As we head towards that most wonderful time of the year, just about every shop is filled with sparkly decorations designed to catch the eye. This often extends to the festive treats on offer as well, including beautiful glitter-decorated cakes and confectionaries.

But before you give in to temptation, or plan to add sparkle to your own bake, it’s worth noting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)1 has warned that some glitters promoted for decorating food may not be edible. While many of these glitters are produced from edible ingredients such as sugar or acacia, several labeled as non-toxic and without an ingredients list should not be consumed.

One such glitter, labeled as ‘food contact glitter for removable cake decorations’ has been analyzed using Malvern Panalytical’s Morphologi 4-ID system. As shown in the flow diagram below there are five steps to the Morphologically-Directed Raman Spectroscopic (MDRS) measurement – sample presentation, image capture, image processing, chemical identification and results generation.

The dispersion was fast and simple using the integrated Sample Dispersion Unit (SDU). The sizes and shapes of over 15,000 individual glitter particles were measured, then five particles were targeted for Raman spectroscopic analysis. Data from both individual particles and the sample distributions as a whole could then be readily reviewed in the Morphologi 4-ID software.

The glitter particles were found to be typically around 250 micrometers in size and hexagonal in shape, while Raman spectroscopy revealed that they are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This means they are in fact microplastics. Microplastics are frequently defined as plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in length, and some of their issues have been discussed in an earlier blog.

A study2 recently suggested that we ingest tens of thousands of microplastic particles a year. There is still a lot of research needed to assess the impact and fate of ingested microplastics, but a simple first step to reducing our exposure to microplastics is to eliminate any obvious sources of them.

So, while these non-edible glitters can be used on decorations, just remember that they may be made of plastic, and be careful where the glitter ends up!

Merry Christmas from Malvern Panalytical