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Some foods and drinks contain a small amount of propylene glycol, a food additive that helps maintain moisture and structure.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined propylene glycol is safe to consume in small quantities.
Propylene glycol, like many substances, can also be found in nonfood products, such as antifreeze. That does not mean that foods that contain propylene glycol also contain antifreeze.
Some social media users are warning against eating popular snacks, desserts and drinks, claiming one ingredient is cause for concern.
A May 17 Instagram reel called out Pop-Tarts, Blue Bunny and Cold Stone Creamery ice cream, Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines cake mixes, Dunkin’ flavored iced teas and Fireball whisky, claiming these products "have antifreeze in them."
The video said these food and drink products contain propylene glycol, which is also the "active ingredient in engine coolants, various paints and varnishes and enamels."
"But according to the (Food and Drug Administration), as long as you don’t eat too much of it, it’s OK," the person in the video said. "My question is if you eat a lot of food that has it and you don’t know that it’s in it, and you just keep eating it, it can add up pretty quickly, don’t you think?"
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Consuming even a small amount of antifreeze can cause life-threatening complications for people or animals. The video equates propylene glycol with antifreeze, and suggests that foods containing it are unsafe. But that’s wrong.
Propylene glycol can be used in nonfood products, such as antifreeze, a liquid that’s added to a car’s engine cooling system to prevent water from freezing. It also can be used as a food additive. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other global food authorities have deemed propylene glycol safe to consume in small quantities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said propylene glycol’s toxicity to the human gastrointestinal system is negligible. During testing, only when rats were fed very large doses, 23,500 mg/kg, did the animals experience intestinal issues.
Propylene glycol is a synthetic liquid that is typically colorless, odorless and tasteless with a slightly syrupy consistency at room temperature. It has a variety of uses in the chemical, food, pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries and is generally considered nontoxic.
In foods, propylene glycol can be used in small amounts as an additive to help maintain moisture or as a thickener, anti-caking agent or preservative. Propylene glycol has been used in foods in the U.S. since 1920, the FDA said.
The FDA has classified propylene glycol as a food additive that is "generally recognized as safe," which means no adverse health effects are likely to occur from normal use of products containing propylene glycol. The FDA also limits the amount of propylene glycol that can be in food and drink products. Typically, the additive accounts for less than 2% of a product’s ingredients.
"There are many substances for which small amounts are safe while vastly greater amounts could be unsafe, if consumed. The amount of propylene glycol used in food is much, much less than the amount that would be used in other nonfood applications," an FDA spokesperson told PolitiFact.
The video questioned what happens if a person eats a lot of foods containing propylene glycol. But the CDC said propylene glycol doesn’t stay in the body for long; it usually breaks down within 48 hours.
Propylene glycol can also be found in much higher concentrations in nonfood products, such as engine coolants, but the substance is not the same as antifreeze, as the video suggested. Antifreeze can be made with propylene glycol, ethylene glycol and methanol.
It is not uncommon for a food ingredient to have nonfood uses, the FDA told PolitiFact. For instance, vinegar can be used in small amounts in food, but also as a household cleaner.
Propylene glycol is listed as an ingredient in some, but not all, of the foods and drinks mentioned in the video. Pop-Tarts, Dunkin’ flavored iced teas and Fireball whisky do not contain propylene glycol, according to the products’ ingredient lists.
Fireball used to contain propylene glycol, but the company has since updated its formula to remove the additive. "While the former formula was fully compliant and perfectly safe to drink, we, as a company, are continually working to improve all of our products," Fireball’s FAQ page said.
Most Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines cake mixes contain a small amount, less than 2%, of propylene glycol. Duncane Hines said in its products’ ingredient lists that it uses propylene glycol to keep oil and water from separating and to maintain moisture in products, such as icing.
An Instagram reel claimed certain foods and drinks "have antifreeze in them" because they contain propylene glycol, an additive.
Propylene glycol, like many additives, has a variety of uses in foods and nonfoods. Although propylene glycol is sometimes used in antifreeze, that doesn’t mean foods that contain the additive propylene glycol also contain antifreeze.
The FDA limits how much propylene glycol can be used in foods, and the amount is much smaller than what would be used in nonfoods.
Additionally, not all of the foods and drinks listed in the Instagram reel contain propylene glycol.
We rate this claim False.
Instagram reel, May 17, 2023
Email interview, U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokesperson, May 31, 2023
Email interview, Richard Rankin, executive director of the International Food Additives Council, May 31, 2023
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "Propylene glycol," accessed May 31, 2023
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Public Health Statement for Propylene Glycol," March 25, 2014
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Propylene glycol - health effects," March 25, 2014
Pop-Tarts, "All Pop-Tarts® Toaster Pastry Flavors," accessed May 31, 2023
Blue Bunny, "All Products," accessed May 31, 2023
Cold Stone Creamery, "Ingredient Statement Ice Cream, Sorbet and Frozen Dessert," accessed May 31, 2023
Dunkin’, "Allergen and Ingredient Table," accessed May 31, 2023
Fireball, "FAQs," accessed May 31, 2023
Betty Crocker, "Baking & Cake Mixes," accessed May 31, 2023
Duncan Hines, "Cake Mix," accessed May 31, 2023
MedicalNewsToday, "Antifreeze poisoning: Symptoms, treatment, and prevention," March 27, 2019
VeryWell Health, "Propylene Glycol: Uses in Food, Cosmetics, and More," Nov. 14, 2022
ChemicalSafetyFacts.org, "Ethylene Glycol," Oct. 14, 2022
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, "Codex Alimentarius - propylene glycol," accessed May 31, 2023
European Food Safety Authority, Propylene glycol, accessed May 31, 2023
Healthline, "Antifreeze Poisoning: Symptoms and Treatment," Feb. 20, 2018
VCA Animal Hospitals, "Ethylene Glycol Poisoning in Cats," accessed June 1, 2023
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