By: Pooja Sharma

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning that the silver sprinkles (or the dragees) are not safe to eat even though they are all right to decorate on your holiday treats. So, next time you come across a perfectly fine cake or double chocolate chip sugar cookie covered in these little silver balls, just stay away from them – or remove these silver harmless-looking dragees before indulging in them.

These silver decorations (also known as dragees) that look like small balls and taste like hardened sugar are a popular sight on holiday cookies, cakes, and pastries during the Christmas and New Year season. Silver has been banned by FDA as a food coloring additive since 1906. But, FDA guidelines allowed the silver dragees to remain a part of the decoration of the holiday treats even though they are considered unfit and unsafe for human consumption.

The guidelines clearly stated that when these small silver balls – also known as the ‘silver dragees’ – are sold exclusively for decorating cakes and are used under conditions which do not include their consumption in the confectionery. So, they will not be considered under the category of food or confectionery. There is no authority under the color additive regulations which permits silver to be used as a color.

Silver Dragees are banned in California, Thanks to a 2003 Lawsuit….

Today, the silver dragees are still available at many stores all across only in 49 states. The one state where you cannot buy these silver balls is California – thanks to a lawsuit that was filed in 2003 by a Napa lawyer who alleged that the dragees were toxic. He started suing to force these silver balls out of the market in the early 1990’s. He was successful in getting the spice giant, McCormick, to take them out of shelves. He sued Stewart, India Tree along with some 2 dozen other distributors and retailers and got them to stop selling these decorations, at least in California.

He pointed out that his motivation was not if someone was hurt or suffering because of these silver dragees or not. He did not even state in his case if any victim existed at the time. But, he was sure about dragees having the potential to put consumers, especially the children at a risk. Silver is a toxic metal and can build over time inside the human body. It is a subtle poison. Having silver sprinkles will unnecessarily increase burden of these chemicals inside your body. If children start off with heavy doses inside their body, then they might start out behind the race. He even labelled the sprinkles as ‘fraudulent and frictional’ as everyone has them anyway especially the kids.

Both federal and state authorities list down the silver as a toxic metal at certain levels – especially for silver miners whose regular work involves breathing in strong concentrations of silver daily. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has dealt with the dragees by requiring the manufacturers to label the packets and jars of silver dragees ‘for decoration only’. But, maybe, this warning on jars is not enough because they do not pass on once the dragees are put on cakes and cookies to be sold as a final sale.

Silver toxicity or Argyria:

Argyria or Argyrosis can be caused by excessive exposure to compounds of elemental silver or silver dust. The most dramatic symptom that can result due to silver toxicity is your skin turning grey or purple grey. Generalized Argyria can affect larger parts of the body so it is much more visible while local argyria shows up in limited regions of the body and appears as patches.

A medical report on a woman, who is now in her 50s, developed discolored skin due to her increased exposure to silver. At 11, she was given nose drops for allergies. When her skin turned grey, a biopsy at 15 revealed that nose drops had silver in them that lead to presence of silver deposition.

Possible implications of silver are not yet known, but there have been some studies that show that silver toxicity can lead to decrement of liver function and loss of some sort of eye vision.

Do not worry about those little decorations still touching your food. They are safe for decorations and just like any other craft that you use for to fancy up your holiday treats, but take off these silver balls before eating. Just change your decorations, there sure are plenty other options you can use. Some other edible ways to decorate your Christmas cake includes: Fondant icing, sprinkle icing, etc. You can also buy some ribbons, frills, craft cut outs, stands, etc. for decorating cakes and other treats.

Other food safety tips to look out for this Christmas:

Here are some common, yet forgettable, safety tips:

  • Plan out how you would manage your freezer, deep freezer, and fridge items to separate raw meat, cooked meat etc. from each other. Since Christmas is such a busy time, we tend to forget these little things which can cost a lot. Also, decide how you would keep all the hot things hot and cold food cold while they are out to be served at room temperature.
  • Cook all meat to a proper temperature (165 degrees F). Also, recook any leftovers to the same temperature too.
  • Do not thaw any meat on the kitchen counter. Thaw in refrigerator or in an oven. Those are the safest options.
  • Make sure that you wash your hands frequently and your guests do so too. Have a proper hand washing station at your home. More than half of the people carry Staph bacteria which they can easily pass on with contact.