Is trisodium phosphate, an inorganic compound utilized as a cleaner among other uses, unsafe to eat as an ingredient in Lucky Charms cereal? No, that's not true: While the compound is an ingredient in the cereal, it essentially works as a salt and is fine as a food additive. The Food and Drug Administration has given trisodium phosphate the regulatory status of "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) when used as required by the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.
The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) on October 14, 2021. It featured side-by-side pictures of trisodium phosphate advertised as a heavy-duty cleaner and trisodium phosphate listed as an ingredient in Lucky Charms. The post links to the official list of ingredients in Lucky Charms and reads:
it's not "conspiracy theory" when the truth is in your face tho...And you can go to their website to confirm!
As a Certified Health Coach, i love helping families really read labels and move forward in their health!
This is what the post looked like on Facebook on October 20, 2021:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Oct 20 21:28:07 2021 UTC)
Trisodium phosphate is classified as a hazardous irritant or corrosive compound in certain settings. However, these classifications are not related to the compound's safety as a food ingredient: other ingredients such as table salt (sodium chloride) and capsaicin, found in hot peppers, are considered irritants and corrosive and are consumed daily. Because trisodium phosphate is considered a GRAS ingredient, it is generally deemed safe when incorporated into food as directed by experts. Still, there is some controversy over GRAS ingredients, as they do not undergo the same regulatory process as other food additives.
Trisodium phosphate is used in various ways, including as a household cleaning product, an ingredient in personal care products and a food additive. As a food additive, the FDA lists several technical effects of the compound, such as its use as an anticaking agent, a drying agent and a pH control agent.
Trisodium phosphate is addressed in several areas of the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, which covers federal regulations for food and drugs. Perhaps the clearest indication of the compound's safety as a food ingredient is in Part 182, subpart B, which deals with multiple-purpose GRAS food substances, and subpart G, which deals with sequestrants. In both sections, the compound is referred to as its synonym, "tribasic" sodium phosphate. Under "Conditions of Use," both sections read:
This substance is generally recognized as safe when used in accordance with good manufacturing practice.
This is not the first time trisodium phosphate has been singled out in Lucky Charms' ingredient list. General Mills, the maker of Lucky Charms, responded to a customer inquiry via Twitter about the compound in 2015, correctly noting that the ingredient is FDA-approved. The tweet is embedded below:
@enccne Trisodium Phosphate is FDA-approved and safe in a wide variety of foods. In cereal, it's a salt that adjusts acidity. ^AH-- General Mills (@GeneralMills) September 11, 2015
(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Wed Oct 20 21:27:29 2021 UTC)