Characterisation of TiO2-containing pearlescent pigments with regard to the European Union labelling obligation of engineered nanomaterials in food.
A wide range of trendy food colourants and ready-to-eat foods containing pearlescent pigments providing glitter effects is currently on the market. These pearlescent pigments consist of mica (potassium aluminium silicate) platelets generally coated with titanium dioxide and/or iron oxides. All single components are approved food additives in the European Union (EU) (E 555, E 171 and E 172). However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has stated recently, that pearlescent pigments should be evaluated as new food additives. Food grade titanium dioxide was already shown to contain a considerable fraction of nanoparticles. Thus, the question about 'nano'-labelling of TiO2-containing pearlescent pigments according to the 'Novel Food' and 'Food Information to Consumers' regulations arose. In order to provide data for dealing with these issues, in this study four commercially available products of different food categories containing pearlescent pigments were characterised with focus on the structure, size and chemical composition of these pigments. The measurement methods used were flow particle image analysis (FPIA), static light scattering (SLS) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) combined with energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDX). After isolation from various food matrices, the glitter pigments could be easily identified and differentiated by fast FPIA screening from any remaining organic food matrix particles due to their typical platelet-like shape and transparency. The particle size distribution of the platelets was determined by means of SLS and found to be in the range of 8-167 µm. SEM was identified as the most suitable technique for the analysis of the nano-structured coating. For all constituent metal oxide particles (TiO2 and/or Fe2O3) a median minimum Feret diameter (Fmin) of 29.9-46.8 nm was obtained by quantitative SEM image analysis.