They may also be labeled “for decorative purposes only.” Those products should be removed before the product is consumed.

The Rhode Island Department of Health and the Missouri Department of Social Services investigated heavy metal poisonings associated with these products. The 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, officials received reports of six children, aged one to 11 years, who got sick after eating birthday cake. Symptoms of vomititng and diarrhea started 30 minutes t0 10 hours after consumption of the cake. One person visited an emergency department for treatment. These symptoms are consistent with a heavy metal poisoning.

The cake, which had been ordered from a commercial bakery, had been decorated with frosting mixed with gold luster dust. The luster dust used in the frosting was marked as “non edible,” “nontoxic,” and “for decoration only.”

In the Rhode Island cases, the luster products used in the cake frosting contained high levels of multiple metals. All non edible luster dust containers were placed under embargo. Some bottles were not clearly labeled as edible or non edible. The case was identified by a NEARS contamination factor of C3, which means that a poisonous substance was accidentally or inadvertently added to food. Analysis of 28 other inedible luster dusts from that bakery found elevated levels of aluminum, barium, chromium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, nickel, and zinc.

In the Missouri case, a one year old child had an elevated blood level. The presence of lead was detected in a jar of bright yellow primrose petal dust that had been used to create decorative flowers for the child’s home baked birthday cake. The container was labeled “nontoxic,” and “made in USA.”

Lab tests found that the product contained 25% lead. Lead is a potent neurotixicant, especially in children. Health officials in Missouri issued a press release that warned consumers not to apply primrose petal dust to any food product.

The study says that increased vigilance by public health departments and more guidance to consumers and bakeries are needed to prevent these poisonings. Explicit labeling stating that the products are not safe for human consumption is also needed.

Viveiros B, Caron G, Barkley J, et al. Cake Decorating Luster Dust Associated with Toxic Metal Poisonings — Rhode Island and Missouri, 2018–2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:1501–1504. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7043a2external icon.

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